Science Fiction / Action

Starship Troopers

Special Edition DVD

Distributed By: Sony Pictures - Home Entertainment

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            When I first saw Starship Troopers, it was for its promised action-packed science fiction tale.  I thought that it was going to be nothing more than a rollercoaster ride of action, aliens and special effects.  I was surprised to discover that this movie was so much more.  Based on the Robert Heinlein book of the same name, Starship Troopers is not just aliens, weapons, and hi-tech special effects.  This is a social commentary on war and fascist government.  Having read the book and seen the movie, I have discovered that I enjoy the movie version much more (an unusual occurrence for me) and have since seen the movie at least a dozen times.  I recently received the Starship Troopers Special Edition DVD and was more than happy to pop it into the DVD player.  “Would you like to know more?

            On the surface, this is a movie about Earth’s struggle with a giant species of alien bugs from another solar system.  The people of Earth have begun to explore new worlds, colonizing them as they go.  They form a new government to retain better control of the Earth and its colonies, known as the Federation.  The best way to describe the evolution of the government of Earth is to quote war veteran and history teacher Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside): “All right, let's sum up. This year in history, we talked about the failure of democracy. How the social scientists of the 21st Century brought our world to the brink of chaos. We talked about the veterans, how they took control and imposed the stability that has lasted for generations since. We talked about the rights and privileges between those who served in the armed forces and those who haven't, therefore called citizens and civilians.”  When the citizens of Earth try to occupy planets in the Klendathu Solar System, its native inhabitants, giant insectoid aliens, fight back.  The fight gets hairy, soon leading to the destruction of areas on Earth itself.  The Federation has sworn to destroy the enemy and its citizen army will stop at nothing to complete this task.

            On another level, this is a love story.  Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is an athletic High School student with conflicting views as to the subject of citizenship.  His girlfriend, Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), has no such conflict.  Her ambition is to join the Federal Service and become a pilot.  Johnny’s friend, Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), also harbors no such conflict.  He plans to use his skills as a telepath and scientist to benefit the Federal Service and citizens of the Federation to the utmost.  Waiting in the wings is Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), a friend of Johnny’s who wishes he would see her as something more than just a friend, but is forced to take a step back as long as Johnny is infatuated with Carmen.   When Carmen joins the Federal Service after high school, Johnny joins as well, hoping that this will be one way to retain a bond with his girlfriend.  However, soon after joining the Service, Johnny’s world begins to crumble.  Carmen breaks up with him, a lapse in judgment causes the death of one of his fellow recruits, and his home country is attacked by the aliens of Klendathu, his family destroyed.  Johnny realizes that the only thing he has left is his position in the Federal Service.  Seeking revenge on the monsters that destroyed his family, while also seeking to belong, Johnny makes it his business to find himself on the frontlines of the war against the bugs, his faithful friend Dizzy Flores by his side.

            On a very different level, Starship Troopers is a social commentary on the fascist state.  The tongue in cheek news commentaries are used to drive home the mindlessness of citizens that is encouraged by fascist governments.  The government would be much more powerful with fewer free thinkers and therefore, everyone must be taught to think the way the government wants them to think – to have no minds of their own.  The members of the Federal Service fight with a mindless devotion for the Federation’s cause.  They never stop to think that maybe the aliens of Klendathu are just trying to protect their homeland and their species.  The government wants these “bugs” eradicated and the citizens are more than willing to oblige.

            The movie version of Starship Troopers is very loosely based on Robert Heinlein’s book.  As the film’s creators state in the various documentaries found on the Special Edition DVD, there was just not enough there to create a movie out of.  The book had very little dialogue and thus, a dialogue had to be created from scratch.  The character of Dizzy Flores was actually a male soldier in the book and was present only briefly.  The creators expanded on this character and gave it more of a storyline.  Although the novel contained Heinlein’s own commentary on the evils of a fascist state and of war, the fact of the matter is, it had less of an effect on me than the movie did.  The way the characters were written and portrayed in the movie version of Starship Troopers gave me a vested interest in what happened to them.  The visual effects of using Nazi-like uniforms were very powerful tools in driving home the parallels Heinlein had been trying to make in his novel.

