Robocop Then and Now

robocop-2014-wallpaper-robocop-movie-wallpapers1Recently, I took the plunge and watched some of the reboots I had been avoiding. These included the reboot of Robocop, an updated take on the 1987 Paul Verhoeven gorefest about a police officer who is brutally murdered and brought back as a cyborg. The movie was officially released in February of 2014 after being pushed back from its original August 2013 release, and received mixed reviews.

In any case, upon viewing the film, I totally saw what all the mixed reviews were all about. Whereas the new movie does score some points for updated special effects, technology, and has some decent casting, it lacked the social satire, edginess and macabre sensibilities of the first. So while it had some entertainment value, it really suffered from a sense of ambivalence, as if the makers themselves were wondering what the point of the remake was.

To put it in perspective, here’s a rundown on the original and what made it work…

Robocop (1987):
https://i2.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/50/Robocop_film.jpgSet in the near-future, the film opens on a Detroit that has become a cesspool of crime, corruption and corporate greed. Having gone bankrupt, the city has signed a deal with Omni Consumer Products (OCP) to run the underfunded police department in exchange for demolishing Old Detroit and building a new metropolis – Delta City – that will renew the city and provide employment.

To remedy the crime situation, OCP plans to deploy the ED-209 enforcement droid. But after a demonstration leads to the death of a junior exec, an alternate plan is considered from the cybernetics division. This involves placing a recently-deceased police officer inside a machine that is armored, has superior firepower, and runs on programming based on three simple directives:

1. Serve the public trust
2. Protect the innocent
3. Uphold the law

https://i1.wp.com/www.joblo.com/images_arrownews/robocop%204.jpgTo get a “volunteer”, OCP transfers officers to more crime-ridden districts, one of which is officer Alexander Murphy. A dedicated officer, he and his new partner run into criminal kingpin Clarence Boddicker and his gang during their first patrol. After pursuing them to an abandoned steel mill, Murphy is isolated and gunned down. Pronounced dead, his body is then used to create Robocop.

His deployment results in an immediate drop in crime, but problems quickly ensue. At OCP, the creation of Robocop leads to an internal power struggle between senior president Dick Jones and Bob Morton – the young exec behind the Robocop program. Boddicker, it is revealed, has been working with Jones for some time, using his crime connections to advance OCPs agenda of taking over Detroit. Jones orders Boddicker to kill Morton, and promises him exclusive control over all vice in Delta City.

https://i0.wp.com/normalguysnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/robocop.gifMeanwhile, Murphy begins to remember his old life and begins hunting for Boddicker and his gang. After capturing him, he learns of Boddicker’s relationship with Jones and attempts to arrest him, but is stopped by a secret Fourth Directive, which prevents him from arresting an executive of OCP. He narrowly escapes OCP headquarters with the help of Lewis, his old partner, and flees to an abandoned factory to recuperate.

Meanwhile, Boddicker is given advanced weaponry by Jones and a tracking device to go and kill Murphy. In a showdown at the abandoned plant, Murphy and Lewis kill all members of his gang, including Boddicker himself. He then goes to OCP headquarters and presents a video of Jones confessing to ordering Morton’s death. Jones attempts to take the head of OCP chairman, but he fires Jones, giving Robocop freedom to kill him.

http://nureviews.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/robocop-without-helmet.jpgThe movie ends with the chairman asking Robocop if he has a name, to which he replied: “Yes. Murphy”.

Summary:
For many reasons, the movie remains a cult classic and an iconic genre film. Though the franchise didn’t do so well after two sequels, the original remains popular with fans decades after the fact because of the way it pulled no punches and delivered on a message. Set in a future Detroit characterized by rampant crime and urban collapse, the movie showcased a very real problem that was apparent by the late 80s in America, and people certainly noticed.

Thought it was brutal and shocking at times, the over-the-top nature of the violence played into the social satire of the film. As he would demonstrate with later films – Total Recall, Starship Troopers – Verhoeven was known for using graphic violence to parody America’s preoccupation with violence in media. And in this context, it provided a sense or urgency to the plot – with police, politicians, and common folk feeling helpless in the face of it, and corporate execs being indifferent and using it to further their agendas.

In short, the hard-R rating of the movie worked in its favor. And the exploration of issues relating to identity and humanity in an age of man-machine interface were also well rendered. Now as for the reboot…

Robocop (2014):
https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b1/Robocop_poster.jpgThe year is 2028, and robotics and automated military systems are now commonplace around the world, enforcing US military policy in places like Iran. Looking to expand, Omnicorp contemplates ways that they will be able to make robots palatable to the American masses, where the Dreyfus Act currently forbids their deployment. All they need is a critically injured policeman to put inside the machine.

Meanwhile, detective Alexander Murphy and his partner are trying to take down crime boss Antoine Vallon, who has contacts within the police department. A car bomb nearly kills Murphy, and Omnicorp roboticist Dr. Dennett Norton convinces his wife to let them use him in the program. What is left or Murphy is placed inside a full-body prosthetic, and he is awakened.

robocop-2014-1Initially, Murphy is shocked to see what has become of him and tries to escape. But Norton manages to convince him to stay and do his job, if for nothing else for the sake of his family. He begins undergoing testing to see how combat effective he will be, and proves to be inferior to a fully-automated robot. Pressured to make him work, Norton then alters Murphy’s brain so that behavioral software is control of his actions, even though he still thinks he is in control.

This leads to the confirmation of the Robocop program and the company prepares to unveil it to the public. But his first demonstration, Murphy experiences a seizure when they attempt to upload tons of information and video feeds to his brain. Norton and his team then alter his emotional responses again, leading him to coldly enact his protocols before the public and arrest a criminal in the crowd. The arrest is a PR success, and Robocop’s performance begins to reduce crime and convince the public to rescind the Dreyfus Act.

https://i1.wp.com/www.robocop.com/media/images/gallery-2.jpgMurphy’s wife confronts him in the street, which triggers Murphy’s memories and leads him to begin investigating his own death. He tracks down Vallon and destroys his gang in an intense shootout, and then confronts the members of the police department who were supplying him. Seeing this, Omnicorp shuts Murphy’s systems down before he can arrest the police chief and begin to rethink his existence.

They decide to circulate a news story that he died of complications, while plotting to shut him down permanently. With the help of Doctor Norton, Murphy escapes the Omnicorps facility where he is kept and goes to the headquarters to confront the CEO. With the help of his old partner, he is able to fight his way in and narrowly kill the CEO, who is holding his wife hostage.

Murphy is then rebuild in Norton’s lab, the President of the US vetoed the repeal of the Dreyfus Act based on the testimony of Norton, who confesses everything OmniCorp has done, and Murphy goes back to work and living with his family.

Summary:
Compared to the original, the reboot suffered from multiple problems. In addition to being toned down and less violent, as evidenced by its PG-13 rating, it was c0mparatively confused and muddled in terms of its message. Whereas the original was a hard-hitting movie about corporate greed, corruption, crime, and the fight to retain humanity in inhuman circumstances, the new movie was a rather bland commentary on the morality of robotics and autonomous machines in today’s world.

https://i0.wp.com/blogs-images.forbes.com/scottmendelson/files/2014/03/robo.jpgWhile these issues are certainly very relevant, the way the movie went about presented them seemed at once too subtle and heavy-handed. This is best illustrated by the character of news pundit Pat Novak (played by Samuel L. Jackson), a clear parody of Bill O’Reilly and a slew of other Fox News commentators. In addition to being loud, extremely biased and a corporate shill, he completely hands the message to the audience within the last few seconds of the movie:

Now I know some of you may think that this kind of thinking is dangerous and these machines violate your civil liberties. Some of you even believe that the use of these drones overseas makes us the same kind of bullying imperialists that our forefathers were trying to escape. To you, I say… Stop whining! America is now and always will be the greatest country on the face of the Earth! 

The way his scenes are shot, he’s even addressing the viewing audience. So he’s effectively breaking the Fourth Wall when he says this. It was honestly the most obvious scene and message I’ve watched in some time!

