Starship Troopers Review--game stuff added to keep it on topic

From: agoodall@s... (Allan Goodall)
Date: Sat, 08 Nov 1997 06:31:30 GMT
Subject: Starship Troopers Review--game stuff added to keep it on topic

This is going to the SF Con Sim list and the FT list. Apologies if you
get this twice.



To understand the film you have to understand the two most important
men in its production: Paul Verhoven and Robert Heinlein. Verhoven
grew up in the Netherlands during the Nazi occupation and apparently
saw some pretty bad stuff. This has coloured most of his film work,
most obviously--and first--noticed in the film _Robocop_. Apparently
Verhoven doesn't like Americans much, or at least American culture. He
certainly has a major hate on for fascism, wherever he thinks he sees
it. Heinlein, on the other hand, had what could be considered "a good
war." A weakened heart due to pneumonia during the '30s had him
cashiered out of the US Navy. While his military fiction tended
towards the gung ho, death-before-dishonour style of the '40s and
'50s, he had some rather important things to say about personal
responsibility and he had a knack for predicting future American
society (such as the rise of the religious right and the "no-go" zones
in American inner cities).

The movie _Starship Troopers_ is an adaptation of Heinlein's book. A
peculiar adaptation. For Verhoven has taken Heinlein's allegory on the
island war against the Japanese and sets it up as an anti-war parody.
The plot, in a nutshell: humans settling outlying worlds encounter big
mindless bugs. The bugs attack the Earth, precipitating a war. The
humans attack the bugs but are gorily repulsed. They attack again,
only to fall into a bug trap that suggests that the bugs are
controlled by an intelligent "brain bug." The Mobile Infantry are sent
in one more time to capture one of these bugs. Meanwhile, the hero of
the story, who joined up because his girlfriend wanted to be a pilot,
wrestles with his reasons for going to war.

You've heard that the script is wooden, much like the acting. I agree,
but I think this is deliberate. The dialog is reminiscent of Frank
Capra's WW2 films. In fact, Verhoven throws in Capra-esque "newsreels"
throught the film (one of which even uses a line from Capra's own War
Dept. newsreels). Yes, the Filipino Rico is blonde haired and blue
eyed (green eyed, actually). Again, this is deliberate. Rico is the
All-American soldier, joining up to impress his girl only later to
recognize that the war has a "higher purpose." If you doubt the
deliberateness of the parody, you only have to look at the symbology
of the Federation flag, and "Doogie Howser's" Gestapo-inspired
officer's uniform. 

You've also heard that the film has little of the book in it. In this
I disagree. There is a fair bit of the book in the film. Gone is the
powered armour of the MI, the Y racks, and the Skinnies. Added are the
love interests, the gore, and the weird forms of bugs. Still, most of
the characters are there from the book. So is the Roger Young, the
destruction of Buenos Aries, Rico's flogging, the brain bug, Planet P,
and most of Heinlein's civics lesson. The dialog is very similar to
Heinlein's own (and in some cases verbatim). 

I personally feel that the lack of powered armour was deliberate
(though Verhoven claims it was for technical reasons). The film is
VIOLENT, which would be diminished if the dead were encased in
armoured suits. Bits of humans get thrown around like cow parts at a
meat packing plant. In this the film is fairly realistic. One of the
things that most writers ignore when dealing with war is the sheer
amount of dismemberment that goes on. Not Verhoven. He delights in
ripping off limbs and chopping off heads. There's a point where all
but the most sociopathic in the audience stop cheering for the action.
If you have a weak constitution, you may want to skip supper until
after the movie. As a counterpoint to the carnage, the actors continue
to shoot merrily at the bugs. Hardly anyone flinches, or runs away, no
one even really swears. Instead, they do their duty like a good Capra
film star while their buddies are torn limb-from-limb. The only ones
to "bug out" in dishonour are quickly, and messily, dispatched. This
is a propoganda film intercut with a slasher flick. This is WHOLLY
intentional. The soldiers are straight out of the '40s but the gore is
most definitely a product of the '90s.

While it remains as faithful to the technical details of the book as
is humanly possible in Hollywood these days, it fails in that it not
only doesn't respect the source material, it takes it upstairs,
sodomises it the entire night, and calls it a whore the next morning.
Okay, so _Starship Troopers_ (the novel) was a civics lesson wrapped
around American jingoism and an old fashioned war story. Heinlein was
a product of his times, and so was his book. Verhoven doesn't seem to
understand this, preferring instead to show Heinlein as some sort of
elderly fascist. Okay, so REAL war isn't as sanitary as Heinlein
tended to suggest. Did Mr. Verhoven have to beat us over the head with
this fact for 2 hours? 

I wanted a serious combat SF story. I would have lived with a cheesy
sci-fi bug hunt, ala _Independance Day_. What I got was something
altogether different and harder to watch.

As a parody of WW2 propoganda films and 1950s style military science
fiction _Starship Troopers_ is an interesting film, but I can't
honestly say that I liked it. Funny, though, but I can't really say
that I disliked it either. The bugs WERE a lot of fun...

Now that the "serious" review is done, some observations: 

The special effects were very good. I liked the various bugs and I
loved the starship sequences. This is a good film for eye-candy. I
also got some good belly laughs early on  when I thought Verhoven was
trying for a funny parody. By the end of the movie I'd stopped

From a gaming point of view, there isn't much to recommend it. The
humans don't use much in the way of tactics. They don't have artillery
or mortars, nor do they have heavy weapon, tank, or air support. The
bugs, on the other hand, display a reasonable sense of combined arms
doctrine even though their main tactic is to attack as a wave. I've
seen the Micromachines toy line for ST, and the bugs look pretty good.
Anyone doing a 15mm to 25mm version of ST could do worse than pick up
these bugs. Unfortunately, they sell for about C$10 (and come with
three 20mm figures), so you'd need to shell out a fair amount of cash
to get enough bugs. 

The space battle scenes are very good, but since they are based on
orbital drops on the planet there isn't much to model for a Full
Thrust or Starfire type game. The ship designs are interesting, so I
hope someone models them for use in Full Thrust or something. If
anyone is interested in doing a Starship Troopers, Kryomek, or Tyranid
style game, this movie should give you some ideas.

Allan Goodall  -

"The secret rules of engagement are hard to endorse,
 when the appearance of conflict meets the appearance of force"
		       - The Tragically Hip