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review added: 10/8/02



Starship Troopers
Special Edition - 1997 (2002) - TriStar/Touchstone (Columbia TriStar)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Starship Troopers: Special Edition Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/A

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
130 mins, Rated R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, cardboard digipack case, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:12:03 in chapter 19), audio commentary (with director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier), audio commentary (with actors Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer and Neil Patrick Harris), isolated score (with commentary by composer Basil Poledouris - DD 5.0), cast and crew filmographies, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (2.0 Stereo), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: The Extras
NR, full frame and letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, dual-layered (no layer switch), Death from Above documentary, Know Your Foe special effects featurettes, The Starships of Starship Troopers featurette, 9 special effects comparisons, 3 storyboard comparisons, The Making of Starship Troopers vintage featurette, conceptual art galleries, 2 scene de-constructions (with commentary by Paul Verhoeven), 5 deleted scenes, screen tests, Bug test film: Don't Look Now, 3 theatrical trailers (for Starship Troopers, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Resident Evil), DVD trailer for Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, languages: English (DD 2.0 and 5.1), subtitles: none


"Would you like to know more?"

They say lightning never strikes the same place twice. So according to that cliché, when the RoboCop team of director Paul Verhoeven, screenwriter Ed Neumeier and visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett reteamed for another futuristic action satire, the result should have been disastrous. Fortunately, rules were made to be broken. Starship Troopers is, to my eyes anyway, a huge improvement over RoboCop (which, I hasten to add, is also a terrific movie) and certainly one of the most subversive big-budget sci-fi pictures ever made.

Based on Robert A. Heinlein's novel, Starship Troopers is an outer space coming-of-age story... set against the backdrop of an intergalactic war with gigantic insects... and in which all of the kids grow up to be rabid fascists. Maybe I'd better explain. It's senior year and football star Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is worried that reveille bugles are breaking up that ole gang of his. Both his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards) and his brainiac buddy Carl (Neil Patrick Harris) are leaving immediately after graduation to serve in the military. Service guarantees citizenship in their society but if you're rich, like the Rico family, you don't need to be a citizen. But Johnny is so ga-ga over Carmen ("I'm sure she looks very handsome in her uniform," his mother disapprovingly tells him) that he signs up, too. But Johnny's grades aren't the best, so while Carmen goes off for pilot training (as in The World is Not Enough, Denise Richards is typecast as a math genius), Johnny joins the mobile infantry. At boot camp, things go from bad to worse for Rico. Another friend from school, Dizzy (Dina Meyer), shows up, still nursing the crush on Johnny she's carried for years. Carmen sends a "Dear Johnny" letter, breaking up with him. A mistake on the training field results in Johnny getting a fellow recruit killed. And just as he's about to chuck the whole thing and take a stroll down Washout Lane, the bugs destroy Johnny's hometown of Buenos Aires and all-out war breaks out. Filled with a taste for payback, Johnny falls in step and goes off to squash some bug.

As John Landis told me in the interview I did with him for this site, satire is incredibly hard to pull off because it has to function both as a satire and as the thing it's satirizing. Dr. Strangelove is a prime example of this and so is Starship Troopers. On the one hand, if you go into this just wanting to see a bunch of monsters get blown up real good, you won't be disappointed. The action and special effects in this movie are top-notch, holding their own against any blockbuster of the past decade. But you don't have to look too far beneath the surface to see a far more interesting agenda at work. Verhoeven and Neumeier draw inspiration from the propaganda films of both sides of World War II, the American Why We Fight series and Leni Riefenstahl's bone chilling Nazi classic Triumph of the Will. Sure, the enemy is literally dehumanized in Starship Troopers, but so are the humans. This is conveyed through the perfect casting of living Ken and Barbies like Van Dien and Richards. The Fednet News Feeds that pop up throughout the film are hilarious and serve to deepen our understanding of how this brutal utopia really works. And just in case you've somehow still managed to miss the point, Verhoeven has the audacity to dress Doogie Howser himself in full SS regalia for the movie's third act. Back in '97, a lot of critics condemned Verhoeven for making a "pro-fascist" movie, a charge I simply didn't understand at all. It seems clear to me that the audience is meant to enjoy and cheer on all the carnage and bloodshed in Starship Troopers, but by the end of the movie, if you've been paying any attention at all, you should be asking yourself, "What the hell was I doing and who are these creeps I've been rooting for?"

