Monday, July 18, 2011

Starship Troopers: An Unauthorized Documentary

Oh Paul Verhooven...

How have you stayed off my radar for so long? After all you have made a few decent movies (Robocop for the win) and some really bad ones (Showgirls). So how is it that you have avoided my wrath?

Because Robocop is awesome and Peter Weller wins at life. If you haven't seen Naked Lunch, I highly recommend that you do...immediately.

Unfortunately, I am not going to review Robocop 2 and Robocop 3 (though I assure you their day will be coming). I will instead be reviewing Starship Troopers as part of our God Bless America Month.

A Sci-Fi/Action/War film with Denise Richards, Barney Stinson and Casper Van Dien...oh shit.

Let me get into a little back story before I review this film. This movie is based off of Robert Heinlen's novel of the same name (I use the term "based" very loosely here). Robert Heinlen's novel is great and if you get a chance to read it, please do, but the thing is the movie is vastly different from the book. Now usually that would be seen as a bad thing, but in this case, it's a really interesting execution. I am not saying that Starship Troopers is shit (it's not a masterpiece but it's not a terrible film, you will understand why I say that at the end of this review), it's just that it's really campy and enjoyable in its own way.

If Robert Heinlen lived long enough to see the film adaptation of his novel, I bet his first reaction would be "What the fuck did I just watch?"

Thing is, when Paul Verhooven was reading the novel, he thought that it was too depressing and decided to write his own version of how Starship Troopers should go (he basically enlisted a screenwriter to write a fanfiction version of Heinlen's work). The result is a campy film with Barney Stinson and Charlie Sheen's equally bat shit insane ex-wife. I wish I made this shit up.

On to the review then!

So the movie begins with our hero Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), his best friend Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris, oh fuck it you're either going to call him "Dougie Houser" or "Barney Stinson" so we might as well go for either name at this point. I prefer Barney Stinson because it's Neil Patrick Harris' most recent role) and his brainiac yet unreasonably hot girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards, who can't act her way out of a paper bag) as they are getting ready to graduate from high school in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the distant future of...they don't really say in the movie don't they, so I'm just going to make up a year and say 2099. Also, I'm not saying people can't be smart and pretty, they can be, but I have trouble believing that Denise Richards is smart, was Natalie Portman not available at the time...oh wait Portman was a teenager at the time this movie came out wasn't she, never mind!

Ibanez: Oh Johnny this is getting me hot!
Johnny:...Honey, I don't not want to know what you have planned for after the prom tonight!

In their group of friends we are also introduced to Dizzy Flores (the very beautiful Dina Meyers, who you may remember from Johnny Mnemonic and from the Saw movies) who has the biggest girl boner for Johnny Rico, despite the fact that he's with Carmen. Talk about a Bizarre Love Triangle (New Order reference for the win). Anyway, Johnny, Carmen and Barney (I know his name is Carl, but for the purposes of humor, I am going to call him Barney and make a lot of How I Met Your Mother jokes) take their military examinations and Carmen and Barney do very well, but Rico is not so lucky as he scores pretty low and the only place that will take him is the Mobile Infantry, while Carmen heads for the Space Fleet and Barney gets assigned to Military Intelligence.

Why yes I would like to know more, because you are legen...wait for it...dary!

So Rico enlists in Mobile Infantry much to the dismay of his mother in which he politely tells his mom to go fuck herself and runs off anyway to serve his country proudly. 

Another thing I forgot to mention is that the film also has some propaganda reels throughout the film, exactly like the old military news reels that movie theaters used to show back in the early days of cinema. Keep that in mind because I will go back to those films later. 

While Rico is in the line up with his fellow troops, he is getting chewed out by his superior officer Zim, played by...the Kurgen?! Clancy Brown is in this?! Awesome! Anyway, the Kurgen is chewing the new recruits a new one as Dizzy makes her way to the line up.

Although to be fair...she could pass for M. Bison's hot daughter.

Dizzy decides to show everyone how big her ovaries are by challenging the Kurgen and he agrees. Unfortunately she gets he ass handed to her, but the fact that she challenged the Kurgen and survived, the woman has some serious ovaries on her. I actually like Dizzy a lot better than Carmen because at least the woman doesn't take shit from anybody.

Anyway, joining alongside Rico and Dizzy is Jake Busey. Yes, Jake Busey, Gary Busey's son.

The guy with the green violin...yes him...he's in this movie too.

Anyway, Rico shows natural leadership qualities and is promoted to squad leader, but then things begin to get really bad for him at this point. Rico's relationship with Carmen ends when she tells him that she has decided to go become a full-time fleet commander, much to the dismay of Rico and his fellow troops. I think this is one of those things where Carmen should have told Rico in person that their relationship couldn't continue due to the fact that she wants a career, but I guess humiliating him through a video message in front of his fellow troops does the job just as well. I must say that is a bitch move. Then Rico makes the wrong call during a firing exercise, which gets one of his squad members killed, which results in him getting flogged and demoted. Feeling defeated, he decides to call his parents and tells them that he's coming home when the Arachnids launch a meteoroid at Buenos Aries, which kills millions including his parents. Sheesh talk about a bad week.

This turn of events gives Rico the resolve to rescind his resignation and stay in Mobile Infantry and fight the Arachnids in Klendathu.

