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The story follows a young soldier named Johnny Rico and his exploits in the Mobile Infantry, a futuristic military unit. Rico's military career progresses from recruit to NCO and finally to officer against the backdrop of an interstellar war between mankind and an insectoid species known as "Arachnids".
Starship Troopers was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects at the 70th Academy Awards in 1998. Director Verhoeven says his satirical use of irony and hyperbole is "playing with fascism or fascist imagery to point out certain aspects of American society... of course, the movie is about 'Let's all go to war and let's all die.'"
In the 23rd century, Earth has become a spacefaring federation. While colonizing new planets, humans have encountered an insectoid species known as Arachnids or "Bugs", with their home being the distant world Klendathu. The bugs appear to be little more than killing machines, though there are suggestions that they were provoked by the intrusion of humans into their habitats.
In the federation citizenship is a privilege earned by serving through such activities as military service; citizens are granted opportunities prohibited to others. John "Johnny" Rico, his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez and best friend Carl Jenkins attend high school in Buenos Aires. Fellow student Dizzy Flores is in love with Rico, but he does not reciprocate. They enlist in federation service after graduation. Carmen becomes a spaceship pilot while psychically gifted Carl joins Military Intelligence. Rico enlists in the Mobile Infantry expecting to be with Carmen, but is surprised to find Dizzy, who wanted to be near him.
At Mobile Infantry training, brutal Career Sgt. Zim leads the recruits. Rico is promoted to squad leader and befriends Ace Levy. He later receives a Dear John letter from Carmen, as she desires a career with the fleet and serves under Rico's high school sports rival, Zander Barcalow. After a live-fire training incident that kills one of Rico's squad, he is demoted and flogged. He resigns and calls his parents, but the call is cut off when an asteroid, launched by the Arachnids, obliterates Buenos Aires, killing his family and millions more. Rico rescinds his resignation and remains with the Infantry as an invasion force is deployed to Klendathu.
The first strike on Klendathu is a disaster, with heavy casualties. Rico is wounded and mistakenly classified KIA, causing Carmen to believe he is dead. Rico, Ace and Dizzy are reassigned to the 'Roughnecks', commanded by Lt. Jean Rasczak, Rico's former high school teacher. Rico is promoted to corporal and eventually reciprocates Dizzy's love for him. The Roughnecks respond to a distress call from Planet "P", where they discover an outpost that has been devastated by Bugs. The distress call ends up being a trap and the Arachnids swarm the outpost. Rico, now Acting Sergeant, euthanizes a mortally wounded Rasczak after a Tanker Bug bites his legs off, and after a Bug stabs Dizzy in the torso, she dies in Rico's arms as they are rescued by Carmen and Zander. Rico and Carmen reconnect and encounter Carl, now a high-ranking intelligence officer, at Dizzy's funeral. Carl reveals that there is a reason to believe an intelligent "brain bug" is directing the other Bugs and can learn about the humans. He field-promotes Rico to lieutenant and gives him command of the Roughnecks, ordering the infantry to return to "P" and capture the brain bug.
As Rico's Roughnecks join the mission, the Fleet encounters fire from the Bugs and Carmen's ship is destroyed. The escape pod carrying Carmen and Zander crashes into the Bug tunnel system near Rico. Unknowingly guided by a psychic suggestion from Carl, Rico takes soldiers Ace and Sugar Watkins into the tunnels to rescue both. They find Carmen and Zander surrounded by several types of Arachnids including the brain bug, which places its proboscis into Zander's skull and drains its contents. Before it can take Carmen's brain she cuts off the proboscis with a knife Zander gave her. Rico threatens the Bugs with a small nuclear bomb, so the brain bug allows them to leave. Arachnids pursue them and Watkins is mortally wounded, sacrificing himself by detonating the bomb to kill them while the others escape. After returning to the surface, they find that former Sgt. Zim, who had requested demotion to private so that he could serve at the front, has captured the brain bug. Carl congratulates Rico and tells him and Carmen that the humans will soon be victorious, now that Intelligence can study the brain bug, which is found to be afraid. A propaganda clip is shown starring Carmen (now a captain commanding a battleship), Ace and Rico as model servicemen, encouraging the viewer to enlist.
