While I have warmed somewhat to Paul Verhoven's 1997 sci-fi feature after intensely disliking it upon first viewing, I still don't quite understand the appeal that some seem to find in it. Some have called it a parody, some have called it satire; I really see nothing much in it besides a loud, visually remarkable picture that has some bad dialogue and performances that are occasionally even worse. I find it busy and energetic and occasionally exciting, but I think a better picture could have been made from some of the parts of this one (2001's computer-generated "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" was a more successful exploration of similar story ground).
The film revolves around a group of teenagers in the future, who live in Buenos Aires. There's Johnny (Casper Van Dien), who likes Carmen (Denise Richards), who likes Zander (Patrick Muldoon). On the outside, there's Dizzy (Dina Meyer), who likes Johnny (in one of the film's many instances of embarassing dialogue, she actually asks him, with a straight face, what his "malfunction" is). The characters are written as to be interchangable, with little character development and little to engage the viewer. The first hour, complete with soap-opera subplots about who likes who out of these hollow and shallow characters really tries the patience. The film's ridiculous 130 minute running time should have been cut down by at least 30 minutes, with much of the opening being the first to go, launching the viewer in instead.
It's obvious with hints at the opening that the kids will eventually be launched into the battle with giant insects, which are featured in one of the film's occasional "news reports". At the end, they always ask, "do you want to know more?" I really didn't, but I knew the film was going to tell me anyways.
The film's special effects are really one of its few major positives. While the sequences do get repetitive - humans attack bugs, the giant CGI bugs tear at their attackers, on and on, they are visually stellar. However, the acting takes away from whatever positives the production adds. While Dina Meyer actually has some enjoyable and dramatic moments, Casper Van Dien is terrible and Denise Richards succeeds at looking pretty and smiling well, but not much else. Even Neil Patrick Harris plays a character with psychic powers. "Doogie Howser, ESP", I suppose. Most of the actors overplay the dialogue, which leads to some not particularly good lines getting unintentional laughs. Although I'm sure that the budget restricted the filmmakers from hiring A-list actors, stronger unknowns could likely have been found.
"Starship Troopers" has its fan base who have found something more substantial in it than I have. While I've liked some of Verhoven's pictures (and don't dislike "Troopers" nearly as much as I did when I first viewed it), "Troopers" still seems like a lot of terrific special effects in search of a screenplay and better actors.
VIDEO: "Starship Troopers" is presented here in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC) and the results are (mostly) stellar, as the Blu-Ray presentation beats even the Superbit DVD presentation by a wide margin. Sharpness and detail remain exceptional throughout much of the movie - depth to the image almost always impressed, as did the levels of small object detail (hairs, etc.) If anything, the only issue regarding definition was that the picture was crisp enough to make some of the non-bug CGI effects look a little more dated.
The print used looked mostly clean and clear, with only a few scattered specks and marks spotted throughout the running time. One negative surprise is the presence of some minor edge enhancement in a handful of scenes, which proved somewhat distracting. No artifacting was noticed, and colors remained bright, bold and well-saturated.
SOUND: The film is presented on Blu-Ray in Dolby TrueHD 5.1.The film's soundtrack certainly is quite aggressive: there are several remarkable battle sequences throughout the movie that have the troopers firing at the bugs or the bugs swooping in or some combination of the two. Surrounds are heavily active during these sequences, with some exciting sound effects putting the viewer into the middle of the battles (especially one where the soldiers must defend a base from what looks like 1,000's of the creatures. If anything, it would be nice if some more subtle detail could have been included; once the action halts, the film's soundtrack usually folds up towards the front. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack certainly remained pumped up, delivering an audio experience that certainly sounded fresher than the movie's 11-year-old age would indicate. Effects remained punchy and sounded crisp and full throughout, while bass remained deep and tight. Overall, this was an exciting and improved audio experience.
Commentaries: There are two commentaries included on the Blu-Ray release; the first is a commentary from the original DVD, offering the perspective of writer Ed Neumeier and director Paul Verhoven. The second commentary is with director Verhoven, actor Neil Patrick Harris, actor Casper Van Dien and actress Dina Meyer. The director/screenwriter track is an enjoyable and informative effort from the two; while I'm not a fan of the movie, the two still provide an interesting conversation about how they saw the project and what they were attempting to go for. The commentary with the director and the actors is a nice mix of informative and silly, as tales from the set are swapped and the occasional behind-the-scenes fact is offered. Unfortunately, what's missing here is a commentary from composer Basil Poledouris, which was included on the Special Edition but is nowhere to be found here.
Also: We get a wealth of supplements - some new, some old. The biggest of the newly produced features is "Death From Above", a 30-minute documentary that offers discussion of the development and production of the picture, offering new interviews with both filmmakers and cast. It's an informative and well-produced piece that stays with the facts and doesn't restate the story. In terms of featurettes, also included are the original promotional featurette, a short look at the starships and "Know Your Foe", a series of short looks at the various creatures.
Two sets of comparisons provide some pretty fascinating viewing. The "Special Effects" comparisons provide the pre-effects sequence in the majority of the frame, while the final scene plays in a small box at the bottom corner of the screen. 9 scenes are offered in this section and, as always, it's interesting to view how these scenes looked before effects were inserted. Storyboard-to-scene (with a similar format - the storyboard taking up most of the frame, while the scene plays in a smaller box) comparisons for three scenes are also offered.
Elsewhere on disc two, director Paul Verhoven offers commentary for deconstructions (early animatics, storyboards, etc showing the various stages of a scene) for two scenes. Oddly, Verhoven doesn't offer optional commentary for the 5 deleted scenes included. Rounding out the package are conceptual art galleries, screen tests and an early bug test film. The Blu-Ray adds BD-Live features, an interactive game and "Fednet Mode" picture-in-picture feature (which offers interviews and more at points throughout.)
Final Thoughts: While I've liked some of Verhoven's pictures (and don't dislike "Troopers" nearly as much as I did when I first viewed it), "Troopers" still seems like a lot of terrific special effects in search of a screenplay and better actors. The Blu-Ray presentation may not be flawless, but it is without hesitation a very nice improvement over the previous DVD editions. Recommended.
The Film C+