Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles DVD

Film:
DVD:

Written by: Pat Allee, Stephen Melching, et al...based on the original novel by Robert A. Heinlein
Directed by: Chris Berkeley, Alan Caldwell, et al.
Starring: Rino Romano, Elizabeth Daily, Rider Strong, Alexander Polinsky, and Jamie Hanes

Features:

  • Filmmakers' commentary
  • Technical commentary
  • Conceptual art galleries

Released by: Sony
Region: 1
Rating: PG
Anamorphic: N/A; presented in original fullscreen aspect ratio

My Advice: Own it.

A couple of years after the dust had settled regarding and the furor died down between die-hard fans of Robert A. Heinlein's classic novel Starship Troopers and
the movie that (perhaps unjustly) bore its name, it was announced that there would be an animated series based on the adventures of Johnny Rico, Dizzy Flores, and the rest of Razak's Roughnecks. It would be all-CGI, attempt to stay true to the spirit of Heinlein's book, and (perhaps most importantly) it would include the return of the much-absent powersuits. It was perhaps this last point that was the most compelling, but more on that in a moment. The series came and went, aired in relatively few markets, and many of the faithful that sat patiently waiting missed it entirely because it never played on a channel that was carried by local cable providers. But these DVDs bring the entire series back, re-edited by storyline into distinct, feature-length animated films.

But for a moment back to the power armor. Any solid sci-fi book geek can tell you that Heinlein presaged the anime mecha invasion by a couple of decades. His mobile infantry wasn't the rapidly-slaughtered cannon-fodder or giggling "90210" teens of Verhoeven's movie. They were killers--highly trained, extremely effective, encased in a suit of orbital re-entry capable armor, and equipped with shoulder-fired tactical nuclear weapons. So when the show announced intentions of CGI powersuits, the fanboy drooling began. I have to say the show delivers. The Roughnecks pack a pretty devastating punch when they have to, switching easily between small arms for close engagements to plasma-generating satchel charges and beltpack tac-nukes when situations turn desperate. In this, the series gets on the scoreboard quickly, by presenting the Troopers as Heinlein did: guns, guts, and glory.

With each disc representing a different planetary assignment, it would be easy to assume the discs stand alone fairly well. While the stories are intelligible in this fashion, or if viewed out of order, the real beauty in the series is in its ability to slowly build up these characters, developing them through adversity and relationships with other characters over a long period of time. Also, while the individual campaigns do begin and end a story, there is an over-arching conflict raging beyond them all, and it is this larger war that binds the series together and provides narrative cohesion. So, in short, the show is best enjoyed in its entirety, or at the very least in its intended order. This way, you can follow the growth of characters, and see how the creative team deftly handles the soldiers' increase in confidence and capability in combat, reflecting the way real soldiers develop in the field and become combat-tested veterans. This returns some of the "coming of age" element of Heinlein's original to the screen--a facet sorely lacking in the live-action film.

The story begins with Razak's Roughnecks being sent to Pluto to combat a hostile alien species, known simply as the Bugs. Upon reaching Pluto, it rapidly becomes evident that military intelligence has radically underestimated the fighting potential of these creatures, and the Mobile Infantry finds itself in an extraordinarily deadly bind. But, with some heroics from our major players, the Roughnecks survive, only to discover that the Bugs are not native to Pluto, instead hailing from some unknown corner of the galaxy. This begins an interplanetary quest to find the Bugs' world of origin, and kick the bejeezus out of them there, so the creepy-crawlies are less inclined to come mucking about in human space any time soon. Spanning four planets and two other sentient
species, the series eventually finds our heroes returning to Earth, battle-hardened but a bit weary, only to discover that the Bugs have set up shop in their absence, and it becomes an all-out fight for the future of Earth.

Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles

Each disc contains commentaries from the filmmakers, commentaries from the technical crew responsible for making the CGI itself happen, and conceptual art galleries showing every detail of the show from concept sketch to wireframe to textured models. Add to this a running time of approximately ninety minutes per disc, and you've got yourself quite the entertainment bargain buy. If you were a fan of Heinlein's book, this is the translation you've been waiting to see. If you were a fan of the movie (I know you're out there...I can hear you drooling), this manages to flesh the whole thing out and apologetically attempt to make it right, but without using lots of big words or concepts that might confuse the average fan of Verhoeven's hackjob. In places, the show opts for more gunplay instead of deeper story development, but in all honesty, Heinlein's original was a war story, pure and simple. There weren't hidden layers of complexity or deep characterization. Introduce characters, and then proceed to blowing stuff up in spectacularly interesting fashion. And the show manages that with style.

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