- Casper Van Dien as Pvt./Cpl./Sgt./Lt. John "Johnny" Rico
- Dina Meyer as Pvt. Dizzy Flores
- Denise Richards as Lt./Capt. Carmen Ibanez
- Jake Busey as Pvt. Ace Levy
- Neil Patrick Harris as Col. Carl Jenkins
- Patrick Muldoon as Lt. Zander Barcalow
- Clancy Brown as Career Sgt./Pvt. Zim
- Michael Ironside as Lt. Jean Rasczak
- Seth Gilliam as Cpl. Sugar Watkins
- Bruce Gray as Sky Marshal Dienes
- Marshall Bell as Gen. Owen
- Eric Bruskotter as Pvt. Breckinridge
- Brenda Strong as Capt. Deladier
- Christopher Curry as Bill Rico
- Lenore Kasdorf as Mrs. Rico
- Denise Dowse as Sky Marshal Meru
- Amy Smart as Pilot Cadet/Lt. Lumbreiser
- Dean Norris as Commanding officer
- Rue McClanahan as Biology teacher
- Dale Dye as Unnamed general
- Anthony Ruivivar as Shujumi
- Robert David Hall as Recruiter
The movie started life as a script called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine. When similarities, especially the "bugs" were pointed out between this and the novel Starship Troopers, plans were made to license the rights to the book and tweak character names and circumstances to match. Verhoeven had never read the book, and attempted to read it for the film, but it made him "bored and depressed", so that he only read a few chapters:
I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring,...It is really quite a bad book. I asked Ed Neumeier to tell me the story because I just couldn't read the thing. It's a very right-wing book.
The "bug planet" scenes were filmed in the badlands of Hell's Half Acre in Natrona County, Wyoming. Several cameos in the film include producer Jon Davison as the angry Buenos Aires resident who says to the FedNet camera "The only good Bug is a dead Bug!" and screenwriter Ed Neumeier as the quickly captured, convicted, and condemned murderer in another FedNet clip. Former U.S. Marine Dale Dye, whose company Warriors, Inc. provided technical military advice on the film, appeared as a high-ranking officer following the capture of the Brain Bug ("What's it thinking, Colonel?"). Mark Wahlberg and James Marsden turned down the role of Johnny Rico, where it ultimately went to Casper Van Dien.
Two nude scenes were kept in the original version (coed shower and bedroom romp between Rico and Dizzy), although these were modified in the broadcast version. The cast agreed to do the co-ed shower scene only if Verhoeven agreed to direct the scene naked, which he did.
Director Verhoeven, producer Davison, writer Neumeier, creature effects designers Phil Tippett and Craig Hayes, and composer Basil Poledouris were all involved with the original RoboCop film. Actor Michael Ironside was also considered for the role of Murphy/RoboCop. Ironside appeared in Verhoeven's Total Recall.
In the commentary track on the DVD or Blu-ray release, Verhoeven remarks that he had hoped to cast actors whose age more closely matched that of the characters—and indeed of real-world soldiers—but that the producers felt such actors would look too young. The teacher and leader of the "Roughnecks" in the novel are combined into one role played by Ironside.
Test audience reactions led to several minor changes before the film was released. Originally, it was clear that Carmen was torn between Rico and Zander. Test audiences, regardless of gender, strongly felt that a woman could not love two men at once so scenes which portrayed this were cut. These audiences also felt it was immoral for Carmen to choose a career ahead of being loyal to Rico to the extent that many commented that, in so doing, Carmen should have been the one to die, instead of Dizzy. While admitting it may have been a bad commercial decision not to change the film to accommodate this, the directors did cut a scene from after Zander's death where Carmen and Rico kiss, which the audience believed made the previous betrayal even more immoral.
Relationship to source novel
Because the movie originated from an unrelated script, with names and superficial details from the novel being added retroactively, there are many differences between the original book and the film. While the original novel has been accused of promoting militarism, fascism and military rule, the film satirizes these concepts by featuring news reports that are intensely fascist, xenophobic, and propagandistic. Verhoeven stated in 1997 that the first scene of the film — an advertisement for the mobile infantry — was adapted shot-for-shot from a scene from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935), specifically an outdoor rally for the Reichsarbeitsdienst. Other references to Nazism in the movie include the Gestapo-like uniforms of commanding officers, Albert Speer-style architecture and the propagandistic dialogue. (Violence is the supreme authority!)
