A commercial and critical flop upon its release, the virtues of Paul Verhoeven's satirical take on Robert Heinlein's Cold War sci-fi novel are stunningly clear in the context of 9-11 and the Iraq War. Few recent films tap into the underlying forces shaping today's world as piercingly as Verhoeven's vision of a thoroughly Americanized global civilization that exploits media and youth culture to wage endless war against an appointed enemy. With perverse, knowing affection, Verhoeven mashes cliched elements from 1940s war movies ("Come on you apes, you wanna live forever?") and 1990s teen soap opera (football game, senior prom) and splashes them with a futuristic paint job in an effort to link together the past, present and future of youth cultural propaganda. Most prescient is the framing device of an internet-type visual console that bombards the viewer with requests of "Would you like to know more?", paving a perpetual rabbit hole of Information Age captivity.
Verhoeven's Hollywood career can be divided between his wildly successful early half (RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct) and a wildly misunderstood second half (Showgirls, Starship Troopers, Hollow Man). Each successive effort found increasingly outrageous ways to subvert the sex-and-violence tropes simultaneously being exploited for entertainment profit, that is until the box office failure of Starship Troopers collapsed this ill-advised project of cultural signal jamming. Many critics (see Roger Ebert and Janet Maslin's reviews below, among others) counted Starship Troopers as endemic of Hollywood crassness, oblivious of the ways the war and teen movie genres were being inverted into critical reflections of themselves. One might abjectively dismiss Verhoeven's send-up as another case of Hollywood having its cake and selling it. Further complicating the issue of satire, Verhoeven isn't adopting a scorched-earth approach to his subject matter; instead there's an odd, loving attention paid to the innovative special effects and the straight-faced execution of ersatz melodrama. Reflecting a more complicated - and honest - fascination with Hollywood genres, Verhoeven interrogates both the seductive fantasy surfaces and the horrific real world outcomes of its mythmaking. In other words, this may be one of the few Hollywood blockbusters that functions as a work of film criticism as art.
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The following citations were counted towards the placement of Starship Troopers on They Shoot Pictures 1000 Greatest Films:
Frank Schnelle, Steadycam (2007) Jurgen Egger, Steadycam (2007) Kevin Prin, ymdb.com (2002) Lars-Olav Beier, Steadycam (2007) Cinema-Scope Best Films of the 1990's (2000) Cinescape The Top 100 Sci-Fi, Horror & Fantasy Films (2000) Halliwell's Top 1000 Films (2005) Kent Jones, Film Comment: Ten Most Underrated of the 1990's (2000) Michael Atkinson, Counter Cultural Programming: The 50 Best Election Year Movies (2004) Nicole Brenez, Cinema-Scope: Best Films of the 1990's (2000) Online Film Critics (OFCS) Top 100 Sci-Fi Films (2002) Peter Travers 1000 Best Movies on DVD (2005) Premiere 100 Best Action Movies on DVD (2003) Rough Guide to Film Sci-Fi: 5 Lesser-Known Gems (2007) Stuff Magazine 50 Most Dangerous/Forgotten Movies (2001) The Guardian 1,000 Films to See Before You Die (2007)
Time Out Critics' Choice: Monsters (2006)
Full Text of Screenplay Adaptation by Edward Neumeier
STARSHIP TROOPERS SITES
Trooper PX: "The World's Most Complete Starship Troopers Reference Collection"
Visual Effects Headquarters (VFXHQ) has a couple of invaluable articles detailing the extensive, Oscar-nominated special effects work of Starship Troopers:
``Starship Troopers'' is the most violent kiddie movie ever made. I call it a kiddie movie not to be insulting, but to be accurate: Its action, characters and values are pitched at 11-year-old science-fiction fans. That makes it true to its source. It's based on a novel for juveniles by Robert A. Heinlein. I read it to the point of memorization when I was in grade school. I have improved since then, but the story has not.
Heinlein intended his story for young boys, but wrote it more or less seriously. The one redeeming merit for director Paul Verhoeven's film is that by remaining faithful to Heinlein's material and period, it adds an element of sly satire. This is like the squarest but most technically advanced sci-fi movie of the 1950s, a film in which the sets and costumes look like a cross between Buck Rogers and the Archie comic books, and the characters look like they stepped out of Pepsodent ads.
The action sequences are heavily laden with special effects, but curiously joyless. We get the idea right away: Bugs will jump up, troopers will fire countless rounds at them, the Bugs will impale troopers with their spiny giant legs, and finally dissolve in a spray of goo. Later there are refinements, like firebreathing beetles, flying insects, and giant Bugs that erupt from the earth. All very elaborate, but the Bugs are not interesting in the way, say, that the villains in the ``Alien'' pictures were. Even their planets are boring; Bugs live on ugly rock worlds with no other living species, raising the question of what they eat.What's lacking is exhilaration and sheer entertainment. Unlike the ``Star Wars'' movies, which embraced a joyous vision and great comic invention, ``Starship Troopers'' doesn't resonate. It's one-dimensional. We smile at the satirical asides, but where's the warmth of human nature? The spark of genius or rebellion? If ``Star Wars'' is humanist, ``Starship Troopers'' is totalitarian.
- Roger Ebert, The Chicago Sun-Times, November 7 1997
The Sun-Times also has a collection of blurbs from different reviews that came out upon the film's release, including these two:
"...Starship Troopers is fatally lacking in lightness, play, invention. Human bodies are gutted and eviscerated, the limbs pulled off, the heads drilled. Are children supposed to enjoy this literal-minded, grisly bloodbath? As you watch the endless carnage, you become sure that Hollywood has gone completely, utterly mad. But how can you fight the success of 'ironic' stupidity? Verhoeven may have had his brains removed, but it's the audience that winds up with a hole in the head."
- David Denby, New York Magazine (November 17, 1997)
"Verhoeven and Neumeier are alive to the absurdity and excess of Heinlein's military world, and though the sexy young male and female soldiers of the movie -- played mostly by TV hunks and babes from Melrose Place andBeverly Hills 90210 -- accept that world almost unconditionally, the filmmakers don't.... [T]he pulverizing good looks, high energy and skin-deep styles of these characters makes another comment -- not on the future world but on our own, where looks, packaging and self-salesmanship are so crucial. Starship Troopers begins and ends with satiric recruiting commercials, which send up the whole idea of the 'recruiting poster' movie, like Top Gun, which this one sometimes resembles."
- Michael Wilmington, The Chicago Tribune (November 7, 1997)
Welcome to the retrofuture. It's a time when they're fighting a high-tech intergalactic war but talking about it in the kind of lowbrow rhetoric--hysterical jingoism--we haven't heard issuing from movie screens since World War II.
Besides the weaponry and the enemy--monstrous, profoundly malevolent bugs--a few other things have changed. There's a world government now, and the combat troops are fully gender integrated--to the point where they take showers together. This implies, of course, that more saltpeter than ever is being dumped into their rations...
Pretty funny. But not always very funny. For Starship Troopers contains an unexplored premise. There are two classes in this futureworld: civilians, who have sacrificed voting privileges for material ease, and warriors, who earn the right to rule by their willingness to die for the state. In short, we're looking at a happily fascist world. Maybe that's the movie's final, deadpan joke. Maybe it's saying that war inevitably makes fascists of us all. Or--best guess--maybe the filmmakers are so lost in their slambang visual effects that they don't give a hoot about the movie's scariest implications.
- Richard Schickel, Time, November 10, 1997
Not for the arachnophobic, this intergalactic Raid campaign is surely on Verhoeven's wavelength. After Robocop and Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Showgirls, the transplanted Dutchman has become something like our Fritz Lang - Hollywood's comic-book artist deluxe, the suavely brutal purveyor of hardcore pulp. Verhoeven may lack Lang's visionary conviction and cultural pessimism, but he has a boldly cartoonish graphic sensibility and a corresponding gusto for caricatured postmodern shibboleths. Somewhere beyond irony, Starship Trooper's clever opener dares the viewer to position the movie as kissing cousin to a Hitler Youth recruitment ad.
The most intense sci-fi combat film since James Cameron's Aliens, Starship Troopers subsumes a plot-driven class struggle between infantry and air force in the visceral excitement of all-out, hand-to-tendril interspecies warfare - most spectacularly in the sensationally animated, artfully corpse-splattered, nerve-wracking attacks of the scuttling, screaming crustacean-spider hordes
That the move has no more depth than the early eighties video games that were based on Heinlein's novel is Verhoeven's ultimate joke. Every planet not only resembles the Dakota badlands but has an earthling-compatible atmosphere. Oxygen is everywhere. Considering that the spider-monsters are apparently capable of targeting earth cities with meteors launched from deep space, it takes the Terra Federation a remarkably long time to realize that the Bugs might actually be intelligent.
