When I saw the first teasers for Starship Troopers, what, nearly a year ago I was looking forward to it. When I saw the previews I quickly came to the conclusion that the only similarity to the book would be the name. So I was prepped for disappointment. Let's face it: no powered armor, no Starship Troopers.
It wasn't quite as bad as I had feared. They actually tried to incorporate a lot of the politics and several plot points from the book. But they distorted them pretty badly. And of course they had to gloss over a lot of important pieces in order to fit it into a movie.
This movie couldn't decide if it wanted to follow Johnny Rico's growth as a soldier and a person, or if it wanted to be simply an action movie. It begins the set up of Rico's growth, but that peters out and we're never given the payoff. Sure, by the end of the movie he makes Lt, but that was entirely through accident without any demonstration of competence. One of our favorite scenes is when a fellow soldier is put out of his misery, giving Rico a battlefield promotion to Sgt, and he actually smiles.
One of the big problems with the movie was how Verhoven kept reusing the same characters. In the book, Heinlein reused one character, and he hid that from us until the end. In the movie, almost every throw-away role was played by characters introduced in the opening few minutes. Carmen and her buddy seemed to pilot every ship Rico flew on. Rico's Poly Sci (whatever the name of the class was) prof becomes Rico's Lt. The reappearance of Zim is barely mentioned as an afterthought. And the high school buddy Carl doesn't get killed off, as he did in the book. (Not that I dislike the actor, but somehow I had a perverse desire to see the "Doogie" character buy it.) Instead he seems to bounce around the galaxy doing R&D one minute, military planning the next, and psychic readings later.
Despite all of the guns and the occasional explosion, the battle scenes were very static. They weren't exactly boring, but it was frustrating because I kept wanting something to happen. Basically, no dynamics, no adjustments, no flow. The style they should have been striving for is Aliens, which incorporated various locations and movements between those locations to help give a sense of a changing situation. ST just had move forward and move back. And the soldiers and ships were always too bunched up. I kept thinking, "a couple of hand grenades and that squad is toast." The tactics were nothing more subtle than stand in a group and shoot a lot. (I read they used 250,000 rounds of ammo, a new record.)
There were a couple of elements thrown in that just didn't belong. While I think Dina Meyer is sexy and I really enjoyed her nude scenes, the love interests were a complete waste of time. As Brian Hook commented, you care so little for these characters that you wish they'd get decapitated so we can move on with the action. And the implied method that the bugs used to "study" humans was simply an excuse to have Michael Ironside stick is finger into the skull of a corpse and utter our favorite line from the movie, "They sucked out his brain."
On my brother's Total Movie Value Scale, this movie really only rates a Cable with Popcorn and Drinks. But it would look so pathetic on a small screen that it would really hurt the one strength of the movie, the special effects. And apparently I was in a good mood when I saw it. So if you have a big screen and a good sound system, Starship Troopers is a Cable with Popcorn and Drinks, otherwise it gets a generous upgrade to barely Matinee.
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