This article appeared in Frontier Issue 20 July 2000.
Animation has seen a rennaisance in recent years, with many animated TV shows and films appearing. Previously, animation in Western society was mostly aimed at children – Disney and its ilk. However two important influences have changed that – the rise of popularity in the West of Japanese “manga” animation, which is very adult, and the popularity of The Simpsons, which has managed for ten years to entertain on many different levels.
Starship Troopers as a film was only moderately successful (though it is now a cult hit) as it made the fatal mistake of not being close enough to the book, a fact that turned off many of the novel’s fans, and by not focusing on the main action. While Rico and his pals were rescuing the damsel in distress, other troops offscreen captured the brain bug. That’s what film goers wanted to see!
However what failed with the film is working for Starship Troopers: The Series (also called Roughnecks: The Starship Troopers Chronicles). Written as a “replacement” for the film rather than a sequel, it follows Johnny Rico, Dizzie and Carmen as rookies in the Mobile Infantry. Mixing a closer following of the book with the bugs of the film – and new ones – Roughnecks takes the stance that the unit to which Rico and Dizzie belong is part of a much bigger structure. While they get their fair share of tough missions, the war goes on around them and outside factors play a part. In one section the Mobile Infantry is winning, while on another part of the planet – the first part of the series is set on Pluto – they’re being forced back.
The gives the series a much grander, epic feel than the film achieved. Also, the film focused more on the viciousness of war and parodying the news stories, a speciality of director Paul Verhoven (who had major success in the format with Robocop). Being shown in “kid” friendly timeslot – in Australia on the FoxKids channel – the violence has to be toned down, so the series focuses more on the personal relationships between the troopers as the war marches on. The “love” triangle between Rico, Dizzie and Carmen is still evident in a more kid-friendly fashion, and with Rico totally unaware of Dizzie’s interest in him.
Also, the bugs are more developed. Whereas in the film little was explained how how the bugs travelled between planets, the series develops the idea of huge space-capable “carrier” bugs, as well as many more variants of bugs than seen in the film.
Unfortunately, only one season of Starship Troopers: The Series was made. As is so often the case, the following built in the first season loses out to cash flow and management changes. It stands however as an example of the advancement in animation, bringing CGI closer to the point of creating a human actor. It also stands as another example of how the so-called “children’s” genre of animation can cross over very well into the adult world. The young people watching Starship Troopers: The Series would not have been able to see the film at the cinema.
Maybe one day the series will be resurrected, but it’s doubtful. More likely it has disappeared forever – a pity as such quality military sci-fi shows (like Space: Above and Beyond) come along so rarely.