cover A new kind of enemy!
A new kind of war!
Same old kind of movie!

Yes, kids, it's time to look at


This is a movie about the First Interstellar War. The Bug War. Men against Arachnids. Humanity hard-pressed! Heroes! Villains! Special effects!

Just another bug hunt

We start off with a news report from the surface of the planet Klendathu, the bugs' home world, where you will instantaneously flash on that Korean-war era song,

"Hear the sound of runnin' feet
It's the old First Cav in full retreat
They're haulin' ass,
Not savin' gas,
They'll soon be gone."

Things are bad and getting worse, as a mob of Mobile Infantry types mill about, getting in each others' lines of fire, screaming things like "Run for your life!" or words to that effect. It isn't until later in the film that you discover that milling about is the only formation they practice regularly, and aimless running is their chief tactical mode.

We now go back to One Year Before, and join our heroes Johnny and Carmen in high school. They're in Moral History class, though you'd have to have read the book to know that, being instructed by Mr. Rasczak, played by Michael Ironside, the token actor in this film. He's only got one arm, and he's delivering exposition as fast as he can.

Exposition continues to be pumped out, as we go to a black-tie party, and to a long and pointless football-like game where we meet Zander, a guy who is trying to make time with Carmen, and Dizzy Flores, a girl who is trying to make time with Johnny. Okay, film-literate folks, we've been told that not all the main characters survive the film. So who buys it?

A) The Handsome Hero
B) The Beautiful Heroine
C) The Hero's Other Girlfriend
D) The Heroine's Other Boyfriend

Put your money down. We'll get to the answers eventually. Just don't expect any surprises.

Well, Johnny, Carl (another buddy who's psychic) and Carmen join the Federal Service, clasping hands and intoning "No matter what, we'll always be friends." We have a touching farewell between Johnny and Carmen as she goes off to pilot training and he goes off to boot camp ("Say it once. Try it on for size." "I love you.")

In boot camp, a place that is apparently smaller than the training command in Hot Shots, we meet another major character, Ace, played by Jake Busey in the Gary Busey role. With the exception of Ace and Rasczak, everyone else in this movie is intensely good looking, by the way. We get a coed shower scene for reasons not related to the plot. T&A! Lookit that! Silicon-based lifeforms!

We also discover, in the training with the laser-tag style weapons and in a live-fire exercise, that the Mobile Infantry's projectile weapons have an effective range of about eight feet. That's how far they do all their shooting. No wonder they're taught knife-throwing—that ups their lethal radius to twenty feet.

Well, Johnny is about to quit. He's been flogged; his girl has Dear Johned him. Time to go see what Carmen's been doing.

She's getting trained as a pilot, and she's being trained by Zander. They're out rolling and patrolling, when all at once gravity gets weird and an asteroid pops out of hyperspace, coming from the Bugs' quarantine sector! Unfortunately, their comm antenna is knocked off by the asteroid, so they can't call back to warn earth....

Well, Johnny is calling home, chatting to his folks in Buneos Aires telling them that he's coming back, by incredible coincidence at The Very Moment that the asteroid hits there. And all I could say was "Good shootin', Tex." I mean, imagine hitting a major city with an asteroid, when you're throwing it clear from one side of the galaxy to the other. Exactly how the bugs do this is never explained. They don't seem to have any kind of technology. Nor is why they do it explained. Oh well. And here, again, we see the boot recruits practicing their Mill About In An Undisciplined Manner formation, as they run in a pack to see the news reports. Boot camp as shown here is far less strenous than actual boot camp, for those of you who are interested.

Now our boys and girls head off to Klendathu, in order to invade. And here's the Fleet, all bunched up in orbit, so close together that if one of them loses station it'll smash into another two. And all kinds of blue-white balls of fire are rising from the surface, hitting them, because they're packed so tight together that missing would be hard to do. The ships that get hit catch on fire, tilt at a 45-degree angle, and sink, just like the ships in Action In The North Atlantic.

Our heroes head to the surface, where they mill about some more. The concepts of formation, organization, and command and control appear to have been lost. They top a rise and stand in dumb amazement, one thumb in their mouth and one in their ass playing switch, as they see giant bugs expand with gas, then lift tail toward the sky and blast a blue-white fart of anti-spaceship gas up to where the fleet is in orbit.

Our guys stand shoulder to shoulder, firing at the mass of bugs, using a set of tactics that hasn't worked well since Gettysburg. Actually, the guys at Gettysburg were a bit better better equipped for what they were doing, since they had artillery (a concept that has been lost, apparently) and weapons with an accurate range of over eight feet. Other lost concepts that would have proved Really Helpful here include close air support, mortars, air-dropped mines, barbed wire, fire, maneuver, cover, concealment, objectives, and useful orders. (I mean, "Kill everything that has more than two legs" is really neat, but "Go to coordinates XXYY, and set up a perimeter. Your covered arc runs from AA through CC. You'll be linking up with Unit Name on your left and Other Unit Name on your right. Hold the position until you're relieved by Unit Name. At that time go to YYZZ and await further orders" would have actually been helpful.) Nor, for that matter, do we have armored fighting vehicles, heavy machineguns, shoulder-launched missiles, or other stuff (a spray can of Raid?) that might have come in handy.

