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Starship Troopers: A Primer
By Bert Ehrmann
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Fort Wayne Reader
Over the last decade, I've taken a lot of flack for my unwavering admiration of the movie "Starship Troopers." Most see this movie as little more than a mindless monster "shoot-'em-up," but I see, and have always seen, "Starship Troopers" as having deeper elements, not completely apparent upon first viewing. Consider this first article a primer to, and my obsession with, "Starship Troopers." Future columns will (hopefully) delve more deeply into the movie and look into the different spin-offs of "Starship Troopers," namely the cartoon and role-playing game.
What began as a book written by Robert A. Heinlein in 1959 took some 38 years to be turned into a feature film that was released into theaters on November 7, 1997. I remember the anticipation I had leading up to that day. For months I scoured a pre-Google Internet for any news on the movie. Each morsel of information I found only fed my building excitement. Eschewing tradition, several different movie trailers were released online for Starship Troopers, all of which were quickly gobbled up by yours truly.
"Back in the day," the only place to see movie trailers was in movie theaters. But the relatively new medium of the World Wide Web meant that movie studios could release these same movie trailers online in digital form, and Starship Troopers was one of the first movies to take advantage of this new technology. My friends at that time can attest that I had watched the dial-up friendly, postage-stamp sized Starship Trooper trailers dozens of times before the debut of the movie. When Starship Troopers was finally released, I saw the very first showing here in Fort Wayne and managed to see the movie once more in theaters a few weeks later.
Starship Troopers follows Mobile Infantry trooper Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) as he progresses through an intergalactic war with the insect-like arachnid species, and the toll this war takes on humanity in the 23rd century. In Rico's world, the military IS the government, and the only way to become a citizen with voting rights is to have served in the military. As the movie narrator says, "Service guarantees citizenship."
The arachnids (aka the “bugs’) are presented as mindless killing machines bent on galactic domination. Any human that lands on a bug-infested world faces a gory death and arachnids have gone as far as to hurtle several asteroids at the Earth, obliterating Buenos Aires in the process. The saying goes, "The only good bug is a dead bug," and Rico and friend "Dizzy" Flores (Dina Meyer) find themselves living by this motto slaughtering the bugs by the thousands.
But the plot to Starship Troopers isn’t as simple as it sounds. In the movie, a war is started after an unexpected attack on home soil by an outside force. At home, kids who joined the military looking for a little glory and a way to get a step up in life are thrown into the conflict and find themselves on unfamiliar shores fighting a new kind of war that takes an unexpected and awful toll on human life.
This sounds a bit like our current situation in the Middle East, doesn’t it?
Alas, this movie seemed to come a few years too early and was mostly overlooked by an indifferent public. Starship Troopers was originally slated to open the summer of ’97, was pushed back and the eventual fall release date seemed to hurt the movie at the box office. It didn't help that critic Roger Ebert labeled the film "the most violent kiddie movie ever made" and lacking "excitement." According to IMDB, Starship Troopers cost nearly $100 million to make but only earned around $60 million at the box office.
And that's usually where the story ends for most movies that fail at the box-office – except that's not what happened with Starship Troopers. Somehow, the legacy of Starship Troopers has continued over the years with an assortment of comic books, an ill-fated animated series, a role-playing game, video games, toy-miniatures, a direct-to-video sequel in 2004 and third movie due out sometime this year.
I think it’s time to give Starship Troopers another try. “C'mon you apes, you wanna’ live forever?”