RE:View Starship Troopers

RE:View Starship Troopers

I always get the shakes before a drop. I’ve had the injections, of course, and hypnotic preparation, and it stands to reason that I can’t really be afraid. The ship’s psychiatrist has checked my brain waves and asked me silly questions while I was asleep and he tells me that it isn’t fear, it isn’t anything important — it’s just like the trembling of an eager race horse in the starting gate. I couldn’t say about that; I’ve never been a race horse. But the fact is: I’m scared silly, every time. 

— Juan Rico

That is one of the greatest lines in all of military science fiction.

As a former career Marine, I know the truth of it, and you will find it nowhere in the film adaption of Starship Troopers.

This gigantic heap of schlock is coming up on the quarter century mark and sucks even more now than it did then.

Almost no one got out of this movie with their careers intact.  This flick was an impressive resume stain for everyone attached to it.  The only one who finally managed to put it behind him was Neil Patrick Harris.  Denise Richards flamed out early due to a lack of talent.  Dina Meyer still gets work, but she never went as far as she should have.  Casper Van Dien was a headliner in three major theatrical releases in two years and has worked on TV ever since.  He has repeatedly returned to the role of Johnny Rico, god knows why.

But the guy who seems to have suffered the most career damage was the one who deserved it the most.  Director Paul Verhoeven.  After Robocop, Total Recall, and Basic Instinct, Verhoeven was dancing on top of the highest skyscraper in Hollywood.

Which collapsed beneath him when Showgirls came out.  Basic Instinct had given him a certain level of respect.   He wanted to build on that, and he just couldn’t.  He was suddenly in the market for another science-fiction property he could turn into a tits and gore fest.  And tragically a treatment for Starship Troopers crossed his desk.

I know what you are thinking.  None of Robert A. Heinlein’s works have ever transferred well to the big or even the little screen and you’re right they haven’t.  All of the pictures that have been made from them have been bad in their own way.    Destination Moon was in no way even close to Rocket Ship Galileo and Heinlein himself worked on the script.  The Puppet Masters was dull and badly paced.   Predestination, came the closest but again kinda boring and they ruined the ending. None of them are much good.

But here is the thing, while none of them ever felt like a Heinlein book, there was at least respect for the works they were based on, even if they couldn’t get the vibe right in the film adaptation.

Starship Troopers’ open hatred of its source material stands in stark contrast.  This is a film version of a book that appears to have been put together by its most virulent critics. Every single groundless criticism ever leveled at the novel was painted in great big sweeping brush strokes on the big screen. (With the exception of it being a paean to male homosexuality, they did somehow miss that one.)

In some ways it is more timely today than it was twenty years ago, mostly because it painted the Starship Troopers universe as one dedicated to the glory of fascism.  Yet the story was never about fascism.  In truth it was pretty far from it.  None the less, Lefties have always accused it of that.

The original novel, Starship Troopers was a song sung to the glory of the PBI (the Poor, Bloody Infantry).  The movie makes the story sound like it approves of hardcore statism.

The novel was told in the first-person perspective of Juan Rico, a native(?) Tagalog speaker raised in Argentina. (The Dark Herald shrugs.  Heinlein liked to obscure details of a race when it came to his protagonists.)  It followed his adventures in the Bug War.

The book opened with an attack on the Bug’s ally race, “the Skinnies”.  It’s a good exciting first chapter.  Then in the next chapter it backtracks to Rico being in High School. A little background information is provided about the world he lives in and his mentor, Mister Dubois is introduced:  When a student points out that his mother said, “violence never solves anything.”  Dubois replied that violence has solved more problems than anything else in history:

” … I was not making fun of you personally; I was heaping scorn on an inexcusably silly idea — a practice I shall always follow. Anyone who clings to the historically untrue and thoroughly immoral doctrine that violence never settles anything I would advise to conjure up the ghosts of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington and let them debate it. The ghost of Hitler could referee and the jury might well be the Dodo, the Great Auk, and the Passenger Pigeon. Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst. Breeds that forget this basic truth have always paid for it with their lives and their freedoms.”

He sighed. “Another year, another class — and for me another failure. One can lead a child to knowledge but one cannot make him think.” Suddenly he pointed his stump at me. “You. What is the moral difference, if any, between the soldier and the civilian?”

“The difference, I said carefully, “lies in the field of civic virtue. A soldier accepts personal responsibility for the safety of the body politic of which he is a member, defending it, if need be, with his life. The civilian does not.”

“The exact words of the book,” he said scornfully. “But do you understand it? Do you believe it?”

