"Live forever, apes!"—Lt. Razak
Bugs. Arachnids. Insects. They're such a nuisance. I'm glad they're small so I can step on them and be done with them. I'm also glad they aren't smart or big or mad because that could spell trouble. Wait a minute. These bugs are big and mad and somewhat smart. We are in serious trouble! It's time to call out the Roughnecks!
Facts of the Case
Roughnecks was a short-lived television series that followed and expanded upon a story originally introduced in the 1997 movie Starship Troopers, which was in turn inspired by the book of the same name by Robert Heinlein. Regardless of which source we saw, this is where most of us learned that in the near future, Earth will be at war with semi-intelligent bugs from another planet.
Forty episodes of the completely CGI Roughnecks were created and aired from 1999 to 2000, and this DVD represents episodes 26 to 30 from the series. Each episode is self-contained and can stand on its own, but when are all five are viewed together, you have "The Klendathu Campaign." The specific episodes are called: "Metamorphosis," "D-Day," "The Mission," "Letters Home," and "Checkmate."
This was the first time I had seen any of the Roughnecks episodes, as I missed it during its initial run. Because I had not seen the first 25 episodes of the series, it was difficult to get into the rhythm of the show. Imagine missing the first 15 hours of 24 and then deciding to watch. It is possible, but you really don't understand the complete flavor of the show. That was my dilemma.
The story begins from a thread developed during a previous episode. A bug bit Lt. Zander, a member of the Roughnecks, during a campaign on an ice world. Now, as the Roughnecks are traveling in space, it is discovered that Zander has mutated into a half-human / half-bug. Zander is super strong and easily overwhelms the troopers and takes over the ship. He sets course for a planet and attempts to crash land. Fortunately, the mighty Roughnecks succeed in regaining control of the ship before it's too late. Unfortunately, Zander uses an escape pod to get to the surface…of Klendathu, the home world of the bugs!
After fighting the bugs on many worlds, it is decided that Earth will launch a full-scale invasion against the bugs on their home planet. Every trooper, every transport, every ship is brought together in a massive armada for the invasion. Thousands upon thousands of troopers attack Klendathu. Our Roughnecks are right in the midst of this massive undertaking, going from one assignment to the next: rescuing other troopers, guarding bases, attacking bug colonies, and anything else necessary to continue the campaign. It is not an easy fight, and the campaign goes on for months. Many lives are lost, but, in the end, it might be possible for our Roughnecks to attain complete victory. A very special assignment is given to them. If successful, the war could be over. If they fail, it could mean big trouble for Earth.
I obviously don't go into much detail in the plot synopsis as sharing too much would ruin the story arc of the entire series. Let's just say that in 96 minutes, a lot happens to these Roughnecks—more than in any normal show or movie. As admitted to on the commentary tracks, these episodes borrow ideas from many other sources: Alien, Aliens, Star Trek: First Contact, Terminator, Die Hard and so on. Besides the overall original concept of the bug war, there is very little originality in the series (or, at least, in this campaign).
I'm going to start off with the audio portion of the disc, as it's far easier to talk about than the video transfer. We are given a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for our listening pleasure, and the mix is only adequate. The dialogue is crisp, clean, and easily understood from the center speaker. Unfortunately, for a war show, there is little use of the subwoofer—even though something blows up almost every other minute—and even less use of the surrounds (I only recall one instance in track 14 when I heard something from behind me). The mix is decidedly unimpressive. I was also curious if the 5.1 mix is the original broadcast mix for the show or if this was a special remix for the disc. If the latter, then the original mix should have been included on the DVD.
As for the video, I have a few problems with the transfer. In reviewing a show that is completely CGI and takes place on some other planet, your normal reference points are missing: a CGI flesh-tone isn't necessarily a true human flesh-tone, the color of Klendathu may or may not be the correct shade of red intended, and so on. Thus, I don't know how to rate the color. Assuming all the colors are accurate to the original broadcast, then they do look good; there is no bleeding on the colors and blacks are deep and rich. I was surprised to notice grain throughout the show, as I wasn't expecting any to appear from a completely digital source. Happily, I didn't see any edge enhancement.
