Sunday, 1 February 2015

'Starship Troopers' Review

So with Earth at war with a race of insectoid aliens nicknamed ‘Bugs’. It’s up to the army of the federation, the ‘Starship Troopers’ to stop them. We follow a group of idealistic high school students as they enlist and realise that war is not everything they had been told it was in the media.

So I’ve always been interested in watching ‘Starship Troopers’ but the incredibly mixed reception has always put me off. I love ‘Robocop’ and ‘Total Recall’ so I always had an inkling that another Paul Verhoeven directed, science fiction film must have some merit at least. So having finally watched it, is ‘Starship Troopers’ ready for battle, or ready to be put out of its misery?

So ‘Starship Troopers’ has some issues, issues which are apparent very quickly. For one thing the film takes a very long time to get started, choosing to spend a lot of time showing us the civilian life away from the army. It took almost an hour for ‘Starship Troopers’ to fully engage me, with too much time being given to set up the, frankly archetypal teenage characters. Seeing these people live out their teenage high school lives also shows how out of place they are, given that they are played by actors clearly pushing thirty. These scenes feel more like ‘Power Rangers’ than anything else. When war breaks out however, everything falls into place very well, I just wish it had been twenty minutes earlier.

The term ‘Verhoeven-Esque’ has entered the filmic lexicon to indicate any films which feature extreme unrelenting explosions of gore. You are in no doubt while watching ‘Starship Troopers’ that Paul Verhoeven is at the helm, blood and guts constantly fly in all directions. Unfortunately the blood and guts are often generated using CG. I appreciate that, given the special effects heavy nature of the film, this was somewhat unavoidable, although it really doesn’t have the same weight as practical gore. The gore is also somewhat constant throughout the film, which undermines the dramatic effect of it. In ‘Robocop’ or ‘Total Recall’, the violence is used to shock and upset us, in ‘Starship Troopers’ it is an everyday part of war. An everyday part of that we quickly get conditioned to, as the soldiers themselves do.

The direction of ‘Starship Troopers’ is very smart in ways such as this, as is the production. We as an audience follow the characters as they make their way through the army. We follow them from their first day to, on occasion, their last. They develop to what happens around them and our attitude towards them changes as they do. This active communication with an audience is a hard thing to get right and the best moments of ‘Starship Troopers’ are when this crossover between artist and audience occurs.

Unfortunately this is also where the primary issue comes with ‘Starship Troopers’. A lot of time is put into making us care about Johnny Rico, we spend the majority of the film following him after all. Unfortunately we also spend a lot of time following his girlfriend, Carmen Ibanez, who we barely get to know. I found myself wanting to learn more about the Mobile Infantry and Johnny, I found myself becoming frustrated whenever the narrative would leave him to follow her. I know that Paul Verhoeven understands character well, so I wonder if this was deliberate. Johnny’s major journey is to move on from Carmen and grow up. I wonder if we spend time with her to see just how uninteresting she is, so we get over her also? Hmmm, I may just be over thinking it but with Verhoeven at the helm I can’t be sure.

‘Starship Troopers’ is incredibly 90’s. Every part of the film reeks of a production made during that time. This extreme dating will increasingly be in the films favour as more time passes however. Any film that is entirely stuck in the moment of time it was created tends to date quite well. It is the films which try to be futuristic or historical which date the worst. ‘Starship Troopers’ not only captures the fashions and dialogue of the 1990’s but also the politics and changing face of technology. The rolling news reels which punctuate the film have clickable online adverts for example. In much the same way that ‘Robocop’ captured the militaristic rise of corporations, ‘Starship Troopers’ shows their occupation over the masses via media control.

So ‘Starship Troopers’ feels a bit messy at times. When it works, as it does during the battle scenes, it works brilliantly. When it doesn’t work, it drags quite badly. Overall ‘Starship Troopers’ wins out for a recommendation. It is still an impressive film visually, despite having been made almost twenty years ago and the story and characters are likeable and engaging, for the most part. ‘Starship Troopers’ feels like a propaganda film. Any film that rouses you to fight against a fictional ‘enemy’ is one worth giving your time.  

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