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review added: 8/3/01



Tigerland
2000 (2001) - 20th Century Fox

review by Brian Ford Sullivan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Tigerland Program Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/A-

Specs and Features

101 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary by director Joel Schumacher, video footage of casting session with Colin Farrell, "behind-the-scenes" featurette, theatrical trailer, 2 TV spots, Tora! Tora! Tora! trailer, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, Spanish, Closed Captioned


Somewhere on the packaging for director Joel Schumacher's latest film Tigerland there ought to be a small label that says "No Bat-Nipples, we promise." Almost universally condemned for his work on Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, Schumacher is slowing getting back to his roots with such films as 8 MM and Flawless. His latest, Tigerland, represents a complete 180 from his days on the summer blockbuster type of film. Concerning the semi-autobiographical tale of screenwriter Ross Klavan's final days at Fort Polk (a.k.a. Tigerland) before shipping off to Vietnam, Schumacher's latest is unlike not only anything previously attempted by the director, but also any war film in recent memory.

In 1971, Tigerland serves as the Army's most realistic representation of the Vietnamese jungle, where soldiers at Louisiana's Fort Polk are sent to for their final week of training. It's here we meet Private Roland Bozz (Colin Farrell), a drafted solider who's desperately searching for ways to get out of the Army. The Army, however, has different plans for him. They believe that the only punishment suitable for Bozz is to keep on sending him through basic training until he folds and is shipped off to Vietnam.

It's in this, his latest round of basic, that the experience indeed starts to get to him, as he builds uneasy friendships with his squad members - most notably the idealistic Paxton (Matthew Davis) - and begins to see the reality of his situation. It's among his platoon that Bozz sees men going through the military experience with much more difficulty than he ever found, and begins to use the knowledge of the military rules, that he used to try and get himself out with, to help them get out as well. A reluctant hero among his platoon, Bozz finds that despite his authority hating and prankster ways, he might be the two things he loathes - a leader and a solider.

Shot beautifully by cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Pi, Requiem for a Dream), despite being filmed in grainy 16mm, the film gives us a staggeringly realistic view of the experience of being a solider. Tigerland is more the story about how war robs young men of the chance to grow up and find their own way than a story about the Vietnam War itself. The film shows us how heroism and duty are things that we intrinsically reject, and it's only after we are dragged kicking and screaming to them that we find we can do them. Furthermore, on a more subtle level, the film also illustrates the argument that the military trains its soldiers to be mass murderers without any regard for what lies ahead (if they should survive their duties to God and country).

Newcomer Colin Farrell does an outstanding job as the centerpiece of the film, fully realizing the emotions of a man who really is reluctantly a hero. Matthew Davis also turns in a great performance as the counterweight to Bozz who, in a reversal of Bozz's situation (and despite loving the idea of being a solider and having a high level of affection of what the army is), finds the experience is too much to handle. The rest of the film is populated with mostly newcomer actors who, under anyone else's hand, might have turned into caricatures or one note characters. Klavan's script gives each character at least one scene to show that he is more than what you see on screen and it's thoroughly engaging. We're told in the commentary that the script is based loosely on Klavan's own experiences in Fort Polk. And allusions can be drawn that the character of Paxton (a writer/dreamer who joined the army because of authors like Ernest Hemingway and James Jones) is Klavan's own presence in the film.

Now, let's talk about the disc itself. The film is presented in all its 16mm glory (and not even Super 16 either), in anamorphic widescreen. It's obvious, with all the technical hurdles of shooting in 16mm, that even a perfect transfer wouldn't be without its share of graininess and grittiness. But as Schumacher points out, it's supposed to look like hell. Or, more to the point, like the war films of the day. I didn't find any of it distracting at all. In fact, I can't imagine it looking any "better" if it were shot in 35mm and preserved perfectly. Both Schumacher and Libatique have done a fine job of making the film a visually different experience, as techniques one might consider "bad filmmaking" are used to make this film a refreshingly new experience. Thankfully, the disc has held up that experience wonderfully. The sound mix is offered in both Dolby 5.1 and 2.0, but despite this being a war film, your speakers won't get a workout. Outside of a few camp exercises, the film is more or less dialogue driven and fairly reserved.

As far as extras go, the disc offers a highly enjoyable feature-length commentary from Schumacher. It's here that he goes into all the themes discussed in this review, as well as his own personal journey that this film took him on. He points out that this was easily his best experience behind a camera ever. He also spends a great deal of time on the budget and technical limitations of the film, as well as working with a cast of unknown actors. You can tell from the entire commentary that he's excited about the experience and more than willing to share his thoughts on it. He rarely pauses and always keeps you interested throughout the feature.

The disc also offers a set of four screen tests for Colin Farrell, who sent them in from his native Dublin. His sister taped his audition, because he missed his flight to London where he was supposed to meet Schumacher. Also included are the theatrical trailer and two TV spots, as well as the trailer for the 1970 war classic Tora! Tora! Tora!. Finally, the disc offers a "by the numbers" featurette about the film, that runs under seven minutes.

Much like Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line, Tigerland is an "anti-war" film, in that it's not about the politics behind the war or even the battles themselves. Rather, it's about how war affects the individual person. And despite Schumacher's infamous history, I now find myself excited about the director and his future projects. If that seemingly insane statement is not a recommendation, I don't know what is.

Brian Ford Sullivan
bfsullivan@thedigitalbits.com




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