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18 Simple Facts About Tropic Thunder

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Co-written, starring, and directed by Ben Stiller, 2008's Tropic Thunder was a show business satire about a group of mostly conceited, self-absorbed actors shooting a war movie. When their director strands them in the middle of a jungle before getting killed, the actors find themselves in real danger from traffickers, who they believe are a part of the movie. Here are some facts about the film to read before you take that step back.

1. BEN STILLER FIRST HAD THE IDEA FOR THE FILM IN 1987.

In 1987, Ben Stiller appeared in Steven Spielberg's World War II drama Empire of the Sun. He couldn’t help but notice that, at the same time, many of his actor friends were getting jobs in Vietnam movies, attending fake boot camps, and claiming it was a life-changing experience. Initially he had the idea of making a comedy about actors who go off to do war movies, come back, and are forgotten, paralleling the experiences of some actual war veterans. Then he realized that idea wasn’t funny.

2. KEANU REEVES WAS STILLER’S FIRST CHOICE FOR TUGG SPEEDMAN.

Stiller considered casting Reeves as Speedman, and keeping the role of agent Rick "Pecker" Peck for himself. He later changed his mind.

3. ROBERT DOWNEY JR. BASED KIRK LAZARUS ON THREE ACTORS.

At a press conference, Downey said he based Lazarus on three actors: Russell Crowe and Daniel Day-Lewis, “with a little” Colin Farrell. Lazarus was originally written as Irish; Downey changed him into an Australian because he was more comfortable improvising in that accent. When Stiller first pitched the idea of the character, Downey called it "The stupidest idea I've ever heard!" Stiller screened the movie to the NAACP, and received mostly positive feedback.

4. MOS DEF TURNED DOWN PLAYING ALPA CHINO.

The actor and recording artist wanted to change Alpa Chino from a rapper to an R&B musician, but the writers disagreed. Def had already played a closeted gay rapper on The Boondocks. Brandon T. Jackson (who went on to play Grover in the Percy Jackson movies) took over.

5. TOM CRUISE CAME UP WITH THE IDEA OF HAVING A STUDIO HEAD CHARACTER.

Stiller approached Cruise about playing the agent Rick Peck and sent him the script. Cruise thought it was funny, but wondered what the studio would be doing while all of the film's events transpired, so the role of studio head Les Grossman was created. It was also Cruise’s idea to give Grossman really big hands. After four days of makeup tests, Grossman's look was finalized.

6. OWEN WILSON WAS ORIGINALLY CAST AS PECKER.

Wilson dropped out after an apparent suicide attempt. Matthew McConaughey replaced him.

7. STILLER OPTED OUT OF DOING A BOOT CAMP BEFOREHAND.

The plan was that there would be an intensive two-day boot camp when the actors showed up for rehearsal. Instead, when a producer informed Stiller that due to scheduling, they could either do the boot camp or have a cast dinner, Stiller decided, "Let's just go for the cast dinner. That’ll be much more fun.”

8. SOME SCENES WERE IMPROVISED.

While Stiller and his co-writers Justin Theroux and Etan Cohen wrote the screenplay, there were purely improvised moments in the final cut. One was Jay Baruchel's Kevin Sandusky talking about the rise of Blu-Rays; Baruchel was talking about it on set and Stiller told him to do it in front of the cameras.

9. IT WAS MOSTLY SHOT IN KAUAI.

The Hawaiian island was also used for South Pacific (1958) and Jurassic Park (1993). Tropic Thunder was the largest production ever staged on the island.

10. THE WATER BUFFALO WAS PREGNANT, UNBEKNOWNST TO THE CAST AND CREW.

Bertha was flown in from Texas to play the animal Jack Black’s character Jeff Portnoy takes a ride on. Halfway through filming, the trainer called the set and announced that Bertha gave birth to a calf. In honor of Black, the calf was named Little Jack.

11. BLACK BRUISED A RIB.

But it wasn’t from Bertha. "I was running with my big gun, and I dove into a foxhole,” Black explained to the Chicago Tribune. “I landed funny on the gun, and it bruised my rib. That bruise lasted six weeks. You cannot breathe all the way without it hurting."

12. BLACK WOULD TAKE A NAP AND LISTEN TO NPR WHEN PUTTING ON THE FATTIES COSTUMES.

Filming the scenes from The Fatties—the movie within the movie in which Jeff Portnoy played the titular five characters—took three days. Black caught up on sleep while his prosthetics and make-up were being applied. Other times he passed the time listening to This American Life on his iPod.

13. STILLER ACKNOWLEDGED THAT IT WAS NOT AN EASY SHOOT.

After shooting in Kauai for 13 weeks, Stiller handed out T-shirts to the cast and crew that read "I SURVIVED BEN STILLER'S COMEDY DEATH CAMP." A couple of people required hospitalization after getting centipede bites, and there was a constant fear of the Leptospirosis virus.

