Rain of Madness: The best part of Tropic Thunder on DVD!
The two-disc special edition DVD is pretty snazzy. It contains a pretty thorough series of featurettes that cover many of the aspects of creating the film (shaping the script, casting, the visual effects, etc.). There is also an extended, director’s cut version of the film with a lot of new material added in. (This is neat, although in my opinion this longer, slower version is inferior to the original theatrical cut. That the theatrical version is not included on this DVD is disappointing.)
But let’s not focus on the negatives. The highlight of the DVD, and the thing that I want to bring to your attention, is a special feature called Rain of Madness.
Some background: As you all probably know, Tropic Thunder is a parody of a number of different war films, including Francis Ford Coppola’s sprawling Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now. Quite a lot of the imagery in Tropic Thunder is clearly inspired by that film, specifically the helicopter attack opening sequence.
Several years after Apocalypse Now was released, Coppola’s wife Eleanor was involved in the creation of a documentary about the making of that film called Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. It chronicled the numerous and mounting problems that beset Coppola during the production of Apocalypse Now — problems that lead to his, basically, falling apart.
Seeing as Tropic Thunder is a parody of Apocalypse Now, Ben Stiller and his company had the inspired idea to create a “behind the scenes” look at the making of Tropic Thunder (that is, the fictional Tropic Thunder film within the film) that is itself a parody of Hearts of Darkness. You with me? The result is this brilliant little DVD special feature entitled Rain of Madness. It features a TON of new footage that focuses on director Damien Cockburn (played by Steve Coogan)’s descent into madness during the trying first few, um, day of filming Tropic Thunder. There is a lot of hysterical new material included (scenes shot specifically for this fake documentary) including a series of Cockburn’s passive-aggressive battles with star Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), and Kirk Lazarus as Sgt. Osiris (Robert Downey Jr.) coming down with P.P.S.T. (Post Platoon Stress Disorder) and melting down completely during a visit with the real Osiris’ family.
But the parody goes even further. The faux documentary is narrated by a fake pretentious German documentarian named Jan Jurgen, a biting satire of Warner Herzog. Have any of you ever seen Grizzly Man? It’s a documentary about the grizzly bear activist Timothy Treadwell, who was killed by bears while living among them in Alaska in 2003. It’s actually a powerful film that I would recommend, but Herzog’s style of making himself a (seemingly impartial) participant in his documentaries has been seized upon by Stiller and co. They even directly parody the most iconic scene in Grizzly Man, in which Herzog and Treadwell’s mother watch, on camera, the video of her son’s death (as Treadwell’s camera was left on and captured the whole thing). In the scene we, the viewer, don’t see the footage — we just see Herzog and Treadwell’s reaction to watching it. Well, of course, Rain of Madness features a scene staged exactly the same way in which Jan Jurgen watches the footage of Damien getting blown up by a land-mine.
This is such an obscure, specific reference, that I am completely bowled over by the audacity of the film-makers. Just how many people buying the Tropic Thunder DVD have seen Hearts of Darkness and Grizzly Man?? But Stiller and co. didn’t seem to care, and god bless them for that.
The result is Rain of Madness: a short film of absolute genius. Check it out.