Anthony's Film Review

Starship Troopers (1997)

A sci-fi movie with a pretty slow start, but it eventually gets exciting...

Imagine this. The Earth faces a threat from giant insects called "The Bugs" from the planet Klendathu. These hideous creatures reach Earth by being carried on meteors that bombard our planet. In response, the Mobile Infantry was formed to destroy the Bugs as they come and, eventually, Klendathu itself. The Bug invasion is so bad that the Federation provides a great reward for anyone serving in the Infantry for a minimum of two years: citizenship status. Anyone who doesn't serve is simply a civilian, essentially considered part of a less prestigious social class.

This is the premise of the 1997 military science-fiction action movie Starship Troopers, adapted from the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert A. Heinlein. I haven't read the novel, but from what info I could find, it's a sci-fi story that explores various themes such as fascism and civic duty. I mention this because the movie, perhaps in an attempt to be like the novel in that way, seems to comprise two separate one-hour movies back to back. The first is a high school drama in a futuristic Earth. The second is a sci-fi action movie. Let's take a look at each to see if they work well together.

The movie stars Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico, Denise Richards as his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez, Dina Meyer as Dizzy Flores, and Neil Patrick Harris as Carl Jenkins. The first part of the movie is where these characters, who are high school students, are doing what any high school students do. They go to class, maintain social lives, participate in or watch a school football game, and go to the senior prom. What makes this part of the movie still science-fiction is that the school has highly advanced technology. There is even a biology class where students dissect dead Bugs from Klendathu. Still, the students are no different from youngsters in our own present-day world.

It seems to go on for a while, maybe a bit too long. About 25 minutes into the film, the story seems to finally get into the main sci-fi plot as the characters begin military service. But it feels like another high school drama, just in a different setting. This is where I officially noted the movie's overly long introduction as its first flaw. Even as the characters go from military training to a space station, the wait for the meat of this sci-fi movie still continues. Soon, I noted the film's second flaw: its characters still seem somewhat like undisciplined teenagers, even in uniform. The only thing that really kept my interest were the military exercises.

So when does this movie become a sci-fi movie for sure? Believe it or not, near the 50-minute point. Yes, that's almost half of the movie already. But anyway, the plot gets intense, because a meteor hits Earth. That doesn't mean the high school drama is over. It still isn't. Hence, I should mention one other thing I liked about this movie: the segments of news footage from the Federal Network. The reason? This is what propels the plot (the sci-fi plot this movie should focus more on, not the high school plot).

OK. Let's just go into the first war scene. This is where the movie FINALLY shows us what we've been waiting for: human soldiers with guns versus giant insects. The special effects are pretty good here. (Then again, it's standard to see good special effects these days.) The casualties on both sides are gruesome, and unfortunately, there are more human deaths than Bug deaths. When the fighting stops and the army takes time to recover, the human drama (cough, high school drama, cough) continues, but only in brief moments (thank goodness). With additional war scenes, the film moves along the way it should be. When human lives are at stake, the only things the characters can think of are surviving and helping their fallen comrades.

I'm happy to say that things get better in the rest of the movie. The characters do take their military roles seriously. Some get close to death or, sadly, do not escape it. To a certain degree, the Bugs seem to be winning because of their massive numbers and their ability to shoot giant balls of electrical energy into space. There's even one special Bug that seems to be functioning as the brain of the species. What happens with that creature is interesting to say the least.

While I'm definitely critical of the first half of the movie, the second half pretty much makes up for it. I don't think the first half is a waste of time such that the whole movie would be the same without it. I just think it needs to be done a little better. Nevertheless, Starship Troopers is a somewhat better than average movie. Director Paul Verhoeven, who previously directed RoboCop and Total Recall, manages to give us an engaging and exciting sci-fi action thriller with this one.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Starship Troopers, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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