Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Movie Review: Starship Troopers

[Note: spoilers]

Starship Troopers: I watched this one because I heard the book was one of the most important science fiction novels of all time. You know, one of the top twenty-five to have defined the genre. It's about war and its effects on people and society, written by a vet. You can see that influence in the movie itself, though I have to wonder how much of the genre-defining qualities were lost in the page-to-film translation. It comes out, for the most part, as a simple science-fiction bug-shooter blended with an army movie, but for little touches that make you forced to wonder how much more there is to it. For instance, there's the scene where the enroller says of the man character's acceptance into the Mobile Infantry, "The Infantry made me the man I am today," and then rolls back his chair to reveal that his cyber-prosthetic arm is the tip of the iceberg to his two missing legs. This makes you think a little more about the rhetoric of manhood and nation- or identity-forming through the military, but the moment is fleeting. Add to this the brutal training methods at boot camp and the creepy fascist undertones (particularly the Intelligence guys in the Nazi SS getup), and you get pro-war, pro-America jingoism played in enough of a minor key that you're forced to get that there's a bit more to it than what's on the surface.

There are two elements that make this movie really stand out for me, one good and one bad. The good comes first.

The romantic interest story in the movie, while fairly simple, is one of the most convincing I've seen. Boyfriend and girlfriend each have interests on the side; the guy has a girl from highschool after him who he's pushing away, and the girl has a guy from another school flirting with her to whom she's more than willing to give, shall we say, attention. After winding up in different arms of the military, she dumps him via a Dear John video. He falls into the other girl's arms--she's been assigned to his squad--and she's already started a dalliance with that other guy, who's her superior officer. The main girl (Christmas Jones from The World is Not Enough, incidentally) thinks the main guy dies, and things go on from there. But then the two side interests, after finally getting what they're after, up and die near the end of the movie, getting themselves conveniently out of the way for the inevitable reunion between main guy and main girl. Except that that reunion is never explicitly romantic, or the romantic side of it doesn't happen onscreen, at any rate. There are two other movies to deal with that, but I don't know for sure that they're in those movies. Anyway, that part of the story was actually enjoyable and not taken for granted by the scriptwriters.

The part I had trouble with is also near the end, so don't read if you want to watch the movie. The bugs have in their colonies a caste dubbed 'the brains,' which are old and intelligent insects that organize the bugs' attacks and defenses. They also suck out human brains either for analysis or for augmentation to their brain power; I'm not sure which. Anyway, by the end of the movie they catch one and the protagonist's best friend from highschool, a sensitive, manages to read its mind. With dramatic pause, out of the sunlight scene of victory, he says of the disabled creature, "It's . . . afraid." Everyone cheers. After this we see the three highschool friends chumming it up, reunited at last, and celebration goes out for the army trainer who finally made private. Yay! And then we are subjected to a news video montage about the progress of the war, the advances being made, the brave commanding troops, a call for enlistment, etc. Included is a shot of the brain bug in a lab being subjected to obviously painful experiments. All of this is packaged like the optimistic news war reports of the 40s-60s, with pluckly music in the background. And then we see starships flying out into space with a rising score almost akin to the famous introduction and conclusion music of Star Wars. And this makes me queasy, because all I see is this bug being tortured and terrified by oppressive captures. I realize this is the same bug that killed Christmas Jones' bf through brain-sucking, and that it instigated a reign of terror on several humans, but I still have a hard time dealing with the plucky and again jingoistic treatment of cruelty, even on enemies. What makes it even more disturbing is that I can't tell whether the film is intended to be understood this way, or whether it is at this point meant to be read on surface level. Any suggestions from folks who've seen the movie?

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