Starship Troopers is an unlikely movie to have come out of the 1990s. Director Paul Verhoeven says that it got made because it was a high-turnover time at Sony, and the script just got shooed along as studio leads paraded in and out. The irony, hyperbole, and critique of American neocons as fascist warmongers was all in the script from the beginning. Had anyone looked at the script or the dailies, he says, it might not have been made. That’s probably why I like this movie so much, in that it’s a criticism of hawkishness and the culture that gives rise to it.
But despite that soft spot that I have for it, I’m here to rate the interfaces, and in that regard, it is lucky I don’t send it to the brig.
Sci: F (0 of 4) How believable are the interfaces?
If it I could convince myself to give a negative score, I would. The interfaces are just so bad they break believability all over the place. Sure, we’re willing to accept the emergence of psychic powers, but give us an interface that makes testing it believable. And of course, all the Federation spaceship interfaces that are just so very, very broken: single-factor login that’s out of order, undocking interfaces that are a disaster in the making, inscrutable spinning pizzas, a starnav & stardrive that seem to want to induce seizures more than help people pilot, the terrible fuigetry of the red phone, the silly evasion interface, the absolute lack of affordances for sealing compartment 21. It’s just one disaster after another.
There are a few precious bright spots. The interface of Fedpaint was believable and maybe even ahead of its time, though we don’t see it much. The news and information hub in the terminal foresaw a time when digital information would be everywhere. The jumpball scoreboard is certainly believable, largely because it was just a real world one that didn’t think about the goals of the audience. But these can’t hope to make up for the gravity of its other crimes.
Fi: C (2 of 4) How well do the interfaces inform the narrative of the story?
Here the interfaces fare a little better. The news that is only very slightly interactive tell of a society where the illusion of choice is a given. The easy-bullying grade Board helps illustrate how might makes right here. The bug volumetric projection shows the indoctrination process. It all helps to paint the picture of the society. Even the panic-inducing collision alarm & rescue shuttle interfaces help “sweeten” the scenes they appear in, underscoring the emotional tone of the scenes in which they appear.
On the other hand, the diegesis-breaking goofiness of the course-plotting scene, had me digressing from the tech to write COURSE OPTIMAL, an open letter for writers to drop the stoic guru metaphor and adopt an active academy model instead. While it let me try my hand at scene writing, it wrecked much of the storytelling cred it had built up.
Interfaces: D (1 of 4)
How well do the interfaces equip the characters to achieve their goals?
Certainly there are some examples of good, goal-directed interfaces. The war game equipment is well suited to the learning goals of boot camp. The healing chamber helps its patient physically, socially, and psychologically. The briefly-seen insertion windows help give the escape pod pilot a sense of what she needs to do to get the pod oriented correctly for re-entry.
And if you want to give them the benefit of the apologetics doubt, the doors work like doors should, the tattoo-o-matic—though a placebo—helps customers manage pain, and lastly, the weapons cache opens as seamlessly as you’d need it to in a crisis. I’m not sure those were intended as I’m interpreting them, but that’s what apologetics is all about.
But then you get to the terrible interfaces like the live fire exercise that seems to want to kill recruits, the pillory that forgets that the drama is the point, the combat interfaces that are full of sound and fury and not much else, the Klendathu casualty announcement that doesn’t help people reading it, the fuigetry-filled binoculars, and the inscrutable uplink, and it’s just not a place to look for inspiration for real-world design.
Final Grade D (3 of 12), MATINÉE
Despite its ultimate grade, I’m still fond of this one, and hope to be showing it in 2015 at a sci-fi movie night where we can lament together at the marvelous train-wreck that are the Starship Troopers interfaces.