Director Joel Schumacher has not had an easy time with his recent efforts - his entries into the "Batman" series recieved a largely negative (and rightly so) reception and "Tigerland", although it recieved extremely positive reviews and good buzz, the film didn't recieve much of a push and quickly dissapeared from theaters.
The film stars highly regarded new actor Colin Farrell as Bozz, a new army recruit in the 1970's who finds himself and a group of others at Fort Polk, one of the toughest army camps in the U.S. and eventually at the training grounds known as "Tigerland". The one thing that makes him different from all the rest is that he absolutely doesn't care about what's going around him and he doesn't want to be in the war - which means that he's always getting in trouble with his superiors. "Tigerland" looks at Bozz and the rest of the recruits as they are trained on the Tigerland grounds in preparation for the Vietnam war.
The film sometimes seems like an attempt to be a smaller version of Terrence Malick's phenomenal "The Thin Red Line" as the soldiers share their thoughts and emotions about the fact that they could be the next to be sent to war. Meanwhile, their superior officers yell and curse (and sometimes worse) at them. As I've just watched Fox's new TV drama "Boot Camp" before reviewing "Tigerland", things seemed occasionally familiar.
Where "Line" attempted to see the beauty in the surroundings with John Toll's stunningly beautiful cinematography, "Tigerland" chooses to go low-budget, with Matthew Libatique ("Pi")'s cinematography providing a hand-held, in-the-middle-of-it-all look at nearly every scene both great and small. It's an interesting approach and for the most part, it works respectably - I was drawn into the situations, but I wasn't always held there - aside from a couple of the main characters, the supporting characters in "Tigerland" are not always well-defined, although the film's 101 minute running time doesn't give it nearly the chance to fill out the characters as most war dramas do. Farrell's performance is engaging and entertaining - some of the other young actors don't do quite as well in trying to get the viewer to care about their characters. The director was so impressed with Farrell's work, though, that the two are re-teaming for the upcoming 2001 thriller "Phone Booth", a project that originally had both Jim Carrey and Will Smith (along with, at one point, director Michael Bay) interested.
I didn't feel that "Tigerland" was without flaws and concerns, but for Schumacher, it's a step (or better said, a leap) in the right direction.
VIDEO: "Tigerland" is rather rough and tough looking material, but Fox has done a fine job with the presentation for this anamorphic widescreen edition, in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. As the film was shot in 16mm, scenes look gritty, grainy and occasionally vary in look. Sharpness varies greatly - some scenes look crisp and well-defined, with a nice amount of depth to the scenery in the background. Yet, there are other scenes that look soft and some scenes that look noticably soft. The film's often hand-held camera-work throws us directly into every moment and the look of the picture works for the material. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique has been previously known for director Darren Aronofsky's films like "Pi".
Aside from the softness and grain that one would expect from the 16mm material, there isn't much to be concerned with. There were a few very slight instances of pixelation, but print flaws remain minimal as there's only a couple of minor marks on display. Other than that, the picture remains clear.
Colors remain washed-out throughout the movie, with bleak greens and browns dominating the image throughout the film. Overall, "Tigerland" does present the film with an interesting visual style that's captured well by Fox's strong anamorphic transfer.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and although many might expect something more agressive sonically from a war film, "Tigerland" is a mainly dialogue-driven experience with only rare surround use in the more intense scenes of training that are shown in the film. The score rarely enters into the proceedings, but it's enjoyable and works well with the film. Dialogue remains easily heard throughout the film. A decent sound experience.
MENUS:: The main menu uses clips from the movie very effectively and provides a very good introduction to the tone of the film. Sub-menus are not animated, but still use film-themed images well.
Commentary: This is a moderately interesting and informative commentary from director Joel Schumacher, who goes into great detail about the choices were made (bleaching, etc) for the film's gritty look and also, details about the story. Story discussion varies - occasionally the director provides some insight about what the characters are thinking, but there are times where he's simply discussing what's going on in the story.
The technical side of the commentary track provided more interest as the director talks about the low budget and the very quick shooting schedule - and as a result, the series of obstacles that were in the way on a daily basis (such as the agressive wildlife that had to be dealt with while filming scenes in the forests). It's not a great commentary, but it's still a very good one that captures the experiences of making the movie.
Colin Farrell Screen Test: Broken up into 4 parts, viewers can watch the screen-tests for star Farrell. As a very good new actor, it's interesting to watch.
Also: The film's full-frame theatrical trailer (Dolby 2.0) and two TV ads (which I never saw on TV). A trailer for "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is also included, as well as a short promotional featurette for "Tigerland".
Final Thoughts: "Tigerland" is far better than Schumacher's other recent "Hollywood" films, but I found parts of it somewhat uninvolving. Still, many may find it worthwhile as a rental. Fox's DVD does a good job at bringing the rough-looking film to the small screen for this DVD release and even adds in a group of extra features to round out the package.