|Starship Troopers 2 - Hero of the Federation (Special Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 01 June 2004|
1997’s Starship Troopers was a big, bloody, science-fiction special effects extravaganza, with so much spectacle in the clash of giant extraterrestrial insects and heavily armed humans that a lot of viewers didn’t quite catch the sly political satire rolling through it. The film spawned an animated series, a videogame and now a straight-to-home video sequel.
As anybody watching the film will surmise and anybody listening to the audio commentary track will know for sure, Starship Troopers 2 was made for literally five percent of the budget of the original film. Given this fact, it’s rather impressive that its effects sequences are as handsome as they are. This is probably due to the fact that Phil Tippett, making his feature directorial debut here, was the special effects supervisor on Starship Troopers 1 and knows his stuff. Tippett actually manages to one-up the earlier film in a crucial area – Starship Troopers 2 turns out to be better acted across the board than its predecessor, which is a good thing, because the cast don’t have the big bug battles to fall back on often.
Starship Troopers 2 opens with a high-spirited recruiting film for the Federation’s fighting forces that sets up the story so far – Earth is locked in combat with a galaxy full of highly aggressive giant insectoids (viewers of the original film will recall that the conflict began when humans invaded the bugs’ space, not the other way around). The chipper advertisement makes it look as though glory and victory are right on the horizon. We then shift to the film’s reality in Chapter 2, with a platoon full of soldiers who are being decimated by the warrior arachnids on an isolated, desolate planet. In Chapter 3, the unfortunate humans are beset by a storm, which roars with persuasive discrete effects through mains and rears. General Shepherd (Ed Lauter) opts to guard the company’s flank with a few soldiers, sending most of the company to seek shelter in an apparently empty military outpost. They do find one locked-up survivor, Captain Dax (Richard Burgi), who has been confined to the outpost’s furnace for killing a senior officer. Dax, however, turns out to be handy and knowledgeable – although tense Lt. Dill (Lawrence Monoson) bristles at the notion of working with a rule-breaker. Dill belongs to Psy Corps, the branch of the military made up primarily of psychically gifted fascists. It turns out that Pvt. Sahara (Colleen Porch) has latent psychic gifts, which are warning her of dangers even more disturbing than the prospect of another bug onslaught.
The script by Ed Neumeier draws from a number of sources -- think war movies, David Cronenberg and Invasion of the Body Snatchers – as well as from the original film. He actually keeps a respectable number of plates spinning and, unlike quite a few films in the low-budget genre, actually takes the time to get us to like the characters and appreciate some of their point of view about being part of the team. Tippett stages some good scares, some bracing gore and more tight-looking CGI spectacle than most movies on this budget level could possibly deliver (to put it another way – the opening clash between the hero and Mr. Hyde in Van Helsing would have been blessed to have CGI this effective – okay, they were animating a humanoid figure rather than a bug, but still …). The actors all take the material seriously, which helps immeasurably. Lauter projects real leadership, Burgi conveys the requisite heroic mixture of decency and cynicism, Porch (who resembles Angelina Jolie) is wary without being wussy and Monoson is suitably uptight and conflicted.
Sound is excellent, with attention to detail and discrete sound. When the power comes back on at the outpost, a whine in the rears may make you think something odd is happening in your viewing environment – did your air conditioning kick on unexpectedly? – before you realize it’s just a convincing soundtrack element. Chapter 6 has a well-done bug assault on the fortress, while Chapter 8 has a very realistic sizzle of dying fire in the mains. A climactic combat sequence has suitably convincing sounds that puts you in the middle of the action. Visually, cinematographer Christian Sebaldt finds the right throughline between atmospheric murkiness and visibility – we get horror movie gloom that still allows us to see the action clearly.
Extras on the DVD include a highly enjoyable and candid audio commentary by director Tippett, writer Neumeier and producer Jon Davison, all veterans of the first film (albeit Tippett’s in a different capacity here) who are well-qualified to talk about the differences between the two installments. They don’t sugarcoat the difficulties and shortcuts of working on a tight schedule and a minimal budget, but their tales of problems and creative solutions are entertaining (and educational to any would-be low-budget filmmakers). There is also an agreeable making-of featurette and a piece, narrated by visual effects supervisor Eric Leven, on the genesis of the effects shots from storyboard to completion.
Starship Troopers 2 is a movie that, once upon a time, would have made you very happy if your idea of a great afternoon was to slip into a Grade B movie theatre to watch a solid B sci-fi/horror movie. Starship Troopers 2 is proof that sometimes they still do make ‘em like they used to.