Would you like to know more?

When I first heard that Columbia TriStar was releasing a two-disc special edition of Starship Troopers, my first thought was, "Didn't they already release this as a special edition?" This isn't a case like Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where the first release was so pathetically anemic that a re-release was absolutely mandatory. Starship Troopers seemed pretty darn good on DVD the first time around. So what's the point?

The video quality does seem to be a little bit better on the new release. This is a shiny, plastic-looking movie and the smooth, anamorphic picture captures that perfectly. This isn't quite a reference-quality disc, with some extremely minor speckles on the print toward the beginning, but it's awfully good. As for audio, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is good but, then again, so was the first release. There's no DTS option or major sonic improvement on the new version. Get ready for some thundering bass in the many, many explosions and battle scenes. The surrounds are smooth and well integrated, making for a very satisfying listening experience.

So with the technical aspects of the presentation being only marginally better than the original release, obviously the raison d'être for this edition lies in the extras. And they are some very special features indeed. Let's start with the commentaries. Carried over from the first edition is the track by Verhoeven and Neumeier. This is a great commentary focusing more on the themes and ideas of the film than the production. Practically every scene serves as a launching point for a debate of politics, the military, propaganda and history... if CNN launched a movie discussion show, it would sound something like this. For a more traditional, anecdotal commentary, check out the newly recorded track by Casper Van Dien, Neil Patrick Harris and Dina Meyer. They fill in some amusing production stories, but it's obvious they're new to the whole commentary game. Fortunately, Verhoeven is on hand here as well to keep things moving and pick up the slack when the kids go quiet. Best of all is the isolated score, presented in Dolby Digital 5.0, with commentary by composer Basil Poledouris. I've always found Poledouris to be a very hit-or-miss composer, but his score for Starship Troopers is simply magnificent. It sounds great on this track and Poledouris's comments are consistently interesting and insightful.

Would you like to know more?

Disc Two contains everything you always wanted to know about Starship Troopers but were afraid to ask. The newly produced documentary, Death from Above, covers a lot of ground but has the political and social agenda of the film as its primary focus. If visual effects are more your thing, there's plenty of behind-the-scenes featurettes for you, too. All of the bugs and spaceships are given their own featurettes, running between 1 and 6 minutes each. These serve as a terrific foundation for the special effects comparison section, in which 9 effects-heavy scenes are shown in raw form with the final version onscreen simultaneously as a picture-in-picture. This is a great feature, particularly when you hear Verhoeven's voice off-camera making scary noises for his actors' benefit, though it may have been better presented as a multi-angle feature. The same is true of the 3 storyboard comparison scenes. The conceptual art galleries give us sketches of everything from bugs and guns to costumes and propaganda posters. All of the other features from the original release are here as well, including 2 "scene de-constructions"; somewhat similar to the special effects comparisons, with Verhoeven's breathless commentary. There are also 5 mercifully deleted scenes, the screen tests of Van Dien and Richards, a very, very brief test film showing the bugs in action and the EPK fluff-piece The Making of Starship Troopers, which is nice to have for the sake of completists but is utterly superfluous in light of everything else on the disc.

If anything, I like Starship Troopers more today than I did back in '97. In light of America's current War on Iraq debate, I can't imagine this movie would even be released today. Columbia's new 2-disc set does a great job of giving this underrated movie its due and, in the end, I'm glad they went back and revisited the title. Now if only they'd go back and redo a few of their featureless early titles that really NEED to be re-released, like Bram Stoker's Dracula and The Fifth Element. Memo to Sony: we'd like to know more.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com




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