Another odd aspect of the movie was Murphy’s sense of self, which was a key aspect of the original. After having his remains dismembered and placed into a “full-body prosthetic”, Murphy’s memory was erased to prevent any semblance of his old personality from coming through. This was to ensure that Robocop would function perfectly and not experience complications due to things like anger, sadness, trauma, or an attachment to his old life.

https://i0.wp.com/cephuscorner.jadedragononline.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Making-of-RoboCop-3.jpgBut in this movie, he wakes up inside the machine remembering everything that happened to him and has trouble performing on par with automated robots. To remedy this, they have to go through a convoluted process whereby he’s no longer in control, but thinks he is thanks to the magic of brain-altering software. All of this seemed unnecessary, clunky, and took away from the story. It also begged the question, why not simply erase his memory and avoid all this?

But above all, the decision to go this route also robbed the movie of its most central theme – i.e. the Jesus allegory of death and ressurection! Murphy does not rise from the dead at all in this movie, but is simply put in a body to keep him alive. So ultimately, his transformation – dying and coming back to life as something completely different – is something that’s very watered down and ineffective by comparison.

robocop_concept_art_walkerThis all seemed weak when they could have simply gone with what they did in the first movie and erased Murphy’s memory, which would have worked way better for the plot. That was one of the most important aspects of the old film and how it exposed OCPs corruption and delved into the whole issue of man vs. machine and what it is to be human. Not only was OCP looking for an automaton, Murphy’s recovery of his past self got the audience emotionally involved.

To boot, the bad guys were very underdeveloped in this film. Vallon was no match for Boddicker, having little screen time and no sense of motivation compared to Kurtwood Smith. His allies in the police department were also afterthoughts, who seemed to be nothing more than bride-taking cops who betrayed Murphy because he was too dedicated. And Michael Keaton is poorly cast as the crooked CEO of Omnicorps, which in this movie falls far short of the cold, indifferent corporate crooks of the first one.

Robocop_concept_art_UAVTo be fair, some casting choices weren’t bad. Joel Kinnaman wasn’t bad in the lead role, Gary Oldman played his role ably, and Samuel L. Jackson (though not very well scripted) certainly delivered on his portrayal of a loudmouthed, angry, horribly-slanted media pundit. But compared to Peter Weller, Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer, the guys were just eating crumbs off the table.

All of this leaves me wondering, what was the point of this remake? The idea was to relaunch the franchise for a new generation by focusing on modern issues, updated technologies, and a fresh take on the whole cybernetics thing. And in all of these respects, save for the technology aspect, they failed. Too bad, because their certainly was potential, given the range of issues that could have been explored better.

Between the highly contentious issue of UAVs, killer robots, and their effect on foreign and domestic policy, this movie could have really been something. Instead, it was a confused, half-hearted and obvious effort. And this is really too bad, because it’s likely to lead to yet another relaunch in a few years time. Don’t believe me, just look at Terminator: Salvation!

But regardless of what any reboots or relaunches attempt to do, Detroit still loves Robocop! As evidenced by their commissioning a massive statute of the guy. And Peter Weller and Kurtwood Smith… still the men!

robocop-statue-2

Of Invincible Aliens that were Easily Vanquished

warofworldsaliensIf there’s one thing that’s become an annoying cliche in commercial science fiction movies, and even some novels, it’s the idea of a super-advanced alien race that come to Earth, proceeds to kick ass, but then gets beaten by a ragtag bunch of superheroes by the most implausible means. You know what I’m talking about, the big evil monsters from another planet who seem to have armies, navies and nuclear arsenals beat, but then succumb to germs, basic hacking, and inferior weaponry.

Having grown up with a lot of bad science fiction, I could name a few titles from my childhood which, looking back, kind of insulted my intelligence. But as I’ve gotten older, the list has grown and expanded. And I really thought it was time I did a list that presents all of the bad stories, movies and television arcs that I’ve witnessed over the years, the ones that extra-terrestrial would definitely get a kick out of if ever they saw them. Hopefully, they wouldn’t conclude we humans actually think like this, and hence would be that much easier to conquer!

And here they are, in order of awfulness. The list of incompetent alien invaders!

1. Battlefield Earth:
battlefieldearthI start with this movie for obvious reasons. As far as logic and plot development were concerned, this movie could not have been more insulting to aliens! Not only was their own ineptitude galactic in proportions, but it flew in the face of everything we were told during the first half of the movie (or quarter of the book). Yes, L. Ron Hubbard (the inventor of Scientology) isn’t exactly known for being the most rational of human beings, but even he was out to lunch on this one!

For starters, it is established early on that the Psychlos – an alien civilization of clawed Rastafarians – have conquered Earth by the year 3000. But in the course of the story, we learn through the main character that it was extremely easy for them to do it. Using their superior technology, Earth’s armies, navies and air forces fell to the invasion after a mere 9 minutes! That’s quite the ass-whooping!

And yet, a group of tribal kinsmen are able to not only defeat the occupying Psychlos, but destroy their entire homeworld in the course of an uprising. How, you might ask? Well, as it turns out, Terl, the governor of Earth – played by director and Hubbard acolyte John Travolta – facilitated it all by giving Johnny Goodboy Tyler (the protagonist of the story) all the lucrative info on their race so he could become a foreman for a private gold mining operation, but in turn used it to train a resistance.

In the course of so doing, Tyler was able to trick Terl into accepting gold from Fort Knox, where he used 1000-year old simulators to train his ragtag misfits in how to use equally old Harriers, missiles, and even a nuke, which they then teleportedto the Psychlo home planet in the midst of their rebellion. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that the Psychlos atmosphere ignites when it comes into contact with radiation? Yeah, that’s kind of important, because it resulted in the full-scale destruction of their home world!

Ignoring for a fact that the physics of this makes absolutely no sense, Hubbard’s tale basically asserts that by relying on the same technology that couldn’t last ten minutes against a bunch of alien invaders in the first place, a bunch of hill people did what ever army on Earth could not and killed off a far more advanced species. How did these Psychlos conquer Earth in the first place? They are not only breathe air that’s the equivalent of dry tinder of gasoline, they’re dumber than dirt!

2. Independence Day:
independence_day-207756Here we have another instance where audiences were presented with an alien menace that appeared unassailable in the first act of the movie, but then proved to be total pushovers. As the first Roland Emmerich disaster flick to grace the silver screen in America, this movie made a ton of money and set the arc for Emmerich’s career. Fun and silly, it sucked as far as realism and suspension of disbelief were concerned. For me, what endures about this movie is how fun it is to make fun of!

Basically, the aliens come to Earth in a massive mothership that begins deploying smaller motherships across the globe. Using our own satellites to sync up, they begin a countdown to Armageddon and start blowing up every major city on the planet. The only person who seems to notice the countdown ahead if time is a lone cable repair man, and not the NSA, CIA, MI6 or any other covert spy agency on the planet!

All counter-attacks fail, as it seems the alien ships have shields – these big green walls that protect them from our missiles. Nukes are even useless against them. All hope seems lost until, contained within Area 51, this same cable man comes up with an idea… He’s going to download a virus to the alien mothership using his Macbook and set off a nuke inside it. With the help of a fighter pilot who seems oddly and suddenly qualified to fly a captured alien ship, they fly into space, make it aboard the mothership, and begin their hack job.

And while the alien’s shields are down, what remains of Earth’s air forces mount a counter-attack that goes off quite well. It seems that without their shields, the alien fighters are a bunch of total wimps! And the smaller motherships, all you got to do is find a alcoholic, traumatized crop duster to fly a plane up their main gun shaft and the whole thing will blow up! Oh, and the hacker team, they make it out before the nuke goes off and somehow crashland without dying. Hurray for xenocide!

So basically, our species was on the verge of being exterminated, only to be saved by a cable man, a NASA reject, and a drunken crop duster with PTSD. Brent Spiner was right, it WAS just a matter of getting around their technology! And how easy was that? Yeah, they got interstellar spaceships, laser beams and shields, but the bastards can’t even erect a firewall to stop a single hacker? And speaking of those laser beams, turns out all you got to do is stick your finger in the barrel and the whole ship will blow up!

