Rapid-Fire Reviews | Starship Troopers: Invasion

Info:

Genre: Science-fiction, animation

Director/s: Shinji Aramaki

Running Time: 88 mins

Budget: Unknown

Released: 21 July 2012 (Japan)

Okay, first thing’s first.  I feel that I need to clear up the first bit of bullshit about Starship Troopers: Invasion.  Claiming that this film is – “A fast-paced thrill ride that tops the original”, as it says on the cover is a ridiculously stupid statement, clearly designed to manipulate people into buying the film, as it is simply not so.  The original Starship Troopers (1997) was (and still is) an amazing film, filled with space marines, giant bugs and gratuitous violence, placing it among my all-time favourite sci-fi flicks.  Filmmakers attempted to replicate the awesomeness of the original with two sequels – Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation (2004) and Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008), but they turned out to be such a load of crap that needless to say, when Invasion came along, I completely overlooked it until I realized it was animated.  While Starship Troopers: Invasion has all the aforementioned ingredients that made the first film so great, it definitely lacks the energy and originality that gives a film everlasting re-playability.  The animation is great, seemingly photo-realistic at times, in a similar style to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and everything from the bugs to the space-cruisers have been faithfully recreated in CGI.  A notable difference is the mechanized power-armour that the troopers wear (resembling Master Chief somewhat) as opposed to the regular uniforms of the infantrymen as seen in the first film.  The characters in Invasion are relatively one-dimensional, expendable and utterly forgettable, lacking any modicum of soul that made their predecessors so interesting.  Even though some of the characters return in this sequel, including – Carmen Ibanez, Carl Jenkins and Johnny Rico (resembling Big Boss), they are a far cry from their former, charismatic selves.  My only other gripe with this film is the ‘Invasion’ title.  The bugs only get to Earth in the last twenty minutes, and there’s no actual invasion as the troopers manage to contain the bugs within the confines of the ship that brought them to the planet, so not exactly the all out mankind vs. giant alien bug brawl it should’ve been.

Conclusion

Starship Troopers: Invasion isn’t without its good points – there is plenty of action and gore present in the film and the animation is pretty damn good.  A few new bugs keep things interesting and though Invasion pales in comparison to the original film, it proves to be vastly superior to the last couple of sequels.

Grade: C

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Rapid-fire Reviews | Lockout

Info:

Genre: Science-fiction, action

Director/s: James Mather, Stephen St. Leger

Running Time: 95 mins

Budget: $20 million (US)

Released: 13 April 2012

Lockout is a French science-fiction film set in the year 2079, about a man who’s been wrongly convicted of a crime he did not commit and is offered freedom if he is able to rescue the U.S. president’s daughter from an outer space prison which has been taken over by the inmates.  Well the premise is certainly interesting enough, that is of course until you realize that Lockout is Escape from New York (1981).  So instead of Snake Plissken we have Snow (Guy Pearce), a CIA agent tasked with infiltrating the super max prison known as MS One.  In Escape from New York, the film is set in the (then) future of 1997, and Plissken needs to infiltrate Manhattan Island (which has been converted into a super max prison) in order to rescue the U.S. president, so yeah…Lockout pretty much identical, but that’s not to say that Lockout is bad, quite the opposite as it is an entertaining (though predictable) film, filled with the usual sci-fi fare – space ships, space battles, and bad ass soldier-types, but the real entertainment value comes from Guy Pearce’s performance as his one-liners, quips and general devil-may-care attitude is genuinely funny.  I say funny, because Lockout never tries to take itself too seriously, even though the film is moderately violent.  One thing about Lockout that impressed me was what the filmmakers were able to do with the considerably meager budget of twenty million, and while the film only really jumps between three or four locations for the most part (earth, space, orbital police station and MS One), everything manages to look pretty good, CGI space battles and all.

