Popular Broadway actor Gary Johnston is recruited by the elite counter-terrorism organization Team America: World Police. As the world begins to crumble around him, he must battle with terrorists, celebrities and falling in love.
"Hey terrorist, terrorize this!"
After successfully expanding their 'South Park' cartoon to feature film glory (and even an unexpected Oscar nomination) with the 'Bigger, Longer & Uncut' movie, animators and crassly ribald satirists Trey Parker and Matt Stone wanted to try something a little different and a little more ambitious for their next project. In 2004, they delivered unto unsuspecting fans something bizarre and very nearly transcendent: a scathing parody of American military interventionism, celebrity political activists and moronic Hollywood action movies – all acted out with marionette puppets. And it's a musical to boot!
'Team America: World Police' was crafted in specific imitation of 'Thunderbirds' and other "Supermarionation" children's TV shows of the 1960s. The characters are all puppets on very visible strings (something 'Thunderbirds' took great pains to hide but Stone and Parker gleefully expose) that interact with an enormously elaborate playworld environment of toy vehicles and miniature sets recreating famous locations from Times Square to Paris to the pyramids of Egypt and more.
The story follows a squad of elite (yet bumbling) commandos who patrol the world stage, hunting down and killing terrorists by any means necessary – which usually means destroying everything in sight and causing much more chaos than the terrorists ever could have on their own. If they need to blow up the Louvre and kill hundreds of innocent bystanders to take out a single terrorist, so be it. Those terrorist fuckers will rue the day they ever messed with America!… Or, you know, places where Americans might go, or might want to go. Whatever. They're terrorists, fuck 'em!
When word comes that nutbag Korean dictator Kim Jong Il (remember, this was 2004) is plotting to unite all the terrorists in the world with a common goal of destroying American freedom and democracy, Team America recruits its newest member – Gary, a Broadway stage actor (star of the smash musical 'Lease'), who can put on a fake beard and go undercover to ferret out the details of the nefarious plan. Even though Gary has no combat experience and is plagued by serious doubts about his role, when the chips start falling and his comrades-in-arms face their greatest peril, only an actor can save America's ass.
Like 'South Park', Parker and Stone provide the majority of character voices, and yeah, most of them sound alike. (There's no mistaking that Kim Jong Il sounds a lot like Cartman.) The humor mixes brilliantly on-point social and political satire with vulgar, lowbrow gags about sex and unpleasant bodily functions. This is decidedly an R-rated movie and revels in it. Although most of the jokes land, a few really drag, including an extended vomiting bit and Kim Jong Il's solo musical number ("I'm So Ronery"). The filmmakers take funny pot-shots against celebrity loudmouths like Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Alec Baldwin, but I've never quite understood why Matt Damon was targeted for the worst abuse. I'm also not entirely convinced that Stone and Parker's frequent stream of gay jokes are really supposed to be making fun of homophobia rather than just homophobic themselves.
Regardless, when the jokes hit, they hit hard and frequently. Even more than a decade later, most of the political commentary is (sadly) still relevant. The relentless spoofing of inane action movie clichés and most of the musical numbers are fall-off-your-couch-laughing hilarious. The bit when the triumphant anthem "America, Fuck Yeah!" is repurposed later in the movie as a sad ballad gets me every time.
Unlike the 'South Park' movie, 'Team America' was a box office failure during its theatrical release. I suspect that the target audience was too young (and too American) to remember Supermarionation, and were put off from seeing the movie because they didn't get the reference. Fortunately, the true life for a comedy like this is on home video, and the film became a cult item as soon as it hit DVD.
Back in the heady days of the high-def format war in 2006, Paramount released titles on both Blu-ray and its (now defunct) competitor format HD DVD. Every Paramount disc at the time opened with a trailer that showcased the many exciting movies the studio planned to unleash in high-definition glory. Prominently featured was a clip from 'Team America: World Police'. Sadly, no official release announcement followed. Eventually, as the format war ended and Paramount's interest in releasing back catalog product dwindled, fans just gave up on it.
In late 2013, the movie slipped out on Blu-ray in the UK. That copy was region-free, but had underwhelming A/V quality and no bonus features. It felt like a stopgap solution at best.
Another two years passed before a domestic Blu-ray edition was finally announced. Because Paramount currently outsources the majority of its catalog titles to other labels, the new disc arrives under the auspices of Warner Home Video. Unfortunately, even though the distributor's initial press release promised a "Special Edition" that would include all the old DVD supplements that got dropped from the European Blu-ray, no such thing materialized. The actual Blu-ray is a direct port of the UK disc. It has the same boring menu, the same dub and subtitle options, the same dated video transfer, and still zero bonus features.
The disc also contains only the R-rated theatrical cut of the film, not the "Uncensored and Unrated" version that was released on DVD. The only difference between the two is an extension to the sex scene that adds shots of puppet defecation, among other things. Fans are divided in opinion as to whether the Unrated cut makes the scene even funnier or goes too far over-the-top and is just repulsive. The scene and the movie are still hilarious either way. While I'd prefer to have both versions available by seamless branching, I don't personally consider that aspect a deal-breaker.
When 'Team America' was released on DVD in 2005, I used to consider it one of the best-looking discs I owned on that format. Standards have risen a lot since then. The Blu-ray appears to be sourced from the same master used for the DVD, and it doesn't hold up to scrutiny nearly as well in high definition. Although certainly more detailed than DVD could offer, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is a little soft and hazy. Close-ups look better than wide shots. While a faint presence film grain is occasionally visible, it tends to look mushy. I'm not sure whether this is the result of Digital Noise Reduction in the master, or if it's simply a dated film scan that wasn't able to capture as much detail and clarity as we've come to expect on Blu-ray today. (Perhaps both factors play a part.) I have no doubt that an updated remaster could yield better results.
With that said, the 2.40:1 image has its share of positive attributes and is never awful by any means. Colors are precise and vibrant. The contrast range is quite rich, with crisply delineated shadows that lend an excellent sense of depth. With the exception of a montage spoofing home movie footage that's supposed to look terrible, the disc looks good overall, just not quite great.
The movie's soundtrack is encoded in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 format. It sounds… fine, I guess. Perhaps I'm damning it with faint praise, but the audio is adequate.
The 5.1 mix parodies action movie soundtracks with a lot of rumbly bass and zinging surround effects. Music and songs also spread effectively to the rear channels. However, it sounds very obnoxiously unbalanced. Sound effects and explosions are gratingly loud. Maybe that's intentional, but I found it fatiguing. Fidelity on the whole lacks distinction and rarely offers much audible improvement over lossy DVD audio.
The Blu-ray has no bonus features at all. Not a damn thing.
The Supermarionation satire 'Team America: World Police' is still hilarious (and mostly still politically relevant) more than a decade after its original release. That makes it all the more disappointing that the Blu-ray edition is such a missed opportunity. The domestic high-def release shows no improvement in any area over the European import from a couple years ago, which was no great shakes at the time.
The Blu-ray is missing the Unrated version of the movie and lacks any of the bonus features found on the old DVD edition. While it has at least adequate picture and sound quality, neither is spectacular. On the other hand, for all its faults the Blu-ray does still offer some technical improvement over DVD. It's not perfect, but it'll do, especially at Warner's bargain asking price.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.