- Composed by Basil Poledouris
- Varèse Sarabande CD Club / 2016 / 105m
Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 satirical military science fiction Starship Troopers is a very entertaining film which works on multiple levels. It’s credited as being based on Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 novel but really it’s lampooning it, also throwing in various references to old WWII propaganda films and more recent action extravaganzas. Not everyone got the joke and many critics thought Verhoeven had himself made one of those dumb action movies where a load of gung-ho soldiers go off wanting to kill everyone (and I suspect the director deliberately kept most of his young cast playing the vacant, beautiful youths fighting mankind’s deadly arachnid foe in the dark), but the wonderful thing is that it does actually work at that level too.
This was Basil Poledouris’s third film for Verhoeven after Flesh + Blood and RoboCop. The director really gets music and has coaxed some brilliant scores from his composers over the years – and Starship Troopers is one of the best of this beloved composer’s career. Multi-thematic, including a large number of action set-pieces, even a series of parody cues that send up cheerful old wartime propaganda melodies (and somehow fit right in to the score), it’s a mammoth work, and the soundtrack album at the time was one of the main casualties of the prohibitive union fees for releasing orchestral music, making a wonderfully entertaining half-hour but forced to omit numerous highlights. That has now been addressed in this deluxe edition which includes all of the composer’s contribution to the film – the full score runs for 80 minutes or so before various bonus tracks.
The score opens with the jaunty “Fed-Net March” used in the newsreel footage and recruitment films, some of which are straight from Leni Riefenstahl, segueing into “Bug Attack on Newsman” where the composer cleverly, ironically goes into an action extravaganza drawing from the opening but now turned very aggressive. There’s a great romantic theme representing the characters’ love of flying which first appears in “Carmen’s Shuttle Ride” – it’s a soaring, memorable melody full of little flourishes and the suggestion of weightlessness; in the next cue “Undocking” Poledouris contrasts it with guttural brass grunts representing the great clunking machines at play. “Teamwork” introduces a theme which isn’t heard much in the score but it’s one of my favourites, the most overtly heroic of the bunch, for the central character Rico.
The first big action after the opening sequence comes in “Breckinridge Killed”, with dark militaristic snare drums and low strings doing their job very well, but it’s a brief track and serves mainly as an appetiser to what follows immediately, the six-minute “Punishment / Asteroid Grazing”. A series of punchy little figures play under a dark horn theme which then brilliantly moves into an extended treatment of the flight theme. “Call to War / Bad News From Home” adds some electronics to the mix, before the second half of the cue plays like a sincere requiem, and that sincerity (which runs throughout the score) is really what makes it so effective.
The score’s finest moment is the monumental “Klendathu Drop”, what is generally considered to be the main theme emerging like a minor-key cousin to the Fed-Net March, the whole orchestra getting a workout – busy strings race along under the dynamic, driving horn theme, which goes through a thrilling set of variations over the cue’s five minutes. It’s glorious! It contrasts brilliantly with the much more aggressive “Klendathu Battle” which immediately follows (and was unused in the film) – Poledouris employs some genuinely avant-garde orchestral techniques to create an unsettling, frightening sound which could easily be from a horror movie.
A great new theme is introduced in “Rasczak’s Roughnecks” for Michael Ironside’s character, a really snarly, tough-guy theme which then gets explored further in “Tango Urilla” which is another top-notch piece of action music, also introducing another wonderful new theme for one of the most distinctive of the alien bugs and featuring a few other motifs from elsewhere – it really is monumental scoring, so epic and exciting. “Bugs!!” is surprisingly restrained in its opening, but the looming terror is signalled clearly, and soon it arrives with shrill trumpet blasts and intense percussion.
“Radio Shack / Whiskey Outpost Pt. 2 / Death of Dizzy” cycles through a load of thematic material including a great reprise of the main theme, also some really aggressive action material and then it climaxes with the harrowing strings signalling the end of one of the main characters, who then gets a stirring treatment of her love theme with Rico in “Dizzy’s Funeral”, brief but affecting (Poledouris’s sincerity again key to it). As the finale approaches, “Brainbug / Cave Nuke” features some tragic emotions wrought from the strings before a rousing return to the main theme. Finally comes “They Will Win”, where the significance of the musical approach had never crossed my feeble mind before I read in Jeff Bond’s brilliantly incisive liner notes that amongst all the glorious histrionics as the humans finally win, Poledouris actually subtly reprises material he had earlier used to highlight the evil bugs, cleverly raising the question as to who the good guys really are.
That Starship Troopers is a brilliant score has never been in doubt but it really shines in this form. Most of the best cues were included on the abbreviated earlier album, but there’s so much more depth to the score in this deluxe edition, with the added balance provided by the higher volume of softer material very important. Most of the cues that are familiar from 1997’s album are presented in extended, unedited form here, some of the mixes are quite radically different, and unlike most cases they pretty much all work better in this way. Surprisingly, the old album edits aren’t included as bonus tracks even though there would have been room for them, but pretty much everyone who loves this music will already have that album anyway so it’s no big deal. Nice though the edited-together ten-minute end title piece is, I think the 80-minute programme you get if you end on “They Will Win” is what you need here – it’s epic, glorious, Basil Poledouris at his very best.