- J. Hoberman, The Village Voice, November 11 1997
'Starship Troopers'' is the film version of Robert A. Heinlein's rabidly militaristic novel about a human infantry battling giant insects from the planet Klendathu. Speaking of other planets, where exactly are the hordes of moviegoers who will exclaim: ''Great idea! Let's go see the one about the cute young co-ed army and the big bugs from space.''
No doubt they're here somewhere, since the director Paul Verhoeven does have a way with crazed, lurid spectacle, from ''Total Recall'' to ''Showgirls.'' But ''Starship Troopers'' looks like reason to wonder how the big-ticket exploitation film mutated into its present form. The movie for everyone is, in this case, only for everyone who likes raw meat for breakfast. Still, it certainly can pander, what with pretty actors, grisly critters, brains sucked out of skulls, buckets of green slime and a plot that is half beach blanket bingo, half Iwo Jima. Gung-ho patriotism is also big here, what with cries of ''The only good bug is a dead bug!'' and ''You kill everything that has more than two legs, you get me?''
As written by Ed Neumeier, who also wrote Mr. Verhoeven's much tighter ''Robocop,'' ''Starship Troopers'' never gets over its 180-degree swivel from teen-age love story to murderous destruction. But coherence does not appear to be a major concern. This film simply piles on the bugs, lops off the limbs and provides a flaming catharsis that suits its ideology. By the end of the film, arachnid butt has been duly kicked and back-patting is in order. We won't have to worry about marauding bugs until, thanks to Hollywood, the next batch comes along.
- Janet Maslin, The New York Times, November 7 1997
Human culture and insect culture duel to the death in "Starship Troopers," a spectacularly gung-ho sci-fi epic that delivers two hours of good, nasty fun. The scope and abundance of the special effects --- from the countless and incredibly vivid marauding bugs to the plethora of agile aircraft of the Earth's space fleet --- may well surpass anything seen before, while the "just war" against an implacably hostile foe supplies plenty of rooting interest. The frequent violence has a grisliness that will put off some older viewers and may create a backlash against the picture in certain quarters, but sci-fi fans and younger general audiences always looking for the latest edge to be pushed will eat it up, creating strong B.O. worldwide for the first holiday blockbuster out of the box.
- Todd McCarthy, Variety, November 9 1997
What the hell is Starship Troopers? Is it a mindlessly violent slab of future jingoism:Melrose Place goes to war in space? Or is it a sly bit of leg pulling on the part of director Paul Verhoeven? Here's what I think:Starship Troopers is exactly what Star Warswould have looked like if Germany had won World War II.
Unfortunately, most audiences don't know how to do anything but take their movies straight up, and that gives an elitist stench to Verhoeven's little in-joke. But then, this director has never played according to the rules of either the art house or the megaplex. He was as controversial in his native Netherlands as he has been in Hollywood, and curiously, many of his early films have their later, American analogue. Basic Instinct (1992) is a bluntly obvious reinvention of his best film, 1984's The Fourth Man: same blond fatal femme, same flummoxed male victim, same kinky sense of play. 1981's Spetters (a crass, unpleasant tale about three guys on the motocross racing circuit) was as savaged by Dutch critics as 1995's Showgirls (a crass, unpleasant tale about two women on the Vegas show circuit) was in the U.S.
Following that logic, Starship Troopers could be read as Verhoeven's Hollywoodization of Soldier of Orange, the 1979 WWII Dutch Resistance drama that helped bring him international notice. Both films are about upper-class kids hardened by wartime experience, and both — realistically or sadistically, take your pick — mow their pretty young characters down one by one. But the predations of Nazis cut emotionally deeper than the carnage of F/X-derived insects, and Soldier's lead character, Erik (Rutger Hauer), comes to a more adult understanding of the world's complexities than the comic-book triumph of Johnny Rico.
Of course, maybe that's because the ''heroes'' in the later film are the Nazis. Verhoeven loses his feeling for tone toward the end of Troopers: It becomes more plainly satirical, especially when the Earth scientists start gleefully torturing an agonized-looking Brain Bug. Only a particularly twisted sensibility would spend $100 million to kick moviegoers in the keister while telling them it's entertainment, but Verhoeven is even more perverse than that. He's serious on both levels — and on neither.
Based on a novel by classic, conservative SF writer Robert Heinlein and directed by Paul Verhoeven (you'll recall that he made Showgirls, another apocalyptic vision), Starship Troopers is something of a paradox, an exercise in and examination of mindlessness. I mean, it's not rocket science, but its cynicism is simultaneously smarmy and smart, exacting a cost for any pleasure you may take in its nasty-ass violence. In this respect it's not unlike Verhoeven's remarkable Robocop (1987), which was good gory fun as well as an astute look at Reaganomics, '80s corporate politics, privatization and the uncomfortable legacy of the Hollywood Western. The new film is less weighed down by major iconography (the robosuited Peter Weller seeking his identity had its heavy-handed moments), more relaxed and self-reflexive. For example, it lifts those "commercial spots" directly from Robocop: here these comedic insertions—appearing as if on television, commenting ironically on the progressively brutal action—make the point that the military's recruitment campaign is perpetual, that war is business, that bugs and recruits are similarly expendable.
It's not a little funny that Verhoeven calls it his most "romantic" film, noting that a character says "I love you" and means it, but the fact that the cast is (relatively) fresh meat lifted quite literally from Aaron Spelling's TV-soap-land, suggests that the director is either messing with his interviewer or seeing romance as one big cliché. Either way or both ways, the film does do a number on those romantic clichés that constitute traditional war imagery.
Starship Troopers may be less overt about its politics than Robocop, but any movie that turns Doogie Howser into a fascist has some serious cultural analysis going on. Its glib depictions of dismemberment, decapitation and horrendous evisceration can be alarming, but they can also be understood as the film's (rather visceral) assessment of—for instance—the current U.S. drive toward escalating militarization, incorporation and globalization. This picture is not pretty. "Whoo-hoo!"
- Cynthia Fuchs, Philadelphia City Paper
The question of how satire operates (if it operates at all) in starship troopers is also evidenced by a series of enlightening articles in the Los Angeles Times that appeared at around the time of the film’s premiere. An initial review of starship troopers by Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan on November 7, 1997 describes a “…jaw-dropping experience, so rigorously one-dimensional and free from even the pretense of intelligence it’s hard not to be astonished and even mesmerized by what is on screen”. Turan’s lukewarm review of the “cheerfully lobotomized” film that “offers no shortage of all manner of carnage” prompts a rebuttal a few weeks later in the Los Angeles Times by a guest writer named Jon Zelazny in an article entitled “Counterpunch: Amid ‘Troopers’ Gore, it’s Easy to Miss the Message”. Zelazny, in a call to recognize an especially audacious form of satire in starship troopers, argues that “[W]hat Verhoeven has created is nothing less than a total replica of a propaganda film that the futuristic government of earth would itself create, if in fact its goal were to recruit young men and women to swell the ranks of the starship troopers if they were engaged in a distant war”. Paramount to Zelazny’s argument is the understated nature of the satire in starship troopers, and he states that “…the oh-so-subtle warning Verhoeven slips us is that people can be swayed by even ‘dumb’ movies into supporting war and violence”. One week later, writer Michael Voss pens a response to Zelazny’s piece in the Los Angeles Times. The article questions the importance of Zelazny’s contention that viewers are taken in completely and do not comprehend satirical elements in the film. To Voss, Verhoeven’s entire project fails because the satirical aspect of the film is not clearly delineated for a “mass” audience: “[p]ity the poor, misunderstood filmmaker, who had to actually live under Nazi occupation as a child, yet who somehow fails to clearly present the satiric focus of his movie in a manner that the masses can appreciate and understand”. Presenting satire in an ambiguous way becomes problematic for Voss, who questions Zelazny’s claim that 99.9% of moviegoers missed the satire in the movie. Voss raises an interesting point in his criticism of the film’s satirical elements when he states, “is it no longer the director’s task to integrate his audience, to bring meaning to them, rather than the other way around?” The ideal for Voss is a film that removes ambiguity in relation to satire, so that a consistent reading of the film is possible. In the above debate, interpretations of starship troopers by the viewer are crucial, as is the possibility that contradictory readings of the film can coexist. An important question to ask regarding starship troopers and all of Verhoeven’s films is in relation to this acutely divided reception: is it still satire if the audience does not recognize satirical elements inherent in the story?
