Troopers" on DVD
Heinlein Meets Verhoeven.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
belongs in every science fiction fan's film library.
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