Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Starship Troopers

  Starship Troopers is a zany movie. Its essentially summarized as "Soldiers must wage war against giant alien bugs halfway across the galaxy."  But thats only half of the whole thing. Its equal parts in-your-face satire, and big sci-fi blockbuster.  Its heavy on symbolism and sly jabs at social commentary, and its also quite heavy on big budget special effects and lots of blood and gore.  Both aspects of the movie are insanely over the top. Theres no subtlety here. It may take several viewings to take it all in, but trust me.. just because this movie is the bluntest object in the whole tool shed, doesn't mean its not a whole lot of fun.

  The director has said that the casting of such pretty ideal young actors (with not alot of experience) was intentional.  I somehow get this. Some have critiqued the whole cast of being wooden. However, I just think it fits in a very odd and manufactured kind of way.  They're almost not even playing characters per se, it feels like they're playing archetypes of characters. Like, the young youth leaving home to join the military. We've seen it before. So in a way, Johnny Rico might as well be saying "John Hancock". Johnny Rico is not a character, he's an archetype.
It encompasses many different material views of the ideal action hero. Tall, muscular, blonde, blue-eyed, et. cetera...

   Most of the characters in the movie are like that. So, in a way, every actor's performance had to be blank enough for us to project our own ideas onto them. Or maybe I'm just reading into it, the director is saving face, and they're all just shitty actors. The story is pretty straight forward and serves as a broad all-encompassing coming of age tale too.  The youth of today, the heroes of tomorrow. Its a common phrase for those familiar with Starship Troopers. I can't remember if its ever actually said IN the movie, but it describes it pretty damn well. This trio of friend, young adults, fresh from high school (although they never look that young) ship out to join the Mobile Infantry and combat the intergalactic "arachnid" threat. Subsequently, they are forced to grow up through the most intense hardship ever.

   Friendships destroyed, lives lost, knee deep in blood and guts on the battlefield with people you hardly know... it'll change a person at their core. Unfortunately the physchological aspect and trauma of all this is sidestepped, the question "was joining up worth all this?" is never addressed. Mainly because by the time the end credits role, the narrative is so final in its unwavering satirical propaganda view on everything, we're not supposed to agree with any other answer but "Yes."...
So why even ask the question? These aren't complaints mind you, they're merely observations.

  If I had any actual complaints about Starship Troopers it would be how it never fully manages to find its footing. When you're in the big special effects laden action scenes, you forget about the satire and the social commentary, and when it snaps back, its jarring. It doesn't quite gel 100%. However, each on its own merit is done surprisingly well. The action scenes are incredibly thrilling and quite intense, the special effects, even over a decade later are still damn impressive, and everything has an immense sense of scale and scope.

  Massive CGI creatures feel and look like they inhabit the same space as the actors around it. This is a most impressive feat that even some very recent movies have failed to pull off. The least convincing effect in the movies is the CGI gore. It doesn't look... real. To be fair, few movies have ever pulled off CGI gore convincingly.  But all in all the part of Starship Troopers that would appeal to the summer blockbuster crowd, works perfectly. Its fast, fun, bloody, gross, and incredibly action packed. Lots of fun to be had here.

  Then on the other hand, we have the social commentary and satire. It shows a "perfect" society where almost everyone is handsome and happy.  Its also very communist, facist, and controlling. Does anyone look oppressed? No. But it certainly looks bland.
The ludicrous nature of a society like this actually working is boldly underlined in overly-satirical faux-commercials that kind of act like scene transitions. Bridging one scene to the next, and providing a look into this totalitarian society. "A Society That WORKS!".  As if they're trying to convince their own citizens.
The way the Mobile Infantry pretty much resembles the Nazis might be met with knowing nods, chalking it up to more satire, but what shocked me is how much the media attacked director Paul Verhoeven over this. Going so far as to call him "Pro-Facism".  The satire is so bold and obvious, I think it was TOO obvious, flying over audiences heads and critics alike, robbing them of half the experience here.

  In total, theres alot to take in with this movie, but that doesn't mean its hard to.  Its not hidden or burried under layers of subtext. Its right friggin there. In your face. So close in fact you may have to step back to see it.  But at the same time, if you want to turn off your brain and take in the movie as a big intergalactic space faring adventure, it works just as well like that. A massive sci-fi romp through the galaxy waging war with giant alien space bugs. Lots of fun. Reccomended for a saturday night and of course, with popcorn at the ready.

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