Stiller is back behind the camera (and also in front of it) and this time he’s taking on the Vietnam War sub-genre with Tropic Thunder (2008). In an odd way, we have Oliver Stone to thank for this film. Not just because he made Platoon (1986), which really popularized the sub-genre, but he also rejected Stiller when he auditioned for a role in the film. Stiller never forgot it and now he’s parlayed those feelings of rejection into a film that not only lampoons war films but
Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller) is an action film star on the decline, still flogging his Scorcher franchise – films that resemble a cross between something Tom Cruise might do and Roland Emmerich’s brain-dead special effects epics. Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black) stars in low-brow comedies filled with fart jokes that allow him to play multiple characters a la Eddie Murphy (Norbit, anyone?). Australian actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) is a five-time Academy Award winner who appears in “serious” films that win all of the important awards just like Russell Crowe.
They are all starring in a Vietnam War movie called Tropic Thunder that is currently being made on location in
In an effort to save the movie, Cockburn takes the five main actors to a remote jungle area to shoot a bunch of scenes guerrilla-style only to stumble across a rag-tag group of Vietnamese drug runners who assume that the clueless movie stars are actually DEA agents. At first, Speedman and his co-stars think that this is all part of the production but they (except for Speedman) quickly realize that this is for real.
It’s not too hard to figure out the real-life Hollywood power players that Stiller’s film satirizes with Cruise’s Grossman channeling the abusive reputation of the aforementioned Weinstein and
Every generation needs a Mel Brooks and Stiller takes up where the legendary comedian left off – before he became irrelevant and painfully unfunny. Stiller goes after the usual suspects of the genre: Platoon, Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter (1978), and even a sly reference to a scene from Predator (1987), but Tropic Thunder is more than a game of spot-the-reference that spoof movies tend to devolve into. It actually has something to say other than
Disc One features two audio commentaries. The first one is by director Ben Stiller, co-screenwriter Justin Theroux, producer Stuart Cornfeld, production designer Jeff Mann, cinematographer John Toll, and editor Greg Hayden. Cornfeld talks briefly about the genesis of the project – Stiller and Theroux had worked on the screenplay piecemeal over several years. Toll talks about the look of the film while Mann speaks about finding the best locations for various scenes. Stiller keeps things going by asking everyone questions.
The second commentary sees Stiller joined by Jack Black and Robert Downey Jr. Black and Stiller attempt to stay on topic while
Disc Two starts off with “Before the Thunder,” which takes a look at the origins of the film – from 1986 when Stiller had a small part in Empire of the Sun (1986) and noticed that many of his fellow actors were trying out for all kinds of Vietnam War films which were in vogue at the time.
“The Hot LZ” examines the exciting battle sequence that starts the film. Stiller wanted to rely on as many practical effects as possible in attempt to emulate the Vietnam War films that inspired his film.
“Blowing Shit Up” takes a look at the pyrotechnics of the film, from simple gunshot wounds to massive explosions. We see test footage for some of the explosions.
“Designing the Thunder” examines the impressive production design of the film, including beautiful locations all over
“The Casting of Tropic Thunder” features the main cast members talking about working with each other. It’s a big ol’ love fest as they gush about each other’s talent.
“Rain of Madness” is a spoof of the documentary Hearts of Darkness (1991), which chronicled the troubled production of Apocalypse Now. Justin Theroux plays the doc. filmmaker examining the equally troubled production of Tropic Thunder. This is very funny stuff.
Want more? “Dispatches from the Edge of Madness” features 22 additional minutes of footage and outtakes from Rain of Madness. There are some funny bits here even if it all seems like a little too much.
Also included are two deleted scenes, two extended scenes, and alternate ending all with optional commentary by Stiller and Hayden. The put this footage in context with the rest of the film and talk about why they were cut. The alternate ending goes into a little more detail about what happened to Speedman’s agent.
“MTV Movie Awards – Tropic Thunder” is the comedic skit that Stiller, Black and
“Full Mags” features four scenes from the film with no edits in order to show how the actors improvised with some stuff that was good enough to keep in the film and material that was cut.
Finally, there are “Video Rehearsals,” footage with no sound of the actors on location running through a scene.