"Starship Troopers"

In this post-"Showgirls" sci-fi epic, Paul Verhoeven is just trying to be a good feminist.

By Andrew O'Hehir

Executive Editor

Published June 20, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

"Starship Troopers"
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Starring Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris
Extras: Director/screenwriter commentary, making-of documentary, more

Intended to be one of the blockbusters of 1997, Paul Verhoeven's tale of warfare between a fascistic future Earth society and the fearsome bugs of the planet Klendathu was something of a box-office stiff. It's no wonder; screenwriter Ed Neumeier's ironic adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's classic sci-fi novel never winks at the viewer, even during the hilarious WWII-style propaganda films ("Know Your Foe!") featuring children stomping insects in the street or playing with live ammunition (although how anybody can look at Neil Patrick Harris of "Doogie Howser, M.D." fame in that |ber-Sturmf|hrer overcoat and not crack up is beyond me). But for my money, "Starship Troopers" might be the best, weirdest and least-appreciated sci-fi epic of the '90s. It's one of the most harrowing, action-packed war movies ever made, and the bloodthirsty arachnids developed by special-effects whiz Phil Tippett are lifelike and truly terrifying. In the documentary included on this DVD, several complicated effects shots are deconstructed to demonstrate how Verhoeven's mix of actors, miniatures and digital effects came together.

If you enjoy Verhoeven's and Neumeier's sustained and sardonic tone as much as I do, you'll find that "Troopers" stands up well to repeated viewing. Its blending of action-adventure, antiwar allegory, gender commentary and "Melrose Place"-style soap opera is so ingenious that I'm confident I haven't watched it for the last time. If you think my interpretation of this flick is labored, check out the fascinating commentary track, in which the often-pilloried director of "Basic Instinct" (who lived under Nazi occupation as a small child in Amsterdam, Netherlands) reveals himself to be a Euro-leftie opposed to American imperialism, and Neumeier suggests that the action-adventure genre itself is inherently fascist. The duo reveal that they stripped naked for the shooting of one scene in which the cast had to do the same, and speculate that audiences rejected the film because "the wrong girl dies" at the end. "We were trying to be good feminists," sighs Verhoeven. Now I'd like to hear his explanation of "Showgirls."

By Andrew O'Hehir

Andrew O'Hehir is executive editor of Salon.

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