Starship Troopers: Invasion (US - BD)
Gabe can ill afford another Klendathu-sized failure of a movie...
A distant Federation outpost Fort Casey comes under attack by bugs. The team on the fast attack ship Alesia is assigned to help the Starship John A. Warden stationed in Fort Casey evacuate, along with the survivors and bring military intelligence safely back to Earth. Carl Jenkins, now ministry of Paranormal Warfare, takes the starship on a clandestine mission before its rendezvous with the Alesia and goes missing in the nebula. Now, the battle-hardened troopers are charged with a rescue mission that may lead to a much more sinister consequence than they ever could have imagined... (From the official Sony synopsis)
As I prepare to watch Starship Troopers: Invasion, it suddenly dawns on me that I’ve never, not once enjoyed an entirely 3D animated, feature-length motion picture from Japan on any level outside of visual splendor. I scan the IMDB of my mind and cannot come up with one genuinely engaging character or story element from any of these films. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what happened in Resident Evil: Degeneration or Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children. All I can remember is gloriously rendered, super slow-motion action. Perhaps this is because so many of the ones that have been given a decent release stateside are based on videogames or pre-existing material I am unfamiliar with, but I don’t think it’s a matter of culture shock, because there are so many traditionally animated films from the region that have engaged me on personal and intellectual levels. I suppose there’s something in the scope of these films that break up the production into such tiny segments that no one can get a handle on a proper narrative, leaving audiences with a jumble of cool images with dull or even absent context. But I keep coming back, because I like cool images and I like the idea of someone out there making animated films intended for adults. Adults with adolescent tastes, yes (these are wacky action films, after all), but adults that don’t need to be sheltered from sex, violence, and naughty language. If studios Ghibli and Madhouse can make films for children that appeal to adults in 2D, someone at Sony (and all the minor production studios working under them) has to figure it out eventually.
Which brings us back to Starship Troopers: Invasion. Paul Verhoven’s original, live-action Starship Troopers is, of course, a masterpiece that works, both on the level of a straight action film and of a sharp-witted satire of straight action films. It has almost no relation to Robert Heinlein’s source novel, outside of its most basic plot and generally makes fun of the author’s (arguably) fascist message. I haven’t seen either of the film’s straight-to-video sequels, so I’m going to ignore them for this discussion, but I did watch quite a bit of the CG animated television series – Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. The series was certainly simplified for younger audiences, deleting satire and gore in favour of straight action and melodrama, but it was plenty entertaining. When news of Starship Troopers: Invasion first came down the wire, I assumed it was related somewhat to this series, but then Edward Neumeier, screenwriter of the original Verhoven film and Robocop, was announced as executive producer, leading this fan to hope that Invasion would be both action-charged and satisfying in sense of story.
Nope! It turns out that Neumeier’s executive producer title is largely ceremonial. This film features the surviving characters of the original film (which it attempts to exploit for the sake of empathic shorthand), but none of its wit. The plot is thin, the characters are entirely interchangeable, and the jokes aren’t even a little funny. The dialogue and performances are sub-par, even for videogame cut scenes. I wouldn’t mind the listless nature of these go-nowhere sequences if I were actually playing a videogame and was permitted to participate in the repetitive action. Seeing Rico crawl into a mech-suit and mindlessly shout catch-phrases from the original film would probably be exciting if I was then able to play as Rico in a mech-suit (not that there’s any reason to care about Rico over any other dead-eyed character in this movie), but, for the purposes of the movie, it only leads to more of the same. It takes about two-thirds of the film’s runtime to finally get to a plot point that justifies its existence, but even this is turned into a floppy excuse to basically reenact the first-act climax of Revenge of the Sith. The climax has cool ideas and moments, but makes up such a small piece of the mostly boring film that it might as well have been edited down and released as a 15-minute trailer for another movie where, theoretically, something actually happens. The saddest thing is that the filmmakers are trying so very hard to ape what they think makes Verhoven’s film so memorable. The dialogue is riddled with childish profanity and the computer-created T&A is laughable in entirely the wrong way.
Director Shinji Aramaki is no spring chicken. His CV includes ‘mechanical’ design work for many popular series, including MASK (yes, the one all you ‘80s children are thinking of), Bubblegum Crisis, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. His design skills led to direction on Appleseed and Appleseed: Ex Machina, both of which are exactly the brand of form over function CG animated movies that I feared Starship Troopers: Invasion would be. And is. The largely non-stop action is numbing, generic, and unnecessarily dizzying, thanks to handheld virtual camera effects. Dramatic interactions are hampered by ugly, stiff character animation/motion capture acting that only stands apart from previous generation videogame animation through fine textures that couldn’t be achieved by non-HD programming. It’s actually amusing to learn that Aramaki started his career as a mechanical designer, because this film opens with a fetishistic look at the machinery of the 'jump-suits' and is then entirely enclosed by metallic environments. The lack of planet-side warfare to differentiate the otherwise interchangeable shoot-ups is especially disappointing.
