A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 251 – Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers – November 6th, 2010

I’m currently visiting a friend of mine and as before when I’ve visited her, we decided to pick a movie that she owns and we own. It makes it easier than if we had to go out and rent something on the fly. We even made a column in our big spreadsheet (not the one linked to here, but the big-ass one that has our notes like what room we’ve got it shelved in and whether it’s part of a series and/or subtitled, running times, etc.) so we’d be able to sort by what she owns. It’s a fairly nice list, but when I looked at it this morning I realized several titles are ones that we’re saving, or ones that are parts of series. And we don’t want to go starting series apart. So I looked through the list and settled on this. Because who the hell doesn’t like an explody bug invasion space satire?

Yes, this movie is satire. From the over-the-top military content to the educational/informational movies and propaganda that are peppered throughout the film. It’s all very much poking fun at itself and its ilk. Now, I haven’t read the book, so I can’t personally speak to whether or not it’s at all accurate to the book’s mood, but given that I’ve seen it mentioned that Heinlein’s widow thought the movie was a mockery of the book and tried to get his name off the credits. So yeah, I suspect the mocking aspect was not part of the original work and also that it was entirely intentional.

I mean, come on. If it’s not intentional? I honestly don’t know what I’d say. If the propaganda films (full of kids stomping on bugs while a narrator exhorts the viewer to “Do your part!”, as well as censored footage of a giant bug attacking a cow, and the repeated phrase “Do you want to know more?”) aren’t a classic sign, I don’t know what is. They take what would otherwise just be a bizarrely overblown scifi shoot-em-up with elements of parody into full blown satire. I don’t now how anyone could take this movie seriously. I suspect the actors didn’t, even if they do manage to keep straight faces through all of the neon gore and scenery chewing.

The plot is pretty standard fare. Giant space bugs, inimical to human life, are a threat to humanity and poised to attack Earth. The futuristic Earth of the movie is a somewhat militarized state, with federal service being the key to citizenship and therefore voting rights, childbearing rights, etc. Our hero, John Rico (who is so not suave) is kind of a dumbass, but he’s a pretty dumbass who can play football (future football!) and he has a gorgeous girlfriend (well, gorgeous if you like Denise Richards, but she doesn’t do it for me – then again, neither does Casper Van Dien as Rico). Said gorgeous girlfriend, Carmen, is super smart too and wants to be a military space pilot. She enlists for federal service, as does Rico, who wants to be with her (not with his abysmal math score, but whatever), and their friend, Carl. Carl, played by Neil Patrick Harris, is psychic and ends up in military intelligence. Carmen gets into the pilot program, of course, and promptly dumps Rico by minidisc message. And Rico ends up in the Mobile Infantry, firing lots of guns and yelling and watching his fellow soldiers get ripped to pieces by bugs. The bugs attack, the humans fight them, the bugs attack more, the humans fight them. People die, bugs get blown up and spew bright orange and green goo everywhere. Eventually they find out there’s a brain bug directing everything and with the help of Carl’s psychic manipulation Rico and Carmen escape and the brain bug gets captured by Clancy Brown.

Hell yeah, Clancy Brown is in this movie. And as my friend J commented, you do not sass Clancy Brown. He’ll break your god damn arm. If you take nothing else from this movie, remember that. And the thing is? While the plot is kind of silly and has a whole romantic thing going on with Rico and Carmen and this pilot dude trying to get into Carmen’s pants and another school friend of theirs, Dizzy, who wants to get Rico into hers? There’s some fun stuff in here. Like Clancy Brown. It’s pure big budget cheese and that’s totally intentional. That’s the whole fucking point. The movie even laps itself, which always makes me laugh, and I think it was set up that way. Sure, it introduces the movie with action instead of Rico, Dizzy and Carmen in a classroom getting lectured on citizenship, but it’s also played for humor. Even if that humor is a cameraman and reporter getting chomped.

My biggest complaint about the movie isn’t the uniforms or the creepy politics or any of that. In the movie it’s all part and parcel of the satirical tone, and I actually kind of like the equal treatment and display of genders in this society, so that’s a plus. It’s the whole thing with Rico, Dizzy and Carmen and the other pilot whose name I can’t remember. Doesn’t matter. His brains get sucked out. Anyhow, Rico’s totally hung up on Carmen, but Carmen dumps him right quick. Rico’s kind of a jackass anyhow, so I don’t blame her? But she pulls shit like dumping him and then saying “You don’t look happy to see me” when she meets him by surprise later on. So they kind of deserve each other. Whereas Dizzy, who kicks ten kinds of ass and is probably a better soldier than Rico on any day of the week, is so fixated on him she gets herself transferred to his squadron. And then she gets killed off after she and Rico finally hook up, her dying thought being that it’s okay to die now cause she finally got him. That’s kind of bullshit.

But well, it’s a ridiculous movie, so I don’t take it terribly seriously. It’s not like I have to like Rico or Carmen to enjoy it. They’re just cogs in the whole thing. I can sit back and enjoy Clancy Brown and Michael Ironsides and Rue McClanahan’s cameo and Dina Meyer as Dizzy and Jake Busey’s bizarre anime hair and all the explosions and the bugs and Neil Patrick Harris with his creepy mind control. That’s more than enough to block out the two leads and how I totally cheered when they got stabbed by bug pincers.

November 6, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Starship Troopers

November 6, 2010

Starship Troopers

“Would you like to know more?”

Oh, the joys of a big budget cheesy movie. And who knows better than Paul Verhoeven how to bring the best of all possible cheese to the screen? I would not say that this is a good movie, but it is the best big budget R-rated futuristic war movie ever made. This movie mixes high-school angst, World War II propaganda spoofs, great special effects and buckets of gore for a pure mess of often unintentionally hilarious fun.

The movie starts out following our chunky square-jawed hero Johnny Rico when he is just a simple twenty-something year old high school student. The movie takes a long time to get going because before it can introduce the nasty digital bugs that threaten Humanity’s very existence they have to establish the world this all takes place in and introduce some of the kids we’re going to follow. There’s Johnny of course. There’s his vapid pretty girlfriend Carmen. There’s Dizzy, the cool girl who has an unrequited crush on Johnny. And there’s their psychic pal Carl, who hardly appears in the film but comes back in to things at the end. All of them live in a military hegemony where it is understood that all power derives from superior force. In order to become a citizen (and not just a civilian) you must be a member of the armed forces. (It is explained later that both a career in politics and reproductive rights are also tied to service.)

Of course a military collective needs a foe or else it cannot maintain power. In this case that foe is an aggressive race of giant bugs. Or more accurately a collection of bug races that work together in some kind of colony – spreading spores between planets to grow their domain. Not a lot is shown about the bugs aside from the fact that they use no weapons per se but rather are often weaponised themselves and are particularly good at killing humans. There are giant bugs that shoot plasma out of their behinds which somehow are able to shoot asteroids astonishing distances faster than the speed of light as a means of attacking foes on distant planets. (Seriously – they shoot an asteroid from what looks like halfway across the galaxy to hit the Earth – that’s some mind bogglingly impossible shit right there.) There are infantry bugs that overwhelm by dint of pure numbers, flaming acid spitting tank bugs, flying bugs and of course the mysterious and totally gross brain bug. Part of the fun of the movie is in seeing all the new types of bugs and all the ways they have of dismembering people and blowing up space ships.

When I say this movie has a big budget I mean it has a HUGE budget. It has a lot of nifty space craft (often being piloted by that hotshot pilot and gorgeous heart-breaker Carmen.) It has several massive scenes with hundreds of infantry fighting hordes of bugs. (This movie was made in the days before the “massive” computer system so those crowds are actual people – probably shot in several passes to increase their numbers. The bugs are mostly digital though – a major accomplishment for ILM back in the late nineties.) Add to that more goopy fake blood than in any other movie ever. Not just spraying all over (and often from) our hapless protagonists but also used as set dressing in several scenes of utter carnage. Basically take the more violent and bloody scenes of Robocop and stretch them out into a feature length film of their own and you begin to have some notion of just what’s going on here.

This movie makes an attempt to be a war movie. It has plenty of funny spoofs of the old “V for Victory” war propaganda films of the forties. It has scenes at boot camp and lots of bits that are supposed to communicate the camaraderie of these grunts in the trenches. Part of the reason it’s so damned bloody is that practically nobody survives to see the end of the movie. Most of Johnny’s promotions through the ranks are field promotions brought about by the deaths of his superior officers (it gets so that it’s pretty obvious that it’s a death sentence to be giving the poor guy orders.) And all of the relationship bits of the movie are tied up by the unfortunate and grizzly deaths of significant others. (Much to the movie’s detriment since the character I most like and sympathise with dies before the final showdown.) Still, for all the movie’s noble ambitions it is more parody than homage. It’s too over the top and too silly to be taken seriously.

One strange thing about this movie is that as far as the cast goes I like the secondary characters more than the primary ones. Oh, Casper Van Dien is fine as the muscle-bound but not too bright Johnny, and Denise Richards as his cold-hearted but gorgeous Carmen is kind of unlikeable, but I think she’s supposed to be that way. I absolutely love Dina Meyer as Dizzy, the only really sympathetic member of the main cast. She’s tough but vulnerable, which is a nifty trick to pull off. I love my chicks all badass. But then you’ve got Clancy Brown as boot camp instructor Zim – one of the most badass roles in the entire movie and ultimately the hero of the war (off-screen though it may be.) And Jake Busey as the loud mouthed Ace, one of Johnny’s comrades in the infantry. And Neil Patrick Harris looking particularly sinister in his gestapo outfit as creepy psychic Carl. I really want to see more of all those minor characters. They just command the screen and make me with I knew their stories.

I hate to admit that I’ve never read the book this movie is based on. I went through a Heinlein period back when I was in high school but never picked this up for some reason. Somehow I doubt the movie bears much relation to it. For one thing, I can’t imagine Heinlein, for all his faults, would have written the bit about the super-accurate FTL asteroids. I can see him writing at length about the military oriented society – he always had a taste for exploring new political realms – but much of the silliness here I think has to be new to the story. I wish I knew.

It’s always a good time to watch this movie. Oh, I’ll admit that the gore turned me off the first couple times I saw it, but after a few viewings it is more bearable and it IS pretty cartoony most of the time. The gruesome deaths of all the troopers remind me now of the dismembered corpses of many a Raider and Fiend my characters have blown away in Fallout. Indeed, speaking of video games, I wonder if this movie or Aliens was more of an influence in the Halo series – both are pretty strongly represented. I’d like to thank the cheesemeister Paul Verhoeven for once again brightening a dull afternoon with this fun and messy movie. Maybe someday we’ll pick up Verhoeven’s adaptation of the Invisible Man. That promises to turn the cheese meter up to eleven.

November 6, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments