The war with the bugs continues.
For those of you keeping score, this is the third entry in the series that began with the 1997 theatrical release of "Starship Troopers," continued with the 2004 direct-to-video release of "Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation," and now offers the 2008 direct-to-video "Starship Troopers 3: Marauder."
The original "Starship Troopers," directed by Paul Verhoeven, proved a disappointment at the box-office but picked up momentum on DVD by delivering healthy doses of satire and thrills. "Starship Troopers 2," directed by Phil Tippett, met with downright hostility, the voters at IMDb giving it a combined rating of 3.5/10. Ed Neumeier wrote both scripts, so, evidently unhappy with what happened to number two, he not only wrote but directed "Starship Troopers 3" (a first-time directorial effort for the writer of "RoboCop," all three "Starship Troopers," and "Anacondas 2"). The outcome, however, remains a far cry from the initial Verhoeven film. Even though Neumeier tries to put a little more mock-heroic humor back into the action, that's not saying much. "Starship Troopers 3" is a bad movie by any account, bereft of most of the first film's fun and frolic.
The problems with "Starship Troopers 3" are almost too numerous to count, and they start from the ground up. The fact is, Neumeier never distinguishes himself here as a writer or a director, despite his apparent attempts to replicate Verhoeven's accomplishments. Although he's got Casper Van Dien back in the lead as gung-ho hero Johnny Rico, plus a bevy of beautiful people with whom to work, Neumeier can't seem to find a consistent tone or tempo for the film. It starts out as the first movie did, taking a humorous, semidocumentary approach in a series of FedNet television announcements about the glories of war and the need to serve one's country, but these stabs at satire don't last long before the film bogs down in flat, bug-fighting shenanigans.
The script Neumeier devises jumps from character to character, never establishing a lead or a star, despite the presence of Van Dien, who practically disappears after the first half of the story. Yet when Van Dien is on screen, he puts in the best acting job of anyone, which doesn't bode well for the rest of the talent involved.
The cheapjack production values and the cartoonish CGI only make matters worse, with some of the set construction reminding one of the "Star Trek" series of the 60's and with a giant scorpion looking like something out of a 50s' monster flick. I'd say the standard bugs come off best, but since they are no longer the novelty they were a decade ago, even they seem a bit cheesy. Moreover, most of the movie looks studio-bound, so that adds to the appearance of cheapness, too, with the few location shots standing out starkly by their adding at least a modicum of verisimilitude to the activities. Indeed, much of the movie looks like a filmed stage play, it's that unconvincing, with the filmmakers creating most of the explosive effects by simply shaking the camera.
Neumeier does his best to inject a topical note into the proceedings by drawing parallels between the bug war and America's war in Iraq, but it's all rather obvious and overstated. For instance, the Federation's motto "If you're against the war, you're against us" smacks of early Bush-era sentiments. The Federation has also become more dictatorial by this time in the saga, with the totalitarian government handing out death sentences to people who speak out against the bug war.
Johnny Rico exposes the movie's intelligence level with his tactical command to "get in there and kill 'em all!" Certainly, Neumeier means for the audience to take the line humorously, as part of an intentional corniness, yet the serious straightforwardness of so much of the rest of the action persuades one possibly to think otherwise.
Characters come and go whom the filmmakers never introduce or explain, and the ones we do get to know a little better, we don't care much about. Van Dien's Rico is just more of the same but older. Jolene Blalock as Capt. Lola Beck looks better standing around than saying anything, but that goes for most of the actors; neither the screenplay nor the director gives anybody anything to work with. Boris Kodjoe's Gen. Dix Hauser is supposedly one of Rico's old friends, but we'd never know it. Amanda Donahoe as Admiral Enolo Phid is something of an enigma, never revealing much of her true self. Stephen Hogan as Sky Marshal Omar Anoke is a joke as a pop-singer world leader. And Marnette Patterson as Holly Little, a naive flight attendant, is one of many characters who pops up out of nowhere late in the story and suddenly becomes a leading figure.
Gore and nudity appear wholly gratuitous in this installment, with heads rolling and people taking their clothes off for no other reason than to titillate the audience and to provide viewers with what they expect from the previous films. Neither the gore nor the nudity is ever an integral part of the story.
Whereas writer Neumeier and director Verhoeven clearly meant the first "Starship Troopers" to look and sound corny in order to spoof old war films and fascist regimes, this new "Starship Troopers 3" seems often unintentionally corny, the action awkward, hokey, and old-fashioned. There's not an ounce of charm, delight, tension, suspense, excitement, fright, magic, or wonder in the whole affair, making it a wearying 105-minute slog to the end.
I suspect that any faults one might find with the disc's video quality one might attribute to the original print and the original filmmaking. This is a low-budget production, and it looks it. Sony do their best, delivering a 1080p, MPEG-4/AVC transfer that spans two layers of a BD50. The colors in this 1.85:1 ratio widescreen picture are vivid and bright, and in outdoor daylight scenes the hues fairly pop off the frames. Unfortunately, the filmmakers shot most of the movie indoors on soundstages in darkness and shadows, so you won't find a wealth of inner detailing. Nor are the black levels particularly strong or deep. Still, overall definition is fine, there's a touch of grain for added texture, and facial close-ups can be reasonably revealing, even if medium and long shots are somewhat soft and fuzzy.
Unlike the video, which for high definition is passable, the audio presents more serious concerns. On the plus side, it's got Dolby TrueHD 5.1 going for it. On the minus side, there isn't a lot for the TrueHD to do. Like the sets and the computer graphics, the audio simply advertises itself as low budget, with poor microphone placement, chopped dialogue, and booming mid bass. Indeed, sometimes it's hard even to hear what people are saying through the noisy, busy soundtrack. Dynamics vary, with some explosions massively loud and others not at all. Gunfire lacks impact. Rear-channel effects are at a minimum. And, worst of all, midrange projection is most often dull and repressed, sounding pinched, muted, hollow, and distant.
The Blu-ray disc contains two items exclusive to BD: The first is a Marauder Mode, which is a picture-in-picture feature that frames the movie like a spaceship's computer screen and then inserts a small rectangular screen at the lower right for the filmmakers to comment on the movie and its production. The second BD exclusive is BD-Live, which requires a Profile 2.0 player connected to the Internet to download additional content.
Of more conventional interest, the disc contains two audio commentaries, the first with various crew members and the second with the writer/director and actors Casper Van Dien and Jolene Blalock. After the commentaries are two brief featurettes, "Evolution: The Bugs of Starship Troopers 3: Marauder," about eleven minutes, and "Enlist: Marauder's Mobile Infantry," about fourteen minutes. Then, pulling the primary extras to a close, there is an extended music video of Sky Marshal Anoke singing "It's a Good Day to Die."
The extras conclude with sixteen scene selections, but no chapter insert; pop-up menus; bookmarks; a guide to elapsed time; previews of other Sony products; English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Indonesian subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired
I never saw "Starship Troopers 2," so I couldn't tell you how bad it is, yet it couldn't be that much worse than "Starship Troopers 3: Marauder." Although writer/director Neumeier does his best to inject a little spoofing of the sci-fi/action/war-movie genre along with the serious action, he hasn't got the script, the cast, the directorial skills, or the budget to pull it off. The movie ends up looking clumsy and amateurish.