14. THE FIRST CUT WAS THREE AND A HALF HOURS LONG.

At first, Stiller could only find 20 minutes that he would consider taking out. The theatrical cut was 107 minutes long.

15. CRUISE’S INVOLVEMENT WAS MEANT TO BE A SURPRISE.

Cruise wasn’t in the trailer and no images of Grossman were in the press kits on purpose. Cruise’s lawyer threatened legal action to media outlets that posted leaked images of Cruise as Grossman before the movie debuted. It was traced back to an INF staff photographer.

16. AL PACINO WAS COOL WITH ALPA CHINO.

Stiller claimed that the Oscar-winning actor was “tickled.”

17. THERE WAS A MOCKUMENTARY CALLED RAIN OF MADNESS.

Theroux played German filmmaker Jan Jürgen, a man looking to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) in the tie-in mockumentary inspired by the Apocalypse Now documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991). It was released on iTunes to promote Tropic Thunder, and came with its own website. Bill Hader played a studio executive and Janeane Garofalo made a cameo as a therapist.

18. PARAMOUNT PROMOTED DOWNEY IN CHARACTER FOR AWARD SHOW CONSIDERATION.

‘Kirk Lazarus’ was given his own "For Your Consideration" ads in trade magazines. It also doubled as a way to promote the DVD of the film, which featured a commentary with Downey as Lincoln Osiris and Lazarus. Downey ended up nominated for Best Supporting Actor, but lost to Heath Ledger for The Dark Knight.

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Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. and Legendary Pictures Productions, LLC.
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Pop Culture
What Would It Cost to Operate a Real Jurassic Park?
Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. and Legendary Pictures Productions, LLC.
Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc. and Legendary Pictures Productions, LLC.

As the Jurassic Park franchise has demonstrated, trapping prehistoric monsters on an island with bite-sized tourists may not be the smartest idea (record-breaking box office numbers aside). On top of the safety concerns, the cost of running a Jurassic Park would raise its own set of pretty pricey issues. Energy supplier E.ON recently collaborated with physicists from Imperial College London to calculate how much energy the fictional attraction would eat up in the real world.

The infographic below borrows elements that appear in both the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World films. One of the most costly features in the park would be the aquarium for holding the massive marine reptiles. To keep the water heated and hospitable year-round, the park would need to pay an energy bill of close to $3 million a year.

Maintaining a pterosaur aviary would be an even more expensive endeavor. To come up with this cost, the researchers looked at the yearly amount of energy consumed by the Eden Project, a massive biome complex in the UK. Using that data, they concluded that a structure built to hold winged creatures bigger than any bird alive today would add up to $6.6 million a year in energy costs.

Other facilities they envisioned for the island include an egg incubator, embryo fridge, hotel, and emergency bunker. And of course, there would be electric fences running 24/7 to keep the genetic attractions separated from park guests. In total, the physicists estimated that the park would use 455 million kilowatt hours a year, or the equivalent of 30,000 average homes. That annual energy bill comes out to roughly $63 million.

Keep in mind that energy would still only make up one part of Jurassic Park's hypothetical budget—factoring in money for lawsuits would be a whole different story.

Map of dinosaur park.
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Comics
20 Things You Might Not Know About Garfield
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Everyone’s favorite lazy, lasagna-loving cat made his debut 40 years ago, but Garfield is still just as popular today. The comic strip spawned a TV show plus a number of video games, feature films, books, and, of course, holiday specials—not to mention one very memorable car window craze. We sat down with Garfield creator Jim Davis to nail down a solid list of 20 things you might not know about the wisecracking feline.

1. JIM DAVIS ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO FOCUS THE STRIP ON JON.


Courtesy of Jim Davis

“I ran some early ideas at a local paper,” Jim Davis tells Mental Floss, “to see how I felt about it and I called the strip Jon. It was about him, but he had this wise cat who, every time, came back zinging him. He always had the great payoff. At the time, I worked for T.K. Ryan—the cartoonist for Tumbleweeds—and I showed it to him and told him how every time I got to the punch line the cat zings him. And T.K. said, 'Well, what does that tell you, Jim?'" he laughs. “The strip must be about the cat. Go with it.”

2. JON WAS A CARTOONIST IN THE VERY FIRST COMIC STRIP, BUT IT WAS NEVER REALLY MENTIONED AGAIN.

“I didn’t want to tread on the fact that Jon’s a cartoonist because my biggest fear was getting a little too inside," Davis says. "That it would be a little too easy for me to write. I didn’t want to lose the readers just for my own enjoyment, or for a handful of peers. Also, I purposely gave him a job right off the top for the reason that The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet never explained what Ozzie did for a living. Nobody ever knew because he was always in the house with Harriet and Ricky and David. Just hanging around. So I thought I would give Jon a job right off the top to avoid being asked what he does for a living in interviews.”