3. Battle: Los Angeles
Battle_Los_Angeles_Poster
Here we have another instance where aliens attack, manage to do untold amounts of damage, but then seem to succumb when a small band of heroes come together and put their minds to the task of beating them. And in this case, the aliens didn’t even really have an Achilles heel. They just seemed to become beatable once the Marines figured out their physiology, technology and basic tactics, which was surprisingly easy…

It’s almost summer in LA, and a grizzled veteran who’s traumatized over the recent loss of his platoon is about to quit the service. But of course, hostile aliens land off the coast and throw a wrench in his retirement plans! And instead, he is deployed to the city to defend against the first wave of the assault, and is quickly trapped with what remains of his platoon behind the enemy’s lines.

There, they begin to figure out the enemy. This consists of first performing a recreational autopsy on one to find out how to kill it. Turns out all you have to do is shoot them “to the right of the heart”. So, in the chest then? No wonder all the other soldiers couldn’t kill them! They were aiming for the groin! Fleeing with some civilians in tow, they also systematically discover all their other weaknesses…

This includes the fact that the alien airdrones are drawn to their radio transmissions and that all their drones are controlled by some central command module. After realizing they are on their own because the Air Force aint coming, they divert to find the module and then destroy it. All the alien drones are deactivated, the Marines are rescued, and a counter-attack is now underway to clear the last of them. But of course, the Marines refuse to sit this one out and selflessly volunteer to go back in…

So the lesson here is, when entire armies fail and fall back, its a small group of heroes that will save the day. Not bad, but how is it a bunch of grunts in the field are able to figure out how an enemy arsenal works while the higher ups basically have their thumbs up their asses the whole time? Funny how that always seems to be the case!

And sure, I get that the leader of these heroes would be a scarred man seeking redemption, but are we to believe that a man who lost his entire platoon to insurgents would have no trouble leading a handful of people to victory over a far more advanced alien species? Something just doesn’t add up here…

4. Signs:
Signs_movieposterI remember the days when M. Night Shyamalan was considered a big deal, and not some dude past his prime who made a string of critically-panned movies. Yes, in addition to being hellbent on starring in his own films and using material that seemed marginal (comic book heroes, monsters, aliens and ghosts), he also seemed to have a real hard on for stories that were full of holes!

And this movie was no exception, adding to an already rich tradition of scary aliens who don’t seem to have a clue when it comes to conquering planet Earth. The story starts out clear enough, with “signs” of an impending invasion by alien beings. And of course, the heroes here are a single family made up of people strangely qualified to defeat them – a priest who’s lost his faith after losing his wife, a psychic daughter, an asthmatic son, and former baseball player who swings at everything.

When the aliens show up, it turns out his dying wife’s words were a prophecy on how to beat back in the invasion. First, hit them in the head with a bat, they hate that! Then, rely on your sons asthma to prevent him from inhaling their toxic vapors. And finally, realize your daughter’s desire to keep glasses of water around the house are a defensive mechanism, since water is toxic to them.

Really? So these things can travel light years to our planet for the sake of terrorizing and killing us, but are vulnerable to a blows in the head from a blunt object and a liquid that covers 70% of our planet and permeates the air. What kind of invaders are these? Are these the same ones who were defeated in the Simpsons by a “board with a nail?”

Also, did they not notice ahead of time that the most basic element, next to the air itself, was fatal to them? What is it with alien invaders not doing their due diligence? How is it that we here on Earth are able to notice lakes of sulfuric acid on Venus, despite having never landed there, but aliens can’t notice the equivalent on a planet they are actively invading? Kang, Kodos… get off our planet!

5. Battleship:
Battleship_PosterNext up, we have the movie that dared to ask the age old question: “what do you get if you cross Transformers with Independence Day?” The answer being, the same old story of unlikely heroes beating an alien menace, but with a twist! This one is set at sea. And if that wasn’t enough, it also stars Rihanna, who proved once again that there are some singers who should stick to what they’re good at and avoid crossing over!

And much like in Battle: LA, we once again have aliens landing in the sea and wreaking havoc on nearby city – this time in Honolulu. After trapping and destroying the US and Japanese naval ships in the vicinity, the alien ships take control of the communications array on the nearby island of Oahu. A single vessel, captained by a LT after his brother (the Captain) is killed, manages to survive and continues the fight…

This includes the US naval ship taking out two of the alien ships and capturing an alien to learn that they are vulnerable to sunlight. On land, a veteran and quadruple amputee in recovery also figures out what the aliens are doing with the array. Apparently, they are using it to summon more of their ships to Earth. So on land and at sea, we have unlikely heroes who begin unraveling the aliens’ plans.

Using the aliens rather pedestrian weakness to their advantage, the US naval ships manage to blind the last of the smaller alien ships with sunlight and destroy it. However, it too is sunk, but they manages to survive and gets back to base to commandeer the USS Missouri, the last remaining US Battleship in existence. Bringing her out of retirement, they use her big guns to take out the alien ships shields, allowing the Air Force to finish her off.

Following this, the Lieutenant is promoted and given a ship of his own to command. Him and Rihanna also arrange to get married. Hurray! Planet Earth is saved and everybody’s getting laid! And once again, it seems that if you’re a reluctant hero, or you’ve got vengeance on your mind, you can beat the odds and overcome a vastly superior alien foe. Never mind that a small fleet was useless against this enemy, or that your vessel is dangerously out of date even by Earth standards!

6. The Borg (Star Trek: TNG):
borgsHere we have a truly chilling and frightening alien menace that started out as a credible threat, but quickly degenerated into a nuisance that was eventually beaten through some unlikely twists! I can still remember when the Borg were first presented in the second and third season of TNG, just how tough and scary they seemed! How they went from this from the clumsy, easily-fooled menace led by a “Queen” towards the end is a mystery…

As Guinan said during their introductory episode, the Borg are a collective “made up of organic and artificial life which has been developing for thousands of centuries.” In addition to being virtually indestructible and entirely collectivized, they are hellbent on assimilating all known lifeforms and technology they come across. This makes them an inevitable threat, one which Q believes they are unprepared to face.

Borg_qwhoHence, he arranges for a little face-to-face between them and the Enterprise, and it doesn’t go too well. In addition to finding that their weapons are virtually ineffective against a Borg ship, they also learn that these ships are capable of healing from battle damage, are faster and far more coordinated than their own; and most importantly, that they are crewed by a relentless enemy. They narrowly survive, and only because of Q’s intervention.

Their second confrontation happens shortly thereafter, when a Borg Cube is dispatched to Federation space to begin assimilating them. After an initial encounter with the vessel, Picard is captured and assimilated. The crew learns that he is now part of the Borg and that his knowledge has been absorbed. As the Borg vessel begins advancing on Earth, the Federation loses 39 ships in an attempt to stop it.

lucutusIn the end, they manage to stop it by recapturing the Captain, tapping into the Borg neural net, and commanding them to go to sleep. The Borg ship self-destructs, realizing their collective has been intruded and they are vulnerable. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that humanity survives its first engagement with the Borg and lives to fight another day. Scary stuff, and doesn’t bode too well for the future!

Immediately thereafter, the Borg ceases to become a serious threat. Not appearing again until the end of Season 5, at which point Roddenberry had died, the Enterprise discovers a single stranded Borg and rescue him, plotting to return him to the collective carrying a virus. However, they soon realize the lone Borg, who’ve they’ve humanized by naming him “Hugh”, is no longer a Borg per se, and cannot commit to the plan. Instead, they learn that Hugh’s individuality have spread throughout the collective, causing chaos.

borg_queenThereafter, the Borg made no real appearance in the series until the spinoff series Voyager, where they make numerous appearances before being vanquished. First, they are shown to be fighting a losing war against beings from a parallel dimension where space is fluid and technology is organic in nature. The Voyager crew assists the collective against this common threat, and gains 7 of 9 as a crewmember.

In subsequent episodes and seasons, Voyager wages a one-ship war with the collective as they flee back to Federation space. They manage to outwit the Borg Queen (weren’t they supposed to be a collective?) time after time, stealing a trans warp coil from her, saving a group of resistance fighters from the collective’s grasp, and coordinating their efforts with a future Janeway to not only make it home, but crash the entire collective with a virus.