Conclusion

Lockout doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, as I previously said, it is essentially Escape from New York…but in space.  And while it is a predictably derivative film, it somehow manages to be entertaining and in my opinion, Guy Pearce’s performance prevents Lockout from falling flat on its face.

Grade: C

Syndicate

Info:

Developer/s:Starbreeze Studios

Publisher/s: Electronic Arts

Platform/s: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Genre: First-person shooter

Release Date: 2012-02-24

Review:

In all their wisdom, Starbreeze Studios, in conjunction with EA Games, have decided that what gamers need, in a market saturated by tactical and first-person shooters is in fact, a tactical first-person shooter, set in a dystopic future-shiny world where you play as a corporate agent named Miles Kilo, for the mega-corporation known as ‘Eurocorp’.  Needless to say, since originality seems to be frowned upon in this day and age, Syndicate also happens to be a reboot of a series of games developed by (now defunct) Bullfrog Productions who were absorbed by EA in 2004.  Sounds like a winning formula…

An example of the DART 6 X-Ray overlay in action, for a limited time your enemies are slowed down in a 'bullet-time' fashion.

Syndicate’s premise is nothing new, the year is 2069, you play as Miles Kilo, Eurocorp’s latest and greatest agent equipped with a prototype chip called DART 6 created by scientist Lily Drawl.  Free will is at an all time low, and pretty much everything in the world is controlled by über-powerful mega-corporations.  As a Eurocorp agent, you are tasked with various wetwork missions to ensure that your company stays on top, so it’s a given that mass murder and assassination will be the order of the day.  Needless to say, all does not go smoothly as the overly predictable and crappy ‘badass hero gets betrayed by his boss’ plot device rears its ugly head rather quickly.  It’s so painfully dull that being slapped in the face with a fish would be exponentially more entertaining.  The generic plot is compounded further by archetypal characters that have about as much depth as a 2D cardboard cutout.  Two of the central characters, Lily Drawl (voiced by Rosario Dawson) and Jack Denham (voiced by Brian Cox) are instantly recognizable by their distinctive voices, yet if you were still unable to recognize them Starbreeze Studios have modeled the characters on the actual voice actors themselves which is kind of weird given that for the most part, you are bombarded by faceless nobodies.

The DART chip also allows players to hack into camera feeds at certain points in order to gain intel.

But it can’t all be that bad right? Well, the only redeeming factor of Syndicate is the innovation of the DART 6 bio-chip.  Apart from the stock-standard firearms (various assortments of pistols, automatic weapons, smart-guns etc) that a player can harness (in this case the player can carry two main weapons and grenades), the DART 6 chip offers a new dimension to the combat in the form of an X-Ray type overlay that slows down time similar to the ‘reflex-time’ mode from F.E.A.R. allowing you to pick off your enemies much faster as you move in real-time, though obviously this effect only lasts a few seconds and will require brief intervals in order to recharge.  The other prominent element of the DART 6 chip is the ability to hack into enemies minds – called ‘breaching’ thus presenting the player with three options; ‘Backfire’ – the enemy’s gun explodes stunning them, ‘Suicide’ – the enemy kills himself and damages nearby foes,  and ‘Persuade’ – where the enemy temporarily becomes your ally.  The three breaching abilities also require recharging after use and charging can be expedited by successive kills, however there’s not much strategy involved in picking which breach to use as it’s more of a matter of which one is available first.  Certain enemies such as end-of-level guardians or plot-sensitive characters can be ‘chip-ripped’ and once their bio-chip has been extracted it offers the player additional upgrades such as improved armour, faster regeneration and so forth.  The DART 6 chip can also be used to hack locked doors, elevators, automated turrets, as well as certain shielded enemies that are invulnerable until their defenses are breached.

Extracting bio-chips earns your player valuable upgrades.

