Starship Troopers (Basil Poledouris)


Dutch director Paul Verhoven’s 1997 film Starship Troopers, very loosely based on the Robert Heinlein novel of the same name, combined the director’s trademark satirical wit with a massive budget and marketing campaign, with mixed results. The tongue-in-cheek aspects of the movie flew over many theatergoers’ heads, leading them to mistake its overblown jingoism and ludicrous fascist overtones to be completely sincere,  and Starship Troopers had to settle for cult success, eventually spawning two low-budget direct-to-video sequels. For the film’s score, Verhoven reunited one last time with his perennial collaborator, the late Basil Poledouris, with whom he’d worked on 1985’s Flesh + Blood and 1987’s Robocop.

In general, rather than playing to Starship Troopers‘ sly humor, Poledouris chose to follow his own precedent from Robocop and play things straight, reserving openly parodic music for the periodic over-the-top propaganda broadcasts in the film (much as he had done for the satirical commercials in Robocop). The light parody from those broadcasts is represented on album with the overblown “Fed Net March” at the beginning of the disc and the Elfmanesque coda in “They Will Win.”

In fact, Poledouris was inspired to create his most massive and thematically complex score in over a decade. The centerpiece of the album and of the score is “Klendathu Drop,” a bold, brassy martial piece that’s truly electrifying. The Mobile Infantry theme introduced therein is the theme that Poledouris develops the most in the score, and highly satisfying reprises exist in “The Destruction Of The Roger Young” and “Brainbug.” A charming, optimistic theme for the character of Carmen is introduced in “Asteroid Grazing” and sadly absent from the rest of the score. Finally, the malevolent (or misunderstood) bugs get their own theme as well, a brutal, percussive ostinato that snakes through “Tango Urilla” and is given a full airing in “Bugs!!” Throughout the score, Poledouris weaves his themes into a robust action set pieces, with “Tango Urilla” as perhaps the outstanding example, weaving the bug theme together with layers of brass and strings for one of the most breathless and exciting action cues of the 1990s. It’s really a pity that the similar “Evacuation” cue was left off the Varése album.

The real tragedy of Starship Troopers is that the album release, by Varése Sarabande, is so pitifully short. Due to the labyrinthine studio music system in the late 1990’s before the AFM renegotiated its musical re-use fees, the only legitimate release for the music was one of Varése’s patented “thirty-minute specials,” with a pop song performed by Poledouris’ daughter Zoë tacked on the end (presumably, acquiring the rights to Zoë’s music was not difficult for her father). “Into It” is a dreadful end to the album—Zoë Poledouris’s composition doesn’t fit in with her father’s music at all, and would be better suited to a “music from and inspired by” compilation. A second pop song performed by the younger Poledouris, a cover of David Bowie’s “I Have Not Been To Oxford Town,” remains unreleased.

Thirty minutes is simply not enough for the full breadth of Basil Poledouris’ work. Themes that are woven throughout the score appear only once on album, making the entire effort seem less complex and more fragmented. The spectacular theme for Carmen, for example, is only given a brief cameo in “Asteroid Grazing,” and the motif for Razcek’s Roughnecks isn’t fully aired, appearing for only a few seconds in “Tango Urilla.” Thankfully, the DVD release of the film features a full isolated score with commentary from Poledouris (who doesn’t talk over the music), allowing the score to be heard in its entirety; this DVD, and the many score bootlegs it spawned, are reportedly the primary reason that Starship Troopers hasn’t been reissued as a deluxe limited edition, unlike many of Poledouris’s works.

Both the Varése Sarabande “thirty-minute special” and the DVD release of Starship Troopers are still widely available. Taken together, they comprise Basil Poledouris’ best work for Verhoven and some the most exhilarating sci-fi music ever composed. It’s a real shame that Poledouris never had the chance to write anything in a similar vein again, leaving Starship Troopers as his final magnum opus in the genre. A sequel album for the direct-to-video Starship Troopers 2 is also available from Varése, which includes references to some of Poledouris’ material and, in an ultimate irony, is twice the length of the original release despite having far less interesting material. Starship Troopers 3: Marauder, shot on a shoestring budget, was scored entirely with synths and make no allusions to Poledouris’s themes.

Still, if a thirty-minute sampler of highlights from Basil Poledouris’ most ambitious and thematically complex sci-fi score is enough to sate you, despite the vast number of excellent cues and thematic development missing from the release, the Varése product will suffice. Otherwise, buy the DVD and watch the score streamed to picture with Poledouris’s comments and feel a fresh pang of sadness at a talented musical voice silenced too soon,

In film: * * * * *
On album: * * *
Overall: * * * *