From invincible enemy that spoke with one voice, to a bunch of dumb drones led by a megalomaniacal queen that made deals and was easily tricked, the Borg was a truly awesome concept that degenerated into a sort “Evil the Cat” that became all-too-human. Ironic, and quite disappointing really. Much like many elements of the show, this was one of Roddenberry’s babies that seemed to suffer in his successor’s hands.

7. The Day of the Triffids:
DayofthetriffidsAlthough based on a novel that ended quite differently, the film adaptation of this novel has gone down in history as a case of aliens that seemed so menacing, but proved to be very dumb. Written by John Wyndham, the author that brought us The Chrysalids, the story considers the possibility of an alien invasion that doesn’t involve tripods, motherships or little green men armed with ray guns.

No, in the end, Windham’s invasion was much more subtle, patient, and far more effective. It begins when the triffids, a race of seemingly intelligent, aggressive plants that begin popping up all over the world. Initially thought to be the result of bioengineering within the USSR (a possible commentary on Lysenkoism), the venomous plants are soon revealed to be the first wave in an alien invasion.

After being blinded by contact with one of the plants, the main character awakens in the hospital to find it deserted. He begins to walk through the streets of London, apparently surrounded by other blind people. He soon comes upon a group of people who still have their sight and are planning on establishing a colony to repopulate the human race.

In time, it is made clear that the triffids are causing the environment to change, effectively terraforming Earth to become more like the alien environment they are used to. They continue to advance and eventually surround the small home the main characters make for themselves. But at the same time, the main characters learns that a colony has been formed on the Isle of Wight, which is removed from the infestation, where people are attempting to continue the fight.

In creating this story, Wydnham acknowledged a great debt to H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds; though in this novel, the aliens are not foiled. However, in the film adaptation of the novel, the triffids are eventually foiled by a very likely source: salt water! Yes, it seems that an invasive species chose to attack a planet where the majority of the surface is covered by something entirely poisonous to them.

Little wonder then why Shyamalan chose water as his aliens’ weakness. He was ripping off a classic movie! Too bad it was an unfaithful adaptation of the original novel. He could have avoided making one of several bad movies!

8. The War of the Worlds:
waroftheworldsWe come to it at last, the original story that inspired an entire slew of classic alien invasion tales. Written in 1895-97, H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds not only introduced the world to the concept of a “Martian invasion”, it set the tone for all subsequent generations of paranoia and fear regarding extra-terrestrial life. This was not an intended consequences of his work, mind you, just a side-effect of what was arguably a brilliant novel.

Told from a first-person point of view, the story follows a philosophically-inclined author who witnesses the invasion firsthand. It all begins shortly after an observatory notes the appearance of several “explosions’ on the surface of Mars. Shortly thereafter, the narrator is one of many people to notice the arrival of a meteor which turns out to be a large cylinder. When the cylinder opens, disgorging tripods that begin incinerating everything with heat rays.

War-of-the-worlds-tripodMore cylinders begin falling all over Southern England, laying waste to military units and communities. After meeting up with an artilleryman, the narrator finds out that he has become cut off from his wife, and reroutes to try and find her. People begin to evacuate London, and British forces are able to bring down some of the tripods, but eventually, all organized resistance ceases.

In their wake, the Martian begin to unleash a species known as Red Weed, a native martian plant that begins altering the Earth’s ecology. Of the narrator’s companions, a curate and the artilleryman, the former comes to see the invasion as a herald of the Apocalypse, while the latter begins to advocate that humanity rebuild civilization underground. He eventually leaves both behind and returns to London, where he finds the aliens dead due to infectious disease.

At once brilliant and original, Wells story has undergone extensive scrutiny over the years. It’s plot and thematic makeup have led many critics to wonder what its central message was, whether it was meant as a sort of cautionary tale, an historical allusion, or an indictment on British colonial policy. As part of the larger trend of invasion literature, there were also many who thought that the aliens represented an actual enemy (i.e. Germany), and the point was merely to stoke fears about the possibility of an actual world war.

Summary:
In the end, it seems pretty obvious that when it comes to alien invasion stories and movies, everyone is picking at the crumbs from Wells’ table. As one of the first stories involving war between humanity and extra-terrestrials, it was also the first to introduce the world to the concept of a seemingly unassailable alien menace that was brought down because of an Achilles heel.

And without fail, it now seems like just about every purveyor of science fiction has followed in his footsteps. Whether it’s Verhoeven’s disaster porn, classic B-movie adaptations, new generations of speculative sci-fi novels, or mainstream TV shows, the concept of a fearsome, super-advanced species that initially has the edge on humanity, only to be foiled by superior… whatever, is destined to be all the rage!

And much like Wells War, one can’t help but wonder about the psychology and deeper sociological implications of that. Do such ideas remain popular with us as part an enduring xenophobic tendency, or are they part of some deeper destructive impulse, where we just love to see civilization as we know reduced to ashes? In some respects, you might say this a healthy sublimation of that desire, where we allow others to do what we secretly desire, right before we pay them back in full!

I’m thinking this is getting a little too intellectual given the subject matter I started with. This was supposed to about clueless aliens and how these stories and film parody them. Once again, I sincerely hope that if there are aliens out there who are able to listen in on our radio, television and movie transmissions, that they take all of this entertainment with a massive grain of salt.

I think I speak for all of humanity when I say we don’t need no invasions anytime soon! Come back after we’ve developed our own death rays!

Now here's an alien that doesn't go die so easily!
Now here’s an alien that isn’t defeated so easily!

Total Recall: The Original

Wow, it seems that I have Mars on the brain today! How else am I to explain the constant deluge of Mars-related news and my insistence on publishing Mars-related posts? Not to mention the fact that a few nights back, my wife and I finally sat down and watched Total Recall together. the original, not the remake. And interestingly enough, the whole reason we watched it, aside from my insistence that it was a classic, was the fact that she expressed some desire to see the new one.

As for myself, I had little interest paying theater prices to  see the remake. But I figure I’ll have to catch on DVD (or download) sooner or later, if only so that I can provide a comparative review. My compromise with on this with el wifey was that she watch the original first, just so she’d know what she was missing when we finally did get around to seeing it 😉

Word around the camp fire is that the remake has made its share of money (it’s purpose from the get-go) but that the critical response has been pretty iffy. In fact, it received a 29% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.com and was generally panned for lacking all the elements that made the original a hit. Of my friends and fellow armchair critics, the consensus seemed to be that it boasted cool action sequences, but lacked originality and depth.

So to be fair, and in preparation for my eventual exposure to the remake, I thought I’d give the original movie an official review. I mean, you have to know what makes an original movie awesome before you say that a remake fails to deliver right? Of course you do! And I apologize in advance for all the terrible puns, but this is an Anry movie dammit! They are to be expected. Okay, here goes. Cue the Arny noises:

“HLALALALALAL!”

Total Recall (1990):
Loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, the story deals with the subject of false memories, identity, and free will. Although Dick’s original story did not take place on Mars, much of the plot had to do with Mars, Martians, and the fact that the main character was a hero who was in possession of secrets even he didn’t… (ahem) recall. In the end, the movie adaptation was faithful to the spirit of the story, if not the letter, and managed to expand on it greatly.

The film was a box office success, grossing over 250 million dollars and receiving largely positive reviews. In addition to its classic sci-fi themes and motifs, it boasted some very cool and cunning set designs, special effects, and action sequences. Plus, it possessed that rare and awesome Anry quality, where everything had a certain comical, cheesy element to it, even the somewhat gratuitous violence.  but of course, much of this was due to the directorial style of Paul Verhoeven, director of such gory over-the-top cinematic splatter fests as Robocop, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls!

Plot Synopsis:
The story opens on the apartment of a blue collar worker named Douglas Quaid (Arny) who is unhappy with his workaday life. At night, he dreams of being on Mars with a strange woman he doesn’t recognize, and interprets this as a latent desire to move there and become something more than he is.He asks his wife about moving to Mars, which she promptly shoots down given the violence between a mutant resistance faction and the Mars government, which is led by a man named Cohaagen (Ronny Cox).

