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"Roughnecks: Starship Troopers": Join the Campaign!

In a rather surprising DVD release, the entire forty-episode Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles series has now been collected into a handy four-disc DVD box set. Based upon the novel by Robert A. Heinlein, the CGI animated series follows Earth’s war against the “Bugs,” a ruthless alien menace. The series follows the book faithfully, but adds distinct touches to make it unique. It all adds up to very enjoyable animation (discuss the series here).

Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles follows the adventures of Rico, Carmen and Carl, a trio of high school buds. Lured to enlist by the thrill of travel and adventure on distant planets, these unsung heroes are unaware that the battle of the bugs is about to re-erupt, sending them all to the front lines of the First Interstellar War. As members of Lieutenant Razak’s “Roughnecks,” these three ordinary teenagers find themselves in an extraordinary set of circumstances, infiltrating alien worlds to battle monstrous bugs one-on-one. Armed with an anti-arthropod arsenal, the Roughnecks battle hand-to-hand against massive insects through a series of campaigns, struggling with their youth in the face of deadly battles.

If I recall correctly, this series had a mixed reception upon its premiere back in 1999. Viewers expecting something similar to director Paul Verheoven’s 1997 live-action adaptation of the same material were disappointed and though they tuned in faithfully, readers of Heinlein’s novel were disappointed at this “kiddie-safe” approach to his material. The series had a rough landing, and didn’t survive past the initial forty-episode order.

Roughnecks: Starship Troopers fought an uphill battle in more than one area. CGI television animation was still rough at this stage, and some truly awful animation plagued the show at times. Movements were jerky and a simple action like shaking hands looked like two Barbie dolls smacking hands together, unable to move their fingers. Thankfully, the sharp writing in the series helped overcome the animation’s shortcomings. Not all the animation was bad, mind you. When they needed a spectacular action sequence, they delivered! It’s obvious the majority of the budget was spent on battle scenes, and the quiet character moments got the least attention.

The writing was strong throughout the entire series, even though it occasionally dipped into clichéd “tough guy” talk. Characters grew and matured as the series progressed. While some characters were given less development and others were written out of the series entirely, the main characters got their proper time in the spotlight. When we weren’t engulfed with clichéd tough talk, there were great character moments to be had.

The biggest upset in the series was Sony pulling the plug early, denying us the chance to see the final battle that foreshadowed in “The Homefront Campaign,” the final campaign of the series. This series ends on a cliffhanger, and after watching all forty episodes on this collection, it’s a major letdown. Over forty episodes we see everything build up to this massive battle and then…nothing. It’s very unlikely that Sony will ever revisit this series, making the abrupt conclusion all the more frustrating.

In hindsight it’s clear that this is not a “kiddie-safe” cartoon but rather a mature, fun series. It was another great cartoon that flew under the radar and deserved a better chance. The show did gain a stronger following on video, and great sales resulted in this attractive box set collection.

Sony does a pretty good job in getting this entire series into one collection. The four discs come in four slim cases in a cardboard box, similar to Fox’s DVD packaging. Inserted in between the slim cases is a promo sheet with ads for other DVDs and a fold-out poster with DVD specs on the back.

Extras are in short supply. Only the photo galleries are transferred over from the previous individual Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles DVD releases. Any previous extras, including animatics and commentaries, are dropped, undoubtedly squeezed out by the ten episodes crammed onto each disc.

The transfer seems on par with the previous releases. There’s a bit of grain, but any other image distortions seem to be due to the early CGI work. The audio, though, is incredible. This is a release meant to be played as loud as possible, hopefully with Sony’s great 5.1 surround sound. The battles sound remarkable, and the dialogue is easy to understand over the thumping beat of the score and the constant onslaught of bugs.

But would I recommend it? Yes and no. If you already have all forty episodes on the eight single volume releases, then you have no real reason to purchase this set. The transfers are identical and the extras are actually thinner. You’re not missing a thing. However, given how costly the single discs are, this set becomes cost-effective if you’re missing half or more of the single discs.

The show is fast-paced, mature and intelligent, with elements old and new represented strongly. The suspense, action and characters are all bound to captivate viewers that can forgive the sometimes primitive animation. It’s a great series and deserves to be given a second look now that it’s available on DVD in a single set.

Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles: The Complete Collection will be available on July 5, 2005.

See also Toon Zone’s interview with Greg Weisman, writer and story editor on Roughnecks.

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