This was the beginning of Juan Rico learning to think for himself. and it was severely edited in the movie to came across as an exercise in brainwashing by the State.  When Rico replies to the Dubois’ question with an “I don’t know.”  It comes across as the last dying embers of his humanity about to be snuffed out.

The movie does this constantly. It kind of sort of but doesn’t really follow the outline of the book.

The film begins with a propaganda streaming video reminiscent of WWII (and I have to give props to Veerhoven for predicting the existence of the YouTube and for that matter the iPad nearly ten years before they existed.) its purpose is to fill you on the ST universe and set up the first action scene. The First Battle of Klendathau.

Now this was its own chapter in the book, and it was Rico’s first combat drop

Operation Bughouse should have been called “Operation Madhouse.” Everything went wrong. It had been planned as an all-out move to bring the enemy to their knees, occupy their capital and the key points of their home planet, and end the war. Instead it darn near lost the war. I am not criticizing General Diennes. I don’t know whether it’s true that he demanded more troops and more support and allowed himself to be overruled by the Sky Marshal-in-Chief—or not. Nor was it any of my business. Furthermore I doubt if some of the smart second-guessers know all the facts. What I do know is that the General dropped with us and commanded us on the ground and, when the situation became impossible, he personally led the diversionary attack that allowed quite a few of us (including me) to be retrieved—and, in so doing, bought his farm. He’s radioactive debris on Klendathu and it’s much too late to court-martial him, so why talk about it?

And that was about it.  Rico himself didn’t do much until he suddenly got a retreat order.  Then he found a drop-ship and escaped.

In the film version you see a very large, expensive-looking battle that looked like it came from a film during the war years.  It ends with Rico being severely injured before the flashback to highschool.

I will grant that this is an acceptable variation even though they left out Rico’s opening dialog.  What wasn’t acceptable was the creepy vibe the propaganda video gave you.  It didn’t feel like American WWII propaganda at all. It felt like something from 1940s UFA-Film GbmH.  It felt like something Goebbels had greenlit.  This was intentional.  The uniforms for an outstanding example closely resembled Wehrmacht field gray right down to the cappe with an eagle on them.

Look everybody! It’s Sturmbannführer Hauser!

Then the high school scenes began, and holy crap was that awful.  It felt like Starship 90210.  A lot of the characters from the book were present.  Rico’s best friend Carl Jenkins was there.  His beta mooning obsession love interest Carmen Ibanez was also there.  An odd addition was Dizzy Flores who was in love with Rico.  There was a Dizzy Flores in the novel, but he was a man who died at the end of the first chapter and had no dialog at all.  In fact, in the book all of the ground pounders were men, the women ran the navy.

Carmen was a semi-love interest in the story. She only showed up a few times and she was the one who had decided to pursue Rico.  In the movie she had Rico completely friend-zoned. Johnny was a total high school, Beta-Orbiter and he was never going to be allowed to come in for a landing.  Carmen herself was much more interested in Rico’s Alpha rival  Whatshisname, who wasn’t in the book in any form.

None of the characters in the novel resembled any of the loathsome characters on screen.

Okay, one of them came close.

But even Sergeant Zim was turned into a caricature of the character who in response to a question during his knife throwing class had said, “If you wanted to teach a baby a lesson, would you cut its head off? Of course not. You’d paddle it. There can be circumstances when it’s just as foolish to hit an enemy city with an H-bomb as it would be to spank a baby with an axe. War is not violence and killing, pure and simple; war is controlled violence, for a purpose. The purpose of war is to support your government’s decisions by force. The purpose is never to kill the enemy just to be killing him…but to make him do what you want to do. Not killing…but controlled and purposeful violence. But it’s not your business or mine to decide the purpose of the control. It’s never a soldier’s business to decide when or where or how—or why—he fights; that belongs to the statesmen and the generals. The statesmen decide why and how much; the generals take it from there and tell us where and when and how. We supply the violence; other people—’older and wiser heads,’ as they say—supply the control. Which is as it should be.”

In that scene Zim did not nail Ted Hendricks hand to the wall as a fucking exclamation point.

But that scene is this movie in a nutshell.  Something that vaguely resembled something from the novel would happen on screen but it was like the screenwriter had only heard about it third hand from someone who hated the book.

Was there anything I liked about it?

A few things.

The special effects have held up over time.  This was probably the last time real models were used instead of CGI.  The limitations of technology made for a better film so, I was even able to forgive it for not having Powered Armor.  Which was the coolest thing in the book.

The supporting cast was rock solid.  In fact Clancy Brown being cast as Zim was the only reason I gave this movie a chance in the first place.  The Kurgan delivered his character to the screen even if no one else did.