Eventually, his desire to experience a trip to Mars leads him to seek out a company called Rekal, an organization that specializes in false memories. After hearing the sales pitch, he decides he wants to live out a fantasy where he is a secret agent who is sent to Mars, a scenario which resonates with him for some reason. Unfortunately, things go awry when Quaid begins his “implant procedure”, as it seems that he begins acting out his fantasy even before its been implanted in his mind. Naturally, the company is frightened and decides to dump Quaid in a cab and erase all traces of his visit from their computers.

When he returns home, a work friend finds him and asks about his visit, which he does not (ugh!) recall. The conversation then turns ugly as thugs grab him and his friend pulls a gun, telling him he must die because he “blabbed about Mars”. Quaid has no idea what he’s talking about, but quickly kills him and all the thugs with ease. Running back to his apartment, he tells his wife Lori (Sharon Stone) about what happened, insisting that it’s not a delusion. After washing the blood from his hands, he is shocked to find that another gunman is trying to kill him. This time it’s his wife!

After disarming Lori, he learns the truth. His name is not Douglas Quaid, and he and Lori were never married. His true identity was erased for reasons she does not know and she was to keep an eye on him, posing as his wife. When he realizes she is stalling and men are on the way to get him, he knocks her out and runs. He is pursued by an agent named Richter (Michael Ironside) who is apparently Lori’s boyfriend and works for Cohaagan. He is determined to kill Quaid, something which Cohaagan doesn’t want. He reveals that he is the one who erased Quaid’s memory and dumped him on Earth, and asks that he be returned to him alive.

After escaping, Quaid ends up in a dingy hotel and is contact by a man claiming to be his contact from Mars. He warns him that he has a trace bug in his skull, and tells him how he can muffle the signal. He then leaves Quaid a case with various items, such as money, ID cards, a device for removing the bug in his nose, and holographic device which projects a mirror image of himself. On top of all that, there is a laptop-like device that contains a recording which he made for himself, which begins to explain the situation…

Turns out his real name is Hauser, and that he was working for Cohaagen up until a few months ago. Then, he defected and joined the resistance, a move which prompted Cohaagen to erase his mind and dump him on Earth. The recording tells him to go to Mars and find the resistance, and that his mind contains enough info to ruin Cohaagen forever. Quaid escapes mere seconds before Richter and his men show up, and does as the recording tells him and gets his ass to Mars!

Once there, he has a bit trouble getting through security, as the disguise he brought begins to malfunction. Richter is in the vicinity and realizes it is Quaid, and a firefight begins. Quaid narrowly escapes thanks to a stray shot which shatters the dome, causing decompression. When the emergency doors begins to close, he manages to slide underneath one and make it away.

He then travels to the Hilton Hauser told him to seek out, where he finds a message in a safety deposit box written in his own hand. It tells him to go to a club called “The Last Resort” in the red light district (“Venusville”) and ask for a woman named Melina. A newfound friend named Benny, a cab driver with “five kids to feed”, picks him up in the midst of a resistance attack and explains that this is commonplace. Once in the “Last Resort”, which appears to be a front for the resistance, Quaid meets Melina; who as it turns out, is the woman from his dreams. They have a brief reunion, in which she slaps him and tells him they thought Cohaagen killed him. He replies that he doesn’t remember who he is, to which she replies that he was only ever using her to “get inside” and kicks him out.

Back at his hotel, Quaid receives some strange visitors: Rekall’s President, Dr. Edgemar, and his wife, Lori. He explains to Quaid that he is dreaming his experiences and never left Rekal, which makes some sense since everything that has happened to him is what he specified in his travel package. He offers him a way out by presenting a pill, which he claims is a symbol that will allow him to wake up from his self-sustaining dream. Quaid is about to comply, but notices that Edgemar is sweating and shoots him. Lori then attacks him with the help of some more thugs, and Quaid is beaten to near-unconsciousness.

However, Melina shows up to rescue him, and the two kill the thugs, shoot Lori, and then make a getaway. Once again, Richter shows up and is unable to capture them before they slip away. They run to the Last Resort and escape through a series of underground tunnels which lead to the resistance headquarters. Meanwhile, Richter and his men attack the club, but are told to pull back by Cohaagen. He then shuts down the ventilation shafts, slowly depriving Venusville and the mutant population of air.

In the resistance HQ, Quaid is taken before Kuato, leader of the resistance, who apparently lives within the stomach of one of his lieutenants. He helps Quaid to remember what he saw that made Cohaagen erase him memory, which turns out to be an underground reactor built by aliens millions of years before. He wakes up to discover that Cohaagen’s forces have found them and are coming through the walls. They escape into a airlock, but Benny betrays them and shoots Kuato’s host dead. With his final words, Kuato tells Quaid to start the reactor.

Captured, Quaid and Melina are brought to Cohaagen’s facility where he tells them the last of the story. It turns out Hauser was not a double agent at all, but a loyal member of Cohaagen’s inner circle who volunteered for the memory implant procedure so he could get close to Kuato and lead their forces to his lair. They knew that Hauser would not be able to fool Kuato unless he sincerely believed himself to be a double-agent, hence the implanted memories and feigned cover up. Quaid does not believe it, until Cohaagen shows him another recording where Hauser tells him himself that he’s been played.

Cohaagen orders them both placed in memory-implant chairs where Hauser will be restored and Melina will be turned into a willing supplicant of his. He then leaves with Richter, and Quaid manages to break his bonds and kill the scientists before the procedure can take effect. He pulls Melina out, who also appears unaffected, and they begin to fight their way to the reactor. Benny tries to take them out using a drilling machine, but Quaid manages to disable the machine and kill him with a drill!

Once they reach the reactor assembly, Richter attempts to stop them with a small army. But relying on the holographic device and some kick-ass shooting, Quaid and Melina manage to take them out. Richter tries to escape using the underground lift, but Quaid jumps aboard the and the two fight it out. Quaid manages to overpower Richter and tosses him over the edge. Richter grabs hold of Quaids arms and threatens to take him with him, but he loses his arms when they are crushed against the shaft, and he falls to his death.

Quaid reaches the reactor room where Cohaagen tries to stop him, telling him that the reactor will detonate the planet’s precious minerals. However, Quaid doesn’t believe him, and Melina arrives shortly thereafter to shoot Cohaagen. However, Cohaagen indicates that he has planeted a bomb on the device, which Quaid narrowly manages to toss down a shaft before it goes off. Once it explodes, it breaches the room’s seals, causing decompression and sucking Cohaagen out onto the surface where he dies of asphyxiation. Quaid manages to activate it mere seconds before he and Melina are sucked out as well and begin to suffocate.

The reactor fires up and begins to plunge a series of red hot rods into Mars’ core. This causes the ice core at the heart of the planet to melt and explode in plumes of air to the surface. This air leads to the creation of an atmosphere and a blue sky within seconds, saving Melina and Quaid from asphyxiation and destroying all pressure domes on the surface. The Red Planet has now become a habitable world, which is apparently what the Martian aliens had intended all along.

Quaid and Melina walk up to the nearest hilltop and look out at the sky. Quaid wonders aloud if he is in fact dreaming, to which Melina replies that he had better kiss her before he wakes up. The movie ends with the sunshine becoming a blinding flash of light, leaving viewers to wonder if it was all a dream, or actually happened.

Summary:
To cut straight to the chase, I really liked this movie. I saw it back when I was a surly teen, and appreciated it for what it offered – action, guns, and plenty of creative nudity! Remember that scene in the Last Resort with the three-breasted hooker? Scarcely a boy who grew up in the 80’s doesn’t know about her! But as I got older, I came to see the plot as something rather creative and complicated, which inevitably drew me back to the story again and again over the years.