3. GARFIELD WAS NAMED AFTER DAVIS'S GRANDFATHER, JAMES A. GARFIELD DAVIS ...

... who was named after President James A. Garfield. That’s quite a connection. Now just imagine a fat, wisecracking, lasagna-eating cat as the President of the United States of America. (Sounds like a dead-ringer for William Howard Taft!)

4. GARFIELD IS SET IN DAVIS'S HOMETOWN OF MUNCIE, INDIANA, BUT THAT'S ALSO MOSTLY LEFT UNSAID.


Courtesy of Jim Davis

“I would like for readers in Sydney, Australia to think that Garfield lives next door,” Davis says. “Dealing with eating and sleeping, being a cat, Garfield is very universal. By virtue of being a cat, really, he’s not really male or female or any particular race or nationality, young or old. It gives me a lot more latitude for the humor for the situations.” The farm that Davis grew up on reportedly had 25 cats, several of which he based the Garfield character on.

5. DAVIS MAINTAINS COMPLETE CONTROL OVER GARFIELD'S FINAL PRODUCT, BUT HE NO LONGER DRAWS THE DAILY COMIC STRIP.

“I’m sitting here working on the writing right now,” he says. “I see gags and I work with assistants on the strip and stuff like that. We do roughs and it all filters through me so that it has one voice. We all get together occasionally in the same room and draw and work on shapes of fingers and gestures and expressions and things like that so that if any one of us draws it, you can’t tell which one did it.”

6. HE REGRETS AT LEAST ONE LICENSED GARFIELD ITEM.

According to Slate, Garfield merchandise brings in $750 million to $1 billion annually. Davis’s creation has been adapted and licensed more times than anyone could probably count, and of all of those items, there's one that Davis isn't thrilled with. “A few years ago there was a Zombie Garfield,” he says. “It was really gnarly and I thought, 'Oh, this will be fun.' So I did it and it sold okay. It was really interesting. But then I looked at it later and I go, ‘It did nothing for the character’s advancement.’ I figured I just did it because it was cool and everybody was doing it at the time. I just didn’t have a warm, fuzzy feeling after doing it. But those T-shirts go away," he laughs.

7. GARFIELD HOLDS THE GUINNESS WORLD RECORD FOR BEING THE WORLD'S MOST WIDELY SYNDICATED COMIC STRIP.

Garfield is syndicated in more than 2500 newspapers and journals. The cat also has more than 16 million fans on Facebook. That’s one seriously popular feline.

8. GARFIELD'S CHARACTER DESIGN HAS CHANGED MANY TIMES OVER THE YEARS.

There's one constant, though: The fat cat has always been—and will always be—fat. “If he lost weight, that would effectively end Garfield as we know it,” Davis says. “Garfield sends a healthy message in that he’s not perfect. He knows that and he’s cool with that. He’s happy with himself. If everybody were, there would probably be fewer disorders of all natures. He’s not perfect. In fact, he’s the imperfection in all of us underneath. I think that makes him probably easier to identify with than a slim, athletic character in the comics.”

9. DAVIS REALLY ENJOYED SCARING KIDS WITH GARFIELD'S HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE.

"It was such a challenge to try to think of something that could be scary, but fortunately we got to work with animation—we could marry scary sounds with scary music and scary images, and set the stage for a scary experience," Davis says. "Even down to the use of the actor’s voice. C. Lindsay Workman [who voices the old man that tells Garfield and Odie about the vengeful ghost pirates] was just a great character actor. I think we took our time to build to a scary scene where the ghost pirates invaded the house to look for the buried treasure. We tried to throw as many elements together as possible to create a situation where, at least for a few minutes, it could create a scary situation for the young viewers."

10. CREATING THE GHOST PIRATES IN THE HALLOWEEN TV SPECIAL WAS MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.

“We did it in our own art department (here at Paws, Inc.) because we wanted to make it just right,” the Garfield creator told us. “It was done with a white, chalky pencil on a rough texture so that everything would be really grainy. Back then, we animated on real film, so in order to get that glow we did what’s called a double burn. We exposed the film twice to overexpose the ghosts, and that gave it that eerie glow. We were totally in control of the process and the results turned out very well.”

11. IN 2011, A FULL-LENGTH STAGE MUSICAL CALLED GARFIELD LIVE WAS STAGED IN MUNCIE.

The musical was supposed to start touring the United States in September 2010, but was delayed until January 2011, when it premiered in Muncie. Davis wrote Garfield Live, while Michael Dansicker and Bill Meade handled the music and lyrics.