As far as game-play goes, Syndicate is a washed-down version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there’s no need for stealth, character building or conversation as you march from one location to the next hosing down anything that moves in a rain of gunfire.  The environments are also populated by civilians who will cower in fear the moment you start shooting, the player is able to kill them indiscriminately and without consequence, and in fact the civilians don’t even seem like people, instead merely there to occupy empty space.  The boss battles are also horribly frustrating as the difficulty spikes from being infuriating to absolutely insane to the point where any level of fun has been replaced by Vegeta levels of anger, so expect plenty rage quits.  Sadly, much like the characters, the locations seem to be horribly dull and ‘samey’ as you move from one monolithic structure to the next.  In a way, Syndicate feels a lot like F.E.A.R. but without the psychological-thriller aspect that made the latter fun and interesting. It’s also worth noting that Syndicate’s single-player campaign can be completed in a mere 5 – 6 hours so you may want to think twice before handing over your hard-earned cash.

The LTB Thermite gun (flamethrower) originally designed to quell public riots, also effective for turning people into screaming bacon bits...

Finally, the worst aspect of the game has to be the visuals.  While the graphics aren’t too bad at all, with certain sequences looking pretty awesome, Starbreeze Studio’s overuse of blooming has made Syndicate almost unplayable for the most part as the overdone lighting effects will obscure the player’s view completely resulting in severe eye-strain.  Syndicate is broken up into chapters called ‘milestones’ and in fact during milestone 13 the game was completely unplayable as whenever I moved in any direction the screen would repeatedly flash white (though in this case I’m pretty sure this was some kind of bug), I managed to get around this by using the developer console Ctrl+Alt+~ and typing the command xr_effectmodels 0, oddly enough, typing the command once more returned all the lighting effects and got rid of the flashing white screen, though in the end it’s still only a temporary workaround for a persistent visual problem.

This is a prime example of the overdone lighting effects that plague the game throughout. It's actually so bad it causes eye strain and headaches, and needless to say you can't see shit...

Conclusion

While the DART 6 feature is an innovative aspect of the game, Syndicate fails on too many levels to make it really worth any of your time, apart from the terrible overuse of lighting effects which render the game almost unplayable at times, there have reportedly been several other glitches (in one section I encountered a horrid graphic flaw) including intermittent freezing which have led many to think that Syndicate has not been compiled properly, combined with over-used plot devices, uninspired locations, little-to-no character development as well as what may be the crappiest ending to a game ever and you get a title that drowns in an ocean of mediocrity and generic tedium. Is the gaming industry really so hard-up for fresh ideas that they need to reboot a series that was last seen in 1996? Avoid.

Grade: D

Space Battleship Yamato | ヤマト

Info:

Genre: Science-fiction, drama, adaptation

Director/s: Takashi Yamazaki

Running Time: 131 mins

Budget: $23.9 million

Released: 1 December 2010

Plot:

The crew of the space battleship Yamato set out on a journey to the planet Iscandar to acquire a device that can heal the ravaged Earth – imdb

Review:

I’ve decided to make this the first in a series of Asian film reviews over the next few weeks, just to spice things up a little due to the fact that the majority of my film reviews focus on the American film industry (though that’s not to say I won’t review any American stuff in-between), and I’m interested to see what our Eastern counterparts have been up to.  As it stands, I intend on reviewing a yet-to-be determined number of films both old and new, some of which are adaptations of popular manga or animes (like this review) and some being original stories.  So without further ado, I present to you – Space Battleship Yamato.

Based upon the 1974 anime series of the same name, Space Battleship Yamato – also known to English-speaking audiences as Space Cruiser Yamato (the original English dub being heavily edited) and Star Blazers in North America and Australia, is a live-action adaptation that has been in development since 2005.  On July 17, 2009, Noboru Ishiguro – director and staff member of the original anime series confirmed the film’s development at Otacon with an expected release date around December, 2010.

Right from the onset, Space Battleship Yamato throws you into the thick of it, opening with an epic space battle reminiscent of the battles seen in the popular Star Wars franchise, in fact, one of the scenes is basically lifted from A New Hope (1977), whether this was intentional (perhaps as a hats off to George Lucas) or coincidental, the similarity is undeniable.

