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Featured Blu-ray Review: Tigerland

May 23rd, 2011

Tigerland - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

After getting his big break in Minority Report in 2002, Colin Farrell starred in every single movie released in 2003. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. But at the time I mentioned that each film was either bringing him closer to A-list status, or overexposure. He starred in three $100 million hits that opened in a span of just over a year, and none since then. So I think it is safe to say the latter was true. However, before this onslaught of films, he starred in Tigerland. Tigerland was directed by Joel Schumacher, who had directed three $100 million hits in a row, but this film is his weakest performer at the box office pulling in roughly $140,000. Looking back a decade later, did it deserve better?

The Movie

Tigerland is set in Fort Polk in 1971. At this time, it was clear to most people that the Vietnam War was a lost cause. In fact, Nixon won in 1968 in part by saying he had a plan to end the Vietnam war. That said, they still have to train these soldier well enough to at least survive the war, if not win it. The main character is Roland Bozz, a draftee who is not exactly adjusting well to military life. By the time we meet up, he has spent more time in stockade than out. While his superior officers hate him because of his disrespectful nature, the other enlisted men love him... mostly. He's well-versed in the rules and knows how to get a soldier out of the army, if that's what he wants. Not everyone going through boot camp with Bozz likes him. Wilson takes an instant dislike to Bozz. In fact, Wilson dislikes just about everyone and bullies those he finds inferior. Only Bozz will stand up to him, and when that causes a fight, Jim Paxton is the only private willing to help Bozz, which of course puts Paxton in Wilson's sights.

As boot camp continues, it becomes clear that the conflict between Roland Bozz and Wilson is not just a simple case of getting off on the wrong foot and that through team building exercises they will learn to like each other, or at least respect each other. No, it becomes clear that Wilson is looking to harm Bozz and he might be more dangerous than the prospect of going to Vietnam.

Films about boot camp are a sub-genre of war movies that are common enough to have their own list of cliches. Sadly, this film borrows rather heavily from them. All of the main characters are archetypes of new recruits, from the rebel, to the sensitive writer, to the enthusiastic recruit who is in way over his head, to the aggressively macho character, etc. They are all rather one-dimensional and the situations they are put in seem episodic rather that flowing naturally as part of the same narrative.

First film's look was inspired by Dogme 95, which was a method development in 1995 that was supposed to bring filmmakers back to a more pure form of storytelling instead of relying on special effects to cover for a weak story. Some of the rules include no props, no special lighting, no music except for that which can be recorded in camera, etc. Obviously this movie breaks most of the rules; however, it does maintain a more realistic look with 16 mm hand-held cameras. This has its benefits, including making the combat scenes feel more intimate. It also has its drawbacks. It does feel superficial at times, plus the end result is a film that doesn't shine in High Definition.

Colin Farrell does give an excellent performance and he elevates the material enough that the film is worth checking out, but it doesn't do enough new with the genre to truly stand out.

The Extras

There are several of extras on the Blu-ray, many of which are new. But first, ported over from the DVD are an audio commentary track with Joel Schumacher and 6 minutes of screen tests with Colin Farrell, plus a 4-minute featurette that is mostly promotional fluff.

There are three new featurettes, starting with The Real Tigerland, a 22-minute featurette with real life soldiers describing their experiences at Fort Polk and Tigerland intercut with scenes from the movie. Journey to Tigerland is a 10-minute interview with Joel Schumacher where he talks about the making of the movie. Finally, the screenwriter, Ross Klavan, sits down for an 11-minute interview featurette called Ode to Tigerland. Since the film is based on his experience at Fort Polk / Tigerland, this is quite interesting.

As previously stated, the film was shot in 16 mm, so one can't expect it to look great in High Definition, and it doesn't. There is a huge amount of grain, the lighting was intentionally poor causing the colors to be washed out, etc. I guess it captures the artist's original intent, but that's faint praise. The audio is better with clear dialogue, but there are not a lot of directional effects, nor are the surround sound speakers used effectively.

Finally we get to the price. The Blu-ray costs $21, and that includes's discount. Granted, there are additional extras on the Blu-ray compared to the DVD, but it is still a catalog title and that price is about $5 too high.

The Verdict

This is the second Vietnam War picture I reviewed today, so it is impossible not to compared the two. Since the first one was Platoon, it's really unfair to Tigerland, as it pales in comparison in every way. It's not a terrible movie and Colin Farrell is great in his role, but it feels like too many elements were borrowed from other films, the characters feel like stereotypes rather than real people, and the situations seem strung together rather than flowing naturally. Add in a Blu-ray that's a little overpriced, and I'm going to recommend a rental.

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