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DVD SAVANT

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder
Savant Blu-ray Review


Starship Troopers 3: Marauder
Blu-ray
Sony
2008 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 105 min. / Street Date August 5, 2008 / 38.96
Starring Casper Van Dien, Jolene Blalock, Stephen Hogan, Boris Kodjoe, Amanda Donohoe, Marnette Patterson, Danny Keogh
Cinematography Lorenzo Senatore
Production Design Sylvain Gingras
Film Editor Michael John Bateman
Original Music Klaus Bedelt, Ian Honeyman, Andrew Raiher
Produced by David Lancaster
Written and Directed by Ed Neumeier

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

The R-rated Science Fiction spectacle Starship Troopers had sadistic violence, nudity and plenty of disturbing content -- brain-sucking giant insects, anyone? Naturally, after only two years Hollywood adapted the property into an animated kid's TV show called Roughnecks. Sony rebounded with a rather limp live-action sequel called Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation, which dropped almost everything from the concept except the human-bug combat. Special effects animator and director Phil Tippet kept the much more modest CGI monster scenes up to minimal standards while bettering the live-action direction of most Direct To Video fare.

Ed Neumeier's one-location Lost Patrol-type situation posits tough general Ed Lauter in charge of an attractive group of young troopers defending an abandoned outpost. Some of them are carrying nasty Bug parasites similar to those of Alien -- or Robert Heinlein's original The Puppet Masters. Macho Captain Dax (Richard Burgi) is released from a brig to lead the defenses, much like the hero of John Carpenter's original Assault on Precinct 13. The long scenes of combat in smoke and darkness are a drag, but Tippet engineers a really nasty centipede-like Bug that disgorges dozens of creepy crawly parasites. There's not much here to love, but producer Davison at least got the franchise back on its feet.

After his "whatever" script for entry #2, Ed Neumeier's work on Sony's new Starship Troopers 3: Marauder is a real surprise. The movie's special effects are decidedly sub-par, indicating that the film's tiny budget was stretched over at least 500 difficult effects scenes, and suffer accordingly. But the big surprise is that Neumeier's script picks up the nasty satirical vein from the Verhoeven original. We see deeper into the Federation's fascistic war against the bugs, which few seem to think will ever end. This time Neumeier extends his barbed political jabs further, taking aim at the dangerous subject matter of religious propaganda. Early feedback indicates that the audience is split between thinking that the writer-director is selling Christian miracles, or lampooning them.

Casper Van Dien is back as Johnny Rico, with ten years' added acting experience. Marauder was released theatrically in several foreign countries but I think it is making its American bow on DVD and Blu-ray.

Synopsis:

Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is in charge of a planetary outpost holding arachnid attackers at bay with automatic disintegrator fences. The fort is visited by Rico's old flame, pilot Lola Beck (Jolene Blalock) and old associate Dix Hauser (Boris Kodjoe), a pompous ranking officer caught up in command protocol. The VIP guest is Sky Marshall Anoke (Stephen Hogan), who has become a galactic celebrity for his patriotic songs. Almost as soon as Anoke arrives, the fort's power goes down. Rico tries to keep Hauser from arresting dissident farmers and is himself arrested for treason; Dix seems to have become a ruthless martinet. Lola helps Anoke escape with a small contingent, but they're forced to crash-land on a hostile planet. Hostess Holly Little (Marnette Patterson) annoys Lola with her loud praying and singing, but Anoke surprises the castaways by proclaiming that he's a believer as well, and that they've landed on the planet where dwells the True God. All Lola knows is that the usual arachnid attackers are hanging back, in deference to some gigantic, unknown insect under the desert sands.

Meanwhile back at command headquarters, Dix realizes that Anoke has been abandoned by the Federation, seemingly to make room for a promotion for the conniving Admiral Enolo Phid (Amanda Donohoe). Dix secretly rescues Johnny Rico from a hanging, so that he can lead a tiny patrol on a clandestine rescue mission.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder is a smartly-conceived Sci-Fi spectacle that harks back to the old days when filmmakers' imaginations were bigger than their special effects budgets -- the direct opposite of conditions today, when a ridiculously expensive groaner like Transformers can grind on for 2.5 hours of mindless action and never tweak a single brain cell. Yes, the effects in this new Troopers installment don't often rise above the visual level of video games from the middle 1990s, but Ed Neumeier crams the film with new ideas and content. Real surprises are hidden within the intrigues and plot twists, and every gung-ho scene ("It's a good day to die, Sir!") is followed by a revelation of how power works in a fascist organization. Top military executives jockey for power like the OCP employees of RoboCop. Sky Marshall Anoke becomes an embarrassment with his spiritual rebirth, so the Federation counterfeits his speeches with hologram substitutes. Even when the movie grates -- as with the old-fashioned "Miracle" scenes -- it's fascinating.

