Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Starship Troopers (1997)

What it is: Starship Troopers, the 1997 Paul Verhoeven sci-fi film "inspired" by Robert Heinlein's 1959 novel of the same name.

Why you should watch it: Heinlein's novel is a straightforward and technologically innovative ode to militarized society. Verhoeven read the first few chapters and thought: "What if instead of two hours about bootcamp and civic duty I showed a bunch of prettyboys in Nazi uniforms getting their guts ripped out by giant bugs?"

Well? Do you?

You might like it if: Even if you aren't into the whole "interweaving levels of satire" thing, it's still a very entertaining movie by apolitical standards. Blood and guts, over-the-top acting, co-ed showers. As a pubescent neoconservative 11 year old this movie had it all for me.

Somebody call for an exterminator?

As my politics veered to the left in my teenage years, I dismissed it as disposable pulp. Looking back on it as an adult, I see that yes, Verhoeven was trying to make a mindless action movie on one level, but what you get out of it depends on your preexisting politics. If you're pro-military, this is a bloody ballad to serving your country. If you're a no-good peace-nik, it's a bitter satire of militaristic and patriotic propaganda. Once you have a little historical context under your belt, it's hard to ignore the Nazi inspired uniforms and clean cut Hitler Youth recruits.

Heinlein's novel introduces the idea of military service in exchange for citizenship, but doesn't really go deep into the problems that might arise (and do, in some countries). Verhoeven cuts right to the heart of it: mandating militarism for a voice in democratic society basically creates a society just like this one.

Oh no.

Regardless of the politics, the movie still has influence on science fiction today. Starcraft may as well be called Starship Troopers: The Game (with Protoss). And even with the black and white politics of this world, it does give equal opportunity to women in all facets of military service!

Arbitrary rating: 400,000 dead (I knew we should have bombed the planet first!)


  1. Your post has made me enjoy the movie even more.

    I think that it might be an example of a "perfect" movie. Even as the effects, context, and so on recede into the past, humanity will always have something to learn from the movie. It tackles themes so universal that you could probably get the Ancient Greeks to take something from it - perhaps Buenos Aires is actually a city-state.

    Plus, no-one gets tired of titties and blood!

  2. Thanks for the kind words! I agree that this movie walks that fine line between profound and perverse. It really is a classic.

  3. Two comments: 1) In the book, Johnny Rico is from the Philippines, not Brazil. 2) Neal Patrick Harris looked so campy and so SS-ish that I kept watching the movie with he'd do a sig heil! Silly, pretentious movie.