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Trading Card Set of the Week – Starship Troopers (1997, Inkworks)

October 10, 2014

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I have a very clear memory of viewing Starship Troopers for the first time, and said memory is imbued, suffused and saturated with nigh unspeakable disappointment. The movie came out in the fall of 1997, in my sophomore year of college, and I couldn’t wait to see it. After watching the trailer earlier that year (these were the days when watching movie trailers on your boxy desktop was still a thrilling novelty, kids), I was all geared up for some rousing, heavy-duty, hardcore military science fiction, with grizzled space-faring grunts squaring off against giant swarming insects. Because that’s what the trailer seemed to promise, and my naive young adult mind hadn’t yet assimilated the many small cruelties of existence. How could it go wrong?

I thought we’d get Aliens. Instead we got Aliens 90210, with Doogie Howser, Jake Busey’s face, co-ed showers (okay, that wasn’t so awful) and giant bugs farting energy blasts out of their asses. My God. I swear to you, when Doogie mind-melded with the brain bug’s vagina at the end and proclaimed that it was afraid, I wanted to put my head through the seat in front of me. Granted, I’ve softened on the film as the years have gone by, and have come to appreciate the elements of satire, which were overwhelmed by my disappointment when what I expected morphed into lame, by the numbers young adult drama surrounded by special effects. But I still can’t bring myself to view it as good, and it’s certainly not up to previous Paul Verhoeven films like Total Recall. Maybe if there had been less Denise Richards and more Michael Ironside, you know?

Anyway, there were some trading cards to go along with it. And you know what — they’re not bad. They’re about as good as they can be considering the source material. And if you’re someone who likes that source material, and there are more than a few of you out there, they’d likely be even more fun.

Distributed in upright boxes of 36 packs each with eight cards per, there are 81 cards in the base set and three tiers of chase cards. Normally I’d be upset by the chase trifecta, as that’s a money-grubbing pain in the ass, but they’re kind of neat. More on them in a moment. First, a survey of the regular cards.

The main chunk of the base set follows as it should the plot of the movie, as high schoolers of the future go their separate ways in the bug-fighting military. Never has a film been saddled with a more underwhelming trio than Casper Van Dien, Richards, and Neil Patrick Harris, depicted here in a Three Musketeers Handshake of Dull (All for Dull and Dull for All!):

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You what the movie could have used, in addition to a larger role for the aforementioned Mr. Ironside? More Clancy Brown — which applies to pretty much every thing he’s ever been in, from Lost to Buckaroo Bonzai. Here he is giving basic training what-for to one of the film’s insufferable whippersnappers:

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The backs of these cards have a dash of explanatory text, as well as a reproduction of a storyboard sketch that goes with the depicted scene (much like the Independence Day cards profiled here not too long ago). After these are behind-the-scenes cards, showing onset activities and highlighting many of the unsung heroes toiling on the other side of the camera. Here’s director Verhoeven with the slimy brain bug, giving instruction to Harris on how to properly meld with it. Go ahead, caption it. Here’s mine: “Hey, Doogie — tell me the truth. Does that orifice look enough like a cooter? I mean, is it close enough to the Third Stage Guild Navigator in Lynch’s Dune?”:

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Before closing with a lackluster series showing the clunky ships used to ferry the troops about, which are picked off by the bugs’ ass-artillery with as(s)tonishing ease, we have character cards. No post about these would be complete without Jake Busey’s mammoth tusks and his Fiddle of the Future:

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Alas, poor Michael. We could have used more of your flinty presence:

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On to the chase cards. The most plentiful of these, popping up 1:11 packs, are nine embossed cards of assorted man vs. bug action, “Bug Wars.” Here’s one:

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Though as a class they appear most frequently, they can actually be the hardest subset to complete, something clear if you simply look at number you have to get. The second tier appears 1:17 packs, but there are only four of them, so it’s easier to round out if you’re going the pack route. When assembled, they form a credits-less version of the movie poster:

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The hardest to find chase cards appear one 1:54 packs, so one in every box and a half. There are two of them, and they’re shiny, like little miniature gold plaques (I haven’t had them assayed) — if anyone would ever want to commemorate a human being skewered by a giant insect in precious metals:

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And that’s that.

There were enough of these cards printed for every man, woman and child on Earth to have multiple sets, so there’s certainly no shortage of unopened boxes to be had for dirt cheap prices — you aren’t going to pay for your kid’s college education with the ones sitting in your attic, put it that way. As far as collation goes, each box contains at minimum a full base set, which is promised on the box and is a considerate touch. If you’re interested, you could easily find four boxes for about twenty bucks, maybe even less, and with those go a long way to accumulating all the chase cards. FYI.

Inkworks, purveyors of many movie cards over the years for films and TV shows that weren’t the biggest hits (we’ll get to them someday), did a fine job with this set. They look nice, the chase sets are reasonable, and there are no maddening defects in the way they’re collated. They’re good enough to do that greatest service to their subject: make it seem better than it really was. No one will ever convince me that Starship Troopers was great cinema, or even decent cinema, but the cards help sift the good out of the mediocrity. Yeoman’s work, to be sure.

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