The FedNet media breaks are a bit crude, but they extend the original's cynical humor. Ed Neumeier recognized early that when right wing pundits evaluate societal problems, they invariably "Blame the Victims." News stories cover anti-military rallies led by Elmo Goniff (Joe Vaz) a crippled veteran confined to a wheelchair. When government troops massacre protesters, Goniff's activism is faulted. Media-fed hysteria guarantees a record audience for the televised hangings of dozens of dissidents. Starship Troopers 3: Marauder subsumes the content of older radical Sci-Fi films like Punishment Park.

But Neumeier is too clever to deal only in Good Guys and Bad Guys. Federation bigwigs fake assassinations and cause troublesome celebrities to "disappear", but Sky Marshall Anoke seems to have become a Benedict Arnold for the arachnids. Spending too much time in telepathic union with the "Brain Bug" captured in the first film, he's fallen for an arachnid con game and thinks he'll unite the universe in mutual understanding by aiding the arachnid cause. Anoke harks back to 1950s 'fellow traveler' scientists like Robert Cornthwaite's Doctor Carrington in the original The Thing From Another World.

When Sci-Fi movies become too cerebral, or get too clever with their ironies, audiences object. Critics reviewing the original 1997 Starship Troopers couldn't see the subversive angle and assumed that Paul Verhoeven was endorsing a tasteless "Fascist Chic" sensibility. Neumeier goes a step further in Marauder by lampooning religious fundamentalism, something that just isn't done these days. The Federation tolerates Christian fundamentalists as long as they don't interfere with the law, and the meek and sincere Holly Little wins over several of her fellow castaways with her hymns and prayers. Neumeier fearlessly lets the pendulum of this theme swing both ways. Holly does improve the morale of her comrades. Her prayer for "angel saviors from the sky" is answered with the same kind of 'miracle' seen in old Hollywood movies like Stagecoach. Then again, Anoke's faith is being cynically manipulated by the arachnid super-intelligence. The movie's funniest and most profound dialogue line comes when Holly discovers that Anoke isn't worshipping the "approved" Christian trinity. She stops in her tracks, and whines in complete disappointment: "But it's the wrong God!"

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder introduces new monsters to join arachnid warriors and Brain Bugs. Little suicide bomber bugs roll up into projectiles resembling soccer balls. A giant scorpion bug brandishes a ray gun for a stinger. The effects are functional but not much more, and we quickly learn to adjust when perspectives don't line up or entire creatures look like unfinished trial composites. We're also given a couple of exciting space scenes. Unfortunately, the titular "man-amplifier" Marauder fighting machines make only a brief appearance, and are not particularly original in conception or execution.

But Marauder's script makes all the difference: the truth be told, no studio would allot the "A" effects budget this story would require, without first insisting that Neumeier jettison his provocative content. Nobody watches Roger Corman's It Conquered the World or Attack of The Crab Monsters to see great special effects. Marauder brings back the fun of B-picture monster thrillers with ideas.

Casper Van Dien is rugged but spends most of the second half of the picture in captivity, to be trotted out for an obligatory nude scene with a half-dozen other space cadets, male and female. Lola Beck carries much of the show, coming off as acceptably tough even if she was in all likelihood chosen for her fashionably enormous Angelina Jolie lips. Stephen Hogan is excellent as the "enlightened" bigwig Anoke, belting out top ten fascist hit songs and rhapsodizing over communion with a globby monster. Unfortunately for him, the alien beast reads "communion" as "consumption." Boris Kodjoe is a bit stiff as Dix but warms up as the plot twists unravel; Amanda Donohoe is perfect as a devious admiral whose intentions aren't as malevolent as they seem.


Sony's Blu-ray of Starship Troopers 3: Marauder presents this ambitious picture in a flawless image with 5.1 tracks in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Thai. The extras start with a "Marauder Mode" trivia track that adds images and clips to the usual pop-up information bits. One featurette concentrates on the special effect bugs and a second is a general making-of piece. Ed Neumeier and crew carry one commentary and a second places Neumeier with his stars Van Dien and Jolene Blalock. An extended version of the It's a Good Day to Die song is offered as music video extra.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder is also available in a Starship Troopers Blu-ray Trilogy 3-pack with the first two features in the series.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Starship Troopers 3: Marauder rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Featurettes, Commentaries, "Marauder Mode" Trivia Track, music video.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 18, 2008



DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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