Not surprisingly, Starship Troopers: Invasion, an entirely CG animated film, looks great on this 1.78:1, 1080p Blu-ray disc. Just about every frame of the film features a huge array of elements that are coloured and textured generally the same. I’m guessing that, in standard definition, this sea of grayish-bluish-greenish metal would lack the texture needed to separate elements and probably features a whole lot more in the way of edge enhancement and blocking effects. As the film progresses, some slight differentiations appear in the palette, specifically fiery yellow backdrops (I guess it’s supposed to be some kind of engine room?) and red energy beams. These, along with some yellowish computer screens, offer some decent highlight elements that pop without bleeding or blooming (though soft lighting effects create purposeful blooming effects). There are, however, some problems. It appears that the filmmakers have applied artificial grain to make the movie appear more film-like and this noise causes some of the finer textured edges to dance. This moiré-like effect may have been intended, but looks like an unattractive mistake to me. Otherwise, the utter clarity of the transfer does the animation no favours. The character elements are uncannily realized, including surprisingly un-textured skin that stands in stark contrast to the over-detailed jumpsuits.
Equally unsurprising is how aggressive and impressive this disc’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack sounds. The sound designers layer in tack after track of excessive noise and don’t leave a single channel out of the fun. There are walls of machinegun fire, bullets flying overhead, massive, LFE-shaking explosions, and alien bugs screaming from all sides of the screen. Downtime between explosive beats tends to feature plenty eerie generic ‘space’ ambience along with more creative little punches of synthesized electronic noise. The single coolest aural moment comes when the crew enters a wormhole and time is stopped, creating a cool throb of relative silence that then bursts back into blasts of sound. Problems arise in the form of balance. For instance, the metallic clank of boots against the hull floor is often way too loud and bassy, setting it in front of every other sound effect in the busy action. Vocal effects also tend to be a bit too loud and are often not naturally ingrained into the more aggressive mixes and are inconsistent when defining the differences between ‘masked’ and ‘unmasked’ voices.
The extras begin with a commentary track featuring director Shinji Aramaki and Sony Pictures’ VP Tony Ishizuka (or so I assume – he only refers to himself as Ishizuka and there’s no credit on the box art) in Japanese with optional English subtitles. This track is mostly dull, but offers huge insight into exactly why the movie sucked so much – the filmmakers only care about how ‘cool’ things look. Almost the entire track is made up of Aramaki and Ishizuka either describing the onscreen action (like, literally, ‘this guy is walking’), discussing the technical aspects of the production design (not in a lot of detail), or simply referring to how much they enjoy said production design. Every once and a while, someone drops a ‘this was in the novel’ reference, but that’s usually the end of it. At the very least, there isn’t an excess of blank space on the track and both parties appear to be having a good time.
Up next is a feature-length behind the scenes documentary entitled The Making of Starship Troopers: Invasion (1:20:00, HD), which is broken into eleven parts. ‘Genesis’ is the most extensive section and features Aramaki, Ishizuka, executive producers Ed Neumeier and Casper Van Dien, screenwriter Flint Dille, producer Joseph Chou, and CGI producer Shegehito Kawada discussing their shared histories with Heinlein’s source material. Aramaki in particular began designing mech-suits based on the book when he was a kid. Van Dien whines about Verhoven’s original film not featuring the power suits, claiming that everyone has always wanted them, and even claims he didn’t really like the humour of the original film. Discussion then turns towards effectively basing the entire production around power suits and new bug designs (which, spoiler, barely appear at the end of the movie). Other sections include ‘Archive’ (which plays more like a retrospective of the original film and sees Invasion’s Japanese creative types visiting Sony’s Starship Troopers production archive), ‘Character Design,’ ‘Motion Capture,’ ‘Powersuits,’ ‘Bugs,’ ‘Ships,’ ‘Animation,’ ‘Backgrounds,’ ‘Compositing,’ and ‘Music.’ Additional interview subjects include character designer Masaki Yamada (whose designs are much better suited to hand-drawn animation), character supervisor Kazuaki Kano, motion capture producer Shinji Takehara, line producer Hidekazu Ohtake (who tells an adorable story about his wife giving him acting direction while he worked from home), creature supervisor Seiji Tayama, background & props supervisor Tsutomu Nakazawa, compositing supervisor Masaru Matsumoto, and composer Tetsuya Takahashi.
Also included on the disc are an interactive conceptual art gallery, two deleted scenes (1:40, HD), a gag-reel (3:20, HD), and Sony trailers.
Starship Troopers: Invasion might feed some viewers’ basic action needs and some Heinlein fans’ basic power-suit needs, but it’s largely an empty follow-up to a very clever film. I’d really love to say otherwise, as a fan of both the series and animation in general, but I’m going to recommend most people skip this particular release. On the other hand, this good-looking, fantastic-sounding Blu-ray release has a big ol’ collection of extra features that will surely entertain the people that like the film more than me. Honestly though, if anyone can recommend a Japanese-produced, entirely 3D animated, feature-length motion picture with a satisfying plot and characters, I am all ears. Maybe Resident Evil: Damnation will fill the void? Probably not, huh? Sigh.
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 28th August 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio English, French and Portuguese, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish and Thai
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian, Korean, Mandarin (Simplified), Mandarin (Traditional), Thai
Extras: Director/Producer Commentary, The Making of Starship Troopers: Invasion, Deleted Scenes, Concept Art Gallery, Gag Reel, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Shinji Aramaki
Cast: Leraldo Anzaldua, Luci Christian, Melissa Davis, Justin Doran, David Matranga
Genre: Action, Adventure, Animation and Sci-Fi
Length: 89 minutes
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