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Movie Review: Starship Troopers (1997)

Starship Troopers came out when I was in high school, and I was more interested in laughing at the histrionics aboard the Titanic so I never got around to watching it, despite my teenage admiration for Casper van Dien’s amazing face. All I knew about Starship Troopers was that it starred Denise Richards and took place in space.

I had the opportunity to see the movie for the first time last week as part of a (filmed) RiffTrax Live performance, where the guys from Mystery Science Theater add commentary as the reel runs. It was fun! The only issues were (a) the movie is very loud, and gunfire often drowned out Rifftrax witticisms, and (b) a gorillagram came in both times for the nude scenes. I need to see all the scenes to fully enjoy this masterpiece of B-filmmaking, hel-lo! Yes, even the nekkid ones! I’m sure they portrayed passion, intimacy, and a sense of wartime urgency that contributed to character development! Like, totally!

For the uninitiated, Starship Troopers stars oh-Casper-my-Casper as Johnny Rico, a Civilian who aspires to be a Citizen in future earth. Citizenship offers privileges and can be earned by military service, just like IRL (that means “In Real Life,” mom). Happily, the government is in full recruitment mode, because pesky alien bugs keep sending asteroids from their home world crashing into ours. Such intergalactic rudeness shall not be tolerated! When Rico’s girlfriend (Denise Richards) qualifies as a military space pilot due to her stunning math skills and enthusiasm for flying, Rico decides to enlist, too, despite living a cushy life in Buenos Aires (and having no trace of a Latino accent, but I digress). By the way, “rico” means “rich” in Spanish, in case the theme of wealth and complacency wasn’t quite heavy-handed enough.

Based on the movie, this is a story about humans at war, and how courage, friendship, and an unlimited supply of ammunition can save the day. The military’s first landing is a disaster, but they eventually learn from their mistakes and keep gathering intel that ultimately leads to capturing the bug leader. There’s a love triangle, insinuations that the research arm of the military will gladly sacrifice soldiers for information, and the typical war themes of Friendship, Brother/Sisterhood, and the Will to Fight. I really liked the fact that this movie features men and women in equal roles in combat. They even shower together (!). I’m just not sure why no one shaved their head. I guess lice can’t survive in space?

Starship Troopers is a fun B film with plenty of shooting, gore, and cringe-worthy dialogue. The key is to deliver the lines earnestly, and everyone in this movie does that, elevating an otherwise prosaic sci-fi premise (Alien bugs! Kill! Kill!) into a glorious celebration of firm jawlines, sincere youthfulness, and blasting everything in sight. As an added bonus, it features "Discount Rob Lowe" (Patrick Muldoon) and Felicity/Kerri Russell lookalike Dina Meyer. The bonus is because they're an unexpected comedy goldmine, of course.

After the film, I ignorantly commented that, because of the bugs-as-enemy factor, the Starship Troopers book must be a rip-off of Ender’s Game. Fragrant Husband gave me a very stern lecture about how Robert Heinlein’s book came out way before Orson Scott Card’s thoughtful treatise about engineering elite human children for violence and capacity for effective warfare. In fact, Starship Troopers the novel came out 26 years before Ender started getting into scrapes at school. So I was wrong! Plus, it turns out the Starship novel is far superior to the movie in that it touches upon many philosophical points, including the meaning of citizenship, military technology, personal and social responsibility, and political systems. As the pièce de résistance, book-Rico (Juan Rico) is from the Philippines. Heinlein gets a billion posthumous pogi points.

I recommend the movie if you’re looking for some light sci-fi fun. At the time, the graphics were cutting-edge. It holds up okay even now.

I will read the book and report back. Until then, carry on, civilians.

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