Michael Ironside did a good enough job with the composite character of “Jean Rasczak.” The character was a bit cardboard but he didn’t need to be anything else.  And combining Dubois and Rasczak made sense in a screen adaptation.

I’ll also give Dina Meyer credit.  She did a good job as Dizzy.  She was probably the best-developed character in the movie.  Dizzy was status-conscious, Carmen was higher on the high school totem pole than she was, and Dizzy clearly felt insecure about it.  Worse so in that she wanted Rico desperately and Carmen just didn’t.  She wanted Carmen’s cast off, and the cast-off didn’t want her.  Finally Rico falls for her because she was meant to be his True Love.  So, when she dies it’s affecting.

And that was about the only on-screen death that was affecting.  I laughed out loud when Carmen’s True Love, Whatshisname died by alien brain vacuuming.  At the end of the movie, you are left with the impression that Rico and Carmen will hook up but only because they have no one else left.  Their relationship has all the driving passion of an arranged marriage.

The big reason this picture failed was because of the vision of its director.  Verhoeven couldn’t figure out if he was trying to make a war movie, a teen romance, or a gory comedic satire. This movie was so bad it became a cult classic.

The novel was none of those things.

Ultimately the problem with Verhoeven’s vision was that he was presented with a pro-military story and in his standard-issue Lefty fever dream, that is inextricably tied to fascism.

One of the guys on Red Letter Media asked, “How do you explain to your actors when you are casting them, that you are essentially casting them as a joke?”

Clearly and obviously, neither of them ever read the book.  That gives them a viewpoint that I just don’t have.  Starship Troopers was a book that influenced a very important decision in my life.  Maybe I would have joined the Marine Corps anyway if I hadn’t read it, or maybe I wouldn’t have gone near the military.  I’ll never know because I can’t picture how my mind would have developed without reading this book. What I do know is that it gave me a philosophical basis for life in the military and a moral framework for what I had to do there.

I should say that with the fullness of time I have come to find fault with Heinlein’s book.  In the ST universe that he created, there was a global military that functioned at American standards.  This is impossible.  Soldiers are the end result of the society that produces them.  You can’t change that by wishing real hard.  An Arab officer will steal from his troops as instinctively as a beaver builds a dam.  The Chinese won’t think twice about burning soldiers like joss sticks. And your average trooper from the third world will drop his rifle and run the first time he gets shot at.  The Starship Troopers federation was a globalist one where everyone spoke different languages but were basically still Americans.

One thing that Mike came up with is that Starship Troopers is the mirror darkly version of the Star Trek episode titled: Arena (AKA the Gorn episode).  He points out that at the end of the Gorn episode Kirk has come to understand his enemy and refuses to kill him, thus becomes more evolved. In Starship Troopers there is never any effort to reach an understanding with the Bugs.

Of course, being good liberals; they are making the assumption that the Bugs would have something to say other than, “well you see the reason we are killing all of you is that we want you all to die.  We have no desire to share a universe with you whatsoever.”

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Comments (17)

  • Talos Valcoran Reply

    The only reason to like the Starship Trooper movie is because it paved the way for the Roughneck Chronicles, a severely dated CG cartoon series that thankfully takes more cues from the original novel (whilst also engaging in way more cringe soap opera – YMMV).

    May 21, 2021 at 12:30 am
  • Fractal Rabbit Reply

    The Critical Drinker’s recent review of this movie was one of the few times I seriously disagreed with him. His thoughts on The Lighthouse were ridiculous too. But even the Drinker isn’t perfect.

    I saw this movie in the theater and was excited to see Heinlein on the screen. I was young and dumb and didn’t realize what a guy like Verhoeven was likely going to produce from it, not knowing much about cinema and not really paying attention to directors then. I think it was the moment young, dumb me realized a big special effects laden Sci-Fi movie might be so terrible I couldn’t find anything I liked about it.

    May 21, 2021 at 12:37 am
    • Doug Reply

      Completely agreed on that review and reaction. Saigon of Akkad did a review that was light years better

      May 21, 2021 at 8:12 pm
      • Moonglum Reply

        SAIGON of Akkad? Hilarity ensues. He will no doubt be scrambling, suitcase in hand, aboard a US Marine Super Huey from the roof of the US Embassy (or Israel’s) in Londonistan in the near future.

