PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

What Zone Were the Writers of 'Zone Troopers' In?

This banal imitation of WWII B-movies is a perplexing and tedious film that never fully commits to the genre blending that could have elevated it to B-movie standards.


Zone Troopers

Director: Danny Bilson
Cast: Tim Thomerson, Timothy Van Patten, Art LaFleur, Biff Manard, William Paulson
Length: 88
Studio: Empire
Year: 1985
Distributor: Kino Lorber
MPAA Rating:
US Release Date: 2015-07-28

World War II and aliens seem like a perfect combination for a science fiction B-movie from the mid-'80s, but while the premise of Zone Troopers sounds good in theory, the end result is a slow, clichéd war film that largely ignores the sci-fi elements that could have made it great. Instead of wasting 88 minutes of one’s life, one need only watch the wordless theatrical trailer, which abruptly cuts back and forth between what seems like two entirely separate films, to understand the dissonance between the two genres and Zone Troopers’ failure to live up to its potential to merge into one wonderfully horrible low-budget film.

While marketed as a sci-fi film that “takes war to another dimension”, Zone Troopers is, for all intents and purposes, a WWII action flick. The plot follows a ragtag crew of four archetypal American soldiers -- the tough sarge, the wide-eyed kid, the lovable lout, and the cynic -- caught behind enemy lines and their conflict with the Nazi forces, who just so happen to have captured an alien from a crash-landed rocket ship. Yet even with this apparent emphasis on battles and brawls, the lackluster action sequences are few and far between, and poorly executed when they do appear. While the Italian filming locations led to easy access to actual WWII uniforms and realistic settings, lending some authenticity to the film’s visual quality, the dull special effects are underwhelming, even for a B-movie, and are instead reminiscent of films produced decades earlier.

The dialogue is stale, as stereotypical WWII-era expressions are used ad nauseam, to the point where supposed protagonist young Joey Verona’s (Timothy Van Patten) incessant exclamations of “golly gee” and “gee whiz” make him too trite, too predictable, and too boring to successfully uphold the role of the hero. Van Patten attempts to exude a youthful innocence and naiveté in his performance, but instead of appearing genuine his forced, artificial delivery turns Joey into a caricature, and the supporting roles follow suit.

The sci-fi elements that do appear, such as the brief glimpses of rubbery, scaly (or maybe furry?), claw-like hands reaching around trees, momentary Predator-like first-person shots through a red filter, and a charred alien corpse found in the crashed aircraft are only minimal, and are crowded out by the dominant war story. In fact, the first clear shot of an alien we get, depicting one bursting out of a peculiar egg, does not occur until over halfway through the film. While the emerging alien is momentarily off-putting, erupting through the sticky goo of its strange shell, repulsion quickly gives way to affection as the creature reaches toward a friendly face for help.

The suspicion of an alien threat is therefore quickly dispelled, and the focus promptly shifts back to the real villains of the story as the Führer himself makes a surprise appearance. Hitler’s face, however, is never seen; he is shot from behind, concealed by a screen, or blurred by the out-of-focus perspective of an awakening soldier. The reason for this stylistic choice is unclear; perhaps it's intended to create a sense of mystery and malevolence around this already clearly villainous character, so instead it comes across as a hokey, sloppily executed gag. Similarly, the Nazis’ nefarious schemes are made more ominous by their exclusive use of German without subtitles, reflecting the protagonists’ inability to understand what they overhear of their foes’ plotting, but it also provides a convenient excuse to not develop these antagonists’ motivations beyond those of stock baddies.

Thematically, there seem to be some false starts, with conspicuously recurrent commentary on the madness and psychological strain of war during the exposition, which is inexplicably absent for the remainder of the film. A conversation by firelight, in which two soldiers discuss shell shock and Joey’s fears that he is “going crackers” after seeing a strange, alien figure in the dark, is one of the few to add some depth to the characters and their situation. Later, in the only outright attempt to connect the two divergent plots, Joey briefly elevates the film’s commentary by arguing for the personhood of his new alien friend, identifying with him (or, as it turns out, her) as someone who is “scared, a million miles from home, lost in a strange land, doesn’t speak the language, people trying to kill him”, yet the discussion ends there.

The Sarge’s mysterious invulnerability also had potential to give Zone Troopers a greater sense of cohesion, but is never fully capitalized. Thomerson’s rendition of the quintessential hardened commander verges into the realm of absurdity when he astonishingly survives a direct shot to the back, brushing it off as though it were a mosquito bite, and experiencing no ill-effects for the remainder of the campaign. He also miraculously appears, seemingly out of thin air, in an iconic gun-slinging, cigarette-smoking power stance when his comrades had left him for dead after he successfully blew up the enemy with a hand-delivered grenade. Yet this imperviousness is never questioned nor explained, ignoring the potential for a convenient link to be made to some alien physiological or technological explanation.

The DVD’s bonus features are scant, but the feature-length commentary does serve to explain some of the film’s perplexing incongruities. Co-writers Danny Bilson and Paul de Meo, the film’s director and co-producer, respectively, spend the majority of the movie commiserating about the constraints of their low budget, complaining about Empire’s interference with their homage to WWII films, and lauding the authenticity of the locations and wardrobe while degrading the “ten-cent props” they were forced to cobble together themselves for the sci-fi element. They flat-out admit that “it was an excuse to do a WWII homage rather than a science fiction homage,” and it was never their intention to let the sci-fi elements they were forced to include because “that’s what [Empire’s] trade was” dilute their pure tribute to '40s-era war movies.

It’s not quite clear why Zone Troopers would be unearthed after 30 years in blissful obscurity. It’s a perplexing and tedious film that never fully commits to the genre blending that could have elevated it to at least average B-movie standards. The writers’ insistent and indulgent prioritizing of WWII movie tropes leads it to fail to live up to its potential and instead is a banal imitation. Zone Troopers isn’t even bad in the entertaining way, it’s just plain bad.

1

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.