Team America: World Police [DVD]
Director : Trey Parker
Screenplay : Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Pam Brady
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2004
Team America: World Police is an equal-opportunity offender satire for people in the middle -- you know, all those political independents who had a hard time making up their mind about who to vote for because they’re equally off-put by the Republicans’ holier-than-thou self-righteousness and the Democrats’ muddling wishy-washiness. With heavy doses of cruel mockery aimed at both knee-jerk war-mongering and unrealistic pacifism, Team America makes a surprisingly cogent, if gleefully vulgar, political argument that has legs because it doesn’t take easy sides … and it’s all done with marionettes.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the juvenile masterminds behind South Park, evoke the horrors of a world gone mad for laughs in an action film populated entirely with marionette puppets, suggesting quite literally Shakespeare’s proclamation that all the world’s a stage and we are merely players, in this case players who are all being dangled by threads over which we have no control. Politics aside, at its core Team America is a parody of formulaic Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking, and the use of goofy, dangle-legged puppets underscores the cut-and-past mentality of the Jerry Bruckheimer school of action shoot-’em-ups: Just plug the needed characters, cardboard or otherwise, into a well-worn scenario and add liberal amounts of expensive explosions.
The “Team America” of the title is an elite group of U.S. commandos who emerge from their secret lair in Mount Rushmore to battle anyone who threatens “freedom.” Of course, Team America is meant to stand in not for any particular political affiliation (which is why we don’t see any actual politicians represented in puppet form), but rather as a stand-in for American attitude, which most of the world sees as simple arrogance. Thus, in the film’s outrageous opening sequence, Team America -- in their red, white, and blue uniforms and perfectly coiffed hair -- foil a plan by Arab terrorists to detonate a bomb in downtown Paris, but manage to destroy most of the city in the process, topping the Eiffel Tower into the Arc d’Triumph and blowing away most of the Louvre. In another sequence, they take out most of Egypt’s pyramids and the Sphinx while trying to stop more terrorists, a humorously obvious way of showing how the U.S. tends to cause as much chaos as it is attempting to prevent when it starts trying to police the rest of the world.
Team America recruits a Broadway actor named Gary Johnston (voiced by Trey Parker) to dress up in sloppy Arab blackface and infiltrate a Middle Eastern terrorist network. Of course, Team America’s sights are pointed in the wrong direction, as the film’s real baddie is bizarre North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Il, who is presented as a gloriously un-P.C. Asian stereotype crossed with the most dastardly James Bond villain you can imagine.
All of this is presented in a barely exaggerated narrative structure that is immediately recognizable to anyone who has seen Top Gun (1986), Armageddon (1998), or any other Bruckheimer-produced behemoth, and part of the fun is seeing Parker and Stone lay bare the rickety innards of most action movie plots. They add some of their signature musical numbers, as well, including an absolutely hilarious Top Gun-style anthem that punctuates the film’s most rousing moments with a rip-roaring chorus of “America -- F--k Yeah!” (the only thing that could have possibly made it better is if they had managed to get Kenny Loggins to sing it). They also do an amazingly astute job of mimicking the action blockbuster visual aesthetic, with its constantly roving camera, incessant abuse of slow motion, and relentless low angles that make everyone and everything seem larger than life.
In terms of world politics, Parker and Stone manage a careful balancing act between knocking the war on terror and knocking those who whine about it. The latter come in the form of ego-inflated Hollywood celebrities, including Alec Baldwin, Matt Damon, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Sean Penn, who unwittingly side with Kim Jong-Il by protesting anything other than absolute pacifism. Of course, Parker and Stone aren’t making fun of pacifism so much as they are mocking Hollywood stars whose multi-million-dollar lifestyles keep them completely removed from the experiences of the ordinary Americans they’re always trying to talk down to.
Not surprisingly, as with all of Parker and Stone’s work, Team America: World Police tends to be somewhat hit and miss, although the hits are often side-splittingly hilarious and the misses are few and instantly forgettable when they happen. There are plenty of gross-out gags to make you squirm, including an outrageous vomit scene that is matched only by an equally outrageous sex scene whose funniest attribute is the fact that the MPAA made the filmmakers trim it by a few seconds to earn an R-rating (after all, it’s just naked, genital-less wooden puppets, visible joints and all, rocking back and forth in various sexual positions).
Yet, for all its juvenile debauchery and silly body-fluid humor, Team America: World Police has a surprisingly astute viewpoint on the state of the world. This is explained in a bitingly obscene manner by dividing the world into three groups of people, each of which is represented by a body part below the belt. In one of those “This Is What It All Means” speeches that both summarizes quite well the film’s message and satirizes the need for films to make everything so blatant, Gary explains why the left needs the right and the right needs the left, which turns Team America into a surprisingly inclusive ode to the necessity of flexing your might when needed, but also having the restraint to know when those times are.
|Team America: World Police Uncut and Uncensored Special Collector’s Edition DVD|
|Team America: World Police is available on DVD in three versions. There is an Uncut and Uncensored Special Collector’s Edition, which is available only in widescreen and includes footage of puppet sex that had to be cut from the R-rated theatrical version. The theatrical version is available on both a widescreen and a pan-and-scan Special Collector’s Edition DVD. All three discs have he same SRP of $29.95|
|Distributor||Paramount Home Video|
|Release Date||May 17, 2004|
|The widescreen (2.35:1) anamorphic transfer of Team America: World Police is excellent. Color and contrast are spot on, and the high level of detail allows the viewer to really appreciate the film’s extraordinary production design. Aside from the jokes, this is a film worth watching over and over again just to soak in all the random details.|
|Like any big-budget action film, Team America has an aggressive soundtrack fully loaded with lots of explosions, gunfire, and the roar of various engines (helicopters, trucks, motorcycles, etc.). The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack does justice to the heavy surround mix, with impressive bass and a wide, enveloping soundstage that is humorously juxtaposed against the low-tech puppets.|
|Although Trey Parker and Matt Stone don’t contribute an audio commentary, they are omnipresent throughout the disc’s seven making-of featurettes, which together constitute a thorough, in-depth look at the making of the film. As expected, Parker and Stone are completely uninhibited in their remarks, as when Parker refers to Jerry Bruckheimer as “a turd” and they both let loose on their utter disdain for actors (which is why they work in animation and puppetry). The featurettes cover every aspect of the making of the film, from the design and building of the puppets, to the creation of the sets, to the pyrotechnics and special effects (all of which were done in camera). Despite the film’s lewd, often juvenile humor, it is hard not to appreciate the massive amounts of work that went into the making of the film, particularly its incredibly detailed sets (some of which include intriguing little details, like palm leaves made of dollar bills). Also included in the supplements are footage of puppetry tests, deleted and extended scenes and outtakes, and two theatrical trailers.|
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
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