Made in 1999 to cash in on Baz Luhrman's theatrical release of Romeo + Juliet starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Troma's Tromeo And Juliet is another in the studio's long line of crasstastic films chock full of sex, violence, humor and gross out moments. Directed by Lloyd Kaufman and co-written by James Gunn (who would later write Scooby Doo and the Dawn Of The Dead remake in addition to directing Slither) it's equal parts clever social satire, base exploitation and bizarre juvenility but somehow it manages to all come together.
Set in the New Jersey of the late nineties, the film tells the story of two families, the Ques and the Capulets who, after a dispute over some sex film distribution rights, wind up in a nasty and ongoing feud. In the middle of this family feud is Tromeo Que (Will Keenan), a young man who loves pornography and spends a lot of time hanging out with his relatives Benny (Stephen Blakehart) and Tyrone (Patrick Connor) getting into trouble. When he and his pals crash a party being held by the Capulets, however, he soon falls head over heels in love with the pretty vegetarian Juliet Capulet (Jane Jensen). Unfortunately for Tromeo, while she reciprocates his affections, her father, Cappy (William Beckwith credited as Maximillian Shaun), wants her to marry her fiancÚ, a meat mogul named London Arbuckle (Steve Gibbons). Complicating matters further, Juliet's live in assistant, Ness (Debbie Rochon), has also got the hots for her and the pair periodically engage in some pretty rad lesbian sex.
Just as it was in Shakespeare's original story, here Tromeo and Juliet have to figure out how they'll be able to be together once and for all but the feud between their families shows no signs of dying down any time soon and London isn't keen on letting go of his fiancÚ without a fight.
Surprisingly good in the acting department, at least by the studio's usual standards, Tromeo And Juliet isn't exactly Troma growing up but it does show the studio taking things in a different direction than the one that they'd been heading in for the ten years or so prior to its production. The bizarre set pieces are still here, highlighted by a weird dream sequence involving a giant Giger-esque penis coming to life and a scene in which a woman gives birth to live rats, and there is still a lot of violence and potty humor but as the movie plays out you actually start to care for the two leads just a little bit. The romantic aspects of the movie come together better than they probably have any right to and while it does eschew much of the tragedy that has made the source material so memorable, it does manage to put its own unique and worthwhile spin on things. Kaufman and company make the story their own by tossing in some gratuitous body piercing footage, lots of sex, some welcome violence, and some amusing and at times almost unintelligible (yet somehow entirely appropriate) narration from none other than Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead (and, not to be left out, The Head Cat).
Things do go over the top in typical Troma fashion, particularly during the last twenty minutes or so where our star crossed lovers find themselves in a race against time but underneath the filmed anarchy and somewhat controlled chaos is a pretty solid and timeless tale of true love conquering all. You have to look for it, and it does at times get easily overshadowed by the carnage and insanity of it all, but it's definitely there. The film, if nothing else, is consistently amusing and consistently entertaining. It's not a picture for all tastes and it is still very firmly rooted in the trashy Troma tradition, but it's got more heart than most of their films and as such, so long as you're okay with the more extreme aspects of the content, it's worth seeking out.
Tromeo And Juliet arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p 1.33.1 fullframe (which is the film's original aspect ratio) high definition transfer that is a big step up from the standard definition release that Troma put out a few years ago. Not only is the fullframe image opened up just a bit on all four sides of the frame, but it shows far more detail in pretty much every shot. Skin tones look much more natural and color reproduction is considerably more realistic as well. Black levels are generally pretty strong and the horrible compression artifacts that plagued the standard definition release have been almost completely eliminated here on Blu-ray (note, that's almost - there are a few that you might spot in some of the darker scenes if you really want to look for them). There's still a bit of mild print damage here and there and some sporadic inconsistencies from scene to scene, but this transfer is far, far, far better than the ugly standard definition release and fans of the film should be pretty pleased with Troma's efforts here.
Unfortunately, Troma has yet to embrace a lossless audio format for their Blu-ray releases, so we're left with a standard definition Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, in English, with no alternate language options or subtitles options offered. The clarity of the track is okay - the dialogue is easy to understand and the levels are generally well balanced- but occasional hiss and distortion does creep into the mix now and then. These aren't deal breakers and really, the film has never sounded all that amazing in the first place, but there probably could have been more effort put into cleaning things up. In short, the movie sounds okay. It would have been nice had it sounded as good as it looks, but that didn't happen. What's here isn't horrible, but neither is it great.
Troma loaded up the standard definition release with a lot of extra features and all of those have been carried over to this Blu-ray release, starting with the commentary that was recorded for that disc Lloyd Kaufman, who has no qualms about discussing the good, the bad and the ugly in regards to this film, it's history and those who worked on it with him. New to this release are three brand new commentary tracks, however, the first of which teams up co-writer James Gunn and Lloyd Kaufman for a really fun retrospective track that discusses the picture from a modern day perspective. Gunn talks about what a pain in the ass Lemmy was to work with while Kaufman points out what works and what doesn't. It's a very funny and interesting track and the best of the four on this disc. Originally recorded for the last DVD release but left off is a discussion with James Gunn and his brother Sean Gunn who acts in the film. It's played mostly for laughs and isn't the most informative track but these guys do have fairly biting senses of humor and as such, it's actually pretty engaging. The last track includes editors Frank Reynolds and Gabe Friedman for a track that is surprisingly technical at times, which is a welcome contrast and change from the other three tracks. Here the two editors talk about putting the film together, what they had to change in post versus where they and Kaufman wanted to go during principal photography, and about how various shots and scenes had to be changed to get the desired effect in the finished product. Between the four tracks, pretty much anything you'd want to know about the making of Tromeo And Juliet is covered.
If four commentary tracks weren't enough, there are some brand new interviews with cast and crew members Sean Gunn, Debbie Rochon, Stephen Blackehart, Tiffany Shepis, Wendy Adams, Lisbeth Kaufman, Willy Wisely, Joe Lynch, Andrew Weiner, Franny Baldwin, Sandee Brockwell, Dylan Forer, Daniel Epstein and Lemmy. Again, there's a lot of ground covered here and while the commentaries cover most of what you'd want to know, these interviews feature people who didn't contribute to the commentary tracks so they do help to further flesh out the back story and the making of the movie.
Closing out the extras are some deleted scenes, some rehearsal footage clips, some bizarre fan reenactments of a few different key scenes from the movie, a featurette in which Lloyd Kaufman meets James Gunn on the set of Slither to shoot an appearance in Gunn's directorial debut (Kaufman would wind up getting cut!), a featurette in which Gunn and Kaufman travel to the set of Eli Roth's Hostel, Troma including trailers, an amusing introduction with James Gunn and Stephen Blackehart, a collection of unrelated short films, Troma PSAs and music videos, Kaufman's original introduction from the previous DVD release, animated menus and chapter stops. There's a ridiculous amount of material here, and most of it is actually pretty good.
Tromeo And Juliet is a far better film than it probably has any right to be, effectively mixing Troma's trademark gross out humor and crass aesthetic with some surprisingly good performances and throwing in some interesting update to a literary classic. The Blu-ray isn't much to write home about in the audio department but the transfer is a good one and it offers a very noticeable upgrade from the standard definition release. Throw in more extras than any Troma fan could hope for and the disc comes highly recommended.
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.