            If taken on surface value alone, Starship Troopers is an excellent action film with bits of humor tossed in to break up the tense action scenes.  But, when taken as a whole, Starship Troopers is a truly intelligent look at what this world would become should we allow ourselves to become a fascist state.  Either way, one can’t help but enjoy himself/herself when watching this film.

            Having stated my case as to the brilliancy of the film’s creators, I would like to also praise the work of the cast.  Casper Van Dien is a completely convincing Johnny Rico.  The viewer feels his confusion and his pain and roots for his character’s survival.  Dina Meyer was an excellent choice for the tom-boyish role of Dizzy Flores.  The viewer is instantly on her side of the love triangle, rooting for Johnny to take notice of Dizzy and hoping that love will blossom between the two.  The tough girl with a soft heart role struck a chord with me, as I’m sure it did with many other women who exhibit the same traits.  Denise Richards was perfectly annoying as Carmen Ibanez.  That’s not to say that she didn’t play her role well – I’m fairly certain that she was supposed to be portrayed in this manner.  Neil Patrick Harris’s portrayal of Carl Jenkins is somewhat spooky.  Carl is portrayed as a dual individual.  One side is playful and nerdy.  The other side is power-hungry and controlling.  Neil Patrick Harris portrays both sides very well, easily sliding from one to the other whenever necessary.  Other honorable mentions would include Patrick Muldoon in his portrayal as the cocky pilot Zandar Barcalow, Jake Busey as the once cocky, now reserved soldier Ace Levy, Michael Ironside as the history teacher / war hero, and Clancy Brown as the training officer, and Brenda Strong as the starship captain.

            The special effects of this film were seamless, making the viewer believe that they were actually seeing a living creature when confronted with the imagery of a Klandathu “bug”.  When these bugs attacked humans, flinging and flailing them around in their mandibles, the scene seems real.  The folks in the special effects department deserve special praise for creating not one form of “bug”, but different styles of “bugs” for each specific need.  There were army drones whose sole existence was to defend their planet.  There were tanker bugs, huge beetle-like creatures with mega firepower.  There were flying bugs that resembled army drones with razor-like wings.  And who could forget the disgusting abomination that was the brain bug?!  Each creation was amazingly detailed.  A job well-done.

            In addition to one terrific movie, the Starship Troopers Special Edition DVD is filled with interesting extras.  In fact, the set contains one DVD entirely dedicated to extras.  Viewers are able to listen to commentaries by cast and crew featuring Casper Van Dien, Neil Patrick Harris and Dina Meyer.  They can also choose to hear commentary by the film’s creators Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier.  There is an isolated musical score section with commentary by composer Basil Poledouris.  A documentary, entitled Death from Above discusses the creation of the film, casting, underlying themes and more.  Knowing Your Foe is a special featurette detailing the different aspects of the aliens you encounter throughout the film.  The Making of Starship Troopers is a vintage featurette with some feel for the movie being made, but nothing in comparison to the documentary Death from Above.  The storyboard comparisons, Starships of Starship Troopers, Special Effects Comparisons and Conceptual Art Galleries are all very interesting.  However, there were some disappointing extras.  The deleted scenes were fairly boring.  We get to see Johnny feel up his girlfriend and ask her why they haven’t had sex yet, Zandar make his moves on Carmen, and more of the same.  It’s easy to see why these scenes were cut from the movie, but I was certain there would be some cool stuff to be found in the deleted section.  Thus, I found myself disappointed with this section and the screen tests – more of Johnny and Carmen – ugh!  Another section to stay away from is the Scene Deconstruction by Paul Verhoeven.  Although the man’s conceptual artistry is amazing, hearing him try to describe it as the scene plays is quite another thing.  Verhoeven stumbles over his words, trying to play catch-up as the scenes progress. 

            For the money, $24 U.S., the Starship Troopers Special Edition DVD is a terrific buy.  Not only do you get a separate DVD dedicated to extras, you get a terrific movie that will stand the test of time.  For science fiction buffs, action film lovers, love triangle worshippers, or anyone with a bent toward movies with underlying social commentaries, Starship Troopers is the movie for you!


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