Friday, May 24, 2002

Before I go to bed, I feel compelled to post some thoughts about Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles. I just finished watching the first two DVDs, and I consider them money well spent - or, anyway, I would if I hadn't been given them as gifts.

It would be unfair to say that Roughnecks was what Starship Troopers the film should have been. ST had its own internally consistent aesthetic as far as the universe dynamic went, and I think it served the script's purposes admirably. And Heinlein's actual vision of how Mobile Infantry fought would be very difficult to film - how do you make a film about infantry in a universe where one man in an armored suit is good to cover forty square miles of terrain? I mean, how would you ever get anything on screen?

That said, I think Roughnecks strikes an admirable balance between the dictates of the camera and the feel of the universe that science fiction geeks everywhere have always wanted to see brought to the screen. Granted there's no power armor (what Roughnecks substitutes as "power suits" pales in comparison to what we know real Mobile Infantry suits can do), but there are the following in keeping with the book:

1). A focus on the small unit. The operational unit of the Mobile Infantry has been changed from platoon to squad, but the basic idea of "very small numbers of men are required to get the job done" is still there.
2). Mobile Infantry troopers ... well, they rock the house. They may not have Marauder suits (and as we all know, the Roughnecks version of the "Marauder suit" is nothing at all like the real Marauder) but this is real heavy infantry, with armor that actually protects them, and an enormous amount of firepower at their disposal. Those automatic rifles that Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer wielded in the movie - you know, the ones that apparently fired paper clips? They're back, but this time they tear warrior bugs to pieces. As it should be.
3). If the humans have the firepower, it's the bugs that have the tactics. Human technology is insufficient to truly protect against a bug ambush. Again, as it should be - the bugs are supposed to be better coordinated than the humans, who have to rely on the individual superiority of their troopers to win through.
4). The Mobile Infantry is actually mobile. Roughnecks makes up for the MI's lack of power armor by providing them with all sorts of nifty locomotive gadgets for getting into, around, and out of battle. MI troopers are dropped by the individual man from orbit. They have rough and tumble low-gee vehicles. They have jet skis. They have personal jet gliders.
5). The feel of the weapons is pretty close to what we know Heinlein's MI used. No atomic rockets yet, but we do toss nuclear bombs around like they're nothing. The preoccupation with fire is there, translated into a variety of nifty plasma gadgets. And the Morita smart rifles that are standard issue for Roughnecks MI even manage to skirt Heinlein's statements to the effect that the MI don't use rifles anymore by giving them guided ammunition.

So, from a technological standpoint I give Roughnecks major props for translating everything about Starship Troopers' tech establishment onto the screen except for the power armor. Which is darn well good enough for me to be just undeniably cool.

The bugs? Well, I admit that I was not immediately scared of the bugs like I was in the movie. I mean, this was a TV cartoon, which means having people get ripped in half while begging their mates to help them is a big no-no. But after a few episodes I bought into what the characters were telling me: that these were big, scary bugs (never mind that I'd never actually seen them kill anyone). And we're seeing the bugs adapt their strains to the various interstellar battlegrounds just like the humans adapt their equipment, which means lots of new and icky bugs to fit the occasion. Perfect!

Plot? Oh, I was skeptical at first. But the plot has turned out to be quite good - and, amazingly, stay focused on the basic point of Starship Troopers: namely, what it's like to be an infantryman, in any time period. This is a series that is meant to be taken seriously, not with tongue in cheek like the movie. And that, too, is in keeping with the basic point of Starship Troopers.

And lastly, you ask, what about the characterization? Although this is an action-oriented series, I find myself liking the characters quite a bit. Lt. Razak (with his new, simplified spelling) is such the consummate leader that you can't help but like him, and the guy who does his voice is really good - he's at once terrifying and fatherly and so utterly in charge that you just have this sense that no matter how bad things get he'll pull you out of it. He is precisely Heinlein's image of the Old Man. Sgt. Brutto is a somewhat less-than character so far - not at all a model sergeant and a bit of a jerk, but he's getting more rounded as the series moves on so I have hope.

Johnny Rico's back, and a pleasant mix of Van Dien's war hero and Heinlein's unimportant everyman who happens to be MI. The true role of observer and liason between Mobile Infantry and Joe Audience has been taken by the reporter, Higgins, who does an admirable job of filling those shoes. Ace is notably absent but replaced by the colorful Corporal Gossard, who's a more interesting character anyway. Carmen Ibanez is back, and (while not as pretty as Denise Richards) far more believable than her big-screen counterpart as the genius superstar who was born to be a starpilot and represent all that the infantryman is deprived of: mother, home, comfort, safety. And, much to my delight, Dina Meyer's Dizzy Flores is back in all of her her sexy, no-nonsense, pining-over-the-hero, tough-as-nails glory. I'm not sure what Dizzy adds to the point of the story, but she's a great foil to Rico and Jenkins (who have a much-needed best-friend thing going on) and is just in general fun to watch. I understand that the character was crafted to appeal to the lonely adolescent sci-fi geeks who are the primary audience of all things Starship Troopers - but knowing that doesn't stop her from appealing to me!

So, that's my quick little dissection of Roughnecks. If you happen to know Dizzy Flores, or someone remotely like her, send her my way.

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