April 15, 2014

100% Guilt-Free Movie Pick Number 2 - Starship Troopers (1997)

Starship Troopers gif
Starship Troopers (1997) - Gif created by Mike at Moviesludge

     I'm always surprised by how much I labor over selecting movies for the Movies At Dog Farm live events.  Moreover, I'm always surprised by how circuitous the thought process usually is that leads me to the titles I ultimately select.  I start with a particular title (this year it was Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls), that title suggests an organizing principle (this year it was "guilty pleasures" about which I refuse to feel guilt), and then the rest of the titles just fall into place - except they don't.

     I'll try on title after title like I'm trying on pretty dresses in front of a dressing room mirror.  One title may momentarily catch my fancy only to become less attractive the longer I think about it.  Another title may seem like a dark horse and then gradually build momentum.  Sometimes, though, all of this back-and-forth will finally lead to an "A-ha!" moment, a title that's such an obvious fit that I can't even imagine why it took me so long to come up with it.  Such is the case with director Paul Verhoeven's much maligned Starship Troopers (1997).

     I can already hear the groaning.  Stop it, or you'll get Verhoeven's Showgirls (1995) instead.

     I've never understood the hatred Starship Troopers so often elicits.  And it is hatred.  It's never just "I didn't particularly care for that" or "Meh - I've seen better".  It's always pop-eyed, teeth-baring hatred.  The two most common justifications are as follows:

1)  The acting is bad.  No-one in Starship Troopers could act their way out of a damp paper bag. 

     - Get over yourself.  Starship Troopers was clearly never intended to be an actor's showcase.  It's an old-school war movie.  The youngsters in the movie are supposed to be shallow, vapid cardboard cutouts.  The entire movie is fashioned as a lampoon of wartime propaganda.  Propaganda isn't intended to show the ugly truth, it's intended to win converts to the agenda the propaganda is promoting.  You don't win converts by suggesting, "Hey, you should join our cause, because that's what all of the old, unattractive people are doing."  The performances in Starship Troopers are entirely adequate, and the performers uniformly convey exactly the callow, jingoistic characterizations the material demands. 

2)  Starship Troopers is a bastardization of the Robert A. Heinlein novel upon which it is based.

Clancy Brown in Starship Troopers (1997)
Why have I never read Starship Troopers?  Not enough Clancy Brown.
     - It probably is.  I wouldn't know.  I've never read the source material.  Still, I find it hard to believe that any fan of the source material saw or read anything about this movie and thought that it would be a faithful adaptation.  The Shining (1980) isn't a faithful adaptation of the source material, either, but it's a damn good movie.  

     Verhoeven intended Starship Troopers to be a satirical jab at military rule and fascism, things that - as I understand it - author Heinlein's book has often been accused of promoting.  Verhoeven made exactly the movie he intended to make.  I'll concede that perhaps it was a bit of a bait-and-switch to call it Starship Troopers since Verhoeven's agenda seems to be the exact opposite of the agenda reportedly promoted in Heinlein's novel, but viewers would do well to judge the movie for what it is rather than what they might have hoped it would be.  As a satire of militarism, the movie Starship Troopers succeeds.

Brain Bug from Starship Troopers (1997)
I haz a big brain!  I can haz cheezburger now?
     Those who hoped for a faithful adaptation of Heinlein's book should take solace in the fact that Starship Troopers will undoubtedly be remade, and that the producers interested in remaking it have already announced their intention to make it more faithful to the book.  I don't begrudge fans of the book a faithful adaptation.  I'm also not opposed to seeing a faithful adaptation myself.  If nothing else, two different versions should make an interesting point/counterpoint.

     It occurs to me, though, that Starship Troopers and Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls are both parodies of the properties they sprang from.  Is it possible that some of the hatred directed toward Starship Troopers is born less of its failure as a faithful adaptation than the fact that the book's fans just don't like seeing it made fun of?  I can understand that.  Doesn't mean I'll stop defending Verhoeven's accomplishment, though.  Starship Troopers is deserving of reappraisal.  In the interest of advancing that goal, I've chosen Starship Troopers as the second confirmed title for Movies At Dog Farm III.

     Why do I feel as though I'm about to be savaged in the Comments section like that unfortunate cow in the gif above?


  1. The primary complaint about the film is that the powered armor got lost in the budget. Heinlein's novel utilizes suits akin to Japanese mecha some fifteen years before the powered armor became a popular motif with Gundam in the 70s. The one attempt at the franchise to incorporate the powered armor was Starship Troopers 3: Marauder. However, the armor appears in the waning seconds of a goshawful movie, and the armor is goshawful, too.

    Aside from that major difference, the film has two great elements: sex and violence. Neal Patrick Harris playing the brainiac also throws a cool curve ball to the casting, and watching his character change to the military intelligentsia type over the running time was entertaining.

    Verhoeven did incorporate the needed satire to criticize while offering some interesting visuals.

    Does anyone really hate this movie? I think it's one that you don't own in your collection, but whenever it's on, you can't help but watch (Like Oceans 11 and Drumline).

    1. Maybe it's just my circle of friends, but I don't think I know anyone who's a fan. Maybe showing it at MADF will win over a few new ones.

  2. I've stopped believing in guilty pleasures. If I like something, then I like it damnit and I'm not going to apologize for it and ya know what? I like Starship Troopers! I think it's a very fun sci-fi romp with some good gore, some icky alien bugs and some humor to it.

    I do actually own this in my personal film collection, but I also watch it whenever it's on cable. I can't help it....I flip by it while channel surfing and next thing you know I'm hangin' with Rico and the rest of the Roughnecks.

    The sequels were......well, they weren't the first one, that's for sure!

    1. Good for you, Matt. Stand up and be counted. Starship Troopers is one of "those" movies that is almost infinitely re-watchable.

  3. You are absolutely correct. I don't even KNOW how many times I've watched that flick. My wife has probably seen it more than me! We're Starship Trooper fans and damn proud!

  4. Hell yes. I forgot how fun this movie is. Im glad you mentioned about the satire in this, because that is one element many viewers don't see. Great post

    1. It's easy to take Starship Troopers solely at face value, which does it a great disservice. It's not really a "thinker", but there's a lot more subtext going on than such a surface reading reveals. I'm pleased that most of the comments have actually been exactly the opposite of what I expected. I must live in the middle of a Trooper hate cell. Thanks for reading, Vern!

  5. Hey man!

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