Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles is Paul Verhoeven's reinterpretation of his film reinterpretation of Heinlein's novel. Yes, it's better than the movies (That's right -- they made a Starship Troopers 2 -- may God help us all). No, It's not as good as the book. It is, however, completely worth your time if you like any of these things: science fiction, computer animation, character development, explosions, or bugs.
Technical / Animation:
Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles (simply Roughnecks from here on) is a computer animated reinterpretation of the film, Starship Troopers. The animation is noteworthy for two reasons.
Roughnecks originally debuted on television in August of 1999, and it still looks good today (December 5, 2005). I play current generation video games today that don't look as nice as Roughnecks.
Roughnecks was cancelled and picked up again by the Sci-Fi channel. This is because the program's animation was done by two separate studios. Sony's first subcontractor was unable to complete episodes fast enough to keep up with the program's air schedule. This, unfortunately, led to Sci-Fi and many local stations dropping the show. Sony was able to find a second studio, and Sci-Fi picked the show back up, but many local stations did not.
So, the show is a CGI cartoon. That's okay; it's a well-done cartoon, and it is completely possible to enjoy and follow Roughnecks without watching the film or reading the book. I'll bring you up to speed in one sentence: the bugs and the humans hate each other and are at war. That's really all you need to know to get you started. If you've read the book or watched the movie, you'll notice that Roughnecks takes elements from both. The bugs are still fighting with their mandibles (movie) instead of blasters (book), and the Troopers exhibit actual military tactics (book) instead of yelling things like "Kill them! Kill them all!" and charging blindly up a hill (movie). The characters are well-developed, believable people who exhibit actual human emotions and experience human joy and hardship.
The coolest element taken from the book, however, is the power armor (which, sadly, did not make it into the movie). All Mobile Infantry troopers wear armor which increases their physical abilities and provides them with a very useful heads-up display (HUD). The designers definitely read Heinlein's description of the armor, and it shows. When fully suited up, troopers look like and are referred to as apes (as in the novel). In addition to the power armor, each squad also has two Marauders, mechanical exoskeletons that are faster than a human and can pack more firepower.
Roughnecks was originally aired in a 30 minute timeslot. I caught it on FOX. Regardless, it isn't shown on television any longer that I've been able to track down. Luckily, DVDs have been released. With the DVD release, the 30 minute episode format was ditched in favor of the more appropriate two hour movie format. These movies (one per disc) each contain one campaign that Razak's Roughnecks take part in. Each DVD is capable of standing on its own except for Trackers which supplies one episode that ties two campaigns together. Even though all but one DVD can stand on its own, there is an intended viewing order. Sadly, the DVD packaging makes no mention of this order.
- The Pluto Campaign
- The Hydora Campaign
- The Tophet Campaign
- The Tesca Campaign (AKA The Tesca Nemerosa Campaign)
- The Zephyr Campaign (AKA The Ice Asteroid Campaign)
- The Klendathu Campaign
- Trackers, episode 31
- The Homefront Campaign
- Trackers, clip shows
Private Juan "Johnny" Rico
Juan is the main character of Roughnecks, so we'll be seeing a lot of him. He is in love with Carmen, but he hasn't told her (or anybody else) about his feelings. After graduation, Juan isn't sure what to do with his life, but when he sees Carmen signing up to be a pilot, he signs up to serve in the Mobile Infantry.
Private Isabelle "Dizzy" Flores
Dizzy is one of Juan's friends. She's strong, fit, and fiercely competitive. She signed up with the Mobile Infantry to fight for her planet and blow things up. She can be feminine on occasion, and she feels about Juan the way Juan feels about Carmen. Unlike Juan, however, Dizzy won't let her feelings get in the way of carrying out her orders.
Special Operations Carl Jenkins
Carl is, or was, Juan's best friend throughout high school. He signed up with the Mobile Infantry with Juan, but he was pulled out of boot camp to have his psychic abilities enhanced. After his psychic training, Carl is assigned to the Roughnecks, but his and Juan's friendship is different now. Everybody's a little uncomfortable around Carl - mostly because he knows things that nobody's told him, like Juan's unrequited love for Carmen.
Carmen is the reason that Juan joined the Mobile Infantry. She is very intelligent, which allows her to be accepted as a pilot. After pilot's training, she is stationed on the Valley Forge, the ship on which Razak's Roughnecks are stationed, with Zander Barcalow (another pilot with whom she becomes romantically involved).
Private Robert "Paperboy" Higgins
Higgins is a reporter who has been assigned to the Roughnecks. He's relatively useless at the start since he spent his training learning how to use a camera instead of a gun. Higgins provides documentary footage of the war, and he is used (very effectively) as a narrator.
Lieutenant Jean Razak
Lt. Razak is the titular leader of Razak's Roughnecks. He was one of the first on the front lines fighting the bugs, and he's turned down promotions so that he can stay on the lines to keep fighting them. Lt. Razak understands that the war is about Earth's survival and that if Earth is going to make it, then so do Earth's soldiers. He'll run his troopers ragged, but he always brings them home.
Corporal Jeff "Goss" Gossard
Gossard is the Roughnecks's technological whiz and Marauder pilot. He invented the TALC Box to understand the bugs, but it's come in just as handy in communicating with the Skinnies. He's good with a bomb, and if something's broken, odds are that he can fix it. If he can't fix it, it's probably burned beyond recognition anyway.
Private "Colonel" T'Phai
T'Phai was the military leader of the Skinnies, Earth's opposing force during the Tophet Campaign. After the Skinnies were defeated T'Phai enlisted in the Mobile Infantry and was assigned to the Roughnecks as a private. He was indirectly responsible for injuring Carl and taking him out of duty for a short time, making it even harder for the Roughnecks to accept him.
Although the Brain Bug is not a main character, they are important to the series. Brain Bugs are similar to StarCraft's cerebrates. Each hive has a Brain Bug, and that Brain Bug controls the collective actions of the hive. Individual bugs still decide which trooper to go after, but the Brain devises their battle strategies. Only the Bug Queen is more important than the Brain Bugs.
Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles, if you watched it on television, was shown out of order, and if you tried to purchase the DVDs as they were released, you still watched them out of order. All of the DVDs are released now, but if you're new to the series, the four-disc box set is probably more affordable than the seven stand-alone DVDs.
The Homefront Campaign wraps up the series on a cliffhanger. I won't give the ending away, but you'll finish the series wanting more, and I don't think Sony will ever revisit the series. It's over five years old, and if they finished the series now, the animation would be laughed at (despite being beautiful, it is a bit dated for CGI video). Even though there isn't a proper ending, this is one of my favorite series, and I recommend it to anybody with even a passing interest in science fiction, computer animation, or good storytelling. Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles is at least worth placing in your NetFlix¹ queue, if not a purchase.
1. Thanks to a helpful /msg from rootbeer277, it has come to my attention that NetFlix carries most of the original DVDs. The missing DVD is volume 2, "The Hydora Campaign." I still reccommend renting volume 1, "The Pluto Campaign," and deciding if purchasing the series would be a wise course of action. It may stand to reason that NetFlix is phasing the first edition DVDs out in favor of the more compact four disc set.