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The Most Pause-Worthy Moments In Starship Troopers

Multiple decades after Paul Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers" turned Robert Heinlein's celebrated sci-fi war novel into one of cinema's strangest satires, the film still has its fans — arguably more than ever, in fact. But whether it holds up is beside the point; the Casper Van Dien/Denise Richards/Jake Busey blockbuster was intentionally designed to look like bad military propaganda (per its source material), with a cast of beautiful young actors that some believe were chosen specifically because they couldn't act. The movie was never intended to be "good" in the traditional sense; nevertheless, it was marketed as an action blockbuster — and all these years later, it's still worth a watch whether you don't want to think about it (in which case it is fun, mindless popcorn fluff) or whether you do want to think about it (in which case, it might just be brilliant).

In terms of its narrative significance as well as its sheer spectacle, there are plenty of moments in "Starship Troopers" that are worth pausing — either to admire the skill with which the film navigated the early days of CGI, inspect the subtext, or simply get a better look at the actors. To celebrate this one-of-a-kind film and its journey from box office oddity to enduring cult classic, here are the most pause-worthy "Starship" moments, from giant monsters to shower scenes. Be advised that spoilers lie ahead, so before marching boldly forward, be sure you're prepared to answer a question familiar to every "Troopers" fan: Would you like to know more?

The internet, but fascist

"Starship Troopers" is considered to be the third of Verhoeven's so-called "Triple Dutch" trilogy, following the hit sci-fi satires "RoboCop" and "Total Recall." Those films similarly mix gleefully provocative imagery and brutality with off-putting, over-the-top screen programming to drive their themes home, and "Starship Troopers" is no different — although the fascist propaganda seen on its screens aren't meant to serve so much as commercials as they are "on demand" information that bears an uncanny resemblance to the internet — or at least, the promise the internet held in its 1997 infancy.

It makes some sense, as the nascent World Wide Web (Internet Explorer had been released two years prior) held promise of allowing media consumers to move from topic to topic with the click of a cursor, for example, suggesting the presence of hyperlinks. If you look hard enough, you might also detect faint traces of the super-online future to come — the ability to focus on "Top News" could be seen as predicting invented-a-decade-later social media websites like Twitter.

Of course, the internet aspect of the movie's opening montage pales in comparison to its fascist overtones. The sequence draws directly from "Triumph of the Will," the notorious Leni Riefenstahl Nazi propaganda film, complete with eagle imagery. "When the soldiers look at the camera and say, 'I'm doing my part!' that's from Riefenstahl," Verhoeven, who grew up under Nazi occupation, told Entertainment Weekly in 1997. "We copied it."

The blind biology teacher

Some images from "Starship Troopers" are pause-worthy because of what we know, others because of what we never will. 

Case in point: The biology teacher from the high school attended by "Starship Troopers" protagonists John Rico (Van Dien), Carmen Ibanez (Richards), and Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) definitely has something going on that warrants closer inspection. She only appears in a single scene, but that scene is incredible. 

The teacher (Rue McClanahan from "The Golden Girls!") prowls around her classroom as Rico and Carmen dissect an Arkellian sand beetle, extolling the virtues of the alien Arachnid species and proclaiming the foolishness inherent in any notion of human superiority. While the scene mostly serves to introduce aspects of the Arachnids that will be revisited later in the film, it's impossible to look away from the teacher, who sports a white lab coat over her suit and a pair of futuristic dark glasses over her eyes, the burn-like scars around them suggesting that she's been blinded. 

Between her aesthetic and her ideology, it would be fascinating to learn more about her backstory. Imagine having Blanche from "Golden Girls" in your crazy science fiction movie — and only using her in one scene! If nothing else, we just want to keep the movie paused on McClanahan long enough to write our own fan-fiction backstory for her character.

Disable its hands

Speaking of great actors who make small cameos in "Starship Troopers," Rico and his fellow Mobile Infantry aspirants are trained by Sergeant Zim, played with over-the-top intensity by perennial villain Clancy Brown. His drill sergeant characterization is undoubtedly familiar to anyone who's seen a war movie before, but Brown, along with Jake Busey, also delivers one of the film's most memorable images — one that deftly subverts expectations and drives home just how brutal boot camp can be in a militaristic dystopia.

