“Starship Troopers”

CATEGORY: REVIEWS – NEW AND NOTABLE

The Movie: “Starship Troopers” IMDB

Release Year: 1997 – Directed by: Paul Verhoven – Starring: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards

The Entertainment Weekly review for Paul Verhoven’s Starship Troopers contained one of the most hysterically accurate descriptions of a film I’ve ever heard: “Starship Troopers,” they said, “is exactly what Star Wars would have been if Germany had won World War Two.”

I never forgot that, mostly because I thought of how damn right they were after I snuck into the old Hoyts Cinemas in Enfield, Connecticut to see this movie. Deep and surprisingly layered, Starship Troopers is blatant, brilliant satire–in addition to being one of the most entertaining and fun sci-fi action movies since Aliens.

Verhoven, an excellent filmmaker (Robocop) smeared by a few flops (Showgirls, namely) has made his Godfather here. Casting aside most of the gritty, grunt-on-the-ground vision put forth by Robert Heinlein in his classic book (highly recommended, too) Verhoven reaches back into his childhood memories of his native German-occupied Holland during World War Two to spin the sci-fi fable into a scathing attack on war itself, the military, fascism and propaganda–an interesting companion piece to Heinlein’s book, keeping only a few characters and the basic strings of the plot.

It’s still set in the future, though–in a sunny worldwide utopia where humans must join in the global army to receive “citizenship” and government messages and news are brought across on televised 40’s-esque newsreels. A whole bunch of pretty teenagers are graduating high school and heading off to training–led by Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), who is also caught between a love triangle with pilot Carmen (Denise Richards) and infantryman Dizzy (Dina Meyer).

The basic training is brutal and funny–one DI tosses a knife through a recruit’s hand to prove a point, a recruit gets his head splattered with a live round after an accident. But before long, a whole race of slimy, cricket-esque alien bugs smash Buenos Aires with an asteroid, killing Rico’s parents and giving him a whole ‘nother level of hate for the creepy crawlers.

Blow, zam, pow, the kiddies are off to go fight, first on the species’ homeworld, then on a secession of planets with bigger, creepier buggies, all punctuated with the hilarious, ever-present propaganda reels giving updates of the situation. It’s a complete parody of fascism, absolutely dead-on, with just the right elements and mentality of Nazi-era Germany bleeding through the faces of the young soldiers before and after they get chomped on and shiskabobed by the creatures.

Verhoven does an interesting thing with the casting, populating the youthful group with a bunch of picture-perfect teen-drama castoffs–with very little acting talent–and a few of his dependable veterans (the always great Michael Ironside shows up as Rico’s teacher, and later, his sergeant, and veteran character actor has a funny part as a cowardly general). The kids look pretty, but they couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag–they’re all better suited as abused co-eds or smarmy jocks on a Lifetime Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?-level TV movie. It’s obviously intentional–the director is sending up the Adonis-esque men and babes of action films of yesteryear, while keeping the crusty-old-guy on board.

And what a rush–what an exciting, gooey, gory action film. There’s a whole ton of rounds expelled on several different planets, a bunch of flashy space scenes, and some of the best, crispest CGI and special effects ever captured on film. It’s a rush, The Longest Day or Platoon set in space, with the mad little crickets taking the place of Nazis or Vietnamese. One sequence, with just a little platoon against a whole planet of the critters, is unbelievable–the best elements of the Western and the War Flick, a couple hundred years in the future.

But at its pulpy core, there’s a strong, smart message about the evils of military society and fascism, never more present than at the climax–where the goose-stepping outfit worn by intelligence officer (played by Doogie Howser refugee Neil Patrick Harris) Carl has to be seen to believed. To view this movie on just a superficial, action-junkie level would make it just a tremendously entertaining film; to go even deeper, you’d get one of the best moviegoing experiences of the decade.

RATING: 9.5/10

THE DVD: Whoa, loaded. A bunch of featurettes, storyboards, art galleries, and a couple of really good commentaries by Verhoven and cast. Excellent. 

BUY IT! AMAZON

RATING 9.5/10

Movie Quote of the Day: “Uh, no I’m afraid not. But you have me at a loss. You know my name but
who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child?
Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo?
Marshall Dillon? “

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One Response to “Starship Troopers”

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