Roger Ebert’s oft-quoted and provocative line in his review that “starship troopers is the most violent kiddie movie ever made” suggests a level of violence surpassing socially acceptable standards for films aimed at youths. While some note that the violence of starship troopers is excessive for the genre, Sacramento Bee writer Joe Baltake contends that the violence has a satirical function. He writes, “while other contemporary movies sanctimoniously tell us that violence is a bad thing and then hypocritically wallow in it to prove their point, starship troopers giddily celebrates its own viciousness”. Film Journal International, in a decidedly negative review, finds blame and a twisted pleasure in the film’s supposed failure to fit into its genre:
"[p]erhaps the sole pleasure moviegoers over the age of 11 will derive fromstarship troopers […] is finding inventive ways to describe it to curious friends and loved ones. But even such attempts as ‘Leni Riefenstahl Meets Melrose Place,’ ‘Ayn Rand’s top gun 2,’ and ‘Gidget Goes gattaca’ fail to convey the staggering mindlessness of this huge-scale exercise in neo-Orwellian kitsch."
...For better or for worse,starship troopers is truly a film made for the people. As his films reach a mainstream audience, they reveal similar contradictions in the society that receives them. starship troopers is undoubtedly a film made for younger viewers with plenty of disposable income, but just as writers are unsure of how to place starship troopers, starship troopers is unsure how to place the viewer. A seemingly totalitarian film made by someone who lived under an oppressive Nazi occupation as a child, starship troopers leaves it unclear whether viewers will appreciate the bleak satire or “eat this gooey sci-fi thriller up with a spoon”.
Raising the issue of ‘communication to the masses’ is vital to Verhoeven’s work here; the message to the viewers is therefore deliberately compromised. For Verhoeven, this holds true especially for Hollywood summer blockbusters, films expressly made for wide audiences and which can easily be shaped into shameless propaganda. Thus, the discussion around the filmic text, the controversy, becomes as important as the film itself. Eliciting a varied response may support an audacious project that links the Hollywood product (of which starship troopers is a part) with blatant propaganda, Nazi and otherwise. I think that the reason for making a film in the vein of starship troopers may well be a wish to produce an opening to expose this problematic, to drive an alien probe straight into the forehead of the mainstream.
- Owen Livermore, Synoptique
Whatever else it is, which is plenty, Paul Verhoeven’s eye-popping 1997 epic Starship Troopers has to be the most misunderstood and underappreciated sci-fi blockbuster of all time.
What didn’t dawn on everyone at the time of Starship Troopers’s abbreviated theatrical run was that it was a comedy – a vicious, all-barrels-firing piece of social satire and by far the funniest Hollywood film of 1997. All satire runs the risk of evading an inattentive audience and being mistaken for the very thing it mocks, but few American movies have been as extreme in their methods and at the same time as miscomprehended as Verhoeven’s. In this film’s pointed but absurd idea of the future, the world has one fascist government, society is divided between the rabble "civilians" and the elite, vote-bearing "citizens," and the former can become the latter only by performing a term of service with the Mobile Infantry, an interstellar army devoted to battling "bugs," an alien race of house-sized arachnids who hurl their spore into space and thereby direct meteors toward Earth. If all that isn’t ludicrous enough, our protagonists are idealistic high schoolers hot to do their part: the jock, his bodacious girlfriend, the nerd, the opportunistic schemer, the dumb goofball, the girl who loves the football star but who stands silently aside. They train, travel the galaxy, combat monster-bugs, mature, experience casualties, triumph.
There were loads of cheesy pulp novels intended for 12-year-olds like this written in the ‘50s, but Heinlein’s book wasn’t one of them. Rather, the novel is an outrageous tract that rather unambiguously expounds the virtues of militaristic might, fascist order, violence and "earned" (not our Constitution’s "self-evident" and "unalienable") social rights. An ultra-conservative ex-Naval officer and vocal arms-race proponent, Heinlein had caught a lot of static for it over the years, but Verhoeven’s movie, made over a decade after Heinlein’s death, amounts to a flat-out rebuttal. The subversive wit on display is startling. (The screenplay is credited to Edward Neumeier; Verhoeven, for his part, says he tried to read the novel but got bored and tossed it aside.) In the film, a war-mutilated high school history teacher walks about the classroom dead-seriously extolling the virtues of naked violence, officers wear Nazi headgear, troopers freely paraphrase Hitler, drill sergeants regularly mutilate their troops to make a training point, and whole scenes and hunks of dialogue are robbed from the paradigmatic colonialist melodrama Zulu (1964)...
Starship Troopers certainly faced the problem of any satire of political war-mongering – that the vivid depiction of militaristic chaos can be so exciting that the scolding intention of it is obscured by the mayhem. And make no mistake, the film is vivid and appalling in ways that few films have been before or since. America needed a little distance, it seems, and since Verhoeven’s film went to video, it has been universally reappraised and hailed as a culty landmark. It certainly can lead you to reconsider the director’s other films – the entirety of Starship Troopersis the satirical TV commercials from Robocop (1987) writ large, and by the way, didn’t Basic Instinct (1992) andShowgirls (1995) also cakewalk the edge of absurdity in ways we couldn’t bring ourselves to believe were intentional? Doesn’t the whole does-he-mean-it-or-is-he-a-muttonhead? aesthetic hearken back to Verhoeven’s career-making font of nervous laughter, The Fourth Man(1983)? Verhoeven may be the bravest and most assured satirist in Hollywood, insofar as he succeeds in making big genre movies no one knows whether to take seriously or not. Maybe the interface with the humorless screenwriter Joe Eszterhas is what make Basic Instinct and particularlyShowgirls seem crude and dumb, even as they quite obviously mock themselves with every laughable line of dialogue and leering innuendo. However you slice it, Verhoeven has gotten a bum rap as a directorial miscreant, because there’s nothing misjudged or self-indulgent about Starship Troopers. It’s pure laughing gas.
- Michael Atkinson, TCM
Ironically, Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers – a special effects-infested sci-fi saga about humanity’s war against a race of giant bugs – is more effective as a satire than as an action extravaganza. Like in Robocop, Verhoeven employs the basic trappings of genre as a ruse to sneak in cynical criticisms about contemporary society, and his film’s first half – a parody of90210-style high school teen romances as well as rah-rah 1950s WWII films – is at once incisive and hilarious, in large part because his cast of bland, pretty ciphers (including Casper Van Diem, Denise Richards and Neil Patrick Harris) play their tongue-in-cheek material with straight faces. Given that Michael Ironside kicks things off by preaching about violence as the surest means to achieving peace, and Harris ends the film decked out in SS-style military garb, it’s not hard to grasp Verhoeven’s hit-you-over-the-head point about the inherent fascism of war. Yet his spot-on replication of both barking war movie dialogue and trademark love story moments nonetheless gives the film an entertaining cheesiness. Unfortunately, the combat-heavy latter half – despite some impressive CG work on the steroidal insects, especially during shots of them creeping across the rocky desert by the thousands – proves tepid and monotonous, and somewhat diminishes the overly long (130 minutes!) Starship Troopers' sardonic punch.
- Nick Schager, Lessons of Darkness
Starship Troopers is at once a thrilling, ultra-violent, energetically paced sci-fi action flick, and a viciously clever, uncompromising satire of exactly the kind of movie it purports to be, and of the militaristic, proto-fascist attitudes and assumptions underlying such films. It's the story of a war between an intelligent alien species of bugs and a human society of the future, when the world has been united under an international government in which citizenship is not assumed but granted only to those who earn it by serving in the military. The nature of this society is never thoroughly explored in the film, which instead focuses on the military itself, but director Paul Verhoeven makes it very easy to read between the lines and imagine the kind of society he's depicting here. It's a totalitarian world government with an iron grip on the media, which is used as a tool of indoctrination, encouraging military service and vilifying the enemy bugs to the extent that kids on earth senselessly stamp out harmless cockroaches as their mother enthusiastically cheers them on. The military leaders are the only figures of authority shown in the film, suggesting that the military and government are closely related if not interchangeable. And the leaders take no real responsibility for their actions; after a particularly grave military disaster, the "sky marshall" who had been in charge makes a show of calmly stepping aside, ushering in his replacement and then standing behind her on the podium as she delivers the newest commands. It's as much of a blatant mockery as the reasons for the war in the first place: the media continually blames the alien bugs on their distant planets for sending meteors towards Earth, but this never makes much sense even if the film neither explains nor explicitly questions it. The absurdities peddled by the media and the government are simply allowed to stand, their ridiculous contradictions and blatant non-sequiturs obvious to anyone who looks...
