Before Johnny Rico goes off to become a bug-busting legend in the mobile infantry of Starship Troopers, he’s the star of his high school’s — well, let’s call it “space football” team. It’s weird, it’s ridiculous and even in the short time its portrayed, the sport makes absolutely no sense. And that’s why we love it.
Just so we can all be on the same page, here’s the scene.
OK, let’s begin by looking at it somewhat seriously. This scene actually does a lot for the movie’s narrative, while also providing and giving out a lot of character information in an entertaining way. We get the first interactions between Zander and Carmen. It introduces Zander as a rival for Johnny. We get a tease of Dizzy’s leadership abilities, and it also introduces the sports move that becomes weirdly crucial to his career, but more about that below. That’s a lot of important information packed into a seemingly throwaway scene.
But the scene is also kind of maddening, in that space football makes no goddamned sense.
Obviously, what Johnny and the others are playing is some kind of version of arena football, although the indoor field appears to be a maximum of 36m long. That’s presumably why it’s a high-scoring game, considering each team has almost 40 points when the movie picks up in the fourth quarter. But then three touchdowns are scored on three subsequent plays with seemingly no one on defence. So you have to wonder, what was everyone doing for the rest of the game? It’s also odd that each yard marker is three yards instead of five, that each score is five points instead of six, and don’t get me started on the clock management. It’s like someone just randomly tweaked a few football rules to make it feel more manic. Which, ultimately, it does.
Also, Starship Troopers begins in Argentina. Why they’re not playing space European football (or even regular European football) is a mystery, although since Caspar Van Dien is also playing an Argentinian in the movie, it’s clear some liberties have been taken.
Besides, like the rest of Starship Troopers, its ridiculousness makes it fun. Their uniforms are absurd. The football is covered in chrome. Then there’s the fact gravity is apparently not normal in this arena. Every single hit results in a reaction that would make the all-time NFL highlight reel. And Johnny Rico can also leap in the air with superhuman ability.
However, Johnny still manages to do the “Flip Six Three Hole” twice later the movie when he’s not in a space football arena: First in training, when he uses it to capture the flag, earning him the position of squad leader; then he uses it again to destroy the Tanker Bug. I guess the ability to basically float in midair is just something in his physical arsenal. Or maybe director Paul Verhoeven just wanted another layer of craziness for his fun, yet subversive, movie. I’d say it’s probably both.