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Starship Troopers 3: Marauder Print E-mail
Wednesday, 08 October 2008
ImagePaul Verhoeven’s exuberant, gleefully excessive “Starship Troopers” (1997) may have irked fans of the Robert A. Heinlein novel it was based on, but it did well enough to generate a CGI-animated TV series and two sequels, “Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation” (2004) and this one, “Starship Troopers 3: Marauder.”  This newer entry in what now seems to be a movie series had a distinctly higher budget than “Hero of the Federation,” and was also helmed by a first-time director.  That had Phil Tippett at the head, who’d been in charge of the elaborate effects for the first film, this one is directed and written by Ed Neumeier, who scripted all three films (and cowrote “RoboCop”).  This one had some theatrical engagements overseas, but like the first sequel, has been released only on video in the United States.

Nonetheless, Sony Home Entertainment has given it a bang-up presentation, releasing it both in standard definition and high definition, on this Blu-ray disc.  It is also accompanied by several featurettes and boasts two commentary tracks.  It was shot in South Africa, and takes advantage of desert backgrounds available there—though it must be said that sand dune deserts look pretty much the same everywhere.

The first sequel was a claustrophobic horror tale, centering on a small band of human survivors being taken over one-by-one by new variations on the arachnid-like alien race; the war with the, “The Bugs,” is the setting for all three films.  Heinlein’s novel was straightforward and serious; more than half of it took place in classrooms as young people learn the responsibilities and duties of their war-oriented society.  Director Paul Verhoeven, producer Jon Davison and particularly writer Ed Neumeier took a wry, satirical approach to Heinlein’s material; they displayed this society but their sharp approach made it clear they did not endorse it.  “Starship Troopers” was unusual in that it was satirical of itself.
Heinlein devotees, a fierce but gradually dwindling group, were furious that the movie didn’t show the human warriors encased in the elaborate battle suits of the novel (they were used in the TV series).  There were two reasons for their lack: budgetary and dramatic.  It’s hard to tell who’s who when you can’t see their faces.  These battle suits finally do make an appearance in this third Stroopers movie, but they only turn up in the last few minutes.  Heinlein fans will not be mollified—because this movie is even more satirical, even more critical of the society it depicts, than the first movie.  Also, Heinlein’s name does not appear in the credits. It’s now about ten years after the events of “Starship Troopers.”  Johnny Rico (Casper Van Diem, repeating from the first film) has been honored by the Federation as The Hero of Planet P, the battle for which formed much of the first film.  (He’s the only character who repeats from the earlier movie.)  He meets his old pal Dix (Boris Kodjoe), now a general; he’s surprised to learn that Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock), one his girlfriend, is now engaged to Dix.  And that Dix’s main duty is to take Sky Marshal Omar Anoke (Stephen Hogan) down to the farming planet Roku San, now under attack by Bugs.
The movie opens with one of the amusing “Federal Network” recruiting films/news reports that were seen throughout the first movie, and which recur with satisfying regularity here.  One of the most bombastic of the opening segments features Sky Marshal Anoke singing “It’s a Good Day to Die,” a Federation-wide hit.  (There’s even an ad for an album of Anoke’s greatest hits.)  We also learn, by news report, of a new weapon, the Q Bomb, powerful enough to explode an entire planet.  This time, though, Neumeier begins to slip in some signs that all is not well within the Federation; there are signs of rebellion on several planets, and an advocate of peace is gaining followers.  There are even signs of a growing interest in religion, which it’s clear the Powers that Be are uncertain about.  Not everyone is in favor of the planet-destroying Q Bomb, but a Federation follower explains that “we have a lot of planets.”  A great deal of information about the Federation is slipped to viewers (of this movie) almost subliminally; Neumeier is very sharp at this.
Dix has a fight with some farmers of Roku San, who are opposed to the war and to the military organization that is their government, but soon everyone’s attention is violently deflected: someone has shut down the power, enabling the hordes of Bugs to now enter the compound.  Lola, a star pilot, takes off in a craft with a small crew, and Anoke aboard, too.  With their faster-than-light spacedrive, the Roku San system is soon left behind, but their ship is crippled, and they have to abandon it in favor of a small rescue pod, which comes to rest on the beach of a world that is evidently without any human settlements—but they soon realize that the Bugs are there.

