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Volume 2, Number 11
December, 1997

You Gotta See This Starship Troopers

by Molly Degnan

 There were three books I read to the point of memorization in junior high: Little Women, Are you there God? It's me Margaret, and Starship Troopers. A view of the past, the present and the future. While all three could be considered classics (or are destined to become them), it should be noted that they are aimed at the pre-teen reader. People change and improve with age, storylines do not. Troopers is an excellent novel for younger readers, and the film version could have been excellent had the director understood the intended age group.
 Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers can be looked at in two distinct ways: a serious look at the future of civilization, or the hilarity of the director of Showgirls attempting a film of the "space battle" genre. If you choose to spend two hours of your life watching Starship Troopers, please heed the fact that the novel was aimed at 11 year olds. I doubt the director meant to insult your intelligence; apparently his own intelligence level is on par with that of the intended reading audience.
 Plot: Early in the millennium, the Earth becomes engaged in a war with the Bugs, a race of vicious insects that colonize the galaxy by hurling their spores into space. Disappointingly, the Bug Planet (called Klendathu) is quite boring, dry and rocky; they have no buildings, technology, transportation, just the ability to attack and propagate. They are also somehow able to level cities on Earth with fiery asteroids sent from their planet, but since they don't seem to own the technology to do so, these abilities must have developed along Darwinian lines; to say that they test the theory of evolution is putting it mildly. They also have no real shelter, headquarters or anything to eat. These minor items aside, the Bugs do look pretty real. More on that later.
 So human beings recruit Starship Troopers, an army of space travelers, to fight the Bugs. Their method is to machine-gun the Bugs to death. This does not work very well. Grenades seem to do the job, but these crazy earthlings who have achieved interstellar travel somehow miss this critical point. One would think that they would have come up with a powerful insecticide, but no. So we follow the recruitment, battle-baptism and maturity of Johnny Rico, the main character, and a couple of his cohorts (interesting note: Doogie Howser is one).
 That's pretty much it.
 Humans fight Bugs. Humans win.
 There are some interesting aspects to the film, however. The special effects, although used in an uncreative manner, were quite good. The underlying ideas of the film were interesting as well. The fascist society in which Starship Troopers is set is true to the novel, though not as developed.
 Ultimately, however, the film does not achieve what I suspect (and hope) the filmmaker was after: it has none of the genius or sheer entertainment value of Star Wars . It simply does not resonate. Although it is sexier, bloodier and, in parts, funnier than its SciFi counterparts, it seems like a lost episode of Melrose Place set in space. If this is what you are after, a semi-plot film with some neato effects, order up some popcorn and enjoy the feature presentation. If, however, you are looking for a creative turn on science fiction, read the novel. Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers" just doesn't make the grade. He leaves us the satire and the action while cutting any thread of human nature that makes us give a rat about the characters. Where "Star Wars" is humanist, "Starship Troopers" is totalitarian, which could be interesting if this aspect of the film was developed. Or any aspect of the film was developed. There is just not much to it. There is no element of joy, or rebellion, or the million other things that gave the novel breadth.
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