The war against the Bugs continue! A Federation starship crash-lands on the distant alien planet OM-1, stranding beloved leader Sky Marshal Anoke and several others, including comely but tough pilot Lola Beck. It's up to Colonel Johnny Rico, reluctant hero of the original Bug Invasion on Planet P, to lead a team of Troopers on a daring rescue mission.
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Paul Verhoeven's misunderstood sci-fi satire 'Starship Troopers' may have bombed at the box office back in 1997, but it proved very popular on home video. Eventually, Sony Pictures decided to cash in on its fan base by producing cheapie direct-to-video sequels. Almost none of the original cast returned for 'Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation', except supporting actress Brenda Strong, who was playing a completely different character than she had in the first film (in which she was killed off). The movie had bad production values and a dumb script with an inconsequential story. Even the biggest 'Starship Troopers' fans consider it a joke. Nevertheless, it must have made some sort of profit, because here we have 'Starship Troopers 3: Marauder'.
I doubt anyone had high expectations for 'Marauder', and yet the trailer was somehow kind of promising. It certainly didn't look good by any means, but it appeared to offer some campy B-movie fun, with a return of the satirical FedNet broadcasts and master thespian Casper Van Dien reprising his signature role as Johnny Rico. Ed Neumeier, screenwriter of 'RoboCop' and the original 'Starship Troopers' (as well as 'Hero of the Federation', admittedly) makes his directorial debut with the picture, which is better budgeted than the second but still quite a cheapjack production.
The story, such as it is, finds Rico now a colonel in charge of defending a remote farming colony from nasty insect invaders. A surprise visit from the new Sky Marshal, a psychic with a sideline career as the galaxy's biggest pop star (yeah, really, this is the plot) ends in disaster when the command compound's defenses are mysteriously shut down and Bugs overrun the place. The Sky Marshal and a small crew (including one of Rico's ex-girlfriends, played by Jolene Blalock, the sexy Vulcan from 'Star Trek: Enterprise') manage to escape, only to crash land on a deserted planet deep in Bug territory. The government administration knows where their leader is stranded, but decides to cover up his disappearance by staging a fake assassination attempt blamed on anti-war protestors. Rico also survives and is set up as a fall guy, court-martialed for incompetence and sedition. His only chance at redemption is to join the top-secret Marauder project and lead an expedition to rescue the Sky Marshal as well as his former flame.
Let's be blunt about this: 'Starship Troopers 3: Marauder' is an awful, awful movie in every respect. The script is just atrocious, loaded with terrible dialogue performed by some of the worst actors ever to stand in front of a camera. It's populated by annoying characters you can't wait to see killed, especially the dopey ship's cook, the bimbo flight attendant, and the star-struck Lieutenant with an impenetrable accent. Yes, I understand that many of these were meant to be winking riffs on old genre movie clichés, but that doesn't make the way they're played out any more tolerable. Van Dien looks a little worse for wear a decade later, and for some reason has decided to play the entire movie doing a bad John Wayne impersonation. Presumably cast as eye candy, Blalock's surgerized face and collagen-inflated lips are often scarier to look at than the Bugs. The cheap visual effects and gore are laughable at their best. Neumeier tries to bring the mechanical power armor suits from Robert Heinlein's book in for a five-minute appearance near the end, and quite frankly they're even less photorealistic than the 'Starship Troopers: Roughnecks' cartoon series. All this combined with slack pacing makes the whole thing tedious to watch.
A misjudged subplot about religion is both dumb and insulting. Worse, all of the sequel's attempts to rekindle the first movie's political satire fall flat. The Fascist government is now more overtly Republican, abusing its political power to censor free speech and imprison dissenters in a controversial detention center called "Alamo Bay". Because "Alamo" sounds kind of like "Guantanamo," get it? The Fox News-like media propaganda network makes repeated references to the "Arachnid Conflict". Because "Arachnid" sounds kind of like "Iraq," get it? Yes, these bad puns are about as clever as it gets.
Even taken as pure camp, 'Starship Troopers 3: Marauder' fails horribly. It's too stupid, dull, badly made, and not fun at all. I wasn't expecting much from a low-budget direct-to-video sequel, and I got even less than I hoped for.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Starship Troopers 3: Marauder' premieres as a direct-to-video release on both DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The Blu-ray can be purchased either on its own or as part of a 'Starship Troopers Trilogy' box set. The disc is Java-enabled and slow to load in a standalone Blu-ray player (though not as slow as the first 'Starship Troopers'). Annoying promos and trailers automatically play before the main menu, which is designed with confusing selection highlights and is filled with plot spoilers.
While Java discs do not allow a Resume-Play option if you should stop playback, a bookmarking feature is available to compensate.
I'm going to give 'Marauder' a high video score, but please keep in mind that this is based on objective technical aspects of picture quality. The movie itself looks extremely cheap, with overly shadowy lighting designed to hide the bad sets and visual effects. With that in mind, the Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer is very sharp and detailed. Some of the close-ups reveal stubble, sandpaper complexion, and Botox injection marks that the actors probably aren't happy that viewers can see so clearly. No digital compression or edge ringing artifacts caught my attention. Colors are strong, and the contrast range has excellent shadow detail and a nice sense of depth.
There's a fair bit of grain in the photography, but it's well rendered and gives the movie an appropriately gritty texture without looking electronic or noisy.
The lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is a bit more difficult to judge. I'm sure the Blu-ray encoding is perfectly faithful to the master, but the movie's mix has some serious issues. On the one hand, it's loud and aggressive, with plenty of surround activity and rumbly bass. On the other hand, the bass is very boomy, without much mid-range. Gunfire sounds pretty wimpy, and the big action scenes tend to collapse into an indistinct mass of noise.
No doubt due to problems with the production recording and no budget to fix them in ADR, a number of scenes have badly clipped dialogue. This is especially evident during scenes on the beach and the echo-y high school gymnasium (errr, excuse me, top secret military hanger) where Rico is introduced to the Marauder project.
As with the Blu-ray edition of the first 'Starship Troopers', the TrueHD track seems to be a few frames out of sync with the picture. It's close enough to be unnoticeable for most of the movie, and isn't ever severe enough to be concerned about, but every so often the inaccurate sync may be momentarily distracting.
The following bonus features are shared in common with the DVD edition, but presented in High Definition video on the Blu-ray:
As guilty pleasure material, 'Starship Troopers 3: Marauder' is more guilt than pleasure. Even solid technical specs can't make this Blu-ray worth a purchase. If you're really still curious, stick with a rental. Or better yet, just save your money.