The movie cuts between the seven stranded on the desert planet and the experiences of Dix and Rico, who are now at “Sanctuary,” the home of the Federal Fleet—a vast armada of spaceships of all sorts.  Dix is fiercely protective of Anoke’s reputation, especially when ambitious Admiral Enolo Phid (Amanda Donohoe) begins making it all too clear that she wants to by Sky Marshal herself.  All over the Federation, including within Sanctuary, there are frequent execution of traitors and those rather arbitrarily accused of sedition—and Dix has now accused Rico, who finds himself with a noose around his neck.  But there’s more to come
Back on that desert planet, tough, determined Lola takes charge of the situation, though she’s annoyed at the devotion to religion shown by Holly Little (Marnette Patterson).  Also, trooper Jingo (Cokey Falkow) is showing signs of cowardice.  Muscular Chief bull Brittles (Stelio Savante), who’s falling in love with Holly, is Lola’s right-hand man.  But the Bugs have a new tactic—they can attack from within the planet itself, their spider-like legs reaching up out of the sand.

About half of “Starship Troopers 3” is something of a replay of John Ford’s “The Lost Patrol;” that had a near-fantatic (Boris Karloff) too, and where they were lost was a desert.  That name “Brittles” isn’t common—but that was John Wayne’s name in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,” another John Ford movie mostly set in a desert.  “Starship Troopers 3” isn’t very much like a Ford movie, but Neumeier is gallantly tipping his hat to the old guy just the same. 
Although the movie is a bit overlong and it’s occasionally somewhat obvious that Neumeier is a first-time director (the editing is sometimes ragged), it’s mostly a rugged adventure with frequent bursts of action.  The characters are broadly drawn, but it’s that kind of movie—and it doesn’t take itself all that seriously, so you don’t have to, either.  The ending suggests that Neumeier may have something specific in mind for a followup.

This approach requires a certain balancing act.  If it’s too clear that the whole thing is something of a spoof of itself, the filmmakers run the risk of scenes not having the impact they should.  If they don’t care about their characters, why should we?  But Neumeier is very adept in this particular area; kids won’t have any idea that this movie is a satire—they’ll take it as the adventure/war film it is on the surface.  He never quite overplays his hand; at the end, two lovers kiss in front of a window showing the destruction of an entire planet—and they don’t even glance at it.

But he does reach a little too far at times.  I’m not sure this overall storyline needed a Bug—an individual—that’s almost as large as a planet, and even has a name (Behemecoatyl, if you’re wondering).  We still don’t know if the Bugs have anything we’d recognize as a civilization, or just swarm onto one planet after another.  We don’t even know how they get from planet to planet—we have yet to see a Bug spaceship.  (The Bugs in the novel had them.)  A couple of the characters are thin while at the same time being too broad—the Sky Marshal and Jingo are in this category, though the actors are both good.  Should he have named the peace-monger “Goniff” and put him in a wheelchair like Ron Kovic of “Bourn on the Fourth of July”?  (It seems unlikely that this mechanized future would even have wheelchairs.)
The movie had a relatively small budget—you can tell partly by the not-quite-there set of the outpost on Roku San.  But the special effects range from good to excellent; the featurettes reveal the surprising fact that a lot of the Bugs are real—that is, they’re life-size constructions the actors can interact with.  The rest, of course, are CGI; there aren’t the vast hordes of the first film, but Robert Skotak, in charge of the effects, still manages to fill the screen with satisfying swarms of warrior bugs. 
As far as this being in high definition goes—well, the higher the budget, the more glories there are when the movie’s seen in high definition.  The sets here are somewhat inadequate, but the exteriors are handsome and the cinematography is usually quite good.  One element that’s especially weak, however, is the score by Klaus Badelt; that barroom brawl has bland, mild music behind it, and there isn’t any hint of a “big sky” theme for the desert scenes. 

The featurettes are well-done, and include contributions from most of those involved in the film, including Neumeier, Skotak, his brother Dennis, producer David Lancaster and others.  One of the segments is devoted entirely to the Bugs and how the Skotaks and their co-workers created them; the other is supposedly about the Marauders (the battle suits), but isn’t, really.  It’s much more of a standard making-of featurette, and includes Jolene Blalock (the sexy Vulcan from “Enterprise,” the most recent Star Trek series), Casper Van Diem and others.  The commentary track by Neumeier, Skotak and Lancaster is dry, straightforward and informative.  My equipment would not play the other commentary track (and a notice on screen informed me of this).

There are amusing bits buried in those “Federation” TV spots that it may take you a second viewing to catch.  Such as the notice at the bottom of the screen in a recruiting commercial that says if you click on this sign, “you waive your statutory rights and become the property of the Federation.”  Be careful where you click.

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