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“Jesus titty-f*cking Christ!”

Those of you kind enough to read my reviews will know of my love for all things Parker and Stone. The creative masterminds behind films such as Orgazmo and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut continually push back the boundaries of what is acceptable with their particular blend of political satire and crude toilet humour. Now, Paramount Home Entertainment brings us what is perhaps the duo’s crowning achievement, the all-marionette movie Team America: World Police.

Team America: World Police

Feature


Envisaged as an all-puppet version of a big-budget Jerry Bruckheimer movie, Team America: World Police manages to take a swipe at everyone from liberal actors to the Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. The story concerns a team of crack anti-terrorist specialists—the aforementioned Team America—who travel the world in their sophisticated vehicles meting out punishment to the enemies of truth, justice and the American way. There’s Joe, the all-star quarterback and natural-born leader, Chris, the best martial arts expert Detroit has to offer, Sarah, the top empath from Berkley’s School for the Clairvoyant, and Lisa, the psychology expert. The team is supervised by the enigmatic Spottswoode, who uses the super-computer I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E. to coordinate events from a hidden base deep within Mount Rushmore.

When global stability is threatened by an attack that promises to be one hundred times worse than 9/11 (so, 91,100), the team seeks to recruit top-gun actor Gary Johnston to infiltrate the terrorist ranks and discover the location of the hidden WMDs. Although initially sceptical, Gary eventually throws in with Team America (not least because he has the hots for Lisa) and the gang head to Cairo (that’s in Egypt) to foil the plot. What they don’t know is that the terrorists are merely ‘puppets’ (I thank you) working for the real mastermind behind the attack: Kim Jong Il. With the help of members of the Film Actors Guild, Kim hopes to discredit Team America and pave the way for his ultimate act of terrorism: 9/11 times two thousand, three hundred and fifty six (and no one knows what that is).

Team America is quite probably the most savage Parker/Stone creation yet—the number of people they have pissed off with this film could well number into the millions! Even setting aside the racial stereotyping of French, Korean and Chechnyan people, the depiction of certain actors as little more than self-important narcissists probably incensed a few dozen people. Aside from the customary dig at the Baldwins (Alec in this case), some of Hollywood’s ‘finest’—including Helen Hunt, Samuel Jackson, Tim Robbins, Janeane Garofalo, Sean Penn, Ethan Hawke, Liv Tyler, Martin Sheen, George Clooney and Susan Sarandon—are given an absolute roasting. I felt especially sorry for Matt Damon, whose puppet looks and acts particularly retarded.

However, all of this ‘actor-bashing’ pales into insignificance when you see what the guys have done with the character of Kim Jong Il. If ever there was a film likely to destabilise relations between America and North Korea, this is it (he’s basically just the City-Wok guy from South Park)! I was particularly amused by reports that Trey and Matt actually sent him a copy of the film! As with most of their work Team America is also littered with references to other movies, such as Kill Bill, Armageddon, Star Wars and Star Trek, and the whole movie is pretty much one giant mockery of the films of Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer. This provides an extra level of depth for those sad individuals who like nothing more than trying to spot such references (and I am one of those people).

Team America: World Police

Video


Team America is presented in its theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 and is anamorphically enhanced to boot. Colours are extremely well-rendered, with an incredibly naturalistic palette considering that the entire film was shot on a soundstage with puppets. The image is also sharp and detailed throughout, showcasing the wonderfully intricate sets created to house the marionette ‘actors’. I didn’t really notice any contrast issues (blacks remain solid throughout) and there was no obvious edge-enhancement when viewing on my 32” display device. All-in-all this is a top-notch transfer that just falls short of the very best the format has to offer.

Audio


The disc includes only one audio option: Dolby Digital 5.1. Thankfully it’s a decent track that brings the Team America experience right into your living room. Fort he most part the track is heavily biased towards the front of the soundstage, with music and dialogue coming across quite nicely. However, once the action heats up and Team America get ready to kick some terrorist arse, the surround channels spring to life. There are plenty of whooshes as missiles and jets fly over and around your head, while bullets ricochet at all angles with suitably satisfying pings. The subwoofer kicks out plenty of bass when required, which helps to sell the on-screen action in spite of the fact that you’re watching a bunch of puppets.