Of course, the number of twists and explanations might seem a bit contrived, and even I thought so for awhile. But that was before I saw it again recently and actually thought them through. Basically, Hauser was himself when he found the resistance and posed as a defector. But Melina didn’t let him in, thinking his intentions weren’t pure. It was Cohaagen’s attempt to remedy this by staging his capture, circulating rumors of his torture and death, and then planting false memories and dumping him on Earth and setting him up to find his way to Mars and the resistance. It was only in this way that his sincerity could be seen as genuine, and the psychic Kuato wouldn’t be able to detect his true intentions. For all intents and purposes, he was Quaid when he met him, and his desire to learn the truth and help the resistance was genuine.

Sure, the overall twists, turns, and explanations for them all still present some degree of confusion, but that’s part of what’s good about this movie. Even after multiple viewings, audiences still debate whether or not everything was just a dream or real. They cite various tidbits of evidence, like the fact that Dr. Edgemar was sweating, that the story was exactly what Quaid asked for, that this coincidence was due to the fact that Quaid was looking to reclaim the life he lost, or that he had dreams of Melina before he went to Rekal. It all makes for a cool debate.

The plot also managed to make some rather cool commentary on the nature of identity, memory, false consciousness and free will. If it were possible to implant memories in a human being, then would they really cease to be who they were and become someone else? Would this be a possible remedy to the problems of criminal behavior and psychosis? Kuato offers a resolution to all this when he says to Quaid, “a man is defined by his actions, not his memories.” This is then thrown for a loop when Quaid discovers that his true and original self was an agent of Cohaagen’s, but he responds to this by embracing his new identity and fighting to free Mars.

And of course, the special effects and sets were all very well done. Sure, there are plenty of people who would say that they looked cheesy, especially the animatronic heads that were used for the asphyxiation, robotic head, and bug-removing scenes, but they were pretty state of the art for the time. The mutants were also very well done, molded plastic imitating the effects of radiation quite well. And the animatronic limb that Benny showed and Kuato’s body-within-a-body was also pretty convincing! And this was done without the benefit of any CGI.

What’s more, it was original, which is a claim the remake can’t possibly make. though I have yet to see the movie, one thing that I hear from just about everyone is how the sets and effects seemed very much borrowed. The robot forces look like Storm Troopers and droids, the flying cars look like something out of Minority Report, and the cityscape seemed ripped from Blade Runner. In the case of the original, there was a latent cyberpunk 80’s feel to much of it, but nothing had been copied or borrowed, much as I can tell.

It was also well cast and ably acted. Cox and Ironside brought their usual awesomeness to their villain characters, Stone was convincing as the assassin/seductress, and the supporting cast was pretty solid. And let’s not forget, it was an Arny movie, which meant that it was automatically fun, cheesy, and full of hilarious one liners and his signatures “Hlalalalalalal!” And seriously, some of the lines he said: “Consider that a divorce”, “You blew my covah!”, and “See ya at the party, Richter!”. They rank right up there with “Get to tha choppa!”

The only real weaknesses were the many cheesy scientific implausibilities. For one, the scene where he removes the bug from his nose was impossible, as it would have broken his nose. Second, there’s no way anyone could create an atmosphere on Mars by simply evaporating water. Sure, it might be a good step in the right direction, but there’s no guarantee it would work, and it would take centuries, not mere seconds. Last, if you were already asphyxiating due to exposure to near-vacuum, you wouldn’t be instantly saved once breathable oxygen started pouring out. But of course, all of this could be dismissed by saying that it was all a dream. Or it can be simply written off as part of the cheese factor.

Overall, I’d say this movie deserves to be placed in the sci-fi classics section, between guilty pleasure movies and the films that actually have something to say and will make you think a little. If you haven’t seen it, then do so! And if you’re planning on seeing the remake, or already have, then get your ass to the video store and ask for Total Recall! And until next time, here’s a three-breasted hooker to keep you company! See ya at the party! Halalalalalalal!

First Look at the New Robocop!

It seems the paparazzi are finally pulling their weight for us sci-fi geeks! This week, prospective audiences got their first glimpse at the new Robocop movie, which recently began filming on location in Toronto. Lead actor Joel Kinnaman, who plays Alex Murphy, was photographed wearing the new Robocop suit, and the new look has fans atwitter!

Yes, ever since the photos went public, countless fans took to Twitter to deplore Robocop’s admittedly Batman-esque outfit. Yes, it does look significantly different from the original. And upon closer examination, it seems that the new writers are diverging from the old script as well. For example, in the first photo you can clearly see that Alex Murphy has a human hand. In the other, his visor is up, which would seem to indicate that Murphy also has a fully-intact face.

This is starkly different from the original movie, where Murphy underwent a “full body prosthetic” after being shot to death. This, combined with the movie’s synopsis – which says that Alex Murphy was seriously wounded in the line of duty and not brutally murdered – suggests this reboot is also going to be less violent. Yes, Verhoeven had a weird fascination with over the top violence, but his movies made an impression and watering down an original does seem kinda wrong.

But take a look anyway and judge for yourself. Here he is the first photo, with Kinnaman wearing the suit for the first time:

And here he can be seen walking to his trailer, with the suit’s visor in the “up” position. Could just be for convenience, but it could also be a part of the new suit.

Via Comingsoon.net

Starship Troopers

Here we have yet another example of a sci-fi book adapted to film, with significant changes being made! And, much like with Blade Runner and 2001: Space Odyssey, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Whereas the novel was an in-depth look at the timeless nature of military service with some rather interesting social commentary thrown in, the movie was all about a war with a hostile alien species. In the book, there really wasn’t much about the Bugs or humanity’s fight with them by comparison. Rather than being the focal point of the story, it operated as a sort of background to the main premise, which was the armed forces and their role in society. So its not surprising that in adapting the book to the big screen, they chose to focus on the war stuff and gloss over the rest. While this allowed for a more entertaining movie, it didn’t come without its share of consequences.

(Background—>)
Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, the movie was to have a polarizing effect on audiences and critics, much like the original novel. Though Heinlein was a gifted author and one of the “Big Three” of science fiction (along with Asimov and Clarke) I can honestly say that Starship Troopers was not his best work. But it was the themes and the central message of the book that seemed to divide the critical and the general reception it got. Was he advocating violence without a second thought and a quasi-fascist social code, or simply depicting a future society in which these things came to be? Was he serious when he said that how violence had solved more problems in history than any other means? Or was he being cynical or facetious? Who knows? In fact, Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers largely to explain and defend his feelings about the military and nuclear policy. Much like his feelings, the book was nuanced, and was therefore likely to elicit mixed reactions.

In any case, the movie had the same effect on audiences. Some were mad that it wasn’t faithful to the original novel – no doubt because of all the pretty actors and actresses and all that love triangle crap – while others were happy for the changes, hailing it for its action, costumes, settings and the way it expanded on the Bug War. Me? I kind of fall in the middle camp. While I appreciate the acting and the fact that we actually got to see much of what was explained being acted out, I didn’t much care for the cast or the teenage-type drama. I felt that it was a good effort, and a fitting addition to Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi lineup (director of such movies as Robocop and Total Recall). Still, it would have benefited from a different cast and some script changes, though it would have definitely done less well as the box office as a result. In the end, its best when filed under guilty pleasures; kind of like Independence Day, but with way less cheese!

Oh, and for the record, I will NOT be getting into this movie’s sequels! Far as I’m concerned, the less said about them the better! I’ve caught snippets and what I saw was so demoralizing, I knew I couldn’t sit through the whole thing. I can’t even begin to wonder what the hell the producers were thinking there! So… avoiding those, let’s get into the first and, as far as I’m concerned, only Starship Troopers movie worth mentioning!

(Content—>)
So this bad boy opens with a scene from Klendathu, the battle scene on the Bug homeworld that’s pretty important later on in the movie. This set up does much to establish tension and give us a preview of the movie’s later carnage. Then, cut to the comparatively domestic scene of Johnny Rico (played by Casper Van Dien) in his high school History and Moral Philosophy class. Here, we get a watered down version of what Heinlein said in the original book, emphasizing the quasi-fascist morality of voting and violence, and sans the moral responsibility stuff. But what are you gonna do? This movie is an action film, talking about the legitimacy of violence can only be seen as a set-up for how they plan to deal with a hostile alien species, one that does not understand mercy, coexistence or peace. And of course, that annoying triangle I mentioned is clear even at this point. Johnny loves Carmen (Denise Richards), Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) loves Johnny, and Carmen… she wants to be a pilot. We get an earful on the Federation and how service entitles one to basic rights – like voting – something civilians don’t enjoy, and in the course of a futuristic football scene, we see Carmen get all gaga for some dude who is a naval pilot.