Mobile Infantry recruit Ace Levy (Busey) is practicing throwing knives, but is having trouble with it. Frustrated, he demands to know why the skill is necessary to learn, considering most combat in this particular future is fought using nuclear weaponry, which merely requires the push of a button. Zim, in response, commands Ace to put his hand against a nearby wall. Ace clearly has no interest in putting his hand against the wall, but reluctantly follows the order. In most movies, the pay-off to this set-up would be for Zim to throw a knife and intentionally (but just barely) miss Ace's hand, or to hit something else with the knife instead. But not in "Starship Troopers." 

Zim throws the knife directly into Ace's palm, pinning it to the wall, then calmly walks over and explains to the rest of the trainees that it's difficult to push a button without a hand. It's a classic moment that helps set the entire film's tone.

The shower scene

Upon its late-'90s release, the coed shower scene from "Starship Troopers" made a lot of news. All these years later, the scene is still as potentially abrasive as a dry loofah. 

Mobile Infantry recruits, both male and female, all shower together — though as Verhoeven has pointed out, a similar thing happens in the police locker room in "RoboCop," so, perhaps Verhoeven's take on the future is simply that it's going to result in a lot of lawsuits. Actually, the fact that "nobody seemed to notice" the "RoboCop" scene galvanized Verhoeven to go even harder in the "Starship Troopers" showers, which feature an entire room full of beautiful young actors not wearing any clothes (Verhoeven claims that he and his cinematographer were naked during the shooting of these scene as well, for what that's worth). But that's not the reason to pause during this scene. What you want to do is pause and look at the faces of the characters, none of whom display any sexual interest whatsoever in those around them.

It turns out that the shower scene means a lot more than audiences initially thought. As the recruits discuss their lives and ambitions, the fact that they're doing so while naked in the shower together seems to barely matter to them. They have more important concerns. 

"These so-called advanced people are without libido," Verhoeven said in 2014. "It is sublimated because they are fascists." 

True, Rico has sex later on in the film with fellow soldier Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) — but Dizzy herself walks into the shower at one point in the scene, and it makes no difference. Look at their eyes. They're a bunch of teenagers in the shower together, and their eyes never even glance down.

Death from above

In stark contrast to the shower scene, the tattoo scene doesn't have any deeper thematic meaning. But it's no less an iconic image, one that stood out in the original trailer and features a tattoo design that has since been used in a ton of "Starship Troopers" merchandise. It's actually that very tattoo design that makes this moment pause-worthy. 

Think about it: Why do Mobile Infantry soldiers Rico, Ace, Dizzy, and Kitten, who have just joined a fighting force that deals exclusively in ground warfare, have tattoos that say "Death from above?" It's particularly confusing when you consider that right before they get these tattoos, Rico gets in a fight with Zander Barcalow, an officer of the Fleet (which does hit the enemy from above) after which Dizzy explains to him that "Mobile Infantry and Fleet don't mix."

In fact, the tattoo design is a relic of Heinlein's book, so much so that it doesn't actually fit in Verhoeven's movie. Verhoeven had nothing but contempt for his source material, to the extent that his adaptation is specifically designed to satirize it. He changed a ton, including the fact that in the book, the Mobile Infantry drop onto enemy planets from orbit  — hence the "death from above" slogan. Since the kids are no longer drop troops in the movie, the tattoos make no sense. 

But they look cool — and, they're an interesting Heinlein easter egg in a film that has little respect for the author.

Rasczak's arm

One of the changes made by Verhoeven in his adaptation of "Starship Troopers" was to combine the character of history and philosophy teacher Jean V. Dubois with the character of Lieutenant Rasczak (Michael Ironside), leader of the Mobile Infantry platoon known as Rasczak's Rednecks. This choice makes sense; in the book, Dubois sends Rico a letter revealing that he's a former Mobile Infantry soldier, and the two men don't seem to have any conflict of ideology, so it's simply economical to put them together. This also allows the movie to provide a fantastic narrative moment in which the audience realizes that the teacher has become the soldier.

Before the war, when Rasczak is still in the classroom, it's clear that he's lost his left hand and most of his left forearm. No attempt is made to hide this; in fact, it's emphasized when he uses it to gesture toward and call on his students. We're well aware of Rasczak's missing arm. So when Rico, Ace, and Dizzy join the Roughnecks and prepare to meet their infamous lieutenant, the close-up on a cybernetic left arm instantly tells us everything we need to know. It's obvious that the lieutenant is Rasczak before we even see Ironside's face again, and his seamless transition from respected educator to battle commander slyly transmits the propagandistic idea that Rico and the Roughnecks are the good guys. Anything that conveys that much information in a single shot is absolutely worth pausing for.