A report in an American Cinematographer article states that the Heinlein novel was optioned well into the pre-production period of the film, which had a working title of Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine; most of the writing team reportedly were unaware of the novel at the time. According to the DVD commentary, Verhoeven never finished reading the novel, claiming he read through the first few chapters and became both "bored and depressed."
In a 2014 interview on The Adam Carolla Show, actor Michael Ironside, who read the book as a youth, said he asked Verhoeven, who grew up in Nazi-occupied Netherlands, "why are you doing a right-wing Fascist movie?" Verhoeven replied, "If I tell the world that a right-wing, Fascist way of doing things doesn't work, no one will listen to me. So I'm going to make a perfect Fascist world: everyone is beautiful, everything is shiny, everything has big guns and fancy ships, but it's only good for killing fucking bugs!"
Likewise, the powered armor technology that is not only central to the book, but became a standard subgenre of science fiction thereafter, is completely absent in the movie, where the characters use World War II–technology weapons and wear light combat gear little more advanced than that. According to Verhoeven, this, and the fascist tone of the book, reflected his own experience in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during WWII.
The film included visual allusions to propaganda films such as Why We Fight, Triumph of the Will, and wartime newsreels. The symbols, and certain clothing styles, of the Federation are modeled on those of the Nazis (e.g., windbreaker, suits, cap, etc.; moreover, the military intelligence officers' uniforms bear a striking similarity to those of the Allgemeine-SS). The satire was embedded in action sequences with special effects.
In the DVD commentary, Verhoeven states the film's message: "War makes fascists of us all." He evokes Nazi Germany—particularly through its use of fashion, iconography and propaganda—which he sees as a natural evolution of the post-World War II United States. "I've heard this film nicknamed All Quiet on the Western Front," he says, "which is actually not far from the truth." Edward Neumeier (who had previously worked with Verhoeven on RoboCop) broadly concurs, although he sees a satire on human history, rather than solely the United States. Since the filmmakers did not make these statements at the time of the film's release, viewers have interpreted it variously: as a satire, as a celebration of fascism or as a simple action film.
Starship Troopers polarized audiences and critics alike. This is reflected in a slightly positive critical response with a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 59 reviews, and 51% on Metacritic, indicating mixed or average reviews based on 20 critics. Starship Troopers was nominated for a number of awards in 1998, including the Academy Award for Visual Effects; the film won Saturn Awards for Best Costumes and Best Special Effects at the 1998 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films, USA Awards.
Hero of the Federation was a sequel to the theatrical film released direct-to-video in 2004, directed by Phil Tippett. A second sequel, Marauder, was released directly to DVD in August 2008. A trailer video was released in March 2012 Starship Troopers: Invasion was released in Japan on July 21, 2012, and in North America on August 28, 2012 as a direct-to-DVD title.
In 1997, Avalon Hill released Starship Troopers: Prepare For Battle!, a board game based on the film version rather than Heinlein's book. Its gameplay focused on limited skirmishes rather than larger battles. The "Skinnies" do not appear, nor is there a political element. Avalon Hill had previously released a game called Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers in 1976. A real-time tactics video game titled Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy was released in 2000. This game also incorporated the powered suits in Heinlein's novel into the Verhoeven version of the Mobile Infantry. It was developed by Australian software company Blue Tongue Entertainment. A first-person shooter game also titled Starship Troopers was released November 15, 2005. This version was developed by Strangelite Studios and published by Empire Interactive. Set five years after the events of the film, the game also featured van Dien voicing the in-game version of Johnny Rico. Sega Pinball released a pinball machine based on this movie.
The film was released simultaneously with a graphic novelization, which retold events from the film. There were also additional series that were released based in the Verhoeven universe, though not directly related to the film. Further series were published by Dark Horse Comics and Markosia. The film was followed by the CGI animated television series Roughnecks: Starship Troopers Chronicles, which is loosely set inside the events of the film just after Rico and Diz join the Roughnecks but before Rico gets promoted.
During the 1980s, Radio Shack marketed a game based on Robert Heinlein's novel.
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