Still, Verhoeven keeps subtly reminding his audience that the aliens are not simply expendable cannon fodder: a bombing raid on their planet emphasizes the way huge swaths of the creatures, who are seemingly doing nothing aggressive for once, are simply obliterated by the waves of fire. It's the bug equivalent of a civilian massacre, and Verhoeven's composition deliberately recalls popular representations of the Pearl Harbor attack and of American napalm bombing raids in Vietnam. The bugs also cease being quite so intimidating in the film's increasingly lurid final sequence, in which the troops are tracking what's known as the "brain bug," the central intelligence driving the creatures. This turns out to be a massive, nearly immobile lump with a nakedly vaginal face, a row of curiously soulful black eyes surrounding its labial, muscus-squirting mouth. Once the troops capture this creature, Carl reads its thoughts, triumphantly declaring that "it's scared" to the cheers of the soldiers, who rejoice at the revelation that their enemy can feel emotions, and that they've frightened it. Finally, the scientists who study this captured bug complete the vaginal metaphor by inserting metallic probes into the creature's mouth, accompanied in the media propaganda by censorial black bars, a subtle joke that links top-secret military intelligence and low-grade smut. The victors complete their victory by literally fucking the enemy, a final act that definitively establishes Verhoeven's sympathy for the bugs rather than humans. At the same time, the human specificity of the film's actual protagonists is de-emphasized, not only by the wooden acting but by the way that human life is so casually expended in pointless battles. At one point, the military commanders knowingly send a small group of soldiers onto a planet where they're pretty sure the troops will be slaughtered — "that mission had a very low probability of survival" is the euphemistic explanation — just to prove a theory. The film is all about the low value of life in militaristic and totalitarian society, and the high costs of pointless wars fought by a docile, brainwashed populace.
- Ed Howard, Only the Cinema
Starship Troopers is so seamless and so unflinching in its vision of teeny-bopper totalitarianism that it's understandable why those going to a mindless bug-killing movie were confused when they had to check their heads afterwards: "Are we supposed to like these people?" But for anyone with an eye for parody, it still is baffling as to how they couldn't get the film's slick, WWII-inspired recruitment ads ("Join Now!") in which laughing soldiers hand bullets out to children, or little kids enthusiastically smash bugs while an approving mother looks on, as just one part of the film's clever caricature...
But let us not forget that Starship Troopers is saying something, commenting on the lure of fascism, the gung-ho ridiculousness of so many stupid action films and the plastic world of perfection. Many critics don't want to live in a world where women have smiles as gorgeously huge (and creepy) as Denise Richards', and yet part of them probably do, making Starship Troopers all the more cunning.
- Kim Morgan, DVD Journal
Starship Troopers was no big hit in 1997, but it has its fans, many of whom — judging by review postings on Amazon.com — confuse the film for a serious sci-fi epic with a "war is hell" message. (Not surprisingly, post-9/11 postings are more likely to "get it".)
But the clueless are out there. Unfamiliar with the book, smitten with the sexy stars, and repelled by the bugs, many didn't get the jokes. In practical terms, until 9/11 Starship Troopers was a satire without a target. The war hysteria following 9/11 provided just that; the players and events stepping tailor-made into the film's sites with amazing prescience, granting the film a powerful resonance that was lacking when it was first released.
There is the film's black female Sky Marshall, a kooky but satirically pointless joke in 1997. Yet it's a role tailormade for Condoleezza Rice. There are the TV war correspondents, absent in the book, but today stationed in Iraq. They pester the soldiers in battle, don't appreciate the threat, and are killed by the bugs. There are the TV pundits who would understand the bugs, woolly and ineffectual as seen through the film's fascist prism (the New World Order likes to see itself as tolerant).
Starship Troopers is a penetrating satire of post-9/11 war hysteria as might be imagined by an idealistic New World Order fascist. It's hard to believe it was made pre-9/11 and impossible to think it could be made post-9/11.
- Thomas M. Sipos, Blog Critics
Based on Robert Heinlein's well-received science fiction novel, Starship Troopers holds true to the tone of his pro-war writings. In this period fascist rule is a way of life, the price paid for a safe and crime-free society. Only citizens are allowed to vote and, almost, the sole route towards achieving this status is by serving in the forces; perpetuating the plethora of uniforms worn by those in power. No longer is there individual freedom and the sense that resolution can come from discussion, here violence is the solution. Such a scenario fits director Paul Verhoeven like a glove. The force behind Robocop and Total Recall, he is familiar with the idea of taking conservative US tendencies to their furthest extent. The bait for these journeys was satire and Starship Troopers is no exception to the trend. Stuffed full of inspired and often sick humour, Verhoeven's film is an entertaining ride for those who share in his vision.
- Damian Cannon, Movie Reviews UK
Starship Troopers is a movie that wants to have it both ways and fails miserably. The movie's structure is based on conventional ways of garnering excitement, in this case danger during war for a naive young man, but the movie then turns around and claims that audience interest in these conventions is reason enough to call everyone watching a fascist. Heinlein's original novel treated these themes in a serious manner (see myreview of the book), and fans of the book have every reason to feel betrayed by the utter inversion of this in the movie. I happen to dislike Heinlein's book intensely -- in my review, I argue that it posits the world of Orwell's 1984 as a good thing -- but I'm hard-pressed to think of a more disingenuous adaptation than this one. Starship Troopers the movie is actively undermining everything Starship Troopers the book stands for. Heinlein's book at least had all of its narrative points in order; Verhoeven's movie calls anyone who enjoys the surface story a moron or worse! Verhoeven himself is clearly not a militarist or a fascist, but he does have the greater handicap of bad storytelling.
The excessive violence of Starship Troopers is fairly typical of Verhoeven's science-fiction films. As mentioned, the satirical aspects of the film don't work, whereas they did in Verhoeven's Robocop, a movie which is arguably even more violent than this one. Violence is only one of the gadgets in the storyteller's toolkit, and you need to know how to use it; you can't safely ignore any one gadget, and you can't safely mistake the gadget for the story itself. Verhoeven often forgets that constant violence is in fact boring, and useless as a narrative device (he makes the same mistake several times with special effects development, such as the same bug attack over and over again, and how Carmen does the same spaceship moves more than a handful of times). Robocop made us care for its main character, the tragic ex-cop Murphy, and the violence seemed to reinforce this feeling. If anything, the death and dismemberment in Starship Troopers removes us further from the story.
Starship Troopers clearly does not care for scientific rigour, and it may be somewhat pointless to examine all of the logical flaws of the movie. This critic-proofing process has happened in too many recent science fiction movies to count, but Starship Troopers is based on a book that clearly cared about this material. Verhoeven tosses out the more meticulous speculation in the military tactics Heinlein devises, and gives us nonsense instead: ground troops with not a single tank in sight, air support only once, and not a single advanced bit of weaponry. Most of the crises on the human side seem to be self-induced, such as lining up capital ships in orbit like sardines in a can and then waiting for incoming fire. The whole race of bugs in this movie raises many questions. How did they fling an asteroid across the galaxy if they don't have starflight? What did these bugs eat if they live on such gritty planets? What use would a plasma bug, capable of firing projectiles into orbit out of its rear, have in normal life? I would have forgiven the movie a great deal if genetic engineering or some similar buzzword were mentioned, but one of the first things we are told (while Johnny and friends are still in high school) is that the bugs are the product of years of evolution. If Starship Troopers is in search of spectacle, it succeeds. The movie is simply spectacular and simply dumb.
- James Schellenberg, Challenging Destiny
Starship Troopers is a milestone film, if only because it shakes Sci-Fi free from the limp mythology of the Star Wars series, with its hand-me-down swashbuckling and wholesale borrowings from authors like Robert Heinlein and Frank Herbert.Troopers goes in for violent gore and grotesque images straight from old horror comics, as when a "Brain Bug" pierces a man's skull and sucks his brain matter out through a siphon. Audiences were shocked by jolts like that one, but they resented other aspects of the film. As in RoboCop the main object is political satire, but the dark ironies sailed over the heads of disgruntled critics, some of whom thought the film glorified fascism.
The world of Starship Troopers isn't an extrapolation of the Third Reich, it's an extension of today's post- Cold War realities. The world has been unified under an all-powerful Federation that limits democratic input and restricts voting to military veterans. The government controls all media. Racism has been abolished but minority cultures and languages have been eliminated: Carmen's last name is Ibanez, not Ibañez. Buenos Aires is as "American" as Beverly Hills. High School indoctrinations preach a kinder, gentler form of fascism: all political power stems from military power, in short, brute violence.
- Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant
Paul Verhoeven and his entire film crew seemed in on a joke only they knew the punch line to, if it was a commentary on media propaganda in a time when a war was being waged (Desert Storm), then that joke was lost on an worldwide audience that only saw green blips on a radar screen, which actually was the birth of a very popular news channel named CNN. An inherent problem was that it certainly featured a lot of blood and guts, and was as far removed from the actual perception of the conflict than it even is now, when the propaganda machine of the modern day news cycle makes itself more obvious than it did during the actual birth of the 24 hour news channel. Either way, the hilarious news segments certainly make more sense now than they did then.
He was a 'maverick' of sorts, because when all Hollywood was asking him to do was direct a big budget and thoughtless sci fi flick (at 100 million, this was a big film in 1997), he actually seems to have somehow subversively placed social commentary within the film itself, which only proves that probably many of the critics that originally reviewed the film and accused of either being blatantly racist (fascist) or downright dumb either didn't see the film, or (more likely), were completely oblivious to the type of media manipulation and BS he was trying to take a punch at. Either way, Hollywood can be confusing that way, either it is some independent film trying to seem mainstream, or it's the mainstream trying to seem indie. Either way, it confuses the audience. You may as well take the Oliver Stone route than try to hide subversive or unconventional attitudes into a blockbuster.
Starting with "Total Recall" in 1990, Verhoeven created a whole new era as far as intelligent science fiction based on credible source material (this being one of the first films rather loosely 'based on Philip K. Dick material). And the film was a groundbreaking and critical success here in the states (many of us reading can perhaps recall where they were when they first saw the film), it also started a rather interesting directing technique that included clips of fictional news stations based in a science fiction universe that appeared to not only mimic current foreign policy (the original Gulf War AKA 'Desert Storm', but also delved deeper into the origins of war and since we currently live in a world completely saturated with news networks, the joke is almost lost on us these days because it is simply so horrifically realistic, the sarcasm that was lost on a society blind is also lost on a society distrusting and aware of media manipulation.
- Chris Thompson, DVD Review
When did American action blockbusters stop being American? Sometime in the last two decades, in between the genocidal adventures of George Lucas's Star Wars and those of Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, the national pedigree disappeared. True, Starship Troopers is a simplified, watered-down version of Robert A. Heinlein's all-American novel, and it's consciously modeled on Hollywood World War II features (as was much of Star Wars); it even boasts an "all-American" cast that could have sprung full-blown from a camp classic of Aryan physiognomy like Howard Hawks's Red Line 7000. But the only state it can be said to truly reflect or honor is one of drifting statelessness. If the alien bugs that populate Verhoeven's movie wanted to learn what American life and culture was like in 1977, Star Wars would have served as a useful and appropriate object of study; but if they wanted to know what American - or even global - life was like in 1997, Starship Troopers would tell them zip. Both movies might be loosely described as odes to American values set in a fanciful future mixed with the half-remembered midcentury past, but the similarity is only skin-deep--and not just because Verhoeven hails from the Netherlands. (Starship Troopers is probably even less Dutch than it is American.) Star Wars was made at a time when American pop cinema still belonged mainly to Americans; now it belongs mainly to global markets and overseas investors, and because so-called American cinema is the brand that sells best in international markets, that's what it says on the label. But what's inside the package is, properly speaking, multinational, not national--which in thematic terms involves subtracting ideas rather than adding them. Maybe that's why loss of identity was the very theme of Face/Off--another recent multinational action special, and one whose success perhaps marked the end of John Woo's career as a director of Hong Kong action films.
Verhoeven's 1987 RoboCop and 1990 Total Recall represent successive steps toward Starship Troopers; wacko fantasies like his Basic Instinct and Showgirls offer variations on the same rootlessness. All five films project different versions of the same hyperbolic comic-strip iconography, the same garish, overblown characters, and the same sarcastic and gloating contempt. In fact it was arguably Verhoeven's awkward attempt inShowgirls to say something about America--Hollywood in particular--that spelled its commercial doom: this is a film that fundamentally said "We're all whores, aren't we?" The American public answered, in effect, "Speak for yourself." Starship Troopers modifies that statement to read "We're all stupid apes and cannon fodder, aren't we?" And this time audiences all over the world, more accustomed to receiving such epithets as a natural part of their action kicks, are somewhat likelier to agree (though, depending mainly on gender and age group, some might disagree). But whether this movie excites the desired euphoria among potential warmongers, American and otherwise--at least to anything like the same degree as Star Wars--is another matter. In the Lucas scheme of things wiping out entire planets is clean, bloodless fun that never threatens the camaraderie between fuzzy creatures and humans, who trade affectionate wisecracks while zapping enemies from afar; mythical conceits derived from Joseph Campbell only enhance and ennoble the fun. Verhoevian genocide, by contrast, has no such pretensions: it's a messy affair involving extensive dismemberment on both sides, loads of blood and goo, loss of privacy and comfort, and only a modicum of emotional satisfaction--in short, none of the media pleasures offered by demolishing Baghdad. Most of us Americans probably know as little about Iraqis as the starship troopers do about the alien bugs they fight, and the topography of the bug planet, as Dave Kehr pointed out in the New York Daily News, "suggests the scene of the Gulf War." But there the similarities end--especially after one factors in the anachronistic weaponry and forms of combat in Verhoeven's movie, most of it derived from 40s and 50s war films, and the enemy's power to retaliate.
- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader
News tickers, streaming video, live feeds, web links: television news has truly embraced all that new media has to offer, resulting in the still-unfulfilled promise of viewer interactivity and, ultimately, content control. It’s no accident that FedNet (in and of itself titularly reminiscent of a website) is designed to resemble a network news homepage, complete with a spectral spectator guiding our digestion of Starship Troopers’s news with the visible click of a mouse. The film’s continual info-rally cry of “Would you like to know more?” is not merely a rhetorical question, it’s a commentary on society at large: past, present, and, in this case, future. We wouldn’t merely like to know more, the modern news consumer demands to know more. The news’ preoccupation with “liveness” (vampirically feeding off of the spectatorial paranoia of “missing something”) comes under close scrutiny in Starship Troopers. The public’s (real and fictional) ceaseless desire to be fed information takes on the apparent quality of media binging, with no purge in sight. There’s always more to know, thus there is more to fear, thus there is more to learn about what we have come to fear, and round and round the news ticker goes. What Starship Troopers promises, then, is a future where new media is no longer “new,” simply “media,” while simultaneously questioning what such technology has wrought, namely a news consumer who (much like the bugs themselves) is seemingly never satiated.
- Suzanne Scott, Reverse Shot
Verhoeven revels in his fascination with media presentation. Scenes like the parallel representations of the Klendathu attack, seen both from the mediated perspective of a news broadcast and the actual event taking place show how the media serve a "derealising function...how reality is distanced from us" (Telotte 1999-2000, 34). Shifting his focus away from television broadcast and video imaging, Verhoeven turns to a media technology that flourished after the release of Total recall: the internet, and particularly the central function it plays as a tool of propaganda. A Federation Mobile Infantry advertisement suggests: "to ensure the safety of our solar system, Klendathu must be eliminated". This is followed by a news story showing Bugs brutally attacking and dismembering humans, information that withholds the fact that the Terrans initiated the attack on Bug territory. Another net commercial (entitled "A world that works") shows the military displaying its latest weaponry to schoolchildren. As the kids take turns in fighting over the weapon and the soldiers laugh and distribute bullets, a voiceover narrator states: "citizen rule. People making a better tomorrow." Likewise, executions are advertised and broadcast through FedNet. Kids, through advertisments, are told to "do Your Part" and are seen hysterically stamping and squashing Bugs. Verhoeven states: "the point is simple, as well as a simply violent one: in this world, perceptions are always carefully guided, controlled, even obscured by video, teachers, by all of our training" (Telotte 1999-2000, 34).
In predicting future outcomes, Verhoeven also retraces the myth of America's frontier past. We are presented with Western allusions that include John Wayne-style dialogue ("saddle up!" and "come on you apes. Do you wanna live forever?"); the desert backdrop of Klendathu (that recalls the iconic wilderness expanses of Western landscapes such as Monument Valley); and dances and music, complete with toe-tapping fiddle music that plays to tune of "I wish I were in Dixie", harking back to movies such as John Ford's She wore a yellow ribbon(US 1949). In addition, we are also presented with battles that establish visual parallels between the American Indians and the Arachnids; forts such as Fort Joe Smith, which directly conjure images of the Western forts that housed cavalry communities and ensured protection from the Indians. The Arachnid planet, like the land of the American Indians, has been invaded by aggressive colonisers.
