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Troma's War

Troma // R // August 18, 2015
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ian Jane | posted August 7, 2015 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

When this strange mix of war time drama, slapstick comedy, and horror-gore effects begins, an airplane crashes on a remote island somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Most of the passengers and crew die in the crash but a group of ragtag survivors manage to crawl out of the wreckage more or less in one piece. While the survivors bicker about what to do and how to get back home, the militant group that lives on the island clue in to their presence and assume they're a commando team sent to attack them.

As the survivors gather their wits and decide to fight for their lives rather than let the terrorists take them, they soon find out that there's a plot to destroy America with AIDS underfoot. A few minutes later, they've killed some bad guys and stolen their weapons and are launching an all-out war against the bad guys that would harm the American way of life. A lot of bullets are fired, a lot of squibs explode and a lot of people die as the war wages until the better end and bad, corny jokes are made left, right and center offending anyone and everyone they possibly can.

Presented here in its unrated director's cut, Troma's War will delight those who appreciate old school bullet wounds. Never a group to shy away from the gory goodness that some well-placed squibs can provide, this is a film filled to the brim with the kind of primitively charming effects work you just don't (or at least very rarely) see in shoot'em ups anymore since the advent of CGI. Kaufman notes in his commentary that this really isn't any worse than other films that came out around the same time and cites Robocop as an example, but he might be understating the amount of violence he and his cohorts have crammed into the hour and forty minutes that comprise the film, and that's a good thing indeed. The violence here is quite impressive.

Also worth noting is how the crew manages to make upstate New York look like a completely different country. A few well-placed palm trees and some clever camera work hide the fact that the film was shot somewhere between Manhattan and Buffalo. By utilizing a decrepit old army base for most of the action, the film has the right sort of look to let you actually believe that it's all taking place in a third world country somewhere.

What hurts the film somewhat are the shifts in tone. Troma's War goes back and forth between the crass humor that the studio has often used to make a name for itself and a more serious demeanor without really much of a reason. Sometimes the comedy works, sometimes it doesn't but so much of it feels at odds with other scenes that definitely have a darker, and dare I say it, almost serious feel to them. It makes for a pretty erratic viewing experience and it can sometimes pull you right out of the movie if you're not expecting it. Once you accept the fact that the film isn't to be taken seriously and accept the fact that some impressive stunt work and super rad scenes of carnage are going to be piggy backed onto some bad jokes and crass humor, it's easy enough to have a good time with this one, even if it's a really uneven picture.

The Blu-ray:

Video:

Troma's War is presented in AVC encoded 1080i high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Past versions of the movie have been fullframe but there was typically a bit of extra space up top in a lot of the compositions. The widescreen framing here seems fine, nothing looks really compromised or out of order while detail and color reproduction is considerably improved over those aforementioned standard definition presentations. There's some print damage here and there and a few scratches but the image is clean enough and there's some good depth to the picture. Unfortunately there are some very obvious compression artifacts that are hard to miss, especially when things start moving around a lot on the screen or when there's a lot of smoke. In fact, in some scenes a relatively good looking picture turns into macro-block city. This doesn't last and it's not a constant but it is absolutely there and impossible to miss. It also happens frequently enough that it's a strike against the disc. Had this been authored better or had a higher bit-rate it definitely would have scored higher. As it stands the transfer still offers a decent upgrade in a lot of ways over the DVD, but that compression isn't so hot. In fact, the compression is flat out lousy.

Sound:

The English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is fine. It's well balanced and you won't have any problems understanding anyone. There are a few spots that maybe get a little close to the red but never quite go over, they just border on shrill. These moments are few and far between, and generally things sound quite clean here. All complaints are minor, but it would be nice if Troma would embrace the future (or the present) and start using lossless audio options on their Blu-rays.

Extras:

The extras start off with a commentary from writer/co-director/Troma head honcho extraordinaire, Lloyd Kaufman, who directed the film under the Samuel Weil alias. Kaufman explains the troubles that he and Herz ran into with the MPAA in order to get the film an R rating, which they were oblige to do thanks to their contract with Media years back, and how the film was subsequently rendered pretty important by the imposed cuts. He talks at length about working on a low budget and some of the cost cutting measures that they employed to bring this in on budget and about shooting the film in upstate New York and parts of Brooklyn and how he and his crew tried to make it look like a more exotic locale than it actually was. It's a good track, and quite an interesting listen, though surprisingly enough there are spots where Kaufman, who is rarely at a loss for words, actually clams up. Imagine that. All kidding aside, the gaps of silence are frequent enough that you can't help but notice them, but there's enough good material in here that it's definitely worth a listen.

From there, check out the wealth of featurettes that have been supplied, starting with Veteran's Day: A Post Tromatic Reunion, which is a piece where Pericles Lewnes visits the home of massive Joe Flesichaker (and brings him his mail!) so that the two can reminisce about their time spent working on this film. It's an interesting and candid piece and it fits in nicely alongside a collection of interviews with the cast and crew conducted by Kaufman. These are sometimes a little superficial but generally pretty interesting as they let almost all of the key players get a few words in edgewise about their characters and what it was like working on this bizarre film. All of this stuff, including the commentary, was include on the previous DVD release.

New to the disc is an introduction from Kaufman and a featurette called Post-War Memories where Kaufman and Michael Herz spend twenty minutes talking about the film. Specifically they discuss the squibs and stunts, dealing with the MPAA, reception to the movie at home and abroad and more. A trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection are also included on the disc. Unlike other recent Troma Blu-ray releases, this is NOT a combo-pack release so no DVD version has been included here, so if you prefer the fullframe video presentation you might want to hold onto those older discs.

Final Thoughts:

A really odd mix of war time drama, goofy comedy, horror, gore and social commentary,Troma's War is nothing if not entertaining. The tonal changes are bound to leave more than a few people scratching their heads but hey, it's Troma, what do you expect? The transfer could and should have been better but it is an improvement over the DVD even if the compression is terrible. The audio replicates what was on the DVD, no real upgrade there. All of the main extras from the Tromasterpiece DVD release are carried over and there are a couple of new ones thrown into the mix. Recommended for Troma fans who can look past the authoring and compression, a fun rental for the curious.

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.

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