In the ensuring scenes, during graduation and a whole lot of expository talk about life decisions, it becomes painfully obvious what’s going to happen. Carmen is going to join the Federation, Johnny is going to join to follow her, Dizzy is going to join to follow him, and Carmen is going to dump Rico. We also meet Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), who is a latent psychic and is joining and getting bumped to the top because of his abilities. It’s also obvious that he’s going to develop the ability to psychically communicate with people. Why? Because he said he couldn’t… yet! And of course, Johnny and Carmen are annoying as hell. That might be prejudice on my part, but I have a hard time taking anything Denise Richards does seriously. Casper Van Diem? Can’t get past that cleft chin! And frankly, he looks the part of the clean-cut American teenager too well! And with a name like Johnny Rico, someone who’s actually Latino would have seemed like a better bet. Having these pretty cardboard cut-outs as stand-ins might have been effective as an ironic statement, pitting beauty against the ugliness of war. But that’s just not what I got from this. Seems the beauty was meant to be a box-office draw, the violence strictly for entertainment purposes. Didn’t really get the sense that there was any real meaning or depth at work there.

Quick sidenote: NONE of this happened in the novel! For starters, Johnny did have feelings for a girl named Carmen, but she was NOT his girlfriend nor even a central character, nor did she figure that prominently in his decision to join the Federation. In addition, Dizzy Flores was a MAN! Yes, in the novel this woman who was in fact a fellow grunt in the Mobile Infantry, not some love-sick girl who followed Johnny into the service (and incidentally, to her death). Oh, and the man who was Johnny’s moral philosophy teacher, Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside) was not the same man who led the Roughnecks! In the novel, it was a man named DuBois (a stand-in for Heinlein himself) who was the teacher. Rasczak was a commander he would later meet, and who would promptly die off during the Klendathu battle. This last aspect I can understand. Having his teacher return later in the book as his CO makes sense, since the teacher was a citizen in both the book and movie. And killing him off promptly wouldn’t make much sense, not if you plan on expanding on the action. But the rest… yeah, box-office draw!

Oh, and I should also mention that whereas the novel was nuanced in its approach, the movie was not. Clearly, Verhoeven chose to go with the quasi-fascist school of thought on this one. Regardless of what he thought about Heinlein message, he clearly thought the movie would be more effective if the whole issue of service and citizenship were presented in very rigid terms. Civilians have few rights, society is informed by propaganda reels instead of independent news sources, and those who serve are “meat for the grinder” (an actual line from the recruiting sergeant!). While this proved interesting at times, it was not in keeping with the message of the book. In some cases, these elements were wholesale inventions of the writers and not mere exaggerations on what was in the novel. Still, they did at times feel like a fitting commentary on the nature of war and social issues, which WAS in keeping with the spirit of the novel (if not the actual content).

Anyway, we soon get to the myriad of scenes where Rico is receiving his training at the hands Sgt. Zim (masterfully protrayed by Clancy Brown). He and his buds are run through a training regimen that is far more brutal than anything in the novel (constant cries of “medic!” demonstrate this point) but the point here is clearly to draw parallels with the kinds of brutal discipline which the Marines and other elite military units are notorious for. We also get scenes of Carmen’s comparatively cushy experiences, and in the course of her video correspondence with Rico, she of course sends him a Dear John. This, coupled with a terrible accident in which a grunt dies, causes Rico to resign. He, however, changes his mind when a sudden and unprovoked attack (echoes of Pearl Harbor) destroys his home of Beunos Aires and kills his folks. Again, not in the book people! While Rico’s training was explored at length in the novel, there was none of this high-drama stuff where he got dumped, felt responsible for getting someone killed, and took a whole bunch of whippings. Nor did he suddenly quit, only to have walk out interrupted by a declaration of war. In addition, his folks did not die in the attack. In fact, he went on to meet his father later in the novel when he himself enlisted so he could do his part for the war. This served as a resolution between Rico and his father in the novel, after the latter disowned him for joining the military against his wishes. But, like I said, high-drama! It was effective, of course; each and every one of us was probably thinking “he can’t quit now! It’s payback time!” And the news reel that followed in the wake of the attack was very effective at parodying war propaganda films, something they did often in the film. Like many elements, it gives us a sense of the timelessness of war, while at the same time highlighting the quasi-fascist nature of the Federation.

Oh, and did I mention that somewhere in between all that we got the infamous coed shower scene? Now why was it that this scene was so totally over-hyped! Are audiences really this smut-obsessed and/or puritanical? I mean really people, we saw a few breasts and Van Dien’s ass! What’s all the hubbub about? Word is that Verhoeven even got undressed while shooting just to show the actors that it wasn’t that big a deal. How’s that for irony? And considering what he got Sharon Stone and Elizabeth Berkley to do in Basic Instinct and Showgirls, this was NOTHING! Why then should this have been such a focal point when it came to the movie’s reception? But that’s Hollywood for ya. A little T&A and suddenly everybody starts going gaga and losing their minds!

Moving on, after a few minor scenes with a reunion between Rico and Carmen, Rico brawling with her new pilot boyfriend (showing the obvious conflict between the services) and the grunts getting tattoos that say “Death From Above” (a common war slogan meant to draw parallels with past wars), we cut to the battle scene at Klendathu. And as I said earlier, this first action scene was a big improvement on the book. For one, we actually get to see the fighting! Second, the Bugs are presented as a hostile swarm, not as semi-intelligent things with actual lasers mounted to their limbs (as they were in the book). I have to say I approve of this take on things, either the Bugs are an individually sentient species or a hive mind. Can’t have it both ways! Second, the scene is a faithful recreation of an invasion, reminiscent of D-Day and Iwo Jima any other “storming the beach” kind of scenario. It’s full of tension, the usual last-minute reassurances (“remember your training and you will make it back alive”), the lull as the troops hit the ground and wait for the shooting… and then, the shooting! Oh, the shooting! Yes, for the next few minutes, carnage ensues as the Bugs counter-attack, the MI get the crap kicked out of them and are forced to beat a hasty retreat. And, fulfilling the preview from the beginning, Rico gets mortally wounded, on camera no less! In orbit, the fleet does little better, getting schmucked by plasma streams – reminiscent of AAA and Flack – and are also forced to withdraw. Cue the hospital scene immediately afterwards, with all kinds of gore and a massive list full of MIA and KIA scrolling by on a huge wall screen to drive the point home. “The Bugs don’t take prisoners,” says Mr. Navy pilot man. Yeah, we get it, it was a disaster!

But of course, Rico is alive. Turns out his listing as KIA was a clerical error or something (another familiar army theme!) Another reunion follows as they get reassigned to the Rough Necks and find that their former teacher, Mr. Rasczak, is the CO. Yep, they are now part of Rasczak’s Roughnecks! WHOO! And true to form, Michael Ironside is missing a limb. That guy always seems to be losing limbs in Verhoeven’s movies! And at this point, its a clear indication of what service to the Federation means, aka. sacrifice! They take part in a new mission designed to gather intel, Rico and Flores have their hot sex scene, and then we cut to a pitch battle where they are forced to defend a fort while waiting for emergency evac. As plot contrivances would have it, their rescue just happens to be Carmen and her pilot beau! Yet another reunion! And of course, Ironside loses MORE limbs and dies as Rico is forced to kill him, Dizzy is killed too, and Rico is left crestfallen but hardened. Seems he’s finally learned what it means to be a citizen! Good for him! Too bad Dizzy had to die in order to get into Rico’s pants though. But according to her, as she said while bleeding out on the shuttle’s floor, it was worth it. And I thought guys were willing to die to get laid!