- Angela Ndalianis, Screening the Past
REVIEW OF 2008 SONY BLU-RAY DVD
Video: Of course, the sight of multiple battles with swarms of giant insects shows up Blu-ray's capabilities nicely. The Sony engineers use an MPEG-4/AVC, 1080p encode spread out over a dual-layer BD50 for maximum picture quality. Like its standard-definition counterparts, the high-def, 1.85:1 ratio transfer is bright and clear, with excellent object delineation, deep black levels, and strong contrasts and shadings. In addition to the movie's sharp focus, its hues are vivid and natural. Although facial close-ups are a tad soft, a fine film grain provides enough texture to add to the picture's realism.
But the clincher is comparing it to the Superbit edition, which I had previously thought was quite good. And I guess it is...for standard definition. But switching between the Superbit (upscaled) and the BD, the high definition refinement becomes even more apparent. The Superbit looks faded, washed out, blurred, and jaggy by comparison. The Blu-ray looks crisper, cleaner, sharper, richer, deeper, more detailed, you name it. Faces look a bit smoothed out in both editions, so nothing seems lost in the new translation.
- John J. Puccio, DVD Town
The audio is equally impressive, as it features a bombastic and immersive Dolby TrueHD track that quite simply rocks the house! The surrounds are constantly active, and since this absurd futuristic thrill fest features so much bug splattering mayhem and outrageous violence (not to mention explosions), it is a disc you will want to put in to impress. The dialogue always comes through clear, never rendered inaudible and it sounds better than I even expected. This is certainly the version of "Starship Troopers" fans have been waiting for.
- Chris Thompson, DVD Review
In a clear improvement over the UK disc, Sony's Blu-ray carries over almost all of the bonus features from the out-of-print 2-disc Special Edition DVD released in 2002.
- Audio Commentary with Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier – Recorded for the original laserdisc and DVD releases of the movie back in 1998, this track finds the director and screenwriter spending a lot of time defending the film from criticism. Verhoeven's commentaries are often hit-or-miss in quality. He needs a strong moderator to keep the discussion on track, or else he tends to lose focus and let the conversation drift into dull tangents. Neumeier does a pretty good job in that regard, though there is an infamous stretch where Verhoeven gets stuck in a "Digital Johnny, real Johnny, digital Johnny, real Johnny, digital Johnny…" loop for a few minutes when explaining how a big visual effects sequence was created.
- Director and Cast Commentary – Verhoeven returned for this later track recorded in 2002. Here he's joined by stars Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, and Neil Patrick Harris. The group has a good rapport, but nobody came prepared with anything in particular they wanted to say about the movie, and they all wind up straining to remember anecdotes about the production. NPH (before he came out!) makes a few wisecracks about the hot chicks in the cast.
- Death from Above (SD, 32 min.) – This excellent documentary from Automat Pictures covers the movie's WWII influences, its use of irony, the changes made from the Robert Heinlein book (which is referred to respectfully, even though the movie ruthlessly satirizes everything Heinlein wrote about and believed in), and the negative critical reaction. Screenwriter Neumeier explains his concept for the picture: "I just had in mind that Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue go to outer space and fight giant bugs and become Nazis." That pretty much sums it up.
- The Making of Starship Troopers (SD, 8 min.) – Recycled from the first DVD, this is typical EPK fluff with the expected cast and crew interviews. The piece provides a cursory look at the models and visual effects, as well as a glimpse of Verhoeven acting like a maniac on set.
- The Spaceships of Starship Troopers (SD, 4 min.) – Coverage of the concept and design for the starships, the use of miniatures, the CGI, lighting, and early animatic renderings.
- Bug Test Film: Don't Look Now (SD, 1 min.) – A pretty cool proof-of-concept test sequence featuring a random actor interacting with CGI bugs.
- Know Your Foe (SD, 17 min.) – Broken into five segments that can be watched individually or with a "Play All" option, here we're given information about the design and execution of each of the bug species. The brain bug is referred to as "a cross between Orson Welles and a grub."
- FX Comparisons (SD, 29 min.) – Raw production footage and animatics are shown contrasted against the final visual effects. It gets kind of boring after a couple minutes.
- Scene Deconstructions with Paul Verhoeven (SD, 8 min.) – Preliminary scene animatics, storyboards, and behind-the-scenes material. In his commentary, Verhoeven likes to point out the difference between live action and digital footage over and over again.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 8 min.) – All five of these scenes that were deemed unworthy of the final cut feature Denise Richards. Are we expected to believe that's a coincidence? Casper Van Dien gets to feel her up in one of them. I bet he needed a lot of takes to get that one right.
In addition to all of the above, Sony has added a few new interactive features to the Blu-ray. In order to access all of them, your Blu-ray player must be Profile 2.0 compatible.
Will Work in Any Blu-ray Player
- Blu-Wizard – A common feature on previous Sony Blu-rays, Blu-Wizard allows you to select a series of the supplement featurettes from a checklist to watch in uninterrupted sequence rather than one at a time. You can also choose to view them during the movie playback. However, this is not a picture-in-picture function. The movie will pause and then branch out to each video segment, ultimately dragging out the length of the movie.
- Recruitment Test – This silly set-top game asks a number of questions to determine your rank in the future military. The better your knowledge of the movie, the more likely you are to make pilot or Military Intelligence. The game is rather pointless and dumb.
Bonus View: Requires Profile 1.1
- FedNet Mode – This Picture-in-Picture feature places a border around the screen cleverly designed to mimic the FedNet broadcasts seen in the movie. Interviews and trivia facts will pop-up in small windows while the film plays. Some of the interviews are recent and others are extensions of those seen in the older featurettes, but all are new to the disc, with no outright repetition of content from the other supplements. Verhoeven states right up front that he thinks the Heinlein novel is Fascist propaganda. Pretty much everyone interviewed has a funny story to tell about working with the director (especially when it came to the famous shower scene). There are a few frustrating gaps here and there, but overall this is one of the better PiP features available on Blu-ray to date.
BD-Live: Requires Profile 2.0
- Put Yourself in the Movie: Join the Fight! – Kudos to Sony for incorporating genuine BD-Live content on the disc. Unfortunately, the "Put Yourself in the Movie" feature is just about the cheesiest thing I've ever seen in my life. Here's how it works: Via the disc's BD-Live option, access the Sony web portal. Using an agonizingly slow keypad simulator, you can register and have instructions for uploading a personal photo emailed to you. Follow the sizing recommendations as carefully as you can. Then go back into BD-Live and align your face onto an animated trooper's body (male or female). When you return to the disc's main menu, you will find a new option in the Bonus Features menu to view a half dozen clips from the movie (about 20 seconds each) where your cartoon avatar will pop into the frame, pasted on top of the live action footage, usually out of scale with the surroundings, and standing there stiff as a board. In some scenes it shoots a gun… while pointing towards the camera, even though the bugs it's supposed to be shooting at are behind it. It looks utterly stupid and ridiculous. To accomplish all this takes about an hour, and the affected clips run for a grand total of two minutes.
- Download Exclusive Ringtones – Seriously, who cares?
Also included are some previews for unrelated Sony titles.
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
A few items from the Special Edition DVD didn't make the transition to Blu-ray. Missing are some filmographies, storyboard comparisons, a theatrical trailer, the isolated score with commentary by composer Basil Poledouris, and a rather extensive gallery of conceptual art drawings. The Poledouris commentary is a big loss, considering that he has passed away since recording it. The conceptual art galleries were also quite interesting, and featured a number of preliminary designs (including power armor!) that were radically changed by the time the movie went into production.
- Josh Zyber, Hi-Def Digest
- Matt Brighton, DVD Authority
- Clark Douglas, DVD Verdict
- Dan Lopez, Digitally Obsessed
REVIEW OF 2002 COLUMBIA TRI-STAR DVD
The first Starship Troopers disc release was one of the very first discs I bought not long after getting my very first DVD player, and I remember labeling it as the first great looking movie on DVD I had experienced. This superb re-release is very much, from what I can tell, no different from the first disc, therefore remaining one of the most superior transfers you will ever encounter in this format. The picture image is nothing short of astonishing, never faltering for a single second. The futuristic setting is perfectly rendered and enhanced for this superb digital viewing, and colors deliver in every detail, as well. Quite simply one of CTS’s most shining moments in the history of DVD.
