• Jules-Pierre Malartre

Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars


IMAGE COPYRIGHT SONY PICTURES

Genre: Military Sci-Fi

Rated: R

Parental Guidance: Heavy graphic violence, disturbing images, language, not recommended for young children

Playing: In your living room (DVD, Blu-ray and 4K releases; also streaming on iTunes and other services)

Good military sci-fi movies are rare. In fact, military sci-fi – good or bad – is simply scarce. An argument could be made that Star Wars and Star Trek have elements of military sci-fi, but the last, full-blown entry of note into that genre that I can remember is 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow starring Tom Cruise.

The original Starship Troopers released in 1997 remains the most venerated military sci-fi movie for two reasons: it is based on Robert Heinlein’s seminal book that defined the genre, and was directed by Paul Verhoeven, a director often copied but never equaled.

Given the success of the first Starship Troopers movie, it was inevitably going to be turned into a franchise. Unfortunately, all the sequels that followed paled in comparison with the original.

The move to an animated format starting with the fourth movie, Starship Troopers: Invasion, was a good one for the franchise. Invasion was an improvement over the past two sequels (Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder). This year’s Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars is a welcome surprise; so far, it is the release that is closest to the spirit of the original movie.

The story picks up decades after the original story with the interstellar war against the bugs still raging. Some of the original characters are back, including Johnny Rico and Dizzy Flores, who are voiced by the original actors, Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer, respectively.

Except for an exclusive one-night engagement in some theatres, the movie was released straight to DVD. Back in the day, movies released in this manner were thought to be stinkers that could not hope to break even on the big screen. While that can still be the case, some straight-to-DVD movies are real gems. While Traitor of Mars does not innovate, it does surprise. It packs a wallop and viewers will feel like they were dropped into a first-person-shooter game on the PS4. For the die-hard Starship Troopers fans, the movie will be a breath of fresh air.

The movie was directed by animation juggernaut Shinji Aramaki whose Appleseed movies helped define and set the standard for military sci-fi animation over the past decades. Aramaki certainly knows how to put together an animated action movie. The animation is state-of-the-art. The action sequences, whether in deep space or on the ground, are often jaw-dropping. The quality of the animation is on par with what was seen in 2013’s Harlock: Space Pirate, but most assuredly on a fraction of the budget that Harlock had, which is impressive.

Facial expression is where the animation fails, however. There is an obvious attempt to make the characters look more human, but it doesn’t work; it looks artificial and forced. I don’t know if motion capture was used for close-up facial shots, but if it was, something went wrong with the rendering.

Story-wise, Traitor of Mars is a strong improvement over previous Starship Troopers sequels. Scriptwriter Edward Neumeier, who also worked on the previous sequels, made an effort here that surpasses his previous attempts at recapturing the glory of the original movie. Character development is seriously lacking, though. The secondary characters are for the most part one-dimensional grunts. Their banter and pseudo-military talk fail to sound convincing, which makes it even harder to relate to animated characters.

The movie is available to purchase on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K, and it is available through streaming services, including iTunes. If you own a 4K television and player, and you’re a fan of such military action movies, it’s worth investing into the 4K release of the movie.

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