Thursday, 8 September 2011

Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven, 1997) Blu-Ray Mini-Review

Yeah, I think we'd better run... Casper Van Dien stars in Starship Troopers (1997)

Wickedly blending class politics, militarist satire and bloody bug-splattering action, Paul Verhoeven's sci-fi spectacular has gained a true cult following over the years, now regarded by some as the last great science-fiction film of our time. It's easily watched as a high-calorie slice of B-grade monster movie pie, but Starship Troopers actually works on multiple levels, and makes several interesting comments on the perception of war...

Consider it. The 'enemy' bugs are never defined characteristically, and the film keeps us ignorant to their origins and intentions. It seems clear in this futuristic world, where humanity has pioneered combat-equipped spacecraft and a military unit to boot, that we ignited the conflict. The Federation have the ability to mobilize and colonize, and my guess is that one day they discovered a primitive species which knew nothing of technology, and so sought to defend themselves. I propose that we started this war, yet the film is definitively one-sided in who its heroes are. The bugs are a (literally) faceless enemy, representing nothing but a threat on white middle-class life in a clean, fascist utopia. Free of litter, upward built, filled with smart, genetically beautiful people - this is a world that works, and I shudder to consider the secrets it has brushed under a governmental carpet to thrive in the way that it has. There's a good chance that we're the bad guys.

The film is loosely based on Robert A. Heinlein's 1959 novel Starship Troopers (originally published as a magazine serial under the title Starship Soldier), but pays little attention to its story or politics. Verhoeven has his eye turned to America, perfectly embodied by Casper Van Dien's patriotic chisel-jawed hero Rico. But the screenplay is also smart enough to create convincing human relationships, and despite some cornball lines and clichéd situations the love triangles and competitive camaraderie work well; they build up characters we care about, and whose fates bring weight to the action. Speaking of action - it's some of the best ever filmed. Mixing of state-of-the-art CGI with practical models, the film still looks absolutely breathtaking, and the siege set-piece (you'll never forget it) makes incredible use of space, employing impeccable mise-en-scène to get a geographical sense of the action, and gauge the intensity of the threat. It's action on an epic scale; bloody and exciting.

So, it turns out that Starship Troopers is worthy of its weighty reputation. Before tonight's viewing I hadn't seen the film since my adolescent Channel 5 years, when the satire flew right over my bug-eyed head. Now I see it for what it is: pure jingoistic camp, locked n' loaded and with tongue firmly in cheek. And boy, do I love it.

The Disc/Extras
Incredible image and sound; I'm constantly blown away by the clarity of Blu-Ray, and Starship Troopers is one of my best experiences to date. The special effects were first-class for their time, but what's remarkable is how well they stand next to some of today's blockbusters. I was forced to consider a few I'd seen this year - On Stranger Tides (Marshall, 2011) and Green Lantern (Campbell, 2011) for example - and Verhoeven's film looks better than all of them. Extras include scene specific commentary, a short Making Of doc, the original theatrical trailer and screen tests from Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards. A little vanilla, but solid enough.


  1. I saw this a few years back, and while I didn't love it, I'll concede it was a decent movie.

    I MUCH prefer Verhoeven's earlier stuff like TURKISH DELIGHT. Now that was a great movie.

  2. @Tyler

    I really need to get into his Dutch stuff, I hear nothing but great things. I'm particularly interested in 'Spetters' and 'The Fourth Man'.

  3. @ Michael: THE FOURTH MAN is good. Haven't seen SPETTERS.