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Tropic Thunder - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
At the time of the trailers hyping its release, I could honestly say that when it came to Tropic Thunder, I can't remember being so enthusiastic to see a Ben Stiller-directed film. I mean look, the guy's modestly funny, but anything I had seen him helm at that point was ok at best. The elevator pitch of the movie checked a few boxes for me; making of a war movie? Includes a couple of actors from fake films looking at this like a springboard? To say nothing of one of the co-stars' back story for his character? Count me in. I was planning to see it, then I went to Comic-Con, which was hitting the crest of the Twilight publicity, and a few days before release, I got to see it in a crowded theater, laughed the whole time. Good times, those days.
Anyway, Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) co-wrote it with Justin Theroux, who would later cut his teeth with The Leftovers. He also plays Tugg Speedman, a guy with a lot of box office popularity, but when he started to try and cash in on it with daring dramatic films, bombed in epic manners. Jack Black (School of Rock) plays Jeff, the guy who does all the fat fart people movies but wants to commit to drama more, and Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man 2) is Kirk, the mega-talented Australian with more Oscars than anyone in the world, and takes his method to new levels by dyeing his skin and playing an African American. They are the stars of "Tropic Thunder," a Vietnam-era war picture of Apocalypse Now proportions and production difficulties.
It's been almost 15 years since the movie, and it's hard to understand where it's place is now in 2022. Sure, the Downey stuff could never be made today, but how much of what hit the floor now could for another reason? Stiller's film pokes a lot of deep fingers into the entertainment industry's eye, or did back in the day. Actors trying to convey their desire to get to the heart of the jungle while spending the off-shoot days in a multi-million dollar house with an eternity pool isn't roughing it, despite what they think their jobs may say otherwise. The scene where Downey and Stiller talk about appearing in Oscar vehicles was absolutely spot on then and isn't far from being off now.
Then there's Les Grossman, played to devastating detail by a near-unrecognizable Tom Cruise (Mission: Impossible). Say what you will about the film, but there's a level that it maybe wouldn't have reached if Cruise doesn't don a whole bunch of prosthetics to play that role. Go to the Director's Cut, and the level of depravity that Stiller, Theroux and Etan Cohen seem to be looking at when it comes to Hollywood phoniness sure comes through in Grossman. Cruise is aware of it and goes for it as he should.
It's remarkable just how many people are in the film and contribute substantive performances that include at least a couple of laughs; Steve Coogan (The Trip to Spain) plays a talented but overwhelmed rookie director. Nick Nolte (The Thin Red Line) is, well, the technical advisor. Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyer's Club) is Tugg's longtime agent. Bill Hader (Barry) doing a weird pseudo-James Mason affect as Grossman's assistant. And a young Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down) is the effects man. Everyone is dedicated to the mission of making in essence, themselves, silly, and it remains funny after all this time to boot.
I think seeing Tropic Thunder again for the first time in a while deepened my appreciation for it, not only for where Stiller may have been at that point when he wrote it, but it would appear he managed to get most or maybe all of what he wanted on screen, which is kind of amazing given that it was only 2008 when this came out. It's fun, it's subversive without being mean, and serves as a milestone of sorts for a lot of things and people in it.The UHD:
There are two cuts of the film, the Director's Cut (2:01:20) is on Blu-ray while the theatrical cut (1:46:44) is in UHD. And the HDR/Dolby Vision presentation looks excellent, with the Hawaiian forests that cinematographer John Toll captures possessing a superb dimensional feel to them, deeper detail in chest hair (of which Grossman has ample supply of), or pores on Stiller's face looking easily discernible. Color reproduction is excellent and loyal to the image, and makes for a beautiful disc.The Sound:
DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround passing the test as well, with loads of gunfire providing an immersive experience early on in the film, along with the film's numerous songs from the Rolling Stones among others. Dialogue is consistent in the center of the theater, channel panning is present and directional effects are ample and convincing. I'm presuming this is not a new soundtrack, but this will do just fine.The Extras:
So it looks like you're getting the extras from Paramount's (Director's' Cut) release, with the additional cut thrown in for obvious reasons. Which means you get two commentary tracks; one with Stiller, Black and Downey (the latter in character to continue the bit from all the promotional material) where they discuss their characters, transforming Downey, and on things like Booty Sweat (I think I still have a can somewhere!), and working with water buffaloes. The other track is with Stiller, Theroux, producer Stuart Cornfeld, editor Greg Hayden, production designer Jeff Mann and Toll that gets into the production a little deeper. The challenge of shooting in Hawaii is recounted, and shot breakdowns, such as spotting visual effects or composite shots recalled, and the crew have a good amount of production recall with them, as they also discuss working with Cruise. Both tracks are excellent and worth exploring.
The extras are on the second (Director's Cut) disc, starting with "Before the Thunder" (4:55), where the idea of the film is recounted and the inspiration for the story discussed. "The Hot LZ (6:26) shows the desire to get things right, even for a comedy, including the previsualization and larger shots. "Blowing Shit Up" (6:19) features your explosions and practical effects, while "Designing the Thunder" (7:32) centers on production design. "The Cast of Tropic Thunder" (22:13) share their thoughts via interviews, and makeup tests for Cruise (3:38) are shown. "Full Mags" (11:15) feature improvisational footage, and the stars' appearance from the MTV Movie Awards that year is shown (4:06). Theroux's "Rain of Madness" (30:01), where he's Werner Herzog filming his own "Burden of Dreams", follows, along with a trailer for that (2:47) and two trailers for the film itself (4:27).Final Thoughts:
Tropic Thunder is so full of laughs you could almost miss the dagger with which Stiller cuts those in his film and others of his ilk about the movie business, it's one of the more mainstream projects that's been able to pull it off that I can think of immediately. Technically it looks great and brings everything together in one nice tidy package. Sure, the director's cut not being in UHD could be considered a blemish, but not by me it won't. Highest recommendations.