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Starship Troopers (1997)

They should've brought some bug spray. — Written by OhLookBirdies on 15.02.2010

Starship Troopers is an interesting film. It works on several levels, the first being a simple science fiction film with an overabundance of gore and violence, but the second being an interesting and well-thought out criticism of fascism and totalitarian governments. And the great thing is, if you're not into socio-political commentaries, you can just ignore that aspect and watch it for all the flying guts.

Now, personally, I am interested in socio-political commentaries. I remember reading Animal Farm when I was 11 or so, and being struck by how simply yet powerfully it turned the Soviet Union and Russian communism in a story about talking pigs. Starship Troopers isn't quite so specific, it's no parable for Nazi Germany or anything like that. Instead, it paints a picture of a future where Earth is entirely governed by one government, and the human race is exploring outer space. This goes wrong when we piss off a race of giant intergalactic bugs, who then send an asteroid our way. This asteroid crushes Buenos Aires, killing hundreds of thousands, including the parents of protagonist Johnny Rico. Earth vows to strike back, and the bugs' home planet is invaded, with disastrous results. The few survivors fall back, Earth licks its wounds, and plans for further attacks are crafted.

As I mentioned earlier, Starship Troopers works very well as a science fiction horror film. The bugs are well-worked out, and incredibly aggressive, meaning there's blood, guts, limbs and other things that work better when attached to a body flying across the screen in alarming quantities. Lots of things explode, including giant bugs, splattering brightly coloured bug juice everywhere. We even get a taste of what's to come before the war even starts, when some of our protagonists are dissecting bugs in school. These particular bugs are beetles the size of cats, which for some reason possess extraordinarily mammal-like organs, causing Johnny's girlfriend to puke up her lunch when he heaps several of these organs in her hands. Like I said, if it's subtlety you want, you're looking in the wrong place.

But what about that socio-political criticism of totalitarian fascist regimes, I hear you ask? (On a side note, try saying "socio-political criticism of totalitarian fascist regimes" out loud, see how many times you stumble.) Well, the society Paul Verhoeven has painted here can rightly be considered dystopian, even though everybody seems happy. In fact, that is one of the scariest aspects of the entire film. Here you have a society founded on militarism and warfare, there is not a single shred of democracy left, the only way to achieve citizen's rights is by joining the army, and yet, everybody seems completely unconcerned and happy. Sure, there's some people who grumble a bit, but nobody is sufficiently disturbed to actually do anything about their governmental situation. This is a situation that is even scarier than "Nineteen Eighty Four", because here people are so totally and voluntarily oppressed, they don't even require constant policing and terror. In fact, they don't even know they're oppressed.

Somebody once told me "RoboCop" was meant to be a cutting and witty criticism on contemporary consumer societies, but when the idea was pitched to the studio, Verhoeven was told "We like the bit about the robotic cop, let's use that and chuck the rest." As Starship Troopers clearly shows, if the studio had gone for the consumer society thing instead, few people would have been able to pull off the action/serious critique juxtaposition as well as Paul Verhoeven.

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