Again, no different from the original release, and Starship Troopers remains one of the true best, if not THE best, audio tracks I’ve ever heard. The 5.1 audio mix delivers in every imaginable aspect. First off, Basil Poledouris’s brilliant score to the film stands out as perhaps the single best musical score ever transferred to the DVD format. The sound of gunfire acquires about a good 70% of the movie, providing a remarkable opportunity for immense and rapid pick up. The attack sequences alone are one of the history books in terms of audio quality. Once again, illustrative proof that CTS is proud of this film, because they have applied perhaps their best transfer of all time here.
The original disc did have its share of extras, but none exactly at four-star level. This new Special Edition 2-disc set delivers the goods, with a galaxy-conquering feat of superbly conceived extras.
Disc 1 contains three commentary tracks: the original commentary by Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier, a new commentary track with cast members Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer and Neil Patrick Harris, and a new isolated music score with commentary by Basil Poledouris.
Disc 2 is endless with extras. Included is a new documentary titled “Death from Above”, two featurettes: “Know Your Foe”, and “The Starships of Starship Troopers”. Also featured are special effects and storyboard comparisons, a Vintage Featurette: “The Making of Starship Troopers”, conceptual art galleries, Scene Deconstructions with commentary by Paul Verhoeven, Deleted Scenes, Screen Tests, and trailers.
This Special Edition release also contains by far the most impressive use of menu screens I have seen thus far this year, making it a solid candidate at next year’s DMC Awards.
Sci-fi movies hardly get as fun and entertaining as Starship Troopers, which for me, forever remains of the best discoveries of the genre. Credit should to Paul Verhoeven for going all out with this bloody good masterpiece of visual effects and violence.
- Gordon Justesen, DVD Movie Central
INTERVIEWS WITH PAUL VERHOEVEN
DRE: I spoke to Takashi Miike a few years ago and I was surprised to find out that his favorite film is Starship Troopers.
Paul: That’s very nice. I always thought the movie was badly understood. There was an article in The Washington Post when it came out that was not written by a movie critic. One of the editors wrote it saying that this was a neo-Nazi movie and I was promoting Fascism. That same article was published in all the European newspapers. When I went to do the publicity tour in Europe, everybody was already looking through that lens. The Washington Post is not a reliable newspaper anyway but they said the film was written by a neo-Nazi or a Fascist and directed by one. I strongly disagree with that. I saw it as a critique of American society. It is done in an ironic way but not pushing it very hard, which I hate because then it becomes dogmatic and becomes something else other than filmmaking. It was more that the novel by Robert Heinlein is very militaristic and has a tendency to be pro-Fascist a bit. We took a lot of cues out of American society at that time, which was [President Bill] Clinton, not realizing that a couple years later this whole situation would be much more acute and now you can put the film as a blueprint over Iraq or Afghanistan. But of course, I didn’t know of bin Laden at that time.
- Interviewed by Daniel Robert Epstein for Suicide Girls
Basic Instinct was a terrific film noir and a vivid portrayal of contemporary American society. But you got flak for having a lesbian villain, the homicidal novelist played by Sharon Stone. Making science-fiction films solves the problem of the villain, doesn't it? Whoever you have as a villain today, some group will be upset, but if you have bugs--
We were very well aware of that. At least we had a politically correct enemy here. We could all say, "These guys are really evil, and killing them is good." We cannot say that about any human enemy anymore, because everybody is seeing the other side now, at least a bit more than they did forty years ago. But Starship Troopers is reflecting a little bit the situation in the second World War, when the Americans were fighting the Japanese and the Germans. Basically, the enemy was evil and had to be destroyed. Nobody had time or even could bring himself to [face] the fact that these were also human beings, motivated by other thoughts, but as human as ourselves. People had a strong tendency and inclination to deny that. The line in the movie, "The only good bug is a dead bug," was applied to the Japanese, wasn't it?
Originally it was applied to American Indians by General Philip H. Sheridan in 1869: "The only good Indian is a dead Indian."
Well, that's basically the same kind of thinking, that the enemy is not human.
When the bugs attack the fort in Starship Troopers, it's just like a scene in a Western, such as the scene in John Ford's Drums Along the Mohawk when the Indians are coming over the walls of the fort and the pioneers are trying to stop them.
It is a Western. It's a classical Western situation, absolutely. A lot of these cues were taken from Westerns and from movies like Gunga Din and The Charge of the Light Brigade. We studied these films. That is really American thinking, going back of course to the scriptwriter [of Starship Troopers, Ed Neumeier], who is American. I probably wouldn't have even thought about it that way. I know these movies, but it's a stronger part of his culture than mine.
The fascist society you portray also has some good aspects--racial mixing and the equality of men and women--which seems odd because in a fascist state you'd think they would be discriminating against people of color or against women.
Yeah, that's the interesting, disturbing thing. It's also a little bit looking at the fascist possibility even of American society. Because it's saying, "Under the surface there is always this possibility that you would get to a much more and more puritan state. Yes, you might abolish crime and, yes, you might get rid of all these things, but then are you aware how that can be achieved?" It doesn't interfere with the story, because I think the story is more about people that are really caring about each other. I don't think any of the characters, with the exception of Carl, express themselves in any fascistic way. They only believe in the citizenship [status awarded to warriors]. But they are supportive to each other; they are warm to each other; they sacrifice themselves for others. Our focus group in the movie is much more what you would call human, and not really, in my opinion, fascistic. That's the interesting thing--these [aspects] are correlated. And basically that's what I think about big societies like the American society. Look at the McCarthy period; that's a kind of a fascistic statement that was put forward, isn't it?
Even though the movie is R-rated, you know a lot of young kids are going to see it. Adolescents and teenagers will love this picture. Do you think they'll get the point about fascism?
No, not at all. I saw it in Sacramento with a very normal audience, and also in Granada Hills [California]. I feel that the most [young viewers] see is the kids with the guns. They all got the message; they all start laughing. They realize we're saying, "Everybody has a gun in this country." I think they all see the irony.
You don't think they will misinterpret it and think the young troopers are cool?
No, I didn't get that feeling at all. The exaggeration in the style goes so over the top, they realize we were, not spoofing, but looking at a hyperbole of reality. When I saw them getting excited in the movie, it was never about that. They got excited when Johnny [Casper Van Dien] was jumping on the Tanker Bug and blowing it to pieces. And when the bugs were attacking and the troops were holding the fortress. That's where I saw them really getting excited. That's where they participated. So I don't have the feeling that they would see it as a stimulation of fascistic feelings.
- From interview with Joseph McBride, Industry Central
ABOUT PAUL VERHOEVEN
Despite being embraced by the mainstream Hollywood system, Verhoeven has managed to retain a European sensibility. He has noted the lack of social critique in Hollywood product of recent years, viewing them as "all action, science fiction and over sentimental love stories". Then again, whereas European cinema may have more of a focus on social commentary, Verhoeven "finds these films exceedingly boring" (Van Sheers 1996, xii). Drawing on the best of both worlds, many of his American works immerse audiences in action and science fiction (SF) worlds - even "over-sentimental love stories" - but this always drapes itself over a biting social critique.
With the exceptions of his foray into film noir with Basic instinct and the underrated Showgirls, it is the SF works - RoboCop, Total recall,Starship troopers and Hollow man - for which Verhoeven is best known, and which form the subject of this essay. On his attraction to the SF genre, he has stated:
when I went to the United States to work, I knew that I did not know enough about the nuances of American culture to reflect it in film. I didn't want to have to worry about breaking rules of American society or making mistakes because I was not aware of certain expressions or social behaviour. I felt more secure working in science fiction. (Hollow man: Production Notes, n.p.)Like other European directors who were embraced by the Hollywood system - Fritz Lang, William Wyler, Douglas Sirk and, more recently, Roland Emmerich - Verhoeven's strength lies in his manipulation of generic systems, reflecting both an insight into and a ruthless critique of the American culture that has embraced him. Verhoeven's primary subversive tool comes from creating a dialogic relationship between SF conventions and other generic codes, in particular those of the Western.
- Angela Ndalianis, Screening the Past
THE MOVIE VS. ROBERT HEINLEIN'S NOVEL
Wikipedia entry for Heinlein's novel
Paradoxically, Heinlein's tiresome but genuinely American 1959 novel reveals a good deal more of international life than Verhoeven's ersatz American movie. But that's because 38 years of American history--including the cold war and its aftermath and the passage from both nationalism and internationalism to multinationalism--separate these two versions of the Good Fight. In the novel, boot camp for the fighting youth of earth's galactic empire includes the son of a Japanese colonel working on his black belt and two Germans with duelling scars; Johnnie Rico himself, also known as Juan, is the son of a Filipino tycoon and in one of the novel's delayed revelations turns out to be black. Boot camp in the movie, by contrast, is basically American white-bread with a few multicultural trimmings--a reflection of neither the 50s nor the 90s but an incoherent mishmash of the two. Boot camp is also coed, which is presumably supposed to reflect the future. (The novel featured women pilots, but not unisex showers and sleeping quarters.)
