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Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles - The Tophet Campaign

Columbia/Tri-Star // PG // February 19, 2002
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Earl Cressey | posted February 9, 2002 | E-mail the Author
Review:
Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles - The Tophet Campaign

Movie:
Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles is a CGI TV series that debuted in August of 1999. Based on the novel by Robert A. Heinlein that inspired the movie, Roughnecks adds more anti-bug campaigns than were featured in the movie, effectively filling in some gaps and adding lots of character development. Fans of the film will recognize Rico, Flores, Ibanez, Jenkins, and Razak. This DVD contains episodes 11-15 of the show, which is the entire five part Tophet Campaign.

SICON wants to use the desert planet of Tophet as a landing zone and staging base for future campaigns in that sector. They send Alpha Team on a recon mission, and much to their surprise, they encounter indigenous creatures that they dub "Skinnies." While at first they appear peaceful, they soon spring a trap on the roughnecks, allied with the new Blaster bugs. With help from the new robotic trooper, CHAS, the roughnecks must take the planet…but everything is not as it appears.

The Tophet Campaign is, thus far, my favorite arc of the series. Rather than facing just bug hordes, the roughnecks are now up against a humanoid enemy. The episodes are more dynamic and exciting than in Pluto and Hydora, and the addition of T'Phai and CHAS helps quite a bit in adding some diversity. Also, the numerous homages the directors threw are fun to pick out. After I revisit Tesca, which follows this arc, I anxiously await the next campaign to appear on DVD.

Picture:
Roughnecks is presented in 1.33:1 full frame, as it originally aired on TV. While much of the CGI is exceptional, some of it is a bit jerky, and not all of it is of the same quality. Scenes taking place on the Valley Forge, for example, tend to have less detail and the characters are a bit stiffer. There is also some slight grain and some slight edge enhancement throughout the episodes, though it is easily overlooked.

Sound:
Roughnecks is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 in English and Dolby 2.0 Surround in French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The surround track is amazing, especially when considering that this was originally a TV show. Throughout the episodes, the front surrounds stay almost constantly active, both with the sounds of war and the series' music. Front to rear surrounds, while somewhat infrequent, are terrific and add immensely to the experience. Dialogue throughout the episodes is crisp and clean, with no distortion that I could detect. Subtitles are also available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.

Extras:
The main extras on the disc are the two screen-specific audio commentaries, a filmmaker's commentary and a technical commentary. Like the previous commentaries on the Hydora and Tesca DVDs, many of the participants rotate by episodes.

The filmmaker's commentary is hosted by Audu Paden, and with him for all five episodes is story editor Tom Pugsley. Joining them are: Bob Higgins (senior vice president in charge of creative affairs) and Jay Oliva (director of episode eleven) for episodes eleven and twelve; Alan Caldwell (director) and Steve Staley (voice of T'Phai) for episode thirteen; Staley and Oliva for episode fourteen; Robert Duran and Bob Poole (sound designers) for episode fifteen.

The technical commentary is again hosted by Audu Paden, who is the only participant that remains for all five episodes. Joining him is a wide variety of people from the animation teams at Flat Earth and Foundation, including the animation directors. Each episode has about four or five participants.

Of the two commentaries, I enjoyed the filmmaker's one the most. As with the Hydora and Tesca commentaries, Paden leads, though Pugsley contributes quite a bit, especially early on. While some of the information is repeated from the previous commentaries, quite a bit of new stuff is provided. During the course of the commentary, the participants talk about the evolution of the series from 2D to 3D, the writing, why some of the animation is jerky, a few deleted sequences, problems with having two different CG teams, the homages included in the episodes to directors and films, the process of adding sound and effects, and much more. One of the more humorous aspects of this, and the other tracks, is the continual message that the bugs are soulless machines and not feeling creatures.

The technical commentary, of course, delves more into how the show was brought to life through animation. The participants discuss the puppets, sets, designs, lighting, and the challenges associated both with filming a CG television show and having two teams collaborate on the series.

Also rounding out the disc are: a photo gallery featuring lots of concept and design sketches for the backgrounds, bugs, characters, props, structures, and vehicles that appear in Tophet; filmographies for seven of the voice actors and two of the producers; and trailers for The Pluto Campaign and The Tesca Campaign.

Summary:
For fans of the series, February is a great month, as both Hydora and Tophet arrive on DVD, filling in the missing arcs between the previously released Pluto and Tesca campaigns. This disc is a must-own for anyone who enjoyed the series on TV or got their feet wet with the previously released campaigns. With not one, but two great commentary tracks, and a wealth of production designs, The Tophet Campaign is Highly Recommended!

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Highly Recommended

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