Starship Troopers (1997)
June 15, 2015 11:01 AM - Subscribe

You wanna live forever? Space bugs and space marines duke it out when Robert Heinlein's military sci-fi classic gets the Verhoeven treatment, marrying visually rich action set-pieces to a broader satire of a culture that worships its armed forces. (Trailer)

Though the script started its life as an unrelated project called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine, the finished film is widely read as a deliberately hyperbolic piss-take on its unashamedly pro-military namesake, with director Verhoeven "playing with fascism or fascist imagery to point out certain aspects of American society." But no matter how you take it, you can't go wrong with Neil Patrick Harris with an assault rifle.
posted by churl (48 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I went to see this in the theater when it opened, knowing nothing about the movie or the novel. It was fun and Verhoeven-y, and then in the middle it became Triumph of the Will In Space, and I got very uncomfortable. The ending title cards were sooooo depressing.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:09 AM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've never liked this movie, even though I like a lot of Verhoeven movies. The Heinlein book is incredibly good base material for a really critical visual reinterpretation, but Verhoeven's slapstick brand of violent satire just doesn't quite work for me here.

I dunno, I'm imagining someone somehow taking the book and making a sort of Full Metal Jacket in space, and that sounds like a much stronger film to me than Deliberately Winky Bad Syfy Original Film or whatever. I want the movie to be MORE disturbing, which is not how I should feel about a Verhoeven film.

This has nothing to do with the film's quality, but this movie is also memorable to me as the first time I remember there being the now-traditional Internet Fanboy Outrage. It seemed really novel then!

Basil Poledouris tho
posted by selfnoise at 11:21 AM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

It took the internet nearly 20 years to give me the phrase "Poe's Law" to describe why this film never worked for me.
posted by cazoo at 11:46 AM on June 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

in the middle it became Triumph of the Will In Space, and I got very uncomfortable.

I actually think the real coup is that you can look back and it was Triumph of the Will In Space the entire time; we're just so inured to this in American action movies that the Verhoeven has to literally start dressing his leads in SS uniforms before we realize it.
posted by churl at 11:47 AM on June 15, 2015 [30 favorites]

Verhoeven's entire career is like a dramatization of Poe's Law.
posted by maxsparber at 11:58 AM on June 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

The three increasingly dire direct to video sequels really show what a master of his very specific craft Verhoeven is.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 12:22 PM on June 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

This was one of those movies which immediately put me on alert for Denise Richards, that is, to expect the lowest common denominator of acting from her. Granted, I think, my problems with her in this movie arise more from the script than her acting. I always found her immediate dumping of Casper simply awful, "Hi, yeah, so, you're a grunt and I'm a future starship captain, it just won't work out." And while it's realistic for high school (even 20 something high schoolers) romances to end pretty abruptly after graduation, I always thought she probably could have handled the break up in a better way. But, yes, Richardson. I always thought the original captain of the Jolly Roger, that actress could have simply taken over and I would have been completely happy.

This was also one of those movies where I enjoyed the benefit of being slightly taller for my age and being able to convincingly buy my way into an R rated film while still not 18.

I have generally appreciated the film for at least the partial satire of fascism it presents and the constant ridicule of those in least until the end, when it became a celebration of the average guy who promised success by promotion into the same system that was formerly being mocked. It's kind of a Mirror, Mirror future world minus the Vulcans and other humanoid aliens.
posted by Atreides at 12:43 PM on June 15, 2015

Ah, yes, the "nazi Doogie Howser" movie.

It's not as good as Robocop or even Total Recall, but comes close to the second and it's a very entertaining wedge of cheese. Works wonderfully when compared to the post-9/11 war/masturbatory right-wing fantasy movies. Plus, Michael Ironside and Clancy Brown.

It also should have won the best fx Oscar. Very quotable too. Unfortunately not many people understand my usage of "IT'S AFRAID!" to mark a turning point, or why I advocate knifing people in the hand to prevent them from doing any harm.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:02 PM on June 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

This movie is the best movie about post-9/11 America I've ever seen. (And yes, I know it came out prior to 2001.)
posted by entropicamericana at 1:32 PM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

So... On mefi, we get that this was Verhoeven stabbing the original novel in the guts, right?

posted by ominous_paws at 1:34 PM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

More like drawing a dick with swastikas for balls on the original novel forehead with a permanent marker.
posted by lmfsilva at 1:40 PM on June 15, 2015 [9 favorites]

a sort of Full Metal Jacket in space

I'm kind of glad this wasn't taken in that direction because "The Forever War" is the movie adaptation I want to see done as FMJ in space.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:41 PM on June 15, 2015 [7 favorites]

This movie is the best movie about post-9/11 America I've ever seen. (And yes, I know it came out prior to 2001.)

I know it's a general satire of American militaristic impulses in particular, but in that aspect it was uncannily prescient.
posted by Artw at 4:43 PM on June 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well this is my new favorite anecdote
Two nude scenes were kept in the original version, although these were modified in the broadcast version. The cast agreed to do the co-ed shower scene only if Verhoeven agreed to direct the scene naked, which he did.
posted by churl at 5:47 PM on June 15, 2015

and it was Triumph of the Will In Space the entire time

In the wikipedia article which churl's naked directing anecdote links, it's mentioned that the very first scene is a direct pastiche of an actual scene from Triumph of the Will. Verhoeven was a young child but he remembers actual Nazis and the chaos they sowed, and he knew exactly what he was doing with those references.

