South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have never been afraid to take jabs at world leaders and celebrities regardless of whether or not it might be (to some people, at least) in poor taste to do so. South Park – Bigger, Longer And Uncut is a perfect example of how the two almost seem to relish in skewering those in the public light, whether it be by making fun of popular figure skaters or portraying Saddam Hussein as a homosexual having a torrid and carnal relationship with the devil himself. Parker and Stone's 2004 film, Team America – World Police takes their twisted talent for satire to a whole new level using not live actors or cartoons but by using puppets.
Based around the all too real political climate of a post 9/11 world, the film begins when Osama Bin Laden and a gang of Al Queda thugs attempt to plant weapons of mass destruction in France. Just as things are about to get ugly, Team America shows up to save the day, managing to blow up the Eiffel Tower and a few other French national monuments along the way – all in the name of freedom, liberty and justice. Sadly, Team America doesn't make it out unscathed and they lose a member when a terrorist shoots him in the chest. He bleeds to death in his fiance's arms, and the team is shattered.
Cut to New York City, where a young actor named Gary finishes up his performance for the night as the male lead in the hit Broadway smash, Lease! When the show is over, he's approached by a Mr. Spottsworth who convinces Gary to get into his stretch Lamborgini limo despite Gary's fears of forced oral copulation. Spottsworth takes Gary to Team America's 'Team Base,' right in the heart of Mr. Rushmore where he meets the surviving members of the group – a good natured all American guy named Chris, a tough and rough hard ass named Joe, an empathetic woman named Lisa, and the sultry Sarah, the former fiance of the deceased team member who Gary soon finds out he was brought in to replace. It seems that the terrorists are all going to be meeting in Cairo (that's in Egypt!) and Team America needs Gary to infiltrate their meeting and get the information they need to stop them before it's 9/11 times one thousand. Gary's the only man who can do it, because he's a great actor.
Gary obliges, and after some haphazard laser surgery, is transformed into a middle eastern terrorist and, clad in a turban and a leather jacket, he makes his way into the very familiar cantina where the meeting takes place. At first it looks like Gary is done for and that the terrorists see right through him but he's able to put his acting skills to good use and convince them that not only is he one of them, but that he has impressively large balls as well. It seems that in this film, terrorists love big balls. Team America is able to stop the terrorists and save the day after destroying the Sphinx and a Pyramid or two, all in the name of freedom, liberty, and justice. Gary even celebrates by having a kinky and very aerobic romp in the bedroom with Lisa after promising her that he'll never die.
When it turns out that Team America had bad intelligence on where the real weapons of mass destruction were, Gary quits, feeling responsible for a lot of unnecessary death and destruction. He soon spirals into his own misery and turns towards the bottle for salvation. As luck would have it, however, Korean madman Kim Jong Il had set into motion a master plan that will allow him to turn the entire planet into one, big third world nation. How will he do this? He'll use the left wing member of the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G. for short) to put on a great big show to entertain and distract the world leaders. Then, when Alec Baldwin hits the stage and has them all under his amazing spell, Kim Jong Il's network of terrorists will unleash their fury upon an unsuspecting populace.
Using puppet recreations of all manner of real public figures such as the aforementioned Kim Jong Il (who even treats us to a musical number wherein he explains that the real reason he's so evil is simply because he's lonely… so lonely), Hans Blix and a few other United Nations superstars, the film also lampoons many of Hollywood's politically active notables. Alec Baldwin, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, George Clooney, Helen Hunt, Janeane Garofalo, Sean Penn, Michael Moore, Danny Glover, Ethan Hawke and an amazingly accurate Matt Damon all have some pretty hilarious roles as members of F.A.G. and the members of Team America deal with them as they need to once they start to get in the way of liberty, freedom and justice.
The film not only parodies actors and politicians though - it also takes a few jabs at notable Hollywood films such as Pearl Harbor, The Matrix, Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, Star Wars, Men In Black, Kill Bill,
Top Gun and Rocky (cause even Rocky had a montage!). Of course, the influence of The Thunderbirds is obvious in the very look of the entire movie, but Team America also plays with some of the teamwork and characters used in that television series as well.
