Running Time: 129 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Casper van Dien (SLEEPY HOLLOW, BEVERLY HILLS 90210), Denise Richards (TAMMY AND THE T-REX, MELROSE PLACE), Michael Ironside (TOTAL RECALL, EXTREME PREJUDICE), Neil Patrick Harris (PURPLE PEOPLE EATER, DOOGIE HOWSER M.D.), Dina Meyer (BATS, BEVERLY HILLS 90210), Clancy Brown (BLUE STEEL, HIGHLANDER), Jake Busey (THE FRIGHTENERS, IDENTITY), Rue McClanahan (THE GOLDEN GIRLS, MAUDE), Dean Norris (TOTAL RECALL, "Hank" from BREAKING BAD), Eric DaRe (CRITTERS 4, TWIN PEAKS). Music by Basil Poledouris (CONAN THE BARBARIAN, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER). Edited by Mark Goldblatt (ENTER THE NINJA, THE TERMINATOR, PREDATOR 2) and Caroline Ross (BALLISTIC: ECKS VS. SEVER). Second unit directed by Vic Armstrong (legendary stuntman, best known for his work on the INDIANA JONES series). Cinematography by Jost Vacano (TOTAL RECALL, DAS BOOT). Special and makeup effects by Phil Tippett's (ILM creature legend of STAR WARS, WILLOW, and JURASSIC PARK) and Kevin Yagher's (creator of the Cryptkeeper, Chucky, and several iterations of Freddy Krueger) respective studios. Screenplay by Edward Neumeier (ROBOCOP, STARSHIP TROOPERS 2), based on the novel by Robert Heinlein (THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND).
Tagline: "They Came to Our Planet, they destroyed our cities, but on November 7th... they'll learn they messed with the wrong species."Best one-liner: "Would you like to know more?"
Paul Verhoeven. From 1985's FLESH + BLOOD to 2000's HOLLOW MAN, he devoted his craft on this side of the Atlantic to making "the movies that America deserves." Even his slightly-less-than-successful efforts (SHOWGIRLS, HOLLOW MAN) are gleefully misanthropic and extraordinarily audacious, and his finest hours (ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL) represent a kind of pure cinematic experience of the American id– filtered through television, ultra-violence, and historical memory– gone horrifyingly, entertainingly, and compellingly hog-wild. His American works are subversive, convention-shattering art films packaged as mainstream, brainless, beer can-crushin' barn-burners. And they function beautifully as both.
Anyway, this leads me to STARSHIP TROOPERS. I've read the Heinlein novel on which it's based, and it's a fine bit of military science-fiction, full of ideas– some sensible, some fascinating, and some repugnant. I say this as a Heinlein fan (THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS is one of my favorite science-fiction novels of all time), but STARSHIP TROOPERS occasionally veers into territory that's sanctimoniously reductive, almost past the point of Fascism. I prefer my science-fiction meditations on war to be a little more complex (try Joe Haldeman's THE FOREVER WAR or Vonnegut's SLAUGHTER-HOUSE FIVE or THE SIRENS OF TITAN), but I can certainly admit that there is a time and a place for dopey, no-frills, jingoistic thrills (Mickey Spillane, Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson, et al.), and this is where Mr. Verhoeven comes in.
Now, a lot of people think that Verhoeven did a poor job because he A. Does not follow the novel to the letter, B. Didn't even finish reading the novel, C. Packed his film with hilarious quantities of 90210 and MELROSE PLACE alumni, and D. Actively mocks the material; but in a way it makes it even more perfect, like if Mike Judge were to do a 'serious' adaptation of Ayn Rand's ATLAS SHRUGGED starring Beavis and Butthead. Verhoeven tackles the material with élan, pretending this film was financed by a future hybrid of Fox News, Josef Goebbles, and the Internet (a roaming mouse cursor continually taunts us with the Information Age-refrain, 'Would you like to know more?'), and the end result is the sort of film that would win ALL the Oscars in its futuristic, imaginary Pan-Fascist Earth.