Unfortunately, there is a huge problem with the video transfer. Huge, I say! Huge! And, to be up front once again, it's really difficult to discuss this not having seen the show on television. I had thought the problem was simply the way the show was created, but I don't believe that to be the case. What is this problem? Well, I do not know the exact technical terminology, so you'll have to bear with me as I describe it. At first, I thought that the disc had the worst case of artifacting I had even seen on a DVD. Maybe that's what the problem is in the long run, but the picture doesn't go "blocky" so I'm not going to call it that. What happens is that every time someone or something moves across the screen near to you, in relative reference, the object "loses" its animation and no longer moves smoothly across the screen.
Here's an example of what is on the disc. Below, "A" is moving from the left side to the right side:
"A" begins on the left; the dashes represent smooth motion from side to side as "A" ends up on the right. Now, in the movie, the movement isn't smooth, so it looks like this:
You get a skipping effect in the movement of the object. This problem exists throughout the entire show and is extremely distracting.
The disc does have a few special features to mention: two audio commentaries, a theatrical trailer, and a filmographies section.
The first audio commentary is the "filmmaker" track, and there are quite a few people showing up to add to the track. Audo Paden, one of the series' directors, is the ringleader and talks the most during this track. He is joined by, and just to name a few, David Hartman, Tom Pugsley, Wayne Boon, Alan Caldwell, Jay Oliva, Susan Blu, E.G. Daly, and Tish Hicks. This people come and go as the episodes go by—they are only there when the episode they were involved in is onscreen. Overall, I found this track quite good. It's obvious that these people had a great time making Roughnecks and a lot of time and effort went into the show. They were able to share a lot of details about the series and this campaign in particular, and, in the end, as a newbie to the show, I understood how this campaign fit into the overall picture.
The second audio commentary is the "technical" track, and is once again led by Audo Paden. This time he is joined by, and again just naming a few, Kevin Kipper, Jerry Davis, P.J. Foley, and Dan Peters. Unlike the first track, I did not enjoy this track as it is terribly dry and technical—duh, it is a technical track after all! They go into great detail about these comps, those pixels, those renders, that shading, and so on. For those into CGI, you will probably enjoy this track a great deal, but for someone like myself with just a passing interest, it wasn't worth my time.
We do get to see the "theatrical" trailer for the show. I'm not sure how correct the "theatrical" term is as we're talking about a television show. The trailer does talk about all six of the DVDs releases (other campaigns), but the trailer is old and not specific to this disc—as it says "The Klendathu Campaign" will be released next year, May 2002. Also, this disc is rated PG. How can a television show be rated PG? Was this in the theater at some point?
Lastly, there is a brief filmography section for the voice talent. It's a simple text-based layout that has very little information to offer.
I lastly want to make mention of the acting criteria I used for this disc. In this CGI tale, there are no actors. Thus, my rating is a two-fold mixture: (1) How well do the voice actors state their parts? My opinion is that they did an excellent job. The voices fit the characters quite well, and they are believable—though I found Higgins just a bit too wimpy for a tough Roughneck. (2) How well do the animators convey the actor's dialogue? Unfortunately, this isn't always done well. It's a mixed-bag, and I'll attribute it to the budgetary and time constraints described on the commentaries.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
During the commentaries, those involved often stated that this campaign was the best of the series: great animation, great stories, great plot, and great character development. Unfortunately, I can't say that I found this story all that compelling, but again, I haven't seen the entire 40 story episode arc so my reference is limited. The CGI animation wasn't that spectacular (Babylon 5 was immensely better and was before Roughnecks), the stories were far too simplistic (well, it is a children's cartoon)—but loaded with action, the plot was borrowed from other sources, and the character development was terribly clichéd.
In the end, I watched Roughnecks three times in one day. Even though I was lost and extremely bored on the first viewing, the show grew on me in the end. I liked the disc but not enough to want me to make an effort to see the rest of the series. This disc will be greatly enjoyed by fans of the show, and I believe there to be quite a few out there. As the filmmakers believe this to be their best work, then I presume the fans agree and this disc will be popular with them anyways. The commentaries will be icing on the cake for them. Unfortunately, I do have the trouble with the video transfer that practically ruins this disc. Thus, in the end, I cannot recommend this disc to anyone but hard core fans of the show. Newbies will be lost coming in at episode 26 and will not enjoy the show to its fullest.
Columbia TriStar is fined and sentenced to one year for the poor video transfer. More time and care should have been taken in putting this disc together. However, because the studio made the effort to release this "small show" for its fans, the sentence is reduced to time served. This case is adjourned.
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• Audio Commentary with Filmmakers
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