The tanker bug

"Starship Troopers" might be a satire, but that doesn't mean it's not also a big-budget sci-fi blockbuster. Sometimes, over the course of the movie, you just want to pause to get a better look at some of the creature designs — the Arachnids, or "bugs," for instance come in many different shapes and sizes, including those that fly, those that control human brains, and those that shoot massive bolts of plasma strong enough to take down orbiting starships from a planetary surface. 

The coolest-looking Arachnid, however, is undoubtedly the tanker bug, which first bursts out of the ground during a Roughneck mission to Tango Urilla. Massive in size, it sports a thick carapace, sinister green eyes, and a natural flamethrower for incinerating pesky human soldiers — and if you pause the movie as it emerges into the desert sun, you can get a good look at the attention to detail that went into creating it — clearly alien, but also clearly recognizable as an insect. Most people probably don't love the idea of a gargantuan beetle that spews fire at them, but of course, that's the point. 

Mind meld

In the third act of "Starship Troopers," we meet another kind of Arachnid — the brain bug, which resembles nothing so much as a gigantic brain with eyes and pincers. Its capture serves as the big climax of the movie, representing the first definitive victory for humans over bugs, as well as a potential wealth of new information about how to fight them more effectively. 

Not only is this moment pause-worthy because of another incredible alien design, but also because it marks the re-appearance of Carl, who has been largely absent from the film but has clearly refined his latent psychic powers in the years since he, Rico, and Carmen were last together. Carl's ability to read the brain bug's thoughts culminate with his triumphant declaration, "It's afraid!" This, of course, causes everybody to cheer wildly and signals a clear triumph of good over evil — since in this case, the good guys are fascists, and there's nothing a fascist loves more than making somebody else afraid.

Brain drain

It should be noted that before the heroic humans' triumphant capture of the brain bug, it manages to take out one of the movie's major characters. Zander Barcalow (Patrick Muldoon) is first glimpsed as Rico's high school sports rival and immediately hits on Carmen; while Rico ends up beating him in the big game, Zander gets the girl, becoming Carmen's pilot instructor during her Fleet training and ultimately a good deal more than that. 

Zander is kind of irritating, and as an audience we're trained to stand behind our protagonist, Rico, when he gets himself into a love triangle, but Zander ultimately proves to be a decent enough guy, and Rico moves on to sleep with Dizzy, so it resolves itself pretty easily. Still, if one of these characters had to get gray matter sucked out of their head by the brain bug's feeding spike, Zander would probably have been the audience's first choice.

It's difficult to forget this moment after seeing chunks of Zander's brain move through a semi-transparent tube and into the brain bug while it chows down greedily, especially when it's all gone and the brain bug makes a sound like it's sucking on an empty straw. Zander's white-eyed, hollowed-out head is an image that tends to stick around in the mind. We wouldn't recommend pausing here for any great length of time, but it's worth doing it for a moment or two, just to take in the overall visual effect.

The kids aren't alright

"Starship Troopers" is particularly interested in the implications of young people becoming soldiers. The journeys of Rico, Carmen, and Carl happen mostly separately, but we still see them as kids in high school before we see them as soldiers or military officers, and we can see the changes they endure. By the movie's conclusion, Carl is a leader in military intelligence, Carmen is a Fleet captain, and Rico is commanding the Roughnecks — a platoon that suddenly includes several brand-new recruits.

Before his first mission as a lieutenant on Planet P, Rico looks over his newest soldiers, most of whom appear significantly younger than the protagonists of "Starship Troopers" were when they began training. In the propaganda videos throughout the film, we've seen kids dressing up as soldiers or smashing ordinary bugs in the street in an effort to "do their part." This moment takes that notion to its logical extreme, as the depleted Roughnecks are given literal children to re-fill their ranks. And of course, all Rico does is make a joke to Ace about them being old men.

 In the final sequence of the movie (via another propaganda video), Rico can be seen repeating Rasczak's words to egg his soldiers on ("Come on, you apes, you wanna live forever?") and the last words that flash across the screen are "They'll keep fighting ... and they'll win!" The message is clear: the kids are going to keep going into the meat grinder, getting younger and younger.