As critic H. Bruce Franklin rightly points out in his 1980 book Robert A. Heinlein: America as Science Fiction, the writer's "right-wing" militarism actually reflects the liberal ideology of John F. Kennedy, who was elected president a year after the novel was published. The armed force in Starship Troopers anticipates the creation of the elite Green Berets; Kennedy's signature "Ask not what your country can do for you" speech also seems to come straight out of the novel. Written as Heinlein's 13th in a juvenile series for Scribner's (a series celebrating the conquest of space whose first filmic incarnation was the
1950 DestinationMoon, adapted from Rocket Ship Galileo), the book was rejected for its extreme and unapologetic militarism, then published as an adult novel by Putnam. It's another indication of how much we've changed in 38 years that adults in 1959 had the quaint notion of shielding teenage boys from this sort of thing--though the novel lacked most of the movie's graphic gore (which is now aimed at them).
Franklin also points out that Starship Troopers--which is as steeped in cold war ideology as Heinlein's 1951 The Puppet Masters, and thus in striking contrast to his neo-hippie and neo-communist Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)--suggests that the alien bugs represent Chinese communists and that another humanoid race (the "Skinnies," omitted in the movie) reflects Russian communists. In fact the novel is crammed with pompous lectures about the communist menace and the errors of KarlMarx, most of them linked to the bugs' "hive" mentality--which makes it all the more ironic that the classless military utopia Heinlein proffers as an ideal alternative is no less socialist and totalitarian. The movie actually intensifies this paradox by showing how impossible it is for Johnny to speak to his girlfriend or his parents on the videophone without all his bunk mates being present.
- Jonathan Rosenbaum, The Chicago Reader
I can't say that Heinlein's vision of war as the best crucible for the formation of good character ever persuaded me, but it was sobering, powerful, consistent and impossible to dismiss -- and it made "Starship Troopers" memorable to this day. The author's twists on old military-adventure-tale clichés were merely imaginative; the severity and anger behind the book's ideas were, in the field of science fiction, unique.
I know how tiresome it can be for critics to compare movies unfavorably to the books they're based upon. But in this case it's essential for an understanding of what goes wrong with Paul Verhoeven's new movie of "Starship Troopers." In this bizarrely discordant mixture of ultraviolent action footage, bad acting, crisp special effects and futuristic camp, the remnants of Heinlein's rhetoric of military pride stick out like a grimy Marine uniform at a high-toned Hollywood party.
Heinlein's writing sneered at the soft, easily deluded civilians and celebrated the male-bonded esprit de corps of his futuristic Mobile Infantry -- Green Berets of the future who dropped, paratrooper-style, onto enemy planets in powered suits, kept to tight formations, rained destruction on their foes and returned to their spaceships, all in a matter of minutes. Verhoeven's contempt draws no such distinctions; everyone in the movie is kind of dumb -- not least the Mobile Infantry themselves. Far from an elite, they come off as hapless, ill-disciplined grunts who can't wait for the battle to end so they can discard their machine-guns-on-steroids, roll out some beers and hop in the sack with their svelte comrades. (For a far more imaginative vision of a gender-blind military, see "Aliens.")
There's nothing wrong with good satire -- but it's self-defeatingly stupid to inject it into any story that expects us to care what happens to the characters. The creators of successful latter-day space operas, from "Star Wars" to "Independence Day," have always understood this. Nothing in "Starship Troopers" carries the conviction of the Force or even "Independence Day's" rah-rah-for-mankind idealism; the movie can't commit to the militarism it inherited from Heinlein, and it never finds a different ideal to substitute.
- Scott Rosenberg, Salon, November 7 1997
Paul Verhoeven's film Starship Troopers is on target for depicting Robert Heinlein's novel as a "fascist utopia." Did that get your attention, Heinlein fans?
Now, before you track me down and send me hate mail, yes, I have read the book.
"A lot of casual readers of the novel have a vague militaristic, fascist idea. It's not supported by the book," says James Gifford, a writer and publisher of numerous works about Heinlein.
Bill Patterson, editor of the Heinlein Journal, agrees, saying that "it's hard to find anything in the book that tends in the direction of fascism."
People hear the word "fascism" and get angry. It conjures images of an oppressive police state that's out to conquer the world -- Hitler, Mussolini, eugenics, the cult of the nation, 1984.
What do the dictionaries say?
Militarism, totalitarianism, aggressiveness, nationalism, plus a racist doctrine. By these definitions, Heinlein's Federation is a fascist government -- seductively, perhaps compellingly portrayed.
Aggressive, racist and belligerent. What I found most alarming -- and fascinating -- about Heinlein's novel was how he imagined a fascist society that incorporated these awful ideas, but worked all the same.
Heinlein showed me an intensely nationalistic, aggressively militaristic, totalitarian and racist ("speciesist?") society, and in spite of everything I believe in, I liked what I saw. When Verhoeven's film demonstrated the same traits in the source material, fans rejected it.
- Robert Peterson, Space.com
Starship Troopers isn't really a book about the military, being a soldier, or even government; it's a book about civic virtue, and what distinguishes a citizen -- in the sense of one who recognizes that with rights come responsibilities, and that the two are proportional -- from a non-citizen. The military is a good model for this discussion, because it involves (at least theoretically and, I think, usually in practice, at least in the US) a relatively straightforward instance of consciously placing the interests of your society above your own personal interests.
The differences between Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers and Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers can be grouped into two major categories: material and philosophical.
Materially, there are several ways in which Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers is an inaccurate rendition of Starship Troopers. First, and most noticeable to anyone who has read the book, is the total absence of powered armor. Verhoeven et al claim that it was left out of the $100 million movie because it would have been too expensive, and because they were unable to "do it right." So, instead of battlesuited MIs dropping from orbit, we have fairly conventionally equipped soldiers landed in contraptions that look an awful lot like freight containers.
Second, great liberties have been taken with the characterizations. Pivotal characters have been left out, unimportant characters have been "promoted" to star status, and new characters have been added. With the possible exception of the recruiting sergeant in the Federal building -- a role diminished in the movie to about three lines of dialogue -- none of the characters are recognizable as their book counterparts.
Third, the plot has been totally rewritten, so much so that only a few scenes here and there are reminiscent of the book, and in most cases even those scenes have been substantially reworked.
Overall, though, I am going to go on record -- against the vast majority of the Heinlein fans who have expressed outrage against the movie -- and say that these changes do not matter. Sure, I would love to have seen troopers with powered armor in a one-for-one translation of the book, but I understand why that couldn't happen. Different media have different strengths and weaknesses, and Starship Troopers, as written, makes a better book than it would a movie. Heck, one of the major surprises in the book -- that the fleet sergeant who captures the brain Bug during Johnny's OCS tour is Sergeant Zim -- works only because Heinlein doesn't tell us it's Zim until after the battle is over.
The differences that I think are important, on the other hand -- the differences which turn it from the same story told in a different medium into the book's Evil Twin (tm) -- are philosophical in nature, and are numerous and profound. The group making this movie clearly had their own agenda, and being faithful to their source wasnot part of it.
To begin with, while the Terran Federation in Starship Troopers is specifically stated to be a representative democracy, Ed Neumeier decided to make the government into a fascist state. This was not "doing justice to the author," no matter how many times Neumeier and Davison repeat this absurd claim. [Persons 1997; Sammon 1997; Warren 1997]
Second, the book was multi-racial, but not so the movie: all the non-anglo characters from the book have been replaced by characters who look like they stepped out of the Aryan edition of GQ.
Third, there is real element of sadism present in the movie which simply isn't present in the book... Sergeant Zim starts things out by asking the assembled recruits if any of them think they can beat him in a fight. One recruit, a good ol' boy named Breckinridge, accepts the challenge. In the process of sparing, Breckinridge is injured.
As presented in the book, the injury is clearly an accident:
The same scene in Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers plays out very differently. Zim has Breckenridge pinned by his arm, and he deliberately breaks the recruit's wrist.
Recently, though, it was pointed out to me that there was one area where Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers might actually be faithful to Heinlein's original: its treatment of women. In this movie, women and men appear to participate -- in sports, in academic work, and in the military -- on an equal footing. This is to be commended, even if it illustrates exactly how far short the movie falls in most other ways.
- Christopher Weuve, kentaurus.com