Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Second Age Reviews Backlog 7: Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers is a movie I regard sort of oddly. It is, on the most fundamental level, an adaptation of the book of the same name by one of my favorite sci-fi authors, Robert Heinlein. Although the book is not one of his best works (his best, for context, is The Cat That Walks Through Walls) it hardly matters, as the adaptation borrows the title, name of the main character and most basic premise (humans vs. bugs) and the rest is almost entirely unrelated. There is a half-assed attempt to incorporate Heinlein's philosophy of personal service into the movie, but it mostly falls flat. The fact that the films version of the character who essentially acted as the voice of Heinlen in the book gets killed near the end is rather telling of the adaptation as a whole.

Anywho, this movie comes to us courtesy of a man named Paul Verhoeven a Dutch director who's minor-to-moderate successes (Starship TroopersBasic InstinctRoboCopBlack Book etc.) are far outweighed, though not necessarily outnumbered by his disastrous failures (Hollow ManFlesh and BloodShowgirls...no really, fucking Showgirls).

The film itself is primarily concerned with a Cadian Imperial Guard Regiment called the Roughnecks. It is some centuries after the end of the Imperium's other enemies and the apparent final death of the Emperor and the Imperium has reached an uneasy truce with the Tyranids on the other end of the Galaxy. Soon enough though, they launch an attack at Holy Terra itself and the Imperium vows to take them on, despite the lack of any remaining Space Mari-...Oh wait, I'm thinking of something else.

Though I'm not far off. A good portion the first half of the film is devoted to the training of Johnny Rico as he joins the military infantry, essentially because his girlfriend is joining the Navy. At just about the half point, the only other race in the Galaxy (apparently) the Arachnids also known as Bugs in the same way Cylons are known as Toasters, sends an asteroid crashing into Earth and humanity declares war

Good details first. Verhoeven, despite having made some blatantly awful films, still has mastery of filmmaking techniques and styles and it shows. The cinematography is excellent, as is the CGI for a late-90's movie. The film also deftly avoids any questions about the science of it all by well...never addressing any of it. How any of the technology works, why any of the Bugs would evolve in the way they did or what the Bugs' motivation is never brought up. To be fair that's probably good because dragging science too far into certain sci-fi movies is often it's undoing; We can't all be Blade Runner.

The characters are a mixed bag, running from fairly interesting to stock characters. Of course it doesn't help that so many things have copied this or been copied by it that it looks deeply unoriginal to a modern viewer. Much of the character arcs are borrowed wholesale from Aliens, the primary form of the bugs looks a lot like the Antlions from Half-Life 2 and the infantry STILL reminds more than a little of the Imperial Guard.

The story is well written and paced and most of the dialogue is well done, which is odd because a lot of the other problems stem from the story and characters. One of the big problems with the film is that it's rather hard to take seriously sometimes. At least some of that can be chalked up to some extremely dodgy acting all around (nothing as bad as RoboCop though) but a large chunk is due to tone. The film is obviously a satire of several things at once, partially propaganda, partially solider mentality and probably at least 3 other things, which means that it flits back and forth between gritty death scenes, macho heroism and a running satire of propaganda and never settles on a tone.

Also to blame for this is the fact that the creators took their freedom from science as a blank check. The bugs defy any scientific logic even more so than the Tyranids. Also on hand are the mostly unaddressed Psychics. I guess they're Sanctioned Psykers, or maybe Inquisitor Lords based on their dress code...maybe they have some Sisters of Battle lying around. Sorry I'll stop this now.

At the end of the day none of those problems get in the way of the main plot which is enjoyable and well written or the action which is briskly paced and exciting. It's certainly much better than Verhoeven's other forays into Science Fiction (RoboCop and Total Recall). At this point it's such a film geek staple that I doubt anyone reading this hasn't seen it, but if you haven't you should. It'll hold you over until they decide to make the inevitably shitty Halo movie (or 40k movie, but as much as I love 40k I think I've exhausted that reference for now).

Oh, one quick note before I go. If you look down (go ahead, no spoilers) you'll see that my next listed movie is Blood Red, an Italian Horror film you've probably never heard of (no worries, I'd never heard of it either). While odds are that will turn out to be correct and myself and my friend will be going to see that next Thursday, there is a small but solid chance we'll decide to skip it. If we do, I apologize and the next retro film I'll be seeing at this theater will be Shogun Assassin on the 19th. Have a good one.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Blood Red

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan born Cinephile and he'd like a show of hands; How many people got half my 40k references?

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