(A.k.a. 1968 TUNNEL RATS)
A US soldier ventures into a narrow Vietnam tunnel, armed only with a pistol and torch. Upon checking that the tunnel is clear of Vietcong soldiers, he telephones his platoon with the news. Only, the tunnel isn't clear and our soldier winds up stabbed to death.
Cue the replacements - a fresh platoon who arrive by helicopter into the jungles of Vietnam, to the strains of Zager and Evans' "In The Year 2525". This disparate bunch are jeeped off to a US army camp hidden in the trees, where they meet the take-no-shit Sergeant Holloway (Michael Pare).
Holloway instructs the new arrivals to claim their beds, get fed and then get an early night - he's taking them down their first tunnel the morning after. Before mealtime though, Holloway has a treat for them - he invites them to witness the brutal hanging of a Vietcong sniper. The newbies are suitably appalled.
On in particular, the headstrong Harris (Mitch Eakins), is so against what he witnesses that he challenges Holloway directly. Bad move. He's taken into the bushes where Holloway straps boxing gloves on and batters him, establishing who's boss once and for all.
The evening progresses in a laconic manner, allowing us to familiarise ourselves with a core of the platoon as they go through the usual war movie rites: bonding over their evening meal; reminiscing about home at bedtime; finding faith in the Bible; blacks turning against each other for no good reason … everything that war films of years gone by have convinced actually goes on.
The principal players on this occasion along with Harris are the more astute Johnson (Erik Eidem), young and gullible Verano (Rocky Marquette), would-be entrepreneur Graybridge (Brandon Fobbs), volatile Porterson (Garikayi Mutambirwa) and willing Garraty (Adrian Collins).
Then there's Miller (Jeffrey Christopher Todd) who effectively alienates himself from the rest early on, due to his incessant cowardly pessimism. His fears are shared by Sgt Heaney (Brad Schmidt), but he's learnt how to hide them better - it's only when he's alone that he takes the time to contemplate his surroundings and burst into tears.
Once our characters are established and have been given time to engage via rattling off their hopes, fears and aspirations, it's time to move on to the following morning. Holloway wakes the platoon early and off they march through the jungle, where they find their first tunnel. Their aim: to hunt and kill Vietcong soldiers who use the tunnels to traverse through the jungles unseen. The "tunnel rats" know that they are effectively on a suicide mission: it's a job no-one wants to do. And unbelievably, this actually happened.
Holloway opens the tunnel up and asks for a volunteer. Game as ever, Garraty steps up and is lowered into the abyss. Seconds later a shot rings out and Johnson hurriedly races down the tunnel to Garraty's aid. He manages to pull Garraty out but the platoon is unable to stem his bleeding, and he becomes their first fatality.
But when Holloway takes Garraty's corpse back to camp and instructs the others to stay behind and secure the area, there are more fatalities to come. Another tunnel is located, which - unbeknownst to the US soldiers - sits on top of a Vietcong den where plans to attack the US camp are being hatched.
Furthermore, the new tunnel also leads to the hideout of pretty Vietnamese woman Vo Mai (Jane Le), who is determined to protect her two young children at any cost …
War is Hell. War is futile. We know that because umpteen films have told us so. And TUNNEL RATS sees Uwe Boll deliver the same message, albeit with an even less subtle approach than that which the genre is associated with.
Boll revels in gore, Olaf Ittenbach's FX wallowing in damp blood squibs each time someone's shot, or people being repeatedly stabbed in the arms, or a head being almost literally torn from it's body's shoulders (the early hanging scene).
Coupled with the gore are the brooding dark suspense set-ups for each tunnel jaunt, and the "wailing ghosts" type score that accompanies much of the action. These factors combined make TUNNEL RATS play more like a horror film than a war movie at times. Curiously, it works for the most part.
Performances are adequate. The dialogue is largely improvised, which appears to have been a shrewd move on Boll's part. Conversations are largely natural and believable, with only the odd Tarantino-style bouts of tourettes cramping the authenticity at times.
The photography is gorgeous, making fine use of the South African locations. Boll keeps the action set pieces intimate - a necessity of the budget, I'd imagine - but goes for grue to compensate. It works in that it brings home the horrors of war more explicitly than most films it's likely to be compared with. There are a few explosions to bolster the action, but typically these are left until the final act.
The end is very downbeat - something that is becoming a tradition for Boll. It offers a glimmer of hope as two opposing sides of the war work together … then pulls the rug from under the viewers' feet when both sides simply give up trying, realising the odds have defeated them. Futile, indeed.
The film looks very nice indeed in a crisp anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, with sharp images and nice natural-looking tones.
The English audio is equally impressive, offered in solid 2.0 and 5.1 mixes.
Static menu pages include a scene-selection menu offering access to the main feature via 12 chapters.
The best extra feature is a 15-minute video interview with Boll. Talking to the camera in response to text onscreen questions, Boll sits in front of promotional material for POSTAL and comes across as an affable chap while discussing TUNNEL RATS' basis in fact, the influences (APOCALYPSE NOW and THE DEER HUNTER - surprise) and the research he put in. While discussing the locations, he inadvertently manages to give away the end to BLOOD DIAMOND and I had to share his cheeky laugh when he did so.
Next up is a Behind-The-Scenes featurette hosted by Boll on the South African set, and taking in many interviews with cast and crew members. Along with the Boll interview, this is presented in non-anamorphic 1.78:1.
Timecoded out-takes follow, along with a 1-minute trailer. The disc also opens with trailers for ASSEMBLY, OVERLORD and THE COUNTERFEITERS (I see a trend).
Aside from some obvious low budget constraints, the occasional poor acting and an obsessive need to film every snake he comes across, it would seem that Boll is improving steadily at his craft. TUNNEL RATS takes incidents derived from fact and gives them a horror makeover with Ittenbach's gore primed to shock the casual viewer looking for a throwaway Saturday night rental.
TUNNEL RATS lacks a central character to really root for, and so therefore is lacking in tension. This undeniably affects the pace overall, but it can't be denied that - like SEED - the film has a strong visual look and plenty of worthy moments that suggest Boll could one day get the formula for a great movie spot-on.
TUNNEL RATS also boasts a sound engineer by the name of Max Wanko. Surely it deserves a look, for that reason alone?
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Metrodome Group|
|Region 2 - PAL|
|see main review|