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These Manufactured On Demand Discs often serve the purpose of getting films out to the fans, films that wouldn't ordinarily merit a traditional DVD release. Such is not the case with MGM's M.O.D. Disc for Zone Troopers, a silly, forgotten VHS placeholder on the shelves of countless Mom 'n' Pop Video Stores. Though low-budget, goofy, and possibly tragically misguided, Zone Troopers represents a type of fun, sincere filmmaking that genre aficionados are obligated to appreciate if they check their attitudes at the door.
As a curious blend of World War II melodrama and alien sci-fi adventure, Zone Troopers would seem to be divisive enough to turn off both potential groups of fans. Writer/director Danny Bilson and co-scribe Paul De Meo may have been off their rockers when they concocted this mixture which doesn't exactly cow-tow to sci-fi fans, (who were wallowing in the sci-fi excesses of 1985 when the film came out) nor, with its cheeky attitude, does it court dedicated WWII fanciers, a group that wasn't heavily catered to in the mid '80s, either. But you know what? If you abandon all preconceptions about what you might like or should like, you'll find this light-footed, fast paced effort lots of fun.
Genre vet Tim Thomerson (Trancers) plays Sergeant Stone, gritty leader of about three other troops trapped behind enemy lines in Italy. Battling Nazis, our heroes soon discover another combatant, an alien from a crashed spaceship! Dodging Nazis who want to capture both the Alien and the Americans, Sarge and his crew (including additional genre vets Timothy Van Patten and Art LaFleur) soon get into more hot water. The Nazis capture a couple of Sarge's troops, and the Alien's friends come looking for him too! It's up to Thomerson, a little pluck, and some cheesy alien effects to make sure you have a no calorie night of sci-fi-action-adventure-war-time-period-piece fun.
At that, it's pulpy, cliché-ridden, and often pretty goofy in a gee-whiz sort of way. Thomerson digs into his role with devil-may-care authority, not exactly delivering anything new, while owning the role as rightfully as any other thespian leading the grunts to battle. Other perfs are equally earnest and disingenuous, while action, both alien and earthly, is rendered with enough verve to overcome obvious technical difficulties. You wouldn't think it, but this movie, which never managed to sell itself to any particular genre fan, actually appeals to all of them through grit and total lack of pretension. If you want to extend the war metaphor to cover designs, Zone Troopers battles somewhere in between the silly, furry, bug-eyed monster on the old VHS cover, and the comic-book graphics of GIs rushing a UFO on the M.O.D. disc. Remember you're watching Zone Troopers to have fun, and at the very least Rent It, until someone has the good sense to release a DVD with some juicy extras.
Trooping in with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, MGM's M.O.D. Disc will certainly make you chuck your VHS copy in the trash bin. Good detail levels and a fairly crisp image meet with standard expectations of older low-budget movies on DVD. Nicely saturated colors, good black levels, and a pretty clean print complement an error-free transfer.
Dolby Digital 2.0 English Mono features a decent mix, with a beefy score punctuating otherwise so-so sound effects. Dialog is mixed well, easy to discern, and free of damage.
You'll get naught but the Theatrical Trailer as an extra on this disc. (Not even subtitles.).
MGM's Limited Edition Collection does a pretty good job with this obscure release, one deserving of a wider audience and maybe a disc with some cool extras. Even still, this great-looking print of a fun World War II-era, Aliens-In-Combat action-adventure-thriller is a welcome discovery to those who've passed it over on the rental shelves in years past. Through grit and total lack of pretension - plus Tim Thomerson's spot-on performance - this Manufactured On Demand disc of Zone Troopers earns an enthusiastic, though figurative, Rent It recommendation.
- Kurt Dahlke