A screen cap taken from the opening scene of Space Battleship Yamato...

...and here's a screenshot from Star Wars - A New Hope...homage to George Lucas or simple coincidence...?

So for the premise of the film – the year is 2199 and an alien race known as the Gamilas have ravaged Earth and reduced it to an irradiated wasteland.  Mankind’s last hope rests with a message sent from a distant world called Iscandar with promises of a device that will eradicate all the radiation on the surface. So Captain Jūzō Okita (Tsutomu Yamazaki) sends out a request for volunteers for the mission, one volunteer being Susumu Kodai (Takuya Kimura) – a former pilot, whose brother sacrificed himself to allow Okita and his crew to survive during a battle five years ago.  So with humanity’s last battleship – the Yamato, the crew sets off on a journey that will determine the survival of the human race.

…the characters in these films spend far too much time moaning about a problem (such as escaping from a bad situation or defeating an enemy) instead of actually doing something about it…

Given the considerably low-budget of this film, I’m amazed at what director Takashi Yamazaki and all those involved managed to produce.  Approximately 80% of the film incorporates supposedly the latest CGI technology, however I think that statement is subjective as while the CGI is good, compared to its American counterparts, it’s quite obvious that the CGI present is not the best available, and perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the CGI incorporated in the film is the best possible with the given budget.  The spaceships, space environment and so forth look quite impressive,

One of the aliens up close, while it doesn't look bad, it's definitely not conceived by the 'latest CGI' technology.

but the Gamilas themselves look quite artificial and detract from the overall enjoyment of the film somewhat.  But perhaps more annoying is the acting in the film, maybe it’s just a case of a culture clash, but I find it incredibly difficult to connect or feel anything for any of the characters in this film.  This feeling isn’t limited to Space Battleship Yamato, as several Asian films that I’ve watched (including the odd romantic film) have felt devoid of any emotion at all, especially with the Japanese films, and I think this is due to a major difference in culture and how East and West tackle everyday things such as love, loss, honour and duty.  What I find with Japanese films in particular, is that the concept of ‘leave no man behind‘ really doesn’t compute with the Japanese as self-sacrifice seems to be the order of the day and the remedy for solving most problems and when they try to do the opposite it comes across as a feeble attempt to emulate a Western ideology, with the result that the actors are incapable of making the audience believe what they’re saying, in fact most of the time it comes across as either being insincere or just plain goofy.  Perhaps it’s just me, but this is how a lot of Asian films come across to me so while Space Battleship Yamato held my interest, the performance of the actors prevented me from being able to take anything seriously as even the most ‘intense’ scenes lacked a sense of urgency.  Incessant whining

Yamato under siege.

also seems to be a prerequisite of Asian film (culture perhaps?), as a lot of the time the characters in these films spend far too much time moaning about a problem (such as escaping from a bad situation or defeating an enemy) instead of actually doing something about it.  So while I understand that dialogue is necessary to build atmosphere and progress a story and so forth, sometimes, that huge threatening alien that’s stomping towards you needs to be put down quickly and silently (cough..cough…Gantz…).   On another note, I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of Hiroyuki Ikeuchi who plays as commando leader Hajime Saitō in the film, you may also recognize him from Ip Man as Miura.

Conclusion

Space Battleship Yamato is a film not without scope, as the creators have managed to create a decent science-fiction experience, using a meager budget to put out an action-packed film that will please fans of the original anime show.  While I felt that the acting in the film lacked depth or believability, Space Battleship Yamato is fast-paced and interesting enough to keep you watching, even if you have only the mildest interest in science fiction films.  So while it lacks the grandeur of films like Star wars, Space Battleship Yamato is a fine science fiction film and vastly superior to the majority of Western sci-fi films of similar budget and subject matter.

Grade: B