Saturday, February 1, 2014

Starship Troopers

  While I realize Starship Troopers isn't the masterpiece I've often wished it was, that doesn't mean it's not a damn fine piece of entertainment nonetheless. It's a tongue in cheek satire that's often at odds with it's sci-fi extravaganza nature. In a way. Director Paul Verhoeven strikes a balance of cliche, cheese, sincerity, and big budget spectacle that's honestly rather infectious. On one hand, the makers of Starship Troopers would like you to think the movie is an intelligent and clever satire about fascism and war... And on the other hand, it is a satire about communism and war, but it's hardly intelligent and sparingly is it ever clever. It's far too on the nose to be clever. Which leaves most people thinking it's a shallow piece of big budget dreck.

  There was a time I would argue tirelessly against those people, who are still kinda wrong, but I slowly realized that this movie's appeal will never lie in the satire. When I sit down to recommend this movie to a friend, the first thing I always talk about is the action and special effects. There's something about seeing hundreds of soldiers in their well designed, Nazi-esque, futuristic, combat armor fighting giant alien bugs that is simply loads of fun. It appeals to the young boy in me who would love drawing stuff like that all the time. Space soldiers versus giant alien bugs? Sold! Try pitching that to a more matured crowd. "Oh hey, this movie with the space soldiers fighting the giant bugs? Yeah it's also a satire." You're gonna get a lot of unsure sidelong stares.

  You can't market this movie to anyone outside of the group of people who're only coming for the special effects and the violence. It just doesn't work like that. The massive droves of preteens that saw and loved Starship Troopers have grown up to appreciate the satire and such because they've seen it so many times. They find new things to love about it. And the ones who haven't discovered the satirical elements, see this as a legitimate war movie. A personal friend of mine holds this movie in the same regard as Full Metal Jacket. If you gave him a chance, he'd personally sign up for the mobile infantry. Which... is basically what the movie is preaching against. Yet, all the good looking, cookie cutter heroes in the movie, that we're encouraged to root for... are in the mobile infantry. They march around with gusto and military pride, the blast their way through thousands of killer aliens, and they look good doing it. Go ahead. Convince a 13 year old kid that these guys are the assholes.

  For a movie that's trying to say these guys are essentially heartless Nazis... isn't doing a good job convincing the only audience it has of that. There were even action figures and toys released to tie in with the movie. Even further undermining it's shred of intelligence and wit. Yet, all that is irrelevant. Why? Because these cool space soldiers are fighting giant alien bugs! Some can bite a grown man in half! Some have wings that can cut your head clean off! Some spray fiery acid from their head! ...aaaand therein lies the lasting appeal of Starship Troopers. Not the wit, not the satire... the special effects and gore. I hate to say it, because the satirical elements are what make this movie worth watching, but without it's slick, polished, bloody counterparts in it's war scenes and special effects... it wouldn't be memorable at all. This is how it is. Simply because it's done so damn well. It has the kitsch of an 80's B-movie, but the budget of a Roland Emmerich movie. The war scenes are fantastically entertaining, in fact, all the action scenes are and when you're old enough to get it, the satirical side of the movie provides something to chew on intellectually.

  The movie excels on a technical level. The special effects are a wise and timeless blend of cgi, animatronics and miniatures. Just like Jurassic Park, some of this stuff is still breathtaking in scope and scale. It looks fantastic, and even looks fantastic in hi-definition. Plenty of 90's effects-heavy movies don't hold up well, and even less so under the unforgiving scrutiny of HD. Not this flick. Starship Troopers passes with flying colors and holds up it's one lasting appeal with gusto and pride. The action, the effects, the war and gore- it's all never looked better than it has on Blu Ray disc. This is a movie that will be called "mindless" and "empty" and while it's not, it might as well be. I'm too busy gawking at the effects, and sitting on the edge of my seat during the action scenes to even care anymore.

  What you have when all is said and done is a movie so blatantly and overtly satirical, that some people actually thought it was pro-fascism. When in reality, it's anything but. The military in this movie punishes with public lashings, their recruitment campaigns are bloated, patriotic, blind propaganda. The entire society encourages it's youth to sign up for a term of service and 'Do their part!', when in reality they're simply 'fresh meat for the grinder', as one triple-amputee infantryman put it. Teenagers are shuttled off to be slaughtered, en masse, fresh out of high school. In the first hour, our hero is making out with his girlfriend in the school hallways, winning football(-esque) games and worrying about his Math scores. In hour two? He's had to kill a man, lead soldiers to their death, and witness old classmates get torn limb from limb in this inane war. A war that's been implicitly suggested was started by humans being the initial aggressors, invading alien territory, and it seriously backfired. (Not like... that's history repeating itself or anything..) How is any of this pro-fascism? I guess the propaganda ads, "A SOCIETY THAT WORKS!" actually convinced a few reviewers. The weak minded run rampant. Sigh.

  Yet, in front of all the satire and propaganda is a big budget sci-fi war movie. There's no getting around that. I'll reiterate again, the special effects are amazing. The effects department expertly marry CGI with state of the art animatronics and large scale miniatures. The result is often nothing short of breathtaking, I kid you not. Starship Troopers couldn't look any better if it was made with today's technology. This is a movie from 1997 people. 1997. I'd argue the effects in this movie hold up better than in Jurassic Park. Why 'Troopers didn't receive more accolades for it's effects is beyond me. The creatures in this movie have weight and scale, they look like they inhabit the same world as the actors. They share the screen with fluidity and ease, in very few cases have any CGI creatures looked so natural as they do in this movie. Also worth mentioning is their design. It's wholly iconic. It's been adapted for movie canon stuff, (i.e. comics, games, etc) and book canon stuff. The design of the arachnid aliens is fantastic. For that matter, all the designs in this movie are fantastic. From the Troopers uniform, gear, and body armor to the look of the starships and dropships that usher them into war. It's all visually cohesive and good-looking. Top marks. I love it.

  Starship Troopers at it's most basic, is a silly and entertaining sci-fi romp about murderous alien bugs, and space soldiers with big guns who can shoot em' really well. At it's best, it's a razor sharp satire about fascist governments and wartime propaganda. If either of those descriptions strikes your fancy, odds are you'll like this movie. It's perfect Saturday matinee fodder. Full of blood, guts and gore, and even a fair share of nudity. It's crass, loud, and fun. If anything, that's what it should be remembered for. I'd rather watch it with a group of immature guys who're half drunk on their beer of choice, shouting and hollering at the screen when some poor trooper gets his head lopped off, or when some girl flashes her tits- because that's what this movie boils down to. Getting a kick out of that stuff. When I'm with my buddies, we act the same way. Bring in the popcorn, bring on the drink... c'mon you apes, you wanna live forever?

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