Well, we bug out of there, so to speak, and move on to Planet P, where the terrain is identical to that on Klendathu, only now it's daytime. By incredible coincidence we're with Major Rasczak again, the teacher from the First Reel. "I only have one rule!" he shouts. "Everyone fights! No one quits!" That sounded more like two rules to me. Maybe a teaching career wasn't for him.

We go bug hunting again. And after an engagement that proves that a British Square from Waterloo would have done better than the MI at fighting bugs, we win anyway. We have a party! Dizzy and Johnny finally get it on. (I have to comment that I really liked the Special Effects in this film. Especially Dizzy's left special effect and her right special effect. Carmen has even bigger special effects, but she never whips her shirt off so it's hard to be sure.)

And I finally figured out why the MI's weapons have a range and effectiveness that would make a 17th century Musket-and-Pike formation look good: We have to kill our bugs close enough so that their ichor will splash on the troopers. The ichor comes in two colors, vibrant red and deep green, which lends a rather festive touch to the affair.

Well, we get called to relieve an outpost. Our guys walk there in a gaggle, through a canyon, all bunched up, with no scouts out. It occurred to me that if you'd given me two grenades, a Thompson submachinegun, and a twenty-minute start, that I could have taken on the Mobile Infantry. So could you. The MI in this film are laughably bad.

We get to the command post, and mill about to discover that everyone is dead, except for one craven, insane general hiding in a supply cabinet. And here we see that the Mobile Infantry takes off their helmets a lot, even when wandering through an unknown location where the bugs have clearly recently been, and may still be. But Hoo Hah! Here come the bugs! And suddenly it occurred to me where these guys had learned their tactics. They'd seen Beau Geste, and were copying the Foreign Legionaires at Fort Zinderneuf. Fortunately for them, the bugs had seen the same movie.

Our boys and girls have no fire discipline, so they're all starting to run out of ammo at the same time. They call for a retrieval craft. It arrives in a hot LZ, and sticks around long enough for everyone in the company they're picking up to write picture-postcards home, sip a drink, and watch an episode of 90210. But what's this? Dizzy gets nailed by a bug! In fact, it puts a couple of three-inch diameter spikes through her torso, penetrating both lungs. So what does she do? She screams!

We get her back, and onto the rescue craft, and while I'm wondering why she's conscious at all, let alone able to talk, she looks up at Johnny and says, "It's all right, because I got to have you."

Now we find that guess who's piloting this craft? By incredible coincicence it's Carmen and Zander! Sort of like having bomber pilots flying helicopters, but what the hey.

The lieutenant is dead, so Johnny is the new lieutenant. "I only have one rule!" he tells the replacements. "Everyone fights! No one quits!" This is okay, because back in the first reel we'd discovered that Johnny's final reportcard math score was only 35%. If I'd been taking command, my remark would have been "I only have one rule! Don't bunch up!" Then I would have taken some time to let them know about scouts, skirmishers, covering fire, and similar good stuff. I'd also try to mention that the cluster[verybadword] is a formation that we will never use again, regardless of what the entire rest of the infantry is up to.

Well, we're going to reinvade the same darned planet. And we do—and by now you'd think that the fleet would have figured out the range of those bug farts and stayed outside of that range, or swooped in, delivered the landing craft, and swooped out if they had to drop 'em off in range of bug farts. But they haven't, and they don't, and the Roger Young (Johnny's ship, piloted by Carmen) gets hit! It's going down! And they're only now closing the air-tight doors!

Carmen and Zander get in a two-person craft, and head for the surface.

The troopers on the surface are hunting for the Bug Brain. And you'll never guess where Carmen lands! By incredible coincidence here's the Bug Brain, all right. It shambles right up and sucks out Zander's brain. That's okay—he didn't need it anyway. Johnny arrives and saves the day, or at least Carmen, and here we have another one of those great Hollywood outrun-the-explosion scenes. I wish they'd stop doing that.

Not to worry, a Bug Brain's been captured off camera, and here comes Carl (you remember him), wearing a Gestapo black leather raincoat, to have a mind-meld with the Bug Brain while the MI troopers mill around aimlessly. And in a revelation that has to rank right up there with anything that Counselor Troi ever made, he announces, "It's afraid!" No duh.

After this, the movie is pretty-much over.

I should mention that the music is Variations on a Theme from Star Wars.

I still haven't figured out why our guys all wear SS uniforms, or why Kevlar technology has been lost. I have figured out why we have the various newreels. It's to provide exposition, and cover the fact that Verhoeven doesn't know how to do transition scenes.

Final score: eight breasts, 219 gallons blood, three tankcars of ichor, a very large number of beasts in four main species. Red Mike says check it out. Those are really great special effects. No car chases, but you can't have everything.

Oh yeah—that reminds me. There's this really neat book with a similar name. It's called Starship Troopers, by Robert A. Heinlein. Maybe someday somone will make it into a movie.

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