Review: Starship Troopers (1997)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #739

Number of Views: Three
Release Date: November 7, 1997
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Satire
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $105,000,000
Box Office: $121,200,000
Running Time: 129 minutes
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Producers: Jon Davison, Alan Marshall
Screenplay: Edward Neumeier
Based on Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlei
Special Effects: John Richardson
Visual Effects: Scott Squires, Jim Rygiel
Cinematography: Jost Vacano
Score: Basil Poledouris
Editing: Mark Goldblatt, Caroline Ross
Studios: TriStar Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Jon Davison Productions
Distributors: Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, Buena Vista International
Stars: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Muldoon, Clancy Brown, Michael Ironside, Seth Gilliam, Bruce Gray, Marshall Bell, Eric Bruskotter, Brenda Strong, Christopher Curry, Lenore Kasdorf, Denise Dowse, Amy Smart

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Whistle “(Nothing Serious) Just Buggin”

[2] Basil Poledouris “Klendathu Drop”

[3] Zoe Poledouris “Into It”

[4] Basil Poledouris “The Rescue”

I reckon I speak for the majority when saying that the only good bug is a dead bug. The insect species are beneath us right? Both figuratively and quite literally, they’re little more than ground level grubs and therefore should be treated only with contempt and perhaps just a slither of pity. Actually I was raised not to harm a single one of God’s creatures regardless of size or stature and, generally speaking, tow the line on that one rather well. That said, while an arachnid over half the size of my clenched fist is well within its rights to share a room with me, creep too close to my proximity and I know precisely where the vacuum cleaner is and will think nothing whatsoever of firing it up. You see, humans and insects were never designed to mix. Just ask Seth Brundle – it’s all fun and games until your right ear slides down your cheek.

One thing I certainly won’t be culpable of is taking them lightly. Granted, they may not be graced with the ability to engage in the kind of pursuits we humans do, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be extraordinary. For instance, were you aware that night butterflies have tiny little ears on their wings to detect any bats in the vicinity? How cool is that? Meanwhile, Monarch caterpillars have been known to grow to over 2700 times their original size, a large enough swarm of locusts can consume up to 20,000 tonnes of grain in a single day, the earliest fossilized cockroach predated dinosaurs by 80 million years, the honeybee travels over 40,000 miles to collect enough nectar for a pound of honey and have hair on their eyes, slugs possess four noses, common garden worms have five pairs of hearts, one out of 1,000 mosquitoes carries a disease fatal to humans, randy male spiders pluck their cobwebs like harps to attract the ladies, and over 80% of the Earth’s animals are insects. Is it any wonder they tire of being downtrodden?

It makes you wonder what would happen if they all decided to attack simultaneously. No offence guys, but I still wouldn’t like your chances. That said, the bugs of far away orb, Klendathu, aren’t your everyday nondescript scuttlers and it appears that they’ve had about as much as they can take of mankind’s constant prodding and poking. Intelligence suggests that the intergalactic war raging as we speak comes as a direct result of foolish man’s provocation. We just had to lift that rock didn’t we?

The thing is, down on Klendathu, size really does matter and they have no problem with throwing their weight about, having been disturbed from their regular insectoid duties. As savage with their pincers as they are unrelenting coming forward, these particular bugs are doing a fairly sound job of kicking our asses into check. Humanity is learning a harsh lesson about humility and, save for a rousing eleventh-hour triumph, we’re pretty much fucked folks.

What we need right now are a fresh crop of young hopefuls; some spunky post-graduates looking for a new vocation in life and willing to both fight and die for the cause. Enter civilians, John “Johnny” Rico (Casper Van Dien), his best friend, Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), the girl he loves, Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), and the girl who loves him, Isabel “Dizzy” Flores (Dina Meyer) – four fresh-faced upstarts just gagging to get in on all this action. They appreciate that being granted citizenship is a distinct privilege and can only be achieved through active military service. Their skill sets may vary but each could prove incalculable in the territorial battle set to intensify a thousand fold.

“They’re doing their part. Are you? Join the Mobile Infantry and save the world. Service guarantees citizenship”

So are they doing their part? You betcha. Cool-headed Carmen is swiftly assigned to a battleship as a pilot, psychic smart cookie Carl naturally signs up for Military Intelligence, thunder-footed lightfoot Rico enlists in the Mobile Infantry (Whoo-ah!), and Dizzy can’t help but follow him onto the frontline like a love-sick puppy desperate to be petted.

Rico’s new pal and one-man Pepsodent billboard Pvt. Ace Levy (Jake Busey) may be all teeth but it’s game on for our grunts and, in no shit taking drill instructor Career Sgt. Zim (Clancy Brown), they have the ideal bishop for one helluva baptism in fire. Rico and his fellow roughnecks have signed their 1240-A, got their gear, and it’s a decidedly brisk stroll down to washout lane from there. God help ’em!

