STARSHIP TROOPERS (SPECIAL EDITION) 




Starship Troopers (Special Edition)

Starring: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards
Director:
Paul Verhoeven
Encoding:
Region 2 (Europe, Middle East & Japan only)
Format: Colour, Closed-captioned, Widescreen, Dolby
 

DVD Features: Commentary by Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier, special-effects comparisons, featurette, deleted scenes, screen tests
 

Movie: * * * *
Disc:
* * *
½  

Does a movie necessarily reflect the opinions of its characters?

Before you reply with a glib “no, of course not” then consider the example of the classic 1956 The Searchers starring John Wayne.

In this classic Western directed by John Ford, Wayne plays a racist gunman who sets off to find his niece who has been kidnapped by Red Indians, sorry, native Americans – not to rescue her, you see, but to kill her. She has somehow been “defiled” or turned into an Indian herself by her experience and is thus better off dead somehow.

This is a bit extreme though, and Wayne’s sidekick in the movie doesn’t share his solution to the whole issue. However, the sidekick and the other Whites in the film do share his racist attitudes towards the Red Indians – a point made abundantly clear as the movie progresses. Then, typical of the time in which it was made, some Indian characters are played by White folks with deep tans.

We’re not quite talking the political correctness of Dances With Wolves and Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron here . . .

The characters might be racist – but is the movie?

Despite what the film’s fans may say, the issue isn’t so clear cut - it was made in the 1950s after all.

Another example of a movie often thought to hold the opinions and attitudes of its characters is the 1997 Starship Troopers. To recap: this movie was based on the novel of the same name by Robert Heinlein (also written in the 1950s!) and directed by Dutch émigré director Paul Verhoeven.

Verhoeven’s previous sci-fi outings were the original Robocop and Total Recall, but unfortunately he couldn’t repeat the financial success of these two seminal modern SF classics. Instead the movie underperformed at the box office. Verhoeven’s future fortunes didn't improve: his next foray into the genre would be the dismal Hollow Man . . .

The movie depicts a future society in which one has to first do military service before one can vote. Interestingly enough this militaristic society isn’t racist or chauvinistic in any sense – women are accorded equal respect and treatment and no race is discriminated against.

That is, no-one is discriminated against except a race of bug monsters from outer space against which humanity is soon at war with. If you read carefully between the lines of the movie you’ll find that the humans probably started the war to begin with, and that we aren’t necessarily the good guys this time around.

Interestingly enough Starship Troopers prompted the cry of “fascist” from all kinds of movie critics since some of the characters appear in SS Gestapo style uniforms towards the end of the movie.

However it was quite obvious that the movie was commenting upon Heinlein’s original material and taking digs at it (serious Heinlein fans hated the movie). Heinlein maybe didn’t see the future society – replete with public whippings and the like! - depicted in his original novel as being fascist, but the underpinnings were there.

sept98a.jpg (11367 bytes)(To be honest, with his military background in the Navy and all that Heinlein probably saw it as being an ideal society – nothing like some tough military discipline and grit to sort out the wayward 1950s youth you see . . .)

Back in my original review I thought this was obvious, but many didn’t see it so, accusing the film of endorsing fascism. Maybe one couldn’t blame them for this: with so many dumb Hollywood blockbusters out there, it is difficult not to take them at face value. On its surface Starship Troopers merely seemed like one of them, and it is difficult to expect anything more of films of this kind really – never mind sly political commentary!

THE DISC: This is the second time that this movie has been released on Region 2 DVD. The original disc was double-sided and one had to flip it over halfway through the movie to view the rest of the movie. No such thing here. Also, this “special edition” boasts a lot of features not found on the first DVD version.

There are five deleted scenes (approximately six minutes), screen tests for Denise Richards and Casper Van Dien (three-and-a-half minutes), an eight-minute featurette with interviews and the director explaining three scene developments with effects work layers.

However, what makes this “special edition” truly special is the audio commentary by Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier. It kicks off with them going on about how the New York Times’ movie critic got the movie wrong by condemning it as being fascist. Fascism is “bad, bad, BAD” Verhoeven intones in his thick Dutch accent in key scenes, stating that "war makes fascists of us all" is probably the message behind the movie.

sept98b.jpg (9120 bytes)Verhoeven is a Euro leftie and makes some interesting analogies between the movie and the first Gulf War. Neumeier doesn’t always join in the American foreign policy critique, but their commentary is lively and confirms one’s suspicions that the movie is much smarter than most people thought. (Interestingly enough, Verhoeven was a six-year-old when the Nazis overran his native Holland during World War II. Hardly an experience that would have made him susceptible to Nazism . . .)

WORTH IT? An underappreciated sci-fi classic, the special effects in Starship Troopers still look quite good despite more recent advances. The movie’s weaker aspects such as the “Hitler youth in love” teenage soapie subplot become more bearable once you realise that Verhoeven is taking the piss again.

RECOMMENDATION: If you own the original “flipper” DVD then it is well worth upgrading to this special edition. The film has been popping at some bargain bins lately and this makes it even more worth-while picking up.

 



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