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This 1985 Charles Band production directed by Danny Bilson, probably best known for writing Disney's adaptation of The Rocketeer and for loads of genre friendly TV work, follows a small group of American soldiers who find themselves in Italy in 1944 while the country is under German occupation. A firefight leaves only a few men left: Sarge (Tim Thomerson), Joey (Timothy Van Patten), Mittens (Art LaFleur) and a reporter named Dolan (Biff Manard). They decide to hide out in an empty cave that they find out in the woods.
While they're out in the woods trying to figure out what to do about the SS Camp that they've stumbled upon, they soon discover a space ship has crashed in the area. Not only that, but they find an alien survivor too. Unfortunately Mittens and Dolan are quickly captured by the Nazi's, but not for too long, as Sarge and Joey promptly show up on cue to save the day. They bring their teammates and the hairy alien with them back to the cave and eventually form an alliance with him just in time for the SS troops to figure out what's going on. What nobody realizes, however, is that the alien's pals have noticed he's gone missing and have sent out a search team with laser guns to find him.
Very obviously influenced by the pulp stories of the era in which it is set (made very obvious by the placement of a few pulps in the film itself), Zone Troopers isn't taking anything all too seriously. The characters are, each and every one, a stereotype and mutter out cliché after cliché with amazing precision, but that's all part of the fun here. While the movie might not be the most original in terms of storyline (or in terms of the score that composer Richard Band partially pilfered from The Empire Strikes Back!) but it doesn't overstay its welcome and all involved seem to be having fun with the material.
The film never goes into full on gore mode and stays safely entrenched in PG territory. Had the filmmakers had the gumption (or the budget?) to get a little grislier with the effects work here, they could have pulled off a fun Mars Attacks! style movie but that never quite happens. Instead we get gunfights where a lot of times there's no muzzle flare, we get furry aliens in silver space suits and we get pretty much all of the extras killed off in the first opening scene. Obviously Empire Pictures was trying to keep the costs down, it shows and at times it hurts the film. But what works here works well, and the four principal cast members come off as likeable enough guys, even when they're bickering amongst each other or reminiscing about the girls and the hamburgers they left behind in the good ol' U.S of A!
The film at one points makes an interesting comparison to the alien survivor, noting that he's scared and far away from home where nobody understands him, just like the G.I.'s themselves, but that's about the extent of any serious message the film tries to make. Instead it's just a fun, goofy, and reasonably kid friendly slice of light entertainment set to a bunch of big band music and featuring some dopey looking aliens.The Blu-ray:
Kino presents Zone Troopers in a transfer that looks to be the same source used for MGM's anamorphic widescreen DVD/MOD release from a few years back. Obviously it's here in HD, AVC encoded 1080p just as you'd expect, and framed at 1.85.1. Generally, the transfer is actually pretty good. The colors look nice, detail is better than you'd probably expect for a low budget movie (and nicely improved over that aforementioned DVD release) that's over a quarter of a century old. The picture is clean and free of any serious print damage. Black levels are fine, there are no edge enhancement problems and the picture is pretty much free of compression artifacts as well. The image is also free of any noise reduction, so a natural amount of film grain is present.Sound:
The only audio option available is a DTS-HD Mono track in English, there are no subtitles or dubbed options present. The mix sounds good, the score in particular has some good presence to it and here the lossless audio offers a nice upgrade over the previously released version. There's more depth and range and clarity to the music. If the gun shots don't always sound as powerful as maybe they could have, at least the dialogue is clean and easy to follow. No problems here. This track won't blow you away but it sounds good.Extras:
The last DVD-R release had only a trailer as its solitary extra. That trailer is here on this Blu-ray release too, but we also get a couple of other supplements starting with a commentary featuring director/co-writer Danny Bilsen and producer/co-writer Paul De Meo. They talk about working with producer Charles Band on this picture, how their affection for World War II movies and that era's movies worked their way into this picture. They talk about the difficulties of shooting certain scenes, how they used a lot of the same cast members as they'd used on some previous Empire Pictures films, who certain characters were based on, how the strong exchange rate at the time worked in their favor and how making a movie with guys in the woods makes it easier to place a story in any period that you want. There's more to the track than that, they also talk about who was dubbed and why, the costumes and effects work and the locations. The first forty minutes of the track is well paced, after that there are some lengthy stretches of silence but overall this is a decent talk.
The disc also includes an interview with Tim Thomerson that runs eleven minutes entitled The Iron Sarge. Here he talks about his affiliation with Empire Pictures, how the movie was a labor of love, the effects work, some of this co-stars and more. He looks back on it fairly fondly and this is worth checking out. There are some cool behind the scenes pictures used here too.Final Thoughts:
Zone Troopers is by no means a masterpiece but it is an entertaining time killer and Kino have done a pretty respectable job bringing it to Blu-ray for the first time. The movie is a fun one, the transfer here is pretty solid and we get a couple of choice extras as well. 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.