Someone call up Guinness, please, because I can very likely tell you of the world’s shortest class trip that doesn’t involve anything dangerous happening. Back in 1997, I went to see Starship Troopers on its release day, opting not to take the subway to what I thought would be a crowded city theater, but supporting a local theater here in the Bronx. I got my ticket early for the first showing at the formerly wonderful Loews American, sadly, now a Marshall’s (Boooo, but at least they kept the beautiful ’40’s era statues on the rear of the theater intact), and waited for the film to begin.
I noticed as the lights dimmed that there were two rows of seats on the right side that were empty, but there was one guy who looked like he was from the theater waiting for someone, as he kept looking back as the exit from a seat behind the empty rows. I recall shrugging, then getting glued to the screen as the film began. The theater wasn’t quite full, but those rows stood out. The movie started and during the boot camp scenes, a group of kids guided by two teachers and and an aide marched into the theater, and took their seats. Those kids were I’m guessing, based on height and dress, were about nine or ten years old.
As soon as the co-ed shower scene kicked in about two minutes later, yep, those kids were rather rapidly lined up and shuffled out so fast that it was like a Benny Hill sketch, Yakety Sax and all. Some in the audience let smattering applause and few quick and mean comments were tossed at the exiting teachers who thought this was a good idea before we all went back to concentrating on the screen. I shook my head because I guessed that somewhere a few weeks or months earlier, some adult in that school likely saw an ad or trailer this was coming out, decided they wanted to take those kids along because “Pew-Pew, it’s gonna be like Star Wars!”, never read any Robert Heinlein, went and got the trip approved, getting clueless parents to sign permission slips that allowed their kids entry to an R-rated film.
This trailer, by the way, is excellent… but misses a few important points (and how!):
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Some critics back then weren’t kind to the film, as it seems they went in expecting a big, dumb action film and got exactly what they wanted, but with a bigger, smarter not too slyly subversive element many either missed or felt too out of place.To me, this criticism seemed weird, as director Paul Verhoven wasn’t known much for a subtle approach and after RoboCop and Total Recall, I expected nothing less than something totally off the rails and got it, but was more than surprised at how well-crafted it was with a mostly unknown to major films cast. The assorted guys and gals here are all young, good looking and raring to go fight, while the old ones who run things are irascible, knowledgeable and maybe missing limbs thanks to going to war.
When the movie ended, I sat there laughing my head off because I got every reference, and some audience members did as well. One older guy who was in the military way back in his teens, looked back and was also laughing, noting that the film was far funnier then he expected because he’d seen more than his share. He nailed in a Why We Fight reference, as well as some other propaganda films from the US and other countries, so he definitely got it. Another younger veteran (Gulf War) was also laughing and nodding, than shook his head, noting “No one’s gonna get this unless they serve or understand how the system works”. He turned back to the credits as the film faded out and the lights came up, noting that the film was really good and smarter that he thought it would be.
There were dissenters, of course. A wiry guy, probably in his 70’s who had a few people with him (relatives?), said the film was too negative about service and really didn’t like that is was using too many obvious comparisons to real history. Some nearby agreed, but thought the film was really well made. Another guy said it was well made and the space sequences were fantastic save for the shuttle escape, but the plot was not all as perfect when compared to the book (which he had with him, eep!). We were all rousted out of our seats by a theater worker so the theater could be cleaned and folks lining up for the next show could get in. A few people in that line were asking how the film was and I told the them it had plenty of action, but they’d want to be prepared for a bit of satire, a word which some didn’t understand or it seemed that they thought it meant the film was a straight comedy.
I left the others who stuck around to answer questions, but found myself a week later watching the film again with a few work friends who hadn’t seen it and were curious. Over the decades, I’ve seen this film countless times, never liked the direct to video sequels I saw much, and while I despise most ranking lists, this one always comes up as a favorite if I’m asked in person. It’s not the BEST film I’ve ever seen, mind you. It’s just one that you can enjoy more fully if you don’t turn your brain off like you think you need to with a film like this. I’m going to be a sly little sneak this time and let YOU decide here whether the film is good. Go see it for yourselves whether you rent or buy and if you’ve seen it and liked it or hated it, watch it with someone who hasn’t so you get a fresh look at it no matter how you switch that brain up.
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I give out the best homework, and you won’t need to throw yourselves out of a theater if you see naked bits in the shower (or a shower of chunky bits when the bugs attack, eww).