After her funeral we get another (wait for it!) REUNION, as NPH walks in wearing what is clearly an SS officer’s uniform. More quasi-fascist symbolism! And just to make it clear that he’s become an unfeeling Machiavellian dick, his eyes are sunken in and he talks like a real hard-ass now. “Oh, I’m sorry, you don’t approve (of my methods). Well that’s too bad! We’re in this for the species, boys and girls! It all comes down to numbers, they have more!” And of course, he lets them in on their plan. Seems they believe there is a sort of “brain bug” on the planet below, that each colony of drones has one that runs it like a hive mind. Which means they got another mission to fly: attack, and capture the brain! Rico, having come up through the ranks, is now CO of the Roughnecks – Rico’s Roughneck! Whoo! Convenient that his name starts with an R, keeping the tradition of alliteration alive! Naturally, events conspire to place Carmen in harms way. Her ship is destroyed by that same plasma-AAA, a little reminder that the Fleet has it tough too! And she and her beau crash land on the planet and are taken prisoner by the brain. It sucks out her beau’s brains (ick!) and is about to do her in too. But luckily, Rico and his squad come to her rescue, guided by NPH’s ability to telepathically communicate with humans now (told you he’d figure it out!). And they have one final (do I even need to say it?) reunion on the field of battle. And they even bring back Sgt. Zim, seems he’s busted himself to private just so he could get into combat and capture the brain bug himself! So, with their reunion complete, the movie ends with a propaganda reel telling the people of Earth to enlist because they need more bodies! Rico, Carmen and NPH all get some screen time as examples of what to live up to, cue the war music and roll credits!

(Synopsis—>)
Okay, so the things I liked about this film. Yes, the propaganda reels and the familiar war themes were pretty effective. Rather than being a cheap way to elicit emotions (the way Emmerich does with landmarks), it felt like there was some genuine attempts to get into the collective unconscious and call up the memory of wars past. Ultimately, it felt like the goal here was to keep with the spirit of Heinlein’s novel and show how conflict is timeless and how our experience of it mirrors those of people in the past. Things like unprovoked attacks, military disasters, recruiting drives, propaganda and inspirational pieces… all of these are common experiences and got a pretty good treatment by Verhoeven. While Verhoeven’s interpretation of the Federation as a militarized and obviously right-wing state was also debatable, he did do a good job demonstrating just how it would look and feel for those living in it. It was done subtly, much like he had done with Robocop, the viewer is not told these things as much as shown them, giving them the freedom to figure it out on their own. And the action scenes were pretty damn good! Especially the attack on Klendathu, that one really set a good tone. You really got the rah rah tempo as the MI are hitting the ground and running into the fight, and you felt pretty let down in the aftermath when it became clear what a disaster it was. “100,000 dead in the first hour” said the propaganda reel in the very next scene. 100,000? Damn! Just like Dieppe, Omaha Beach, and Iwo Jima, only not real! Also, the one-liners that were ripped from history. Like “Death from Above”, a slogan that was coined by the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne in World War II, and popularized by the film Apocalypse Now. Or “C’mon you apes, you wanna live forever?”, a paraphrasing of Sgt Dan Daley seminal words: “C’mon you sons-of-bitches, do you want to live forever!” at the Battle of Belleau Wood in WWI. And as for “Everybody fights, nobody quits” or “Fleet does the flying, Mobile Infantry does the dying”… probably all Heinlein, but good lines nonetheless!

Also, with regards to another major difference between the novel and the movie: fans of the former could not have failed to notice that the MI were fighting in body armor and firing rifles and bazookas, whereas in the novel they were in powered armor and used all kinds of weapons. Slug throwers, flame throwers, lasers, tactical nukes. This change probably offended some, but I have to imagine the studios felt that this kind of thing wasn’t too practical. For one, its hard to create the sense of a grand battle, the kind that reminds one of D-Day, Iwo Jima and Hamburger Hill, if you’ve got small groups of soldiers in big suits jetpacking around. That kind of technology naturally calls for smaller attack squads, not a massive hoard of grunts throwing themselves into a wholesale slaughter. Second, from a strictly technical standpoint, recreating this would have meant either meant some expensive animatronics or just a whole lot of CGI. The Bugs were already being digitally added, so if they were faithful to the book, chances are they’d have gone the cheaper route and done all the action sequences on computer. That would kind of be a rip for the actors and would have made the battles look a lot less realistic. And speaking of CGI, this was yet another thing that the movie did right. I have no idea which company provided the digital effects, but they were good! Even now, the effects still stand up and look impressive. At no point do you really feel like, “holy crap, that looked totally fake!” And I’ve said as much of some of the Star Wars prequels, and that was with Lucasarts doing the effects!

Okay, now for the bad… First up, the cast: Casper Van Dien did a reasonably good job of acting, but as I’ve said already, he simultaneously doesn’t look the part and looks it too much. He’s too clean-cut, buffed-out, and that cleft chin of his is TOTALLY DISTRACTING! At the same time, there’s no way in hell this guy’s a Johnny Rico. Rico is a Latino name, the boy’s from Buenos Aires! Much the same is true of Denise “Who did I have to screw to become a star” Richards and Dina Meyer. Whereas Meyer is a good actress and veteran of sci-fi, Richards is a one-trick pony who does nothing but smile and look wooden! More to the point, neither of them look Argentinian, and with names like Ibanez and Flores, you kind of get the impression that they should! Might seem like a minor point, but I truly felt that this clean-cut white cast was a whitewash! Did the studios think they wouldn’t be able to sell as many tickets if they used people other than these shiney-happy poster children? As I said at the beginning, this might have been a neat point if the idea was to contrast such homey looking people with the realities of war and a militarized state. It might have even been cool as a subtle parallel between the Federation and the Aryanism of the Nazis. But I mean… c’mon! I think we can all agree that Verhoeven and the producers were just hedging their bets. Some pretty faces and partial nudity to bring in the teens, some deeper themes to pacify the critics and Heinlein fans. But ultimately, the movie erred on the side of pandering and angered critics and Heinlein fans for the most part. That’s what you get when you hedge your bets. So don’t hedge em, people, place em! Even if the end products sucks, you’ll know it sucked honestly.

Also, there’s the matter of the plot being full of reunions and convenient plot twists that are simply annoying! In an entire universe full of soldiers, pilots and service people, how is it that these four friends from Buenos Aires keep meeting up? And the final scene where Rico, Carmen and Carl are all together and its like “we all knew we’d be best friends forever” is just plain dumb! For one, one of the four is dead! To boot, she’s dead because she loved Rico and followed him into the service, and hence the war. In short, Rico’s unrequited love is kinda responsible for her death, and she died saying it was worth it because she finally got to have him. Are you seriously telling me he would have absolutely no feelings about that? And of course there’s the whole love triangle thing, which in the first place is annoying and childish! I get that some drama was needed in the course of the adaptation (the novel was kinda dry!), but this was not the way to go about it. Something a little less teeny-bopper would have been just as effective, and probably way more respectable.

Aside from that, the plot is relatively solid, moving between segments that tell us about the war, the Bugs, and the Federation without getting bogged down in the myriad descriptions that Heinlein’s book focused on. This much I liked because it focused on what, for me, seemed what the book itself was supposed to be about. Aka. the Bug War, and not a detailed description of the armed services in the future. I have since learned that Heinlein had a purpose in writing this book other than just creating a fantastical story about aliens and ships, but with a name like Starship Troopers, you figure its supposed to be a war movie with an actual war. Anyone adapting this movie to film would likely be inclined to follow the same course Verhoeven did, making it a cool shoot-em up with some relatable themes about the timelessness of war.

But in the end, Verhoeven and his movie managed to succeed financially, even though he pissed off a lot of critics and Heinlein fans in the process. The movie was a big box office draw, it remains a sort of cult hit for some, and for people like me (and I do believe I am in the majority here) it’s an enduring guilty pleasure. Even though it was followed by some horrible, horrible sequels (which I will not speak of further!) and was the beginning of Denise Richard’s appalling career, the movie was still fun, enjoyable, and had just enough going on to be somewhat respectable… at times. Hell, just talking about it makes me kinda watch it again. Maybe I shall, maybe I shall…

Starship Troopers:
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Plot: 6/10
Direction: 8/10
Total: 7/10