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Starship Troopers"Starship Troopers" on DVD

Heinlein Meets Verhoeven. Both Win.

by Jim Bray

I'll confess right off the top: Heinlein is my favourite author, and "Starship Troopers" one of my favourite Heinlein novels.

But a book's a book and a movie's a movie, and often the twain never meet.   It's rare that a movie can capture the spirit of a good book, and even harder in the science fiction field. Starship Troopers, with its high tech military action, typically Heinlein concepts like its no-nonsense positions on honour, duty, and responsibility, would be a bugger to film, even in this day of digital moviemaking.

But I'd always wanted to see it as a film and looked forward to it with great anticipation. I hoped, but didn't expect, that this important book would be done justice. Hell, I would have been happy just to see it not raped by Hollywood. 

And it wasn't.

I must admit to having exhibited a certain amount of unease once I heard Paul Verhoeven was helming the project. I liked "Total Recall" a lot, though I thought it overstepped the taste boundaries regarding violence for a few brief shots. "RoboCop" was okay, too, though with the same caveat - amplified.

I'd heard it rumoured that James Cameron was going to make "Starship Troopers," and heartily approved. His Marines in "Aliens" seemed taken right out of that book, and I figured he could handle the moral elements with aplomb as well. But he boarded a famous cruise ship instead and the rest is history. And though he wasn't my first choice, I knew Verhoeven could do the job; I was just afraid he'd cross the violence line again.

And his "Starship Troopers" is just as grossly violent as the earlier films, but somehow it doesn't seem out of place in this wartime situation, where instant death lurks around every rock. In fact, I think it made the horrors of war and the tragedy (and forced coming of age) it inflicts on our youngest and bravest more real and much more easy with which to identify.

But, oh, it's gross in places - disturbingly so. But in in this case, I can't object; it's warranted.

So how does the movie stack up to the book? Well, if they've used 15% of the book here I'll be surprised. But there wasn't a lot of "Jurassic Park," the novel, in that movie either, and it worked fine as a film and remained faithful to the spirit of the book.

That's what Verhoeven has pulled off here. There's so much from the book that isn't included (yes, including those really neat powered and armoured suits) - the Mobile Infantry fights very differently from the book, for instance - but it still works.

The "Starship Troopers" book is about a group of high school friends coming of age, going off to join the military, and facing the tough things life has to offer. Along the way they learn about loyalty, society, and the meaning of right and wrong. And that's what the movie's about, too.

Going BuggyVerhoeven has done an excellent job here, and I think Heinlein would be reasonably satisfied. At least I'm confident he isn't spinning in his grave.

"Starship Troopers" is a must see, as long as you aren't faint of heart.

I wish Verhoeven hadn't chosen Nazi Germany as the inspiration for the future military's look, though. When combined with the book's moralizing, people (well, movie critics anyway) thought the society being pictured was "quasi-fascist" (whatever the hell that means), when those who've read the book know it was nothing of the sort. And I wish the bugs hadn't been so hard to kill. In the book you could kill them without great difficulty, but it didn't matter because there were so many of them they just kept coming. The movie touches on this (witness the bug picture nearby), with the waves of bugs that try to engulf the grunts, but I found it a bit hard to believe that anyone got out alive with the weak firepower the MI used here.

Rather than get into all the goodies about the plot, and the special effects, suffice it to say that you definitely get your money's worth. The spaceship effects are some of the best ever - and the bugs are creepy enough to give you nightmares. "Starship Troopers" is one heck of a ride! Once you've finished watching this movie you may find yourself wound up tight as a drum, it's that intense an experience in places.

The casting was inspired. Rather than getting big names, and also risk doubling the already huge budget, Verhoeven chose to cast lesser known youngsters who could pass for teenagers. They may not be the most remarkable thespians on the circuit, but they bring a freshness and exuberance to their roles that's believable. They look and act young - and shouldn't kids fresh out of high school be like that?

The DVD release is only in widescreen (which suits me just fine), so the 1.85:1 aspect ratio leads to letterboxing on your square TV. It has the usual multi-lingual soundtracks and subtitles, with Dolby Digital and Pro-Logic on the English tracks. You can also take advantage of a separate audio track in which Paul Verhoeven gives a running commentary while the film runs, a very nice bonus.

On the second side they've included the theatrical trailer, a short (too short) documentary, and a handful of scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor (and will probably find their way into a "special edition" sometime down the road when the film has acquired the cult status it undoubtedly will). There's also a handful of "behind the scenes" glimpses, including video screen tests for actors and bugs.

Colour and sound are, as usual with DVD, superb for the most part. The surround tracks come through very well, though I thought the front centre channel was a bit weaker than it could have been. It wasn't a big criticism, though.

One thing I didn't like was the lack of labelling on the disk itself. There's printing around the spindle hole, but I found it too small to read, and so had to guess which was Side One and which was Side Two. Even a little sticker would have sufficed.

But if that's my biggest complaint about this movie (other than the lack of powered suits), then I obviously don't have a lot of quibbles. In fact, I'd have to say that the DVD version of Heinlein/Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers" is excellent, a great film. The production and manufacturing values are superb, and the movie itself is a fine tribute to the spirit of the late science fiction master.

It's too bad it wasn't a big box office success in theatres; that'll discourage Hollywood from filming other important science fiction novels. Perhaps the video sales will make up for that; I certainly hope so. I want to see more of this type of film - and this quality of film.

"Starship Troopers" belongs in every science fiction fan's film library.


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Updated May 13, 2006