Team America (2004)
16th May 2005
Created to fight the threat of global terrorism, Team America learn of a power-hungry dictator who is brokering weapons of mass destruction, in a handily sized brief case, to terrorists. With a man killed on their last mission to save Paris from a group of evil Arab terrorists, and the cities famous landmarks left in tatters from their over zealous actions, their hugely powerful computer I.N.T.E.L.I.G.E.N.C.E suggests that a big terrorist attack is imminent. But in order to infiltrate the terrorist network the team must employ some special tactics. As a result they decide to hire the best god damn man in the business for the job.
And that man is Gary Johnston, a rising star on Broadway, and some even say the finest actor in the world. He's an all-American actor who graduated Iowa University with a double major in theatre and engineering and a minor in world languages. Sceptical at first, Gary soon realises the importance of his talents to the mission and embarks on the most demanding role of his career, to act his way into the terrorist network and uncover who is responsible for the dastardly plot.
Undergoing some highly specialist surgery to give him additional facial hair to help him blend in, Gary is shipped off to Egypt with the rest of Team America to infiltrate the terrorist network. Using his amazing improvisational skills that leave his colleagues in awe, Gary soon finds himself deep inside the terrorist network and uncovering who is behind the terrorist plot. But what happens if he's discovered? An actor can't keep up a disguise for ever. But never fear, if his cover is blown then he can end it all - with a hammer. Still, he has Team America as backup and as soon as they suspect he's in danger they'll do their best to level the local landmarks and save the day. After all, they are there to put the "F" back in Freedom.
The picture is wonderfully bright and colourful with a huge amount of detail and massive range of colours on show. Blacks levels are solid throughout whilst there are no sign of either artifacting or outlining. The plastic faces of the puppets mean that flesh tones aren't an issue and the wonderful sharpness of the picture really manages to highlight the strings of the puppets, and increases the deliberate naff looking nature of the film. With the film being such a recent release the transfer is perfect with no signs of dust specks or other forms of picture imperfections. You really couldn't ask for much more in this delightful, and extravagant, showing.
With so much action constantly going on the sound track has a great opportunity to go completely mental and rattle the sound stage from one corner of the room to another. And go mental it does, with a 448 Kbps Dolby Digital soundtrack so loud and bursting full of LFE and surround effects you could almost be in the middle of a war zone. Even at the peak of the many mad melees, the dialogue remains crisp and clear in the centre channel whilst the stereo steerage in the front channels is handled with ease. And as for the musical score, let's just say that the rather colourful lyrics are just as easy to distinguish as the rest of the dialogue. Just as Trey Parker and Matt Stone are completely bonkers, so is this soundtrack, and it's an absolute triumph!
The main menu is animated and scored with the various characters and their aircraft dominating the cut scenes and giving an indication of the mayhem to come. Those of a nervous disposition will soon be reaching for the valium, and their precompiled complaints letters, as those colourful lyrics also form part of the scored menu system. However, select a sub menu and things all become rather static and silent. The extras include a whole host of featurettes which go on to highlight just how complicated a project this was to complete.
With seven detailed and interesting featurettes you'd be hard pushed to find anything at fault with this release and its collection of extras. In fact, if anything, even if the disc cost double the RRP it would still be worth owning for the sheer cheek of the film and the superb level of detail, and fun nature, of the extras. The icing on the cake would have been an an audio commentary from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Still, you can't have everything, so let's start with some more detail on those featurettes...
In the five minute featurette Team America an Introduction, director, producer and writers Trey Parker and Matt Stone introduce us to the various characters from the film and its overall concept of basically going around and simply shooting people. Essentially, it's a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, but with puppets, and judging from their comments in the introduction, both Trey and Matt are on a mission to poke fun at just about every actor in Hollywood and I bet a great deal of surgically enhanced noses were put out of joint by this film.
Next up is the extremely interesting thirteen minute featurette Building the World. Both Trey Parker and Matt Stone are briefly on hand to give some much deserved praise to the various members of the production team before production designer Jim Dultz and visual consultant David Rockwell, along with many other designers, take over the proceedings. The group then provide a huge amount of technical detail on how they went about creating the highly impressive, and surprisingly big and complex, sets. Watching the film you don't really notice, but the detail is absolutely amazing and, even down to the tiniest detail, there's plenty of in jokes to keep the geeks happy.
The eight minute featurette Crafting the Puppets looks at the highly complex and detailed manor in which the puppet faces and the multitude of facial expressions were made. It's also interesting to see that the various faces of the actors used by the team to create their alter-egos in the film are blocked out - probably because it would cost them money to show them in the featurette. This is nothing like Thunderbirds and, just like the highly detailed sets, the attention to detail in both the facial expressions, costume design and animatronics is truly remarkable, and there's not a piece of CGI in sight.
