Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Is Starship Troopers the Best Sci-fi Movie Ever...or Complete Crap?

Well, the title of this post ought to put anyone who reads this firmly in one camp or the other. The reason I ask the question is because so many sci-fi lovers I know LOVE this movie. It is a great sci-fi story. Where the controversy comes in is whether or not you're a fan of Robert Heinlein, who wrote the original story. Heinlein fans apparently fall into the group that believe the movie is crap. I'm not a particular fan of Heinlein, though maybe I should try a little harder. I tried to read "Stranger in a Strange Land" years ago, and just couldn't get into it. I've been reluctant to pick up a Heinlein book ever since. But as far as Starship Troopers goes, I am kind of on the fence. Though, I probably fall more into the category of a fan of the movie. Why? Well, I have watched it more than once, and I don't do that if I really don't care for something. Another reason is that the movie did leave an impression; enough so that I am writing a post in my blog nine years after the movie came out. That says something. If you haven't seen the movie, it's not too difficult to summarize. It's a war movie, but instead of fighting another country we're fighting aliens- referred to as "bugs." And boy do they look like bugs, great big scary ones. The society depicted in the movie is futuristic and far more militaristic than ours is now. It has pretty decent special effects, especially for its time; and the bugs make such a menacing enemy that it's hard to see how the humans could effectively fight them. Another interesting plot point is that military service is compulsory for a person to become a citizen. (if I remember correctly) From the descriptions I have read of Heinlein's book, citizenship means you must fight to vote, though it's not clear what the scope of citizenship means in the movie. But what really stands out about the movie is the use of propaganda films to sell the war to the people. The film reels hearken back to WWII when the U.S. would make propaganda reels to show to the public, and Starship Troopers shows the very same thing. War is sold as patriotic and noble. In stark contrast to this is the reality of war that is shown as the movie moves along. Even in basic training there are violent accidents. One cadet is killed in a live ammo exercise and flogging is shown as the accepted form of punishment. But this is nothing compared to the violence that is shown when the cadets go to war. The military is completely out-classed by the bugs and they take heavy losses. These are brutally depicted in the movie as well. Another thing that invites a lot of comment about the movie is that the people in it are stunningly beautiful. You have Caspar Van Dien and Denise Richards as the lead characters. Two people not particularly known for their great acting skills, but very well known for their looks. Most of the secondary characters are very good looking as well. I find this an interesting choice and who knows, maybe it was a choice intended to show a contrast between the beauty of unscarred innocence and brutality of war. I don't know if that's the case, but the contrast does show up in the movie regardless. The movie is only loosely based on the book according to Wikipidea. In fact, the article states that Paul Verhoeven, the director, didn't even finish the book; though he still puts some of the book's dialogue into the movie. And this is where the biggest controversy comes in. Apparently Heinlein's mobile infantry in the book was far more developed than in the movie; the difference has been blamed on budget constraints. And while some people were bothered by that, overall the biggest complaint was that Heinlein emphasized fascism quite a bit more than was shown in the movie. In fact, the movie depicted the society as far more liberal, with women serving in the military and the sexes mingle quite freely without embarrassment; even bunking and showering together. At the end of the day, I guess it's what you want out of the movie that determines whether you like it or not. If you're looking for a pretty straight forward action movie with a lot of blood and guts, you'll probably like it. If you're looking for social commentary, maybe the book would be more to your taste. And regardless of anything, the movie is over nine years old and the book was published in 1959. The fact that anyone is still talking about it says something doesn't it?

14 comments:

astrid said...

I read the book but I've never seen the movie. I probably will not watch the movie because I've heard terrible word of mouth about it.

The book is very different from the movie you described. It is written as an internal monologue of a young man as he goes through military training and battle. Along the way, Heinlein posits on a lot philosophical grounds. (rather awkwardly, in my opinion, but nevertheless quite interesting stuff).

I found many aspects of the book revisited in Ender's Game. I guess, without spoiling you on the book, I'd say that Starship Troopers is more substantial literature, but less enjoyable reading.

SQT said...