12. DAVIS LOVED THE CASTING OF BILL MURRAY AS THE VOICE OF GARFIELD IN 2004'S GARFIELD: THE MOVIE.


Muncie Magazine

“It was because of Bill Murray’s attitude [that he was cast],” Davis tells us. “It wasn’t really so much his voice. It was the fact that he embodies the attitude that Garfield has always displayed in the strip. Lorenzo [Music] obviously wasn’t a choice since he passed away years ago, and when the producers said, ‘Bill Murray would like to do the voice,’ I thought, ‘Oh, cool.’ My biggest concern about doing a CGI Garfield with live action was that people wouldn’t buy into the fact that this was our Garfield—the Garfield we’d known all these years. But I thought that as soon as they heard Bill Murray’s voice they’d get it. There will be that emotional tag going with his voice. That will establish the fact that, ‘Yes, this character has attitude.’”

13. THERE'S A GREAT LINK BETWEEN GARFIELD VOICE ACTOR LORENZO MUSIC AND BILL MURRAY.

Lorenzo Music provided the voice of Garfield in all of the cat’s TV specials from 1982 to 1991, as well as during the 1988 to 1994 run of Garfield and Friends. Music also provided the voice of Peter Venkman in The Real Ghostbusters. Murray, of course, played Venkman in the Ghostbusters films and would, in 2004, provide the voice of Garfield in Garfield: The Movie. “I didn’t know about the relationship with Ghostbusters until years later."

14. THE MACY'S PARADE ONCE CITED SHAMU THE WHALE AS THE PARADE'S LARGEST BALLOON, BUT DAVIS SAYS GARFIELD WAS LARGER.

“In the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, they had published that their biggest balloon ever, by volume of gas, was Shamu the Whale with over 18,000 cubic feet," Davis says. "The fact is that the Garfield balloon was filled with 18,907 cubic feet of helium. So we just confirmed that the Garfield balloon, in fact, was the largest one by volume of gas.”

15. THERE ARE ONLY THREE COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD WHERE GARFIELD IS NOT NAMED GARFIELD.

“In Sweden, Garfield is known as Gustav,” the Garfield creator says. “There are only three countries in the whole world where he’s not Garfield and they’re all in the Nordics.” The other two are Norway and Finland.

16. THE STUCK ON YOU GARFIELD PLUSH WITH SUCTION CUPS WAS THE RESULT OF A MISUNDERSTANDING.


Amazon

In the 1990s, it wasn't unusual to see a number of cars with little Garfield plushes stuck to the windows with suction cups. But that wasn't the original design—or the intended use. “I designed the first Stuck on You doll with Velcro on the paws, thinking that people would stick it on curtains,” Davis says. “It came back as a mistake with suction cups. They didn’t understand the directions. So I stuck it on a window and said, 'If it’s still there in two days, we’ll approve this.' Well, they were good suction cups and we released it like that. It never occurred to me that people would put them on cars.”

17. THE GARFIELD COMIC STRIP BOOKS HAVE BEEN HUGE HITS.

“The 11 Garfield comic strip books have all been number one on the New York Times Bestseller List,” Davis says. “At one time there were seven on the list simultaneously. At that point, they changed the way the list was done because other publishing houses were complaining that their authors couldn’t get on the list because of Garfield. Garfield at Large (1980) was number one for two solid years. Over 100 weeks.” The title of every compilation book is a reference to either food or Garfield’s weight.

18. STEVEN SPIELBERG AND STEPHEN KING ARE AMONG THE MANY CELEBRITIES WHO OWN ORIGINAL GARFIELD STRIPS.

They both contacted Davis personally for the strips; the cartoonist happily obliged.

19. DESPITE GARFIELD BEING INSANELY POPULAR FOR DECADES, DAVIS IS STILL MOSTLY ANONYMOUS.


Muncie Magazine

“Being a cartoonist, you really enjoy a lot of anonymity,” he says. “You take a half-dozen of the biggest cartoonists and walk them down any street, nobody would notice them. They only know their characters. So I just hide behind Garfield. The only time anyone knows the name or spots me is if I’m out on book tour and I’m meant to do publicity. We don’t suffer any of the kind of attention problems that I think people do on TV or in movies. It’s not a big deal. I’m sitting here in the countryside of East Central Indiana, so it’s pretty quiet.”

20. DAVIS'S FATHER'S FAVORITE COMIC STRIP WASN'T GARFIELD.

Davis's father and namesake, who passed away in 2016, liked Garfield but preferred another comic strip: Beetle Bailey. “Nobody else knew that until today,” Davis tells us.

This article originally appeared in 2014.

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