Starship Troopers (1997) – Retro Showcase

I was trying to explain the purpose behind The Retro Showcase Reviews recently; I realized that the true purpose is to act as a reminder. Causes you to look back and say “Oh yeah, I remember that.” It also gives me the rare opportunity to reminisce about movies I experienced at a young age. The year is 1997, age 10. A huge sci-fi trilogy was about to get re-released into theaters; complete with new state of the art technology and visual effects (For that time of course). That’s right, Star Wars was about to introduce itself to a new generation of future fans –

But not me; I was standing in line to experience Starship Troopers. Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi epic masterpiece that is rich in style and substance. Although it somehow managed to slip under the radar; it has garnered a cult following and two sequels since its release 13 years ago. Starship Troopers is the anti-Star Wars much like Flash Gordon attempted in 1980; but I feel this film succeeds on a grand scale.

In a world ruled entirely by a strong military force, war is brewing between humans and the bugs. The Klendathu system harbors a slew of murderous and brainless insects with the intention of killing us. We follow a group of friends who join The Federation in order to fight and gain citizenship, Johnny Rico (Capser Van Dien) Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) and Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) are separated by qualifying into different areas of The Federation; military intelligence, mobile infantry and fleet.

When war is declared soon into their training, it’s time to show everyone what they are made of. We watch as the seemingly innocent teenagers become manipulated and turned into mindless killing machines; which is actually a little unsettling. Seeing what it would be like if young people had no choice and were only told what to do, even if that meant sending them to a point of no return. Exposition is told through recruitment videos which resemble posters and propaganda films from World War II.

The film has a very 50’s feel to it, even though we are in a sci-fi setting which spans several planets. The dialogue is wholesome at first, using lingo that resembles The Andy Griffith Show. Weapons use generic bullets and ships resemble crafts used in World War II, which is very interesting to see. A combination of old technology and beliefs with a sci-fi overtone is unique and hasn’t been done quite like this since, but Verhoeven has done this before with both RoboCop and Total Recall. Where he gives you a futuristic concept; such as a robotic suit or air on Mars and makes it feel vintage or dated.

Every time I throw this bad boy in I pick up on subtle nuances hidden throughout the picture, whether it is referencing to past wars or the way that the government has a tight grasp on everything in this world. It is actually quite disturbing to think what our world would be like if fascism lasted. A great film (especially those in the sci-fi and horror genres) should reflect on the social agenda of that time or make you look back and examine what might have been.

With a name like Starship Troopers I think “cheesy 60’s science fiction” Ala Overdrawn at the Memory Bank, Time Chasers or The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. I think this has that tongue in cheek genre feel which illuminates that era but updates it with blood, guts and nudity. How much blood and guts? The body count including bugs and humans is 256, wow. If you include the city of Buenos Aires being destroyed, that puts the body count well over 9 million — that’s more than any movie ever made. You have to see it to believe it.

I remember when I first saw this; the visual effects were groundbreaking for it’s time, equivalent to Avatar’s influence right now. It was actually up for an Oscar in 1997 for best visual effects, but lost to Titanic. The amount happening onscreen is jaw dropping to say the least, it actually still holds up today. This also adds a lot of believability to the action scenes, bad VFX in films ruin specific action pieces; to me at least. They also combine mechanical and practical effects in addition to the CGI; created by Oscar winning visual effects artist Phil Tippet; who would go on to direct the lackluster follow up to this film. Tippet has worked with Verhoeven before on RoboCop and recently has been the visual effects supervisor on the New Moon and Eclipse of the Twilight Saga.

Over time; movies age and get stuck in the time period released. Causing them to deteriorate and become dated. Not in this case, upon multiple viewings I find that this movie gets better. Especially when you introduce it to a new audience who hasn’t had the opportunity to experience it, you notice the same look of excitement and interest that hooked me when I was 10. It takes me back to that day.

Amidst the bugs and carnage is the big picture. The big picture you ask? What it all means. The overall message, here it is hidden very deep. The characters look at the bugs as mindless drones who kill without a true motive; only to go to war because they are told to. When the dust settles; the true “bugs” are us. The ones who intrude on a world we do not understand and blow the shit out of it.

All in all, this is a truly unique viewing experience that screams cult classic. It is thrilling, action packed, violent and an exhilarating thrill ride that never lets up. A sci-fi junkie’s dream film that does not get the recognition and respect it deserves. Do yourself a favor and pick this up today. 10/10