Wait a minute...this is sounding a little all too familiar.

Anyway, Rico's squad is sent to the first assault on Klendathu which turns out to be a complete disaster. As a result, Rico gets wounded in action but he is mistaken for dead, which upsets Carmen. Rico then joins The Roughnecks alongside with Dizzy and Ace as they embark on a reconnaissance mission on Planet "P" (they couldn't come up with a name that starts "p", this movie is starting to run out of names at this point) as they get ambushed by the Arachnids.

Let's consider the odds so far at this point. The squad is failing horribly against the Arachnids.

These things are "Arachnids."

They basically went in blind to defeat the enemy without any concrete strategy what so ever.

At least they didn't break into a song and dance number.

I knew it! This film is obviously an a allusion to the Vitetnam War and to the war in Iraq! Trust me, I will explain all of this in due time. 

So anyway, Rico's high school teacher, who is also his commander gets killed as does Dizzy in the ambush and a memorial service commences. Just wonderful, the movie decides to kill off one of the few strong female characters that I like and yet decides to keep that dumb ass Denise Richards alive. I really need to save Hollywood from destroying itself. During the funeral, Rico reconnects with Carmen and Barney as he says to Rico that they need to capture the brain bug, so that they could study the enemy's weaknesses. Rico agrees as the Roughnecks go in to take them down, but while that is happening, the Arachnids take down Carmen and Zander's ship (yeah I forgot to mention Zander because he's not going to last long in the movie), but they managed to get into the escape pod and land in the cave with the brain bug.

All your base are belong to the Arachnids!

As I mentioned before, Zander gets killed by the brain bug as Carmen manages to stab the brain bug giving Rico and the Roughnecks the ample opportunity they need to rescue her, but they need to get away from the Arachnids. Watkins gets injured by the Arachnids and decides to sacrifice himself to save the others. Thankfully they all make it out alive as it turns out the Zim or the Kurgen, has demoted himself to Private so that he can capture the brain bug, thus reuniting Barney, Carmen and Rico, and our movie ends with a propaganda film telling everyone to join the army and fight the Arachnids.

It's just like How I Met Your Mother, except with killer bugs and interplanetary relations.

So how does Starship Troopers hold up? 

It's campy as hell. Provided that it was very loosely "based" from it's source material and directed by the same man who directed Showgirls, it's actually not that bad. It's not a cinematic masterpiece, but it's enjoyable enough to be a guilty pleasure. The propaganda reels that were prevalent throughout the film actually added to the camp factor and were meant to be a parody of the army recruitment commercials that you sometimes see on TV. So the film is mocking the blatant patriotism and jingoism in our culture. There's also the fact that the film actually alludes to the Vietnam War and the Iraq War in many ways. I am sure that Paul Verhooven had no idea that his film would later serve to be a parallel to the war on terror, either that or he traveled in time to the future and then came back to 1997 and decided to film this movie. 

What I mean is that the Infantry had no idea who they were dealing with, hence the disasters on Klendathu and Planet "P," much like the Americans when they invaded Vietnam and Iraq and had no idea who they were dealing with. They had to capture the brain bug in order to gain intelligence on how to kill the fucking things, and this is where the "War on Terror," comes in as the US Troops had to capture key members of Al Qaida in order to figure out, locate and eventually capture and kill Osama bin Laden.    

As for the film itself, it's a standard military/action/sci-fi film. The acting is a little hokey and cheesy at best, especially with Denise Richards and Casper Van Dien on screen, but it's also nice to see Clancy Brown, Dina Meyers and Neil Patrick Harris play their parts well and I honestly think that Clancy Brown and Neil Patrick Harris actually had a good time making this film. The special effects and the Arachnids themselves look really good and there isn't too much use of the CGI, which is always a plus for me. Even the special effects make up is excellent and that is something you don't really see in movies these days. 

As for the plot, it deviates so much from the book that most fans of the novel will understandably despise this movie with a passion, but maybe deviating from the novel isn't always a bad thing at all. The original novel was very depressing and criticized the glamorization of military life in popular culture by highlighting how rough the troops had it, not to mention it drew many parallels to the Vietnam Conflict and the novel (in true Heinlen fashion) did not have a happy ending. In some ways, the movie does that, but it also makes fun of the military life, the attitudes surrounding this type of lifestyle and criticizes our rampant blind patriotism and jingoism, it was just done in a different way and it came out more campy than serious, but in some ways the film knows exactly what it is and what audience it's catering to. It knew that it was a campy sci-fi film and they rolled with it, which is fine by me.

Overall, the movie is a guilty pleasure and if you are looking for some campy sci-fi fun that makes fun of our jingoistic culture, then look no further than this film. It's worth checking out as well as the novel when you get the chance.

My name is Maricruz Gonzalez and I'm the Movie Bitch...because somebody has to be.

Stay Sassy Planet Earth.

Check out the article that inspired me to re-watch this film again (it's a good read):
6 Mind Blowing Ways "Starship Troopers" Predicted The Future


  1. Very funny review. I used to like the film a lot more than I do now. Paul V has done much better elsewhere though.

  2. I love it!!! Your review was spot on. Keep up the excellent work.

  3. Thank you, I appreciate the feedback. I feel that this one of those films in which the deviations from the book actually work in its favor. This is actually one of his better films, albeit campy.