No review would be complete without taking time out to mention the original songs produced for the movie. As with South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Trey Parker has created some truly memorable pieces for Team America. From the wonderfully bombastic ‘America—F*ck Yeah!’ to the almost-touching ‘I’m So Ronrey’, the songs are an integral part of the movie. Never one to miss an opportunity to poke fun, Parker uses several of the songs to mock the film’s of Michael Bay and action genre staples like the montage (even Rocky had one of those). Fantastic stuff!

Extras


Paramount has assembled a decent selection of bonus material for this release, but I was disappointed by the lack of a commentary from Parker and Stone. Now I appreciate that this may have been a choice made by Matt and Trey, but it’s no less lamentable. After the drunken track on Orgazmo and the commentaries on the boxed sets of South Park I would really have liked to hear the guys talk about this, their most mature (if that’s the right word) movie. Thankfully they do appear in the majority of the featurettes on the disc, so there’s still plenty of opportunity for them to entertain.

‘Team America: An Introduction’ runs for around five minutes and serves as a preface to the movie. Trey and Matt give us the low-down on the members of the team with the use of clips from the movie and behind-the-scenes footage of them with the puppets. They discuss their reasons for wanting to make a ‘Bruckheimer movie with puppets’ in the first place, the trials of working with the little marionettes, and their hatred of celebrities. Trey, in particular, is really on form here, making this one of the more entertaining ‘making of’ featurettes I’ve seen in a while.

Team America: World Police
‘Building the World’ is the longest featurette on the disc, clocking in at a little over twelve minutes. As its name would suggest, the featurette deals with the intricate work of creating the miniature sets for the puppets to ‘act’ on, and again features interviews with Trey Parker and Matt Stone. Also along for the ride are production designer Jim Dultz, visual consultant David Rockwell, property master Brad Elliot, and set decorator Richard C. Walker, who discuss how the sets were constructed according to America’s perception of the world, rather than true geography. We also get to see how ‘found objects’ such as dollar bills, disused umbrellas, colanders and such were used in the creation of the sets. All-in-all this is a pretty interesting featurette.

Next up we have a featurette entitled ‘Crafting the Puppets’, which runs for around eight minutes and covers everything from behind-the-scenes footage of the construction of the puppets. Interviewed are puppeteers Stephen, Edward and Charles Chiodo, designer/puppeteer Norman Tempia, sculptor Don William Lanning, mould maker Steve Newburn, lead painter Thomas Killeen, puppeteer Mark Bryan Wilson, lead animatronic/computer controller Joe Andreas and costume designer Karen Patch. The featurette is a great overview of the work that went into creating the marionette actors, such as the length of time it took to sculpt the average face, or the complicated software used to sync the puppet’s dialogue with their lip movement. As with the other featurettes, Trey and Matt pop up with a witty observation from time to time.

The ten minute ‘Pulling the Strings’ featurette covers the physical manipulation of the puppets by the puppeteers. The featurette includes many of the puppeteers from the previous segment, as well as puppet coordinator/principal puppeteer Frank Langley and puppeteer Kevin Carlson, who discuss the difficulties of filming an all-marionette movie when the director keeps adlibbing. Ironically, we discover that it is just this sort of adlibbing that results in much of the unintentionally funny stuff that made it into the finished film. This featurette, more than any other, helps to demonstrate what a marvellous technical achievement Team America is. Like most people I didn’t really give too much thought to how the puppets were made to perform some of the incredible feats required of them, but this piece really opened my eyes. Trey and Matt also pop up to shed some light on the much talked about puppet ‘sex’ scene

‘Capturing the Action’ runs for a little under seven minutes and deals with all things cinematographic. A little-known fact about Team America, at least among people I’ve talked to, is that it was shot by Bill Pope, the guy who also acted as DP on films like Spider-Man 2 and The Matrix and its sequels! Now you’re probably wondering why someone who’s worked on such high-profile, blockbuster movies would want to act as director of photography for a relatively low-budget puppet flick, but the answer is fairly simple—Bill Pope is fed up of shooting green screen. I found this featurette particularly interesting from a technical point of view.