While Rico is having no trouble making a name for himself in his new clique of battle-hardened sheep for the dipping, being separated from the girl he adores is proving much tougher than he ever anticipated. To add lipstick to the shirt collar, he appears to have a challenger for Carmen’s affections in smug git Lt. Zander Barcalow (Patrick Muldoon), who frequently reminds her that out of sight should equate to out of mind.

Meanwhile, poor Dizzy’s doing everything short of gift-wrapping her vagina with all her very best efforts to woo her one true love amounting to fresh frown lines and diddly squat else. Apologies Rico for dropping out of formation but GET A FUCKING EYE DOG MAN! Is there even a choice to be made here?

“Funny how they always want to be friends after they rip your guts out”

Okay so let’s take a look at the facts shall we? Carmen dumped his sorry ass via Dear John face time transmission, shows the same degree of enthusiasm as a Morman (although she can admittedly pull off a mean three-point turn with a space cruiser), and I’d hedge a bet that Zander’s first action should he ever come face to face with his love rival would be to request Rico sniff his fingers.

Then we have Dizzy who suffers his shit because it’s her duty to do so, has never been anything less than supportive of his numerous questionable decisions, places his best interests and safety before her own, and kicks ass like the entire solar system is out of gum. Just kiss her you blathering idiot!

“This is for all you new people. I have only one rule. Everybody fights, no one quits. If you don’t do your job, I’ll kill you myself! Welcome to the Roughnecks!”

Shit must be going to hell as the federation have sweet-talked Lt. Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside) out of semi-retirement to lead this elite unit of jittery jarheads into the one battle that may well prove decisive. Fail here and the war will be all but over, whereas snatching a rare victory from the ever-gnashing jaws of defeat could mean grasping the all-important psychological upper hand.

He may have only one glove in his backpack, but Rasczak needs but one good arm to fist the enemy and, rumor has it, a spot may have just opened up for a corporal to wipe the slime off afterwards. Slightly off-topic but has anyone else noticed how troublesome Ironside seems to find it hanging onto anything below the elbow?

Originally titled Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine, the name Starship Troopers was licensed from a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein, published way back in 1959 and any tweaks then made accordingly. Amusingly, director Paul Verhoeven never actually made it more than two chapters through Heinlein’s book as he claimed it made him feel “bored and depressed” and anyone familiar with his body of work should be more than aware where he’s looking to pitch from. Biting satire comes naturally to him and it’s everywhere you look here, when those infernal bugs aren’t storming the fortress of course. Like Robocop, commercial breaks are commonplace, and every last ad and bulletin encourages a wry smile of acknowledgement from his audience.

Is it perfect? Were Robocop, Total Recall or Basic Instinct? All three certainly skirted with perfection but I would argue that the closest Verhoeven has ever come to that elusive perfect ten was his 2005 Nazi-wartime drama, Black Book. This film isn’t about crunching numbers, it’s about getting the job done and ensuring that a fun time is had by all. We’re never under any illusion who the enemy are as the word “bug” is spoken so contemptibly throughout that we feel ourselves growing more patriotic with every second spent in the trenches. However, this ain’t Forrest Gump and the kindest gift you can bestow on a fallen comrade in Verhoeven’s world is to riddle them with shrapnel before those bug-eyed fucks come back for sloppy seconds.

“Warm it up, everything you’ve got. C’mon you apes, you wanna live forever?

When you consider that Starship Troopers recently celebrated its 20th birthday, it is staggering how well it has aged. Granted, $105m buys you rather a lot of insect repellent, but even with such a wealth of on-screen skirmish, it’s hard to spot a solitary nickel that wasn’t well spent. Prepare yourself for no end of cheese ball dialogue and don’t go expecting any of the characters to be fleshed out past “Die you bug fuck, DIE!” and you’ll be rewarded with a film that positively crackles with testosterone-fueled energy from start to finish. So what do ya reckon fellow civilians – Want to know more? I hear Rico’s Roughnecks are always recruiting new blood so sign your 1240-A, get that gear, and I’ll see you in washout lane.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Whatever the Dutch word is for restraint, I presume Verhoeven was absent from class when they taught it, no doubt off pulling the wings off butterflies for his own sick amusement. On his battlefield, you can count yourself lucky being torn in half like a rag doll and tossed in two different directions and no amount of body armor can deny those wayward pincers their penetration. Should you wander into their hive and be captured, then prepare to have your brain well and truly picked, as no expense will be spared relieving you of all that weighty cerebral gloop.

For the Pelt-Nuzzlers: An extra fist bump to Verhoeven for shoehorning in a communal shower scene just to rinse off all that dried in ape sweat.

Read Robocop (1987) Appraisal
Read Basic Instinct Appraisal
Read Showgirls Appraisal
Read Hollow Man Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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