Friday, April 18, 2008
Friday Feature, Best Posts Revisited: Is Starship Troopers the Greatest Movie Ever......or Complete Crap?
I don't know if this is actually a "best post," but it was probably the first one to ever generate more than one or two comments on my blog. Granted, my comment numbers are modest, but I'll take what I can get. 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?