Parker and Stone wrap all of this up in a crass, violent, and sexually explicit package with plenty of blood, carnality, and swearing. Puppets copulate in ways that would make Dr. Ruth blush. Heads explode during violent firefights, giant 'jaguars' (played by real life kitty cats) maul well intentioned celebrities and feast on their innards, and profanity laces pretty much every song on the soundtrack. It's childish, immature, and crude and you know what? It's damn funny, too.
Even if the humor isn't to your liking, and let's face it some people out there just don't like lowbrow comedy, you've got to admire the look of the film. There's so much detail put into the characters and the sets that after a few minutes you get used to seeing the strings on the characters and by the time the fifteen minute mark hits, their awkward motions and choreography starts to become natural. Everyone in the film moves that way, and in fact everything in the movie moves that way too, right down to the vehicles and background characters. The fact that the filmmakers were able to get such accurate likenesses of real people using puppets is also quite an accomplishment in and of itself.
If you look past the surface of the film though, and are able to see through the poop jokes and genitalia references, Team America is actually a damn clever satire. At times, almost prophetic and often chillingly accurate for a film made with marionettes, Parker and Stone are able to work through the hypocrisy of both the left wing and right wing agendas currently battling it out in the American political arena. At a time when the country stands very divided on foreign policy and the war on terrorism, Team America is a refreshingly smart film that offers more than toilet talk and explosions (though it does deliver on that end as well). While a lot of people took the filmmakers to task for slanting the film with a right wing spin, when you really think about the actions of the characters, nothing could be further from the truth. The film is a parody and a satire and it doesn't really slant one way or the other. Both sides are fair game and Parker and Stone go after Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike with both guns blazing.
Worth noting is that this unrated version of the film does contain some extended sequences during the love scene that were cut to avoid an NC-17 rating from the MPAA. It doesn't add up to much more than a few seconds of footage, but it is memorable and as soon as it hits the screen, you'll know what was reinserted.
Team America benefits greatly from an excellent 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD. The widescreen cinematography looks wonderfully bright and colorful and the image does justice to the insane amount of detail that the set designers have crammed into every iota of the background in this film.
While there is some very mild softness noticeable in a couple of scenes, and every once in a while the reds look a little bit too harsh, for the most part this movie looks very, very good. The black levels remain strong and stable throughout, and I didn't notice any problems with mpeg compression artifacts at all during playback. Edge enhancement is almost undetectable and the image is almost entirely free of shimmering. There are no problems with print damage or grain and aside from some the aforementioned teeny-weenie issues, there's not much to complain about here. Paramount has handled the video quality on this release very nicely.
You've got your choice of watching the film in an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix, an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix, or a dubbed French Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. There are optional subtitles available in English and Spanish.
If you've got the appropriate hardware to make it all work, the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is definitely the way to go on this one. The front channels deal with most of the dialogue and more emotive musical cues while the rear surround channels are used to kick the crap out of you during the action scenes. Missiles fly past you, chunks of debris hit the ground to your right, bullets wizz around you from the left, and it all sounds very, very cool and makes the movie a lot more fun and a lot more enveloping than the less impactive 2.0 mix.
The dialogue comes through clearly and quite precisely and there aren't any problems throughout the film with hiss or distortion at any given time. The musical numbers, most of which are highlights of the film as they're quite clever and damn funny, sound clean and lively which serves to enhance the film even more. Bass response from the subwoofer is very active and it gives the action scenes a very nice rumble and plenty of 'boom.' Overall, this sound mix is very well done.
After you skip through the trailers that play on the DVD before you get to the actual menu itself, you'll find an interesting assortment of supplements that serve to give you a pretty well rounded look at how much effort went into making this movie. Once you get to the animated menus that playback the Team America theme song overtop, here's what you'll find…
Trey Parker and Matt Stone provide an optional five minute introduction to the film in which the explain why puppets were used instead of real actors, and also go into a little bit about why the film was made in the first place and what they were trying to do with it. While there isn't really anything that's going to change your life in this clip, the two filmmakers are always amusing to listen to and that is the case here as well.
One of the more interesting extra features is up next in the form of the twelve minute Building The World documentary that covers how the exhaustive sets and miniatures were created as backdrops for the film. Through this piece we get interviews with the production designer and the visual consultant on the film as they explain the specific look that they were going for and how they went about achieving that goal. After watching this piece, do yourself a favor and check out the opening scene in France again as you're going to notice a lot of little things that you might not have picked up on the first time through.
Crafting The Puppets is an eight minute look into how the marionettes used throughout the film were created. Cult movie fans will dig getting a chance to check out what the Chiodo brothers (of Killer Klowns From Outer Space fame) have been up to lately as they were the ones behind the puppet creation for this movie. This segment contains some great footage of the brothers literally sculpting the puppets and it gives us a nice idea of the creative process behind it all. Right alongside that comes Pulling The Strings, which is a ten minute segment on Trey Parker's directorial style and how it worked (and sometimes how it didn't' work) so well with the puppets in the film. Much of the action and movements that the puppets show in the film was made up on the spot Try and Matt also talk about the infamous puppet sex scene in the film, and give some insight into how the made the puppets 'act' as opposed to just be there on camera.
What a lot of people probably don't realize about this film is that Bill Pope, cinematography of such Hollywood blockbuster hits as Spider-Man 2, and the three films in The Matrix Trilogy is the same man who handled the cinematography on Team America. This segment, Capturing The Action, is a six and a half minute look into how Bill got it all on camera much to the amazement of Matt and Trey, who were dumbfounded by the fact that Bill wanted to work on their film in the first place.
Joe Viskocil, a pyrotechnics experts who has worked on such notable films as Independence Day, True Lies and Terminator 2 is the genius behind the explosions for Team America as well. Miniature Pyrotechnics is a segment running just under five minutes that gives Joe a chance to show us how he went about blowing stuff up (that's gotta be the best career ever!) and how he recreated a few of Hollywood's more recognizable explosions on a miniature level.
North Korea's own Kim Jong Il gets his very own five minute segment on this DVD entitled Up Close And Personal With Kim Jong Il. This particularly funny and simultaneously creepy featurette shows how many of Kim's real life mannerisms were copped for his puppet counterpart in the film. Trey Parker discusses Kim's musical number, So Ronrey, and how he had hoped to be able to get him to perform it live at the Oscars if it had been nominated. After watching this piece it's a little disturbing how dead on they puppeteers were with their portrayal of this man.
Up next is a two minute Dressing Room Test that gives us a quick look at a run through of the early scene were Spottswood approaches Gary after his performance in Lease. It's kind of interesting to see how it differs from the version that wound up in the final cut of the film.
Paramount has also included a selection of ten deleted scenes and outtakes. With a combined running time of just over six minutes in length, there are some pretty funny moments in here including some more Michael Moore footage, Spottswood's thoughts on racism, Gary and Steve having a manly heart to heart talk, Gary's battle with Kim Jon Il's palace guards, a scene where the F.A.G. characters try to rile Team America, and an alternate take on the scene where Gary shows Spottswood how, ummm… committed he is to doing what is right. These scenes can be played individually or by using a play all button.
Rounding out the supplements are a slideshow that runs for about twelve minutes and displays a wealth of conceptual artwork and character sketches with some of the music from the film playing overtop, and two theatrical trailers for the feature itself, as well as the four trailers that you're forced to skip through at the beginning of the DVD.
Team America – World Police is a refreshingly vulgar take on world politics. Left or right, no target is left unskewered and despite the fact that, at times, it is frighteningly realistic the movie is pretty funny stuff especially when you look past the obvious toiler humor. The visuals are fantastic, the script is clever and crass, and the movie is definitely unique. Paramount has delivered a nice looking and nice sounding DVD with some well made supplements and despite the glaring omission of a commentary track, this is still a fine release. So check this one out, just be sure to throw your own personal political biases out the window beforehand. Highly recommended? Fuck yeah!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.