Program Length: 129 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
Languages (Feature): English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, French Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Languages (Supplements): English (Dolby Surround), English (Stereo), English (Mono)
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Force, my friends, is violence – the supreme authority from which all other authority is derived.
When Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation of Starship Troopers was released in 1997, it was attacked by some critics for supposedly being a paean to fascism. This charge was doubly ironic, for Verhoeven actually despises fascism, and those misguided critics failed to recognize that Starship Troopers is itself intentionally ironic. It also is a spectacular and thrilling giant insects film.
Based upon the award-winning novel by Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers takes place at an undefined point in the future. A one-world government called the “Federation” has taken control of Earth. It is a world where the inhabitants are divided between citizens and non-citizens. Citizenship is a status which must be earned. While the full benefits of citizenship are not spelled out, we learn that citizenship is required for a career in politics, and citizens who wish to have children have an easier time than non-citizens in getting permission from the government. One way to achieve citizenship is by volunteering to spend two years in the Federation’s armed forces, a point which is driven home through incessant advertising on the government-run television system.
At the center of the story are four high school students, whom we meet as they are about to graduate high school in Buenos Aires. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) has chiseled good looks but no real sense of what he wants to do with his life, other than that he wants to spend it with Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards). Carmen likes Johnny, but she is ambivalent about committing to him because she has her sights set upon becoming an interplanetary pilot. One girl in school who would without hesitation commit to Johnny is Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), but Johnny only has eyes for Carmen. The fourth student is Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), who demonstrates that he has psychic abilities. I have to admit that the setup about Rico and the two girls made me think about Archie, Veronica and Betty – both girls are hot, one is totally smitten with the boy, but the boy chooses to pursue the one who has other things on her mind.
Rico discovers that he has a rival, Zander Barcalow (Patrick Muldoon). Zander competed against Rico in a futuristic high school version of arena football, and now Rico learns that Zander has designs on Carmen. To make matters worse, both Carmen and Zander have been accepted to train as Federation pilots, whereas Rico’s poor math scores have relegated him to the Mobile Infantry. Carl, in the meantime, has parlayed his ability at E.S.P. into a position with military intelligence. Dizzy, who is not ready to concede Rico to Carmen, also signs up for the Mobile Infantry.
In the meantime, a group of Mormons has set up a colony within the solar system of Klendathu, a planet which is inhabited by giant and remarkably resourceful arachnids. The bugs respond to this intrusion into their territory by wiping out the colonists. When Buenos Aires is later destroyed by a meteor, the Federation announces that the meteor was shot out of its orbit and toward Earth by the arachnids. The Federation (ironically headquartered in Geneva) declares war and the Starship Troopers are dispatched to Klendathu to crush the bugs. The military leaders anticipate an easy victory over their supposedly inferior opponents, but the bugs have other ideas. The Federation is so certain of a quick and decisive victory that a news crew is sent along to provide live coverage of the proceedings. Alas, the initial invading force is forced to retreat after sustaining heavy casualties during an incredibly violent battle. The Federation military is stunned to discover that the bugs are actually controlled by an intelligent force. What was expected to be a stroll in the park turns into a very long, bloody and costly war.
Throughout it all, the young people who have been thrust into life-and-death situations never question the justification for fighting the bugs. No thought is given to the possibility that the bugs had good reason to object to humans colonizing their land without permission or that perhaps they had nothing to do with the meteor crashing into South America. Nor is any thought given to trying to negotiate a peace, for the creed of the Federation is that violence is the supreme authority – indeed, the Federation’s position is that violence solves everything.
The parallels to the current war in Iraq might be seen as totally lacking in subtlety but for the fact that Starship Troopers was made ten years ago. That makes the film seem almost prescient - a major city is struck by a cataclysmic event, the populace is agitated into supporting a rush to war, the justification for war is far from clear, and there is a critical failure to accurately assess the capabilities and intentions of the enemy. However, there is no subtlety at all about the portrayal of the Federation military as fascists. Anyone who may have missed that point will surely get it when seeing Carl, now an intelligence officer, decked out in a full-length black leather trench coat.
