Starship Troopers (1997)

(In theaters, November 1997) Very loud, very juvenile and very stupid adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s novel. It’s supposed to be loads of fun, but it just didn’t work for me. The tone oscillates between inane teenage drama and uber-gory war “comedy”: It’s either “Look at this guy get ripped in half; ain’t it cool?” or “Look at this guy get decapitated; ain’t it funny?” Unimaginably idiotic military tactics and physics make this movie really funny for even slightly knowledgeable people. Stupendous Special Effects can’t rescue a bad script, but might just net an Oscar. Only a few weeks after seeing Starship Troopers, I find my opinion of the movie sinking lower and lower, much like last year’s Independence Day. And after seeing Titanic, even the Special Effects Oscar isn’t so sure…

(Second viewing, On DVD, December 2007) I hadn’t seen this film in ten years, and the decade has been kind to Paul Verhoeven’s glossy space-opera. For one thing, I’ve seen much worse since then. For another, it seems as if the political subtext is a lot more interesting than it was years ago. It helps that this fully-loaded 2002 DVD special edition is so solidly defensive. Both of the audio commentaries, along with the new making-of documentary, are chiefly concerned about the film’s initial critical reaction, and desperately try to point out the real meaning behind the film. (For sheer entertainment value, few DVD audio commentaries in history have surpassed the one in which Paul Verhoeven keeps saying “Fascism Is Not Good”.) Both the commentaries and the documentary reveal a lot about the film and the ways the filmmakers may have screwed it up, though they’re awfully quick to blame the audience when they fail to respond to a film trying to have it both as a dumb blockbuster and a satire of such. Oh, I still don’t think it’s a wonderful film: I’m still disturbed by the gleeful gore and the nonsense science, and even for a satire there are some inner contradictions that weaken the entire atmosphere. But the direction is clean and sharp (especially after nearly a decade of increasing confusion behind the lenses), most special effects are still wonderful (oh, that lunar sequence!) and I have developed a fondness for cleaner-than-clean cinematography even as most movies have gone the other way. Starship Troopers hasn’t aged that badly, and when it has, it’s usually in the trivial details like the CRT monitors and primitive graphics displayed on such. If you think you still hate the film ten years later, do yourself a favour, rent the DVD and listen to the commentaries: I think you will be pleasantly surprised, or at least decently entertained.

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