Friday, 20 June 2014

Starship Troopers (1997)

When this movie debuted, there were cries of outrage from fans of the Robert Heinlein novel on which it is based (or not based, as the detractors claimed).  Certainly, there are lots of differences between the two, but that's not automatically a bad thing.  I mean, Heinlein's novel is at least free of the squicky incest elements that filled his Lazarus Long books, but it has some pretty uncomfortable political elements.  Those elements are quite nicely satirised in the film, without any of the characters ever acknowledging that satire.

So yeah, sorry to the people who hated it - some of whom are friends of mine - but this film is great fun, schlocky and over the top and with a macabre sense of humour running through it, just like Paul Verhoeven's other SF hit, Robocop.

In the future, mankind is split into two castes: civilians and citizens.  Only the latter can vote or become successful politicians, and they find it easy to get things like a license to have children.  How does one become a citizen?  By signing up for a tour of military service "for two years or as long as the Federation deems it necessary".  So basically the key to being a citizen is being willing to kill.  It's not phrased like that, of course, "only those willing to defend society should get a say in how that society runs" is the acceptable face of the credo, but it amounts to "kill stuff to get perks".

Anyway, we follow callow youth John Rico as he signs up to impress his girlfriend, nearly washes out, then opts to stay in the army when war breaks out with a race of insectoid aliens.

The war starts badly for humanity, as they underestimate the enemy threat (this isn't much of a spoiler, since it's in the opening scenes),  but they gradually come to grips with their enemy over the course of the film.  There's lots of grunting, banging of heads, and other macho nonsense in the course of this.  There's also some terrible, terrible tactical and strategic decisions by the humans, but anyone who doesn't believe these decisions to be plausible should google 'Islandhwana' or 'Den Bien Phu' for real life examples of just how dumb we humans can be.

I've heard this film, with its gonzo action, ridiculously pretty cast, and themes of a technological culture underestimating an apparently less advanced one, described as "Vietnam 90210".  It's a pithy and not entirely inaccurate way of summing up the tone of the film (though it ends rather better for the technological powerhouse).

Check it out if you want to see a gonzo, over the top schlockfest of hammy acting, casual nudity, and butt-ugly bug monsters.  Fun stuff.

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