Starship Troopers - 1997

Written 1997

I saw STARSHIP TROOPERS last night in DC at a 70mm theatre (the Uptown on Connecticut Avenue, Cleveland Park neighborhood). The mostly packed theatre cheered like crazy for the GODZILLA preview that came up, but did little in response to the preview for ALIEN RESURRECTION and other films.

The central plot of STARSHIP TROOPERS is a war film cliché straight out of books older than Henlien's (which I haven't read) - - Johnny Rico, a raw recruit, is a bit confused about why there even is a military. Later he becomes a battle-hardened vet who steps in to take the place of the heroes who have gone before him, and as the film closes he is in charge of a group of recruits much like how he was when the film started out.

Though there are many Hollywood antecedents for this (like SANDS OF IWO JIMA, for example) I think a comparison to the 1930 ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT clearly shows the same basic teacher/student dynamic. In both stories, the central character has no family (loses the family or becomes alienated from them) and then becomes integrated into a surrogate family group that he prefers - - the military.

The bland, fashion-model presentation of the lead actors was kind of funny. I think they were trying to do something serious with their parts, which seemed to be performed with dead earnestness, but Paul Verhoeven (the director) has them boxed into a cartoon set-up that only makes their efforts seem a bit foolish. Judging from the neo-nazi regalia everyone wears, Verhoeven is making some point about fascism and the military going together like peanut-butter and chocolate. But was Mussolini ever this dumb?

In the 1930s film ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, the fresh, naiveté of the young soldiers serves to show how horrible it is that this innocence is destroyed so thoroughly - - in STARSHIP TROOPERS the recruits don't seem so much naivé and fresh as they seemed air-headed and oblivious to anything but themselves, and war and pressure does nothing but make the characters embrace this cartoon military all the harder.

STARSHIP TROOPERS has excellent special effects [for 1997]. The bugs are fairly distinct in their types, and the CGI is smooth. Some of the spacecraft footage looks like diminutive models instead of big space stations, and the coloring on some of the big beetles appears - - to me - - to be obviously digitally colored. Maybe this is from seeing the film blown up at 70mm size. Still, it is all a part of a less than serious vision put on the screen in every department except for the poor actors (Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris) who are not let in on the joke.

The audience I saw the film with cheered, clapped and roared it's approval in certain key scenes. As I left the theatre I heard some comments:

College student looking guy to his buddy: "It's a piece of propaganda."

Girl on arm of date with other couples : "I laughed and cried, I love that movie!"

A father with his son. The kid: "It's a scary movie!"

My protest about STARSHIP TROOPERS is how innocuous it makes war. At the end of ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT, the ghosts of all the dead soldiers (hell, the whole cast is dead by the end!) goes marching off over the end credits, staring back at the audience one by one. At the end of STARSHIP TROOPERS all the soldiers are firmly convinced in all their cartoon bravery that they will now defeat the bug critters, and their way of life (militarism/fascism) will march on triumphant. Is Verhoeven trying to stick pins and needles into the corpse of Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy with this goofy movie? Is he saying there really is little difference between the humans and the bugs that they fight?

Below: The Uptown Theatre in Washington DC, home of many a 70 MM movie showing.

Original Page 1997 | Updated Dec 2017

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