Modeled almost exactly after World War II propaganda films (Axis and Allied alike) that were intended to strong-arm audiences into joining up and seeking glory in death, STARSHIP TROOPERS added yet another dimension to its commentary when large swaths of contemporary audiences bought Verhoeven's feature-length practical joke, hook, line, and sinker. I've even read evidence that Space Marine movies like ALIENS and STARSHIP TROOPERS generate short-lived spikes in actual American enlistment statistics! I mean, there's a reason that the novel is on the reading list of three out of five branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
I personally remember having friends (I was in Middle School when this was released) who cheered the Space Nazis like mad apes and thirsted to turn 18 and spill theoretical bug-blood themselves, missing entirely the fact that
Verhoeven makes them look exactly like Nazis (note Gestapo-Doogie Howser above and Mengele-makeover ex-Golden Girl Rue McClanahan below),
he illustrates the distorting nature of propaganda to whip the weak-minded into a jingoistic frenzy,
Humans 1, Bugs 0!!! We did it! U.S.A! U.S.A.!
he makes a complete mockery of indoctrinating the impressionable,
and, (spoiler alert– but that's not really going to impact your appreciation of STARSHIP TROOPERS) he ends the whole goopy affair with the capture of a giant, quivering, vaginal insect brain,
whereupon Gestapo Doogie Howser delightedly announces that "it's afraid,"
which causes the surrounding legions of Astro-Fascist troops to erupt into a bloodthirsty roar of whooping and applause,
which leads directly to said quivering-afraid-giant-space-vagina being metaphorically and literally penetrated by enthusiastic, claw-wielding xenophobic maniacs.
Why yes, kiddies, you're right– the message to be taken away from all of this is... Where do I sign up? Sweet Lord in heaven, have we all lost our minds? Verhoeven's answer is, obviously: YES.
Decades from now, I believe that future film scholars will ask the question, "How in the hell was this allowed to be made?," and somewhere, Verhoeven will be smiling.
So now that I've tried to sort out some of the socio-political ramifications, let's move on to the important issues at hand. Issues like Michael Ironside.
Michael who?, you say. Sean, you haven't done a dad-blammed Ironside review for one entire year, to the day. And I am sorry about that. Truly. Only Ironside can forgive me. But somethin' tells me he might. For starters:
IRONSIDE IS YOUR TEACHER, AND HE IS MISSING A LIMB (AS ALWAYS)
IRONSIDE IS CHAPERONING YOUR SENIOR PROM
IRONSIDE IS GETTING TURNED ON BY MAN-ON-BUG VIOLENCE
IRONSIDE IS HOSTING A KEGGER ON PLANET P
AND YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE FUN– THAT'S AN ORDER
IRONSIDE IS BIG ON WORKPLACE ACCOUNTABILITY
BUT HE WILL ALSO ALLOT YOU TEN EXTRA MINUTES FOR TENT-BONIN'
In short, Ironside is holding this movie together. Maybe I should take it all back– all this talk about Fascism and total war and the moral high ground and distortive propaganda... cause hell, I'd probably join this army if it meant being able to party with Michael Ironside. Also, the "Have fun– that's an order!" command combined with the "You don't do your job, I'll shoot you" line begs the question– would Ironside execute you for not having enough fun at his kegger? And what kind of beer is he serving? Could it be... LABATT MAXIMUM ICE?
Regardless, there's a reason Ironside gets typecast as "the ultimate hardass." See, Verhoeven perfectly casts his WB/CW/primetime soap opera beefcake/cheesecake all-stars as the newbies, but he needed to create an old guard of hardened men and women to make the universe believable. And, speaking of actors best known for testosterone-fests from the 80's, Ironside gets a little help from EXTREME PREJUDICE buddy and The Kurgan himself– Clancy Brown.
Brown plays Sergeant Zim, a steely, uncompromising drill instructor, who's perhaps the most colorful character from the original book. Brown does the role justice, with R. Lee Ermey-style panache.
Brown gets a little help from TOTAL RECALL alum Dean Norris as well, whom I've become quite the fan of since I began watching BREAKING BAD.
Also, I forgot to mention it earlier, but one of the new boot-cadets is played by Jake Busey, who's inherited not only his father's crazy streak and ginormous teeth
but also his propensity for impromptu fiddle-playing.
Also, he convinces everyone to get matching tattoos
while wearing Nazi Blackshirt-style suspenders, which is still only the 1,347th-most crazy thing a Busey has ever convinced a group of his peers to do.
In any event, STARSHIP TROOPERS has only improved with age. It's a platform for guys like Michael Ironside and Clancy Brown to do what they do best, while at the same time remaining jaw-droppingly and spit-takingly subversive. And even though it has a fair amount of shudder-worthy CGI (mostly in long-shot), it was still one of the last big-budget future epics to use loads of miniatures, matte-paintings, and plenty of gooey puppets– courtesy of the legendary studios of Kevin Yagher and Phil Tippett. I'll give it a little better than four stars.