Putting such issues aside, one can also enjoy Starship Troopers on a purely visceral level, because the battle sequences are truly amazing. One scene, which director Verhoeven freely acknowledges was inspired by Zulu, shows an elite company of troopers (the “Roughnecks”) holed up in a compound while being surrounded and attacked by thousands of marauding arachnids. The special effects were amazing a decade ago, and they hold up extremely well today.
Viewers should be warned that the film also includes some very gruesome scenes, including decapitations and limbs torn asunder, so the faint of heart may want to stay away.
The bottom line is that this highly stylized film is must for sci-fi fans, provided that you are not put off by intense, bloody battle scenes and a bit of nudity.
The 1080p Blu-ray widescreen transfer is excellent and appears to have accurately re-created the look of the film. An appropriate amount of film grain is evident from the opening Tri-Star logo, and it does not appear that Starship Troopers has been subjected to excessive DNR or edge enhancement. A moderate amount of grain is evident throughout most of the film. Elsewhere I have seen complaints that the last quarter of Starship Troopers suffers from some artificial sharpening, but I did not notice any such anomalies. The image is quite vivid and the bugs almost seem to jump off the screen at times. The film appears to be framed properly. Colors and flesh tones are accurate and color saturation is excellent. Shadow detail is very good, as I could not find a single scene in which any important information is obscured.
This is a very loud film, with explosions, crashes, mid-space collisions of fiery spacecraft, automatic gunfire, and very noisy insects. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack will give your system a workout, as there is a lot of audio information in the surround channels and a considerable amount of thunderous bass for the subwoofers to handle. The default volume of the feature is set lower than that of the supplements, so turn down the volume a bit before you switch from the former to the latter. My only complaint is that the dialogue seemed to be slightly muddled on a couple of occasions, with the voices of the characters being overwhelmed by the sound from the other channels. That was a minor annoyance, however, as it occurred too rarely to be a significant issue.
Pay attention during the feature, because there is a quiz afterwards. Seriously.
One of the many supplements on this disc is a “Recruitment Test,” which quizzes the viewer to see if you have the requisite knowledge to join the armed forces of the Federation.
The disc has two commentaries. One includes the comments of director Verhoeven and three members of the cast: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, and Neil Patrick Harris. This commentary is very amusing, as the stars reminisce about their experiences while making the film and the difficulties involved in staging fight scenes against an invisible enemy (the bugs, of course, were added later). The other commentary features Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier. Neumeier, who read Heinlein's book when he was a teenager, talks about the challenges inherent in turning the novel into a movie and expounds upon some of the changes he made.
A 32-minute featurette entitled “Death From Above” is well worth your time. It is partly a “making of” featurette, but it also goes into great detail about how Verhoeven was inspired by World War II propaganda films. There is considerable bewilderment expressed about the fact that so many critics missed the point of Starship Troopers.
Three shorter featurettes are not terribly impressive. One is a brief, conventional “making of” piece. Another takes a look at the spaceships which were designed for the film, and the third is a one-minute test film which was made to let the actors know what the bugs would look like in the finished product.
Another special feature describes the five different types of bugs which the troopers face during the various battle scenes. There is also a feature which compares the storyboards to the finished product, and another which compares how scenes looked before and after FX was added. A scene deconstruction by the director also is of interest.
Also included are five deleted scenes and two original screen tests by Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards.
Finally, there is a “Blue Wizard” function which allows the viewer to program the disc so that the special features can pop up while watching the film. I did not try it out as it seems rather pointless to me, but others may want to give it a chance.
There are also unspecified BD Live features. My BD player is not compatible with BD Live, but it would not have made any difference because Sony has announced that the BD Live features will not be enabled until the release date.
The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase.
The Final Analysis
However one feels about the political sensibilities of Starship Troopers, it is an exciting and astounding sci-fi film which is certain to entertain fans of the genre. This Blu-ray edition shows off the film to great advantage, and it is one that you will turn to when you want to show off your system to your friends.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD10A DVD Player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: August 5, 2008