Starship Troopers - A Retrospective

I remember watching an episode of the Simpsons with my brother Nick. This was back at a time when all they ever showed were the good reruns, in fact, this was a time when there was no such thing as a "bad" episode of the Simpsons at all. I was sitting on the carpet, and I looked up to the television in time to see a trailer for Starship Troopers. That was when my brother said "we have to go see this." It may not seem like a long time ago that Starship Troopers was released into theaters, for me it certainly doesn't, but the reality is somewhat striking. Starship Troopers, the heavily laden special-effects extravaganza, was release on November 7, 1997. As of now that makes it roughly eleven years old. I was nine at the time.

1997 was the stone age. There was no such thing as the "internet," fat Star Wars kid still had a future, and lolcatz still could haz all the cheeseburgers they wanted. Furthermore, The World Trade Centers were still standing, Columbine was a place in Colorado no one had ever heard of, and the only snipers around were kids with bee-bee guns. So who cared if I got a ticket to go see Starship Troopers? Sure, I still had to sneak into the theater close behind my (at that time, future) brother in law, but it was no big deal. It's not as though any reviews had been posted online for anyone to reference.

So when I saw the images of a young soldier shot in the head and his exposed brain matter splattered across a landscape, I wasn't quite sure how to take it, apart from looking down at my popcorn. Nor was I sure how to mentally process the severed limbs, disemboweled corpses, melting soldiers, let alone what was going on with all that nudity.

Basically, I didn't know what "awesome" was yet.

Clearly, my brother in law's friends did, and they didn't help much afterwards with their somewhat crude reflections concerning the film on the ride home. Reflections which were hilariously more disturbing than the event itself.

I can't say I was disturbed by Starship Troopers, but I can say that it served as a perfect preparation for what was to come over the next ten years. For better and for worse. As mentioned earlier, the world has become a far different place since the bug-blasting action movie was released. It's experiences like mine, in which "children" are exposed to the horrors of entertainment, that are now retrospectively blamed for massacres and terrorist acts. Our society has attempted to end violence by regulating what we can decide to participate in. We have taken censorship to the level of science, correcting "chemical imbalances" to lower our anger, depression, and excitement, until we are left numb, with nothing but Novocain in our heads. A cure worse than the disease. Have we reacted in the right way?
Which was more disturbing to me, the fact that sick people were doing bad things in this world, or the fact that I was told they did bad things because they liked the same movies I did?

This past week I watched Starship Troopers for the first time since I was nine years old.
In some ways, it has certainly aged. People of the future seem to use computers with the processing power of a current calculator.
In other ways, it has surprisingly remained ahead of it's time. Especially in concern to special effects, which have even been recycled in trailers for direct to video sequels to the 1997 film.

Then, amazingly, Starship Troopers has improved, like a fine wine.
It's cynical satire on wartime propaganda films is still what it was eleven years ago, but it's commentary on wartime politics is almost disturbingly prophetic. Starship Troopers tells the story of a military that declares a war against a foreign enemy after an attack hits home. Given, this foreign enemy happens to be a planet inhabited by giant bugs, but the human military makes the strangely familiar mistake of underestimating the enemy and beginning a war that has no perceptible end in sight.

The characters, although wooden and interchangeable, have a striking value system in which the primary virtue is to die, preferably by the hands of a comrade, in the midst of battle. It doesn't matter how useful or meaningful the battles are, just as long as they keep killing bugs. The primary criticism of the movie is that there really is no degree of human involvement, we're dealing with people as empty as their bullet casings. But unintentionally or not (most likely unintentionally) it improves the film's argument, of war not just being hell, not just something inhuman, but something un-human. It's something out of this world.

I loved Starship Troopers more now than I did when I was nine. In fact, strangely, I feel as though it's something I would have imagined on my own and would have tried to make today. Well, maybe not in exactly the same way, but I still connect with it.

Of course, I'd never take my kid to see it.
But then again, I don't want any kid to have to watch Dora the Explorer, or have anything to do with the Disney Channel, or go the other route and have television outlawed altogether.
I'd probably give my kids the same upbringing I did. We'll watch old episodes of Animaniacs. Reflect the moral lessons we learned from Batman: The Animated Series. And then maybe I'll get to top it off with old reruns of Simpsons.
Of course, only the good ones.

Movies might take a similar course.
But then again, if I see something cool come up sometime, who knows. I might neglect to check the review.


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