It's all well and good having superbly designed sets and puppets that mimic humans, but if you can't make your puppets move then there's no point in having a movie. So in the fascinating ten minute Pulling the Strings featurette the puppeteers are shown earning their dollars by bringing the puppets to life. But if things weren't already complicated enough for the puppeteers, Trey and Matt manage to upset them on a regular basis by keep making changes to their carefully rehearsed and choreographed routines, and when you've got up to three guys controlling a single puppet it's easy to see why they all got a little upset with having to pick things up on the fly. It's just like Ghostbusters, but rather than not crossing the streams you'd better not cross those strings!
When you want to capture some dramatic action in a film then there's no one better than getting Bill Pope as your director of photography. And when you consider he's the man who shot The Matrix then you know you're in for a good shoot. It also helped that Pope was a big fan of South Park. So in the eight minute Capturing the Action featurette, Pope admits that he was sick of shooting films on green screen and relished the opportunity to get down and dirty with the camera, even if those actors in front of the camera were plastic marionettes. Still, just because the actors weren't real it didn't mean that his shooting techniques were different, and that action is on screen for all to see.
In yet another extremely interesting feature, the five minute Miniature Pyrotechnics featurette has visual effects supervisor Joseph Viskocil explaining just how much fun it is to blow the models and sets up into millions of pieces. And yet again it's all done in real time without a single computer in sight. Having already worked on effects heavy titles such as Independence Day, Godzilla and Volcano these guys certainly know what they are doing and it ends up almost looking like a bit of a hobby. Still, with all of their working knowledge and expertise gained from these other projects the results produced here will rival any Hollywood blockbuster.
In the final five minute featurette Up Close with Kim Jong-II, we learn a little more about the evil dictator, and general all round nutcase, in both real life and puppet form. Being head bad guy in the film there was a little more time and effort spent in the design and implementation, and with North Korea being such a secretive place, there's quite a bit of creativity in the design of the evil ones palace. It's also interesting to learn that the real man is a bit a movie buff and has over 25,000 films in his personal collection. One thing is for sure, I bet he won't be adding Team America : World Police to his collection in a hurry.
In the two minute Dressing Room Test feature, Spottswoode and Gary are put through their paces in a scene from the film. Other than the fairly low quality nature of the picture there is little to differentiate between this and the scene used in the film. As a result it is of little interest, and with no explanation from anyone as to why it is here, the only assumption I can make is that it is a test of the various facial features. In the four minute Puppet Test the Spottswoode marionette is used to test some of the character movements and expressions. With some very funny dialogue from Trey Parker I'm not sure whether the puppeteer is reacting spontaneously to the dialogue or whether it was part of some pre-recorded material. After about two minutes Spottswoode is then taken outside and used for further movement tests, including sitting on a toilet! Both of these features are interesting, but an introduction from somebody would have been nice.
The most disappointing extra on the disc has to be the Deleted/Extended Scenes and Outtakes section. With only four extended scenes and a few outtakes to watch it's a big let down, especially since both Trey Parker and Matt Stone are renowned for their improvising, which was so well proven in the Pulling the Strings featurette. Still, the extended Matrix style fight scene in Kim Jong-II palace is a hoot whilst an outtake with Spottswoode being "serviced" by Gary is a bit of a chuckle too. The disc also includes a number of animated storyboards which, interesting at first, soon become rather tiresome. Still, it's nice to see that Trey and Matt did actually have a script and plan for the movie! Things are rounded off nicely with two theatrical trailers for the film.
There's not many a film which can make me cry, but Team America : World Police succeeded in making me do so. However, if was not from the emotion of it all, but simply from nearly laughing my socks off. Quite how Trey Parker and Matt Stone get away with some of the stuff they do is beyond me and with it's highly visible big budget, and big names such as director of photography Bill Pope on board, it's obvious that somebody in Hollywood likes their insulting and, quite frankly, bizarre minds. After all, only these two loons could have come up with idea of puppet sex and song called Uncle F**ker in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut! Still, the only time it really came to cross that all important bad taste line was during a particular scene on the Panama canal, and even then it wasn't deliberate. With events of the Asian tsunami still fresh in many peoples minds, the images may just be a little too disturbing for some.
Obviously, this is not a film for children and it shouldn't be confused with those more child friendly Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet characters. Also, if you are easily offended by race or sex issues then you should avoid this title like the preverbal plague. But for everyone else it's one heck of a laugh and a wonderful poke at our American friends stereotypical vision of the world and their gung-ho methods to solving world problems. If this film wanted to express any more of a political statement then it could do no more than simply sticking a badge on its lapel and running for president.
A hilarious poke at Jerry Bruckheimer and his movies it may be, but it's also one hell of a funny satire of an inward looking political establishment whose actions affect us all. Who says that the Americans aren't capable at laughing at themselves? Highly recommended.
- Featurette : Team America an Introduction
- Featurette : Building the World
- Featurette : Crafting the Puppets
- Featurette : Pulling the Strings
- Featurette : Capturing the Action
- Featurette : Miniature Pyrotechnics
- Featurette : Up Close with Kim Jong-II
- Dressing Room Test
- Puppet Test
- Deleted/Extended Scenes and Outtakes
- Animated Storyboards
- Theatrical Trailers