I liked Ender's game. But if Starship Troopers is less enjoyable reading, then I can't say I'm feeling moved to read it.

You're probably better off not seeing the movie. I think the only people who do enjoy it are people who haven't read the book.

astrid said...

Yeah, Starship Trooper is not very fluffy reading. It's the sort of stuff nerdy teenage boys read on their way to Comp Sci or EE degrees. The book is very antiquated in some of its jargon, with lots of "gee golly".

Ender's Game is in the development process. That's a movie I look forward to seeing on the big screen. Esp. if Joss ends up directing it (Orson Scott Card raved about Serenity).

SQT said...

I think I remember hearing that Ender's game was going to be made into a movie. According to wikipidea it's in "development Hell" which is probably where most proposed movies end up. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

astrid said...

That's too bad. It would make a fantastic movie...though they'd have to push up the age of the main characters by quite a bit.

SQT said...

though they'd have to push up the age of the main characters by quite a bit.

Do you think so? I think they could keep Ender fairly young. Though maybe the rest of the characters should be older to emphasize how unusual his age is.

I don't know. Who knows if it'll ever make it to the screen. I think it'll take someone like Peter Jackson-- someone who has a personal devotion to the novel- to make it happen.

Anonymous said...

My dear girl, if you don't think Starship Troopers is the most deliciously camp bit of S&M/butch-Fascist play-acting this side of the Rocky Horror Picture Show then... well then I duuno what. It was a long time ago, and I was deep in my cups as I recall, but I think I spat out my drink when Dougie Howser swept in done up in this sort of Nazi drag - a long, black trench-coat, a peaked officer's cap and a lot of shadows, as I recall. All I could think was that the director had to run outside for a giggle-fest and another bong hit between takes.

And honestly, it's Heinlein. It's supposed to be insane.

Yours, with deep respect.

SQT said...

Anonymous

lol
I couldn't have put it better myself.

Crunchy Carpets said...

Lol...
Yeah I am a Heinlein fan and was not expecting it to follow the book at all and it didn't ...but it is still a fun flick...I would put it in the same category as Total Recall...over the top gratuitous fun if nothing else is on tv.

And I DID like the attention to detail with the propaganda..that was fun.

Rob said...

"The film reels hearken back to WWII when the U.S. would make propaganda reels to show to the public."
Here is the key to the watching of Starship Troopers. Because it isn't US propaganda films that it is emulating, but Nazi ones! Certain voiceovers and shots were scripted based on movies such as Stukas, a Nazi film about fighter pilots. Everyone in ST is beautiful, to emphasise the racial superiority of humanity...

What is scary is how effective these Nazi techniques and motifs still are at capturing a popcorn audience. They crafted a fantastic action-movie, rousing, drawing us all along with it, cheering when a bug dies!... and its only in the last scene that the director delivers the sucker punch that WE, humanity, are the aggressors...

SQT said...

Rob

I never really made the connection, but when you explain it, it makes perfect sense.

I looked up a few descriptions of the movie to jog my memory, since I haven't watched it in a while, and not one of the reviews mentioned the Nazi angle. So you definitely get credit for making that point.

Rob said...

Thanks sqt!

Paul Verhoeven did a good job using fascist cinematic techniques to tell a story of fascism, without taking a heavy-going, introspective approach.

The only worry is whether he was so successful in making an enjoyable action film like that, that people didn't even notice that the 'heroes' were the villains! :)

SQT said...

The only worry is whether he was so successful in making an enjoyable action film like that, that people didn't even notice that the 'heroes' were the villains! :)

I think that's exactly right. Plus, the bugs were so almost over-the-top scary looking that it's easy to root for their destruction. I'm thinking I need to go back and watch it again to remember this stuff.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Like the earlier poster...Ender's Game Rules. However...I thought Starship Troopers was a lot of fun, for what it was.

I'm afraid I can't say the same thing for the sequel.

I think exploring the military in a future setting and the morality of war, is a subject that needs to be more fully tapped in mainstream sci-fi film and television.

Battlestar Galactica is doing a marvelous job, but I would love to see someone tackle "Forever Wars".