Team America: World Police
Clocking in at a little under five minutes, ‘Miniature Pyrotechnics’ deals with the action-movie tradition of ‘blowing stuff up’. Special effects supervisor Joseph Viskocil talks about learning the trade and applying the various techniques to create the different types of explosions demanded by the production. Aside from behind-the-scenes footage of the models exploding, the featurette goes into detail about the various films that ‘inspired’ certain explosions, such as Independence Day. As with the other segments on the disc, the featurette also includes brief appearances by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

‘Up Close with Kim Jong Il’ takes us behind-the-scenes with the diminutive dictator. Interview footage with Trey Parker and Matt Stone gives us insight into what prompted them to choose the character, and how their puppet representation probably doesn’t even come close to the eccentricity of the real Kim Jong Il. We also discover how the puppet was crafted, right down to his glasses (which were apparently the cause of much difficulty for the design wizards). Again, this is a pretty funny little piece that runs for a little over five minutes.

The ‘Dressing Room Test’ is an alternate, slightly extended cut of the scene in which Gary first meets Spottswoode. This is probably one of the most redundant extras on the disc, as it’s basically just a rough-cut of the existing scene as it is in the film. There are a few shots that didn’t make the theatrical cut, but they’re nothing to get particularly exited about.

The ‘Puppet Test’ segment is much better, and features the Spottswoode marionette being put through its paces in a number of scenarios. For this particular feature, Spottswoode’s voice is provided by Trey Parker, who delivers some extremely amusing dialogue that would not be out of place in the finished picture. My personal favourite is a gag about how Team America were originally called the American Offensive League, but had to change their name after being sued by Time Warner! The feature only runs for a little over four minutes, but what a sweet four minutes.

The deleted/extended scenes and outtakes come next, but they’re a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part I can see why they were excised, but at least one or two of them should definitely have remained in the movie—the extended version of Gary’s fight with the guards being a prime example. What was a pretty brief scene in the film is presented here in all of its Matrix-inspired glory, complete with a huge puppet throw-down in which Gary single-handedly takes on over a dozen of Kim Jong Il’s men in hand-to-hand combat. The scene is ludicrous, but it’s also hysterically funny. Other highlights include Spottswoode’s proclamation that he’ll “Never be a racist again” and the “You’re gay now” outtake. All scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0 audio.

A series of animated storyboards follow, and they are almost as funny as the movie itself. Although presented in a very rough form, mostly with temp voices by Parker and Stone, the storyboards do serve to highlight the radical evolution of certain scenes. Of these my favourites are ‘A Member of the Team’ and ‘Kim Jong Il’s Underwater Lair’, the first of which features one of the funniest, but potentially offensive, lines I’ve yet heard in a Parker/Stone movie. I won’t say what it is, but I’m not surprised that it didn’t make the finished movie.

Team America: World Police
Rounding things off are a pair trailers, presented in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Both the teaser and theatrical trailers are here, which was nice for me as I never actually got to see them as anything other than tiny QuickTime movies prior to the film’s release. Both trailers feature footage not in the actual release version, so they’re worth watching at least once.

Overall


There’s very little that comes out of the Parker/Stone stable that doesn’t get a huge ‘thumbs up’ from me. Team America: World Police isn’t going to change that. The film is riotously funny from beginning to end, with the comedy ranging from obvious sight gags to more subtle, satirical humour. Thankfully Paramount’s disc more than does justice to the movie, delivering an impressive audio-visual experience ably supported by a selection of supplemental material that manages to remain interesting while steering clear of the usual promotional fluff.

The only lamentable aspect of this release is the absence of a commentary track from Parker and Stone. While such as track would really have helped to seal the deal, as far as I’m concerned Team America: World Police is still a ‘no-brainer’ purchase. It’s true that our American friends have the option of an ‘unrated’ version of the movie, but the additional minute of footage adds very little to the film for those disinterested in ‘extreme’ puppet sex. Put simply, don’t hesitate to part with your cash!


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