        May 22, 2021 at 3:35 pm
        • Doug Reply

          Ahh the joy of mobile phones…

          May 22, 2021 at 5:04 pm
    • jorgen b Reply

      I loved the movie. Its clear the movie wants to attack fascism but yet it doesn’t work and many fans of the movie were attracted to fascism by it. So much so that libtards squall about Starship Troopers fans not getting how its supposed to be ANTI-fascist. Its a hilarious fail for an attempt at subversion. (But I never read the book and never will because I absolutely cannot stand novels.)

      The subversion they attempted is literally not possible, because the enemy is bugs. A fascistic society fighting bug aliens, how can you label them as bad? The enemy are bugs. Fascism is normally attacked on the point of their inhumanity to their enemy. But in this movie the enemy is bugs. So the critique of fascism turns into a praise of fascism automatically. If they didn’t have this fascistic society they would be eaten by giants bugs, ergo fascism is good. Thus the subverters end up subverting their own stupid selves.

      May 29, 2021 at 1:43 am
  • Wazdaka Reply

    Will be interesting to see what comes after the current “crazy years”

    Restrictions on voting rights could be interesting

    May 21, 2021 at 3:56 am
  • doug whiddon Reply

    I like this movie. One of my best friends says its his favorite movie ever. I like how absurd and over the top it is. My friend likes the space scenes and the big action pieces. I’ve gone to his house several time to find it playing as background noise while he works. I knew going in that it had next to nothing to do with Heinlein. An article in (I think) Starlog said the producers already had their script written and were shopping it around Hollywood when they found out the rights to Troopers were available. They just plugged in the names where they needed to and went with it. Verhooven said he read half the book and then stopped. He wanted to make a movie that satirized Nazi propaganda films. The producers just wanted to make a big dumb sci-fi action movie. It was a cash-grab from the beginning.

    May 21, 2021 at 4:14 am
    • Freddo Reply

      I recall the action scenes as being beyond retarded even for Hollywood. To check I just watched The first 30 seconds are ok, but after that the scene rapidly devolves into a nonsensical mishmash. Crap like that always makes me go “well the director obviously didn’t give a flying fsck, so why would I?”

      May 21, 2021 at 7:46 pm
  • doug whiddon Reply

    I always find it amusing to see the Troopers props show up in other places. Soldiers in Firefly were wearing them in “The Train Job”. I saw a whole army of them on Power Rangers. The movie Agent Cody Banks used them for one guy. Impostor (2001), Babylon 5 spinoff series Crusade, live action gundam movie, g-saviour. (I googled and found a bunch I hadn’t known about) The helmets, especially REALLY got around.

    May 21, 2021 at 4:29 am
  • WiseSol Reply

    I’ve only seen a couple of scenes from the movie, one of them being the classroom scene:
    I watched it several times, and for the life of me I can’t tell whether the Dizzy (“violence never solves anything”) and Carmen lines are supposed to be snarky or not. (The fact the actresses are in their mid to late twenties presumably plays a part in my confusion, as does my own personality.)

    May 21, 2021 at 8:26 am
    • WiseSol Reply

      Apropos Dina Meyer, I still laugh at the “reveal” at the end of her short guest stint on Friends.

      May 21, 2021 at 8:33 am
      • Moonglum Reply

        Dina Meyer had quite a track record for appearing in bad sf movies during the nineteen nineties as she was in Johnny Mnemonic (which is good for a laugh at least) and the utterly abysmal Bats. She followed this run with her turn in Star Trek Nemesis which has a very low reputation. It was appropriate for her to get cast opposite idiot actor Joey in Friends.

        May 21, 2021 at 4:13 pm
  • Teleros Reply

    ArchWarhammer did some commentary ~8 months ago, to the extent that Verhoeven didn’t really even manage to make a fascist version of the Terran Federation etc.

    May 21, 2021 at 8:48 am
  • Joe S.Walker Reply

    Paul Verhoeven went back to Holland and made Black Book which was a big hit there, and more recently he made Elle with Isabelle Huppert which won a lot of awards in France. He’s past 80 now and post-MeToo is an unlikely candidate to make a comeback in Hollywood, but it’s not impossible.

    May 21, 2021 at 8:50 am
  • Riejun Reply

    I’ve hoped for a movie (or probably streaming series now) based on Starship Troopers… No clue who owns the rights now and it certainly would never be made by any major Western studio…

    May 21, 2021 at 7:49 pm
    • Chris Lopes Reply

      When the folks making the film are psychologically incapable of understanding the source material let alone liking it, you know what you are going to get is crap. If they had removed everything from the book, they might have had a serviceable, but lame (no fire support for the infant?!), popcorn flick. They didn’t do that. They took a classic SF novel and tried to turn it into a fascist satire. They failed on pretty much every level they tried to reach.

      May 21, 2021 at 9:18 pm

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