Released by: Kino Lorber
Released on: July 28th, 2015
Director: Danny Bilson
Cast: Timothy Van Patton, Tim Thomerson, Art LeFleur
Year: 1985 Purchase from Amazon
Zone Troopers is an odd hybrid of a film; a mish-mash of World War II action film and science fiction which combines an interesting premise with an execution which is high on fun characters, but low on cinematic thrills and spills.
Director Danny Bilson and his screen co-writer Paul De Meo craft a script with better-fleshed characters than usually found for this sort of low-budget picture most commonly found from producer Charles Band and his Empire/Full Moon family. Lead actors Tim Thomerson (Scanners), Art LaFleur and Timothy Van Patton are warm, likeable and incredibly charismatic in their roles as American GIs caught behind Italian enemy lines during WWII who come across a crashed alien space craft, and the evil Nazi plans for subverting said technology for turning the tide of the war.
It's the performance of this trio which really carry Zone Troopers against everything with any success. There's a level of camaraderie and familiarity with these three that let you feel the history behind Thomerson's "Iron Sarge," LaFleur's iron-clad Corporal Mittens and Van Patton's Private First Class Joey, while Biff Manard also does an excellent job supporting them as army journalist Dolan, who joins up with Thomerson's unit early in the film. The vibe here is almost akin to an episode of Hogan's Heroes, albeit in the best possible way. It's fun to watch the main cast run jokes off each other and have a good time.
It's the action and alien sequences which fall flat for Zone Troopers, as the true budget restrictions choke any life from what Bilson's film can really achieve. There's a cartoonish vibe to the violence-which isn't that dissimilar to the Italian Macaroni Combat flicks of the sixties and seventies-that's consistent in tone with Bilson and De Meo's stylistic throwback to old school "buddy" war movies, but isn't as successful as it could've been, had a sense of urgency been pushed just a little bit.
The alien effects are fun, but cheap, and don't make up very much of the film's running time, which can actually be a good thing, as the scenes of our leads interacting are so much more enjoyable than the set-pieces, which honestly feel a bit throwaway. Zone Troopers is fun and breezy, though, and-at less than ninety minutes-there are certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon.
This writer has always found most Band pictures to look far cheaper than their comparable Corman joints from New World Pictures, although the Italian locations ensure that Zone Troopers looks far better than many of the film in Band's Empire or Full Moon canon. Kino Lorber's Blu-Ray, in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, makes the most of this, and looks really sharp, with saturated colors and minimal print damage on display.
The sound quality of the English language DTS-HD Mono track is also above average, with the action sequences and explosions booming with proper audio levels, while dialog is undisturbed by drop outs or error.
Extra features are also brought to the table here, including another behind-the-scenes featurette with Tim Thomerson, similar to the one offered on KL's Cherry 2000 disc, while an audio commentary with Bilson and De Meo has some quiet stretches-thankfully the movie's audio isn't dropped during these instances-but is overall lighthearted and fun as the duo reminisce about making the best movie they could with the obviously low budget.
The Final Word
Zone Troopers was probably a fun VHS rental back in the day, and could serve as a fun party flick given the right crowd. Don't go into this with any real expectations of seriousness, and you won't leave disappointed.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screencaps!