The whole theme of the movie and even of the cheesy sequels boils down to "Just how much Nazi shit can I get you to root for?" Because the answer is probably "more than you realize." Most people, even Nazis, do not think of themselves as evil even when they are doing terrible things. They think they are doing distatesteful but necessary work, that they are securing the future, that they are meeting an enemy with equal and justified ferocity. Normal people are easily persuaded by these arguments. And it is that simple and unfortunate fact, not some demonic hell-pit, from which people like Nazis arise.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:06 PM on June 15, 2015 [16 favorites]

I can't find anything to back this up, but I always heard that of all the actors who played the young graduates, Neil Patrick Harris was the only one who was in on the joke.
posted by mochapickle at 6:33 PM on June 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

That story appeals to me. I don't care if it's true.
posted by stet at 6:48 PM on June 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm of two minds with this movie, because on one hand Verhoven totally achieved the nazi-evoking discomfort he set out to do, but on the other hand I think this was not the movie Starship Troopers deserved.

I'm right there with you, Tom, that most people that do evil things don't think of themselves as evil people. just look at the atrocities committed by otherwise decent Americans against the Native American population or against African Americans during and after slavery. It always bugs me when movies just fall to depicting the villian as a moustache-twirling knave doing evil for evil's sake because they don't have the time to bother giving them a realistic characterization. In this movie humanity are the bad guys, but since we're shown fighting violent inhuman creatures it's hard to notice. The same thing happens in Ender's Game but the thought that maybe we're the bad guys doesn't come up until after we commit genocide. Thankfully in this movie Verhoven uses some nazi imagery to make things a little clearer.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:07 AM on June 16, 2015

Anyone with even a passing interest in this film needs to rewatch it with the director's commentary. Both Verhoven and the script writer (who also did Robocop) spend most of the film talking shit about the critics who hated the film, the audiences reactions, and occasionally each other.

Some highlights I remember:
* Verhoeven speaking with pride about one of the bombing run scenes that contains what was a record-sized explosion for a film production. It was inspired, he explains, by his recollections of when the allies accidentally bombed his neighborhood during WWII and flattened streets worth of houses.
* Verhoeven and the script writer speaking about being shocked by audiences' reactions to Denise Richards' character. Apparently across all barriers of race and culture, people hated that she hooked up with 2 guys during the film, even though male characters frequently do so in other films.
* The instructions given to the creature designer when creating the brain bug.
* Verhoeven's long rant about the military industrial complex being interrupted by the script writer's perfectly timed "Yeah, but we saved your asses in WWII" shit-stirring interjection, which Verhoeven completely ignores.
* Verhoeven getting incredibly excited by scenes of spaceships flying around. Dude just loves spaceships.

My observations on the film:
I only sort-of enjoyed it at the cinema, but it has really grown on me over the years. And, or course, it instantly got super-relavant after 9-11. I even like the ridiculous performances and the things that don't really make sense - they add to the propaganda feel of the production.
One of Vehoeven's traits is that he treats male and female characters exactly the same in his films - the shower scene being the most obvious example but almost any character could switch gender without rewriting.
I wish there was an award for "best delivery of a ridiculous line", because that "They sucked his brains out" deserves a lifetime achievement award.
posted by AndrewStephens at 7:55 AM on June 16, 2015 [9 favorites]

God I love this movie. I never read the source material, so I don't have that sacred cow to be sacrificed, but I agree that it's incredible prescient.

"IT'S AFRAID!" never fails to deposit me into a fit of cackles.
posted by rocketman at 8:09 AM on June 16, 2015

almost any character [in Verhoeven's films] could switch gender without rewriting

Except Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, of course.
posted by Grangousier at 8:10 AM on June 16, 2015

You see, I think Verhoeven would totally make the movie where Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone switched roles there. I don't think anyone would have seen it, but the DVD commentary track would have been epic.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 8:16 AM on June 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Except Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, of course.

Unless the movie is in Edinburgh, and Michael Douglas plays a kilt-wearing True Scotsman.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:18 AM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Michael Douglas as a man-murdering bisexual?

That sounds like a terrible remake of Cruising to me.
posted by maxsparber at 8:20 AM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

On mefi, we get that this was Verhoeven stabbing the original novel in the guts, right?

Apart from not having power armor -- and that would never have worked in an ensemble-ish movie since you can't see anyone's faces -- it's a pretty direct and by the numbers adaptation of the book. Even the pointless political bloviating is still there. How can it stab the novel in the guts when it actually has people stating the same political ideals that the characters in the book do?

All you can say is that it's obvious that Verhoeven thinks that would be a bad society. But it would be, so that's accurate too.

(I love this terrible movie so much for doing that)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:58 AM on June 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Funny thing is I can see how a straight adaptation of John Scalzi's Old Mans War would end up not far off Starship Troopers.
posted by Artw at 9:09 AM on June 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sure. But Scalzi seems to think the Colonial Union is a pretty unpleasant polity.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:59 AM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Well, he is an evil Social Justice Warrior.
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on June 16, 2015

sutherland_body_snatchers.jpg !!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:51 PM on June 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I loved this movie from the moment I saw it in a packed cinema the week it came out. It's like Laibach, or Brass Eye, or Nathan Barley: the satire is so viciously sharp that it's indistinguishable from sincerity. The gibbering lunacy of Heinlein's psuedo-fascist spiels are handed po-faced to actors who've made their reputation on gibbering, lunatic psuedo-fascist spiels. It's acting by chin size! It's All-American