A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , ,


  1. And boobies.

    Trivia treat: Starship Trooper uniforms are dusted off and worn by the Alliance squad in “The Train Job”.

    Comment by Doc Wheat | November 6, 2010 | Reply

    • See, not having seen The Train Job I wouldn’t have spotted that. 😛

      Comment by tanatoes | November 6, 2010 | Reply

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