Bug Wars

As Hollywood technology advances, it trickles down from the blockbusters – the morphing seen in Terminator 2 can now be found in many a cheaper film. Bug Wars is thus of note, since it takes the computer-generated insects of Starship Troopers, and incorporates them into a film made on a smaller scale.

I think it’s fair to say much smaller scale, almost a one-man show from director/writer/editor/effects man Timothy Hines, with, effectively, two characters (others turn up on video monitors, etc.) – the last survivors of the human race, who had the luck to be cryogenically frozen shortly before the war which wiped out everyone else. As if life wasn’t hard enough, they then have to contend with an invasion of alien insects, intent on colonising Earth.

Which is where the computer graphics – and lots of them – kick in. There’s no denying the impressive volume, with more than 32,000 special effects composite elements as the bugs attack, and the heroines fend them off before taking the war to the invaders. On their own, these aren’t bad – I was particularly impressed with the computer-generated backdrops, which are excellent. The major problem is a lack of interaction with the human characters. They just don’t appear to inhabit the same plane of existence, and the results are pretty feeble, with the insects looking as if they’d been stuck on to the screen. Never mind Starship Troopers, Jason and the Argonauts did it better. There’s only one sequence of note where…well, let’s say the prospects of survival for humanity grow somewhat dimmer.

This is a shame, as it detracts from a film which isn’t lacking in good ideas, climaxing with a beautifully downbeat ending. This leaves the viewer with a wonderful sense of doom and futility, and also helps explain earlier inconsistencies, such as how the aliens are able to navigate interstellar distances but, as soon as they open fire, couldn’t hit a barn if they were standing inside it. Darlene Renee Sellers and Corree Dibble, the last people alive, are credible enough, and Hines (with his director’s hat on!) gives a fine sense of the loneliness and hopelessness which the situation would inevitably provoke.

I appreciate it’s hard to sell anything other than feature-length films, but wonder if the makers would have been better off going for a short, higher-quality film, and using that as a show-reel to get funding for the full version. Instead, their technical resources look somewhat over-stretched, and while there’s no doubt that Bug Wars points the way forward, showing how future movies will be made, it seems like an idea whose time has perhaps not quite yet come.

Visit http://www.prescriptionfilms.com for info. 2008 Update. Don’t expect this all the time, but I’m just lobbing a bonus paragraph up here. The website listed here no longer worked, so I had to correct that anyway; I needed to extend the piece to make room for another picture; and unlike many of the things I have covered, Hines did not vanish into obscurity. In 2004, he suddenly came out with his version of H.G.Wells’ War of the Worlds, which was released on DVD the same month as both the versions by Steven Spielberg and David Michael Latt [both covered here]. Needless to say, Paramount were less than impressed, even though the Wells’ title was now public domain outside of Europe, rumblings of legal threats followed. Ironically, Hines’ production company [now known as Pendragon Pictures] then sued Dark Horse Comics, claiming they’d stolen composition for their graphic-novel version from the Pendragon movie.

While I haven’t seen the film, it’s probably safe to say that opinion on the quality of the final, three-hour epic was mixed, to be charitable: a typical review called it “a real endurance test,” and says that “the Martian war machines look like they have been crudely superimposed in great haste.”  That’s interestingly close to my comment above, “the insects looking as if they’d been stuck on to the screen.” Hines has now largely dropped off the radar again: the official web-site for Pendragon says Chrome is now “in post-production”, but since it was originally supposed to be released in 2003, I hope no-one is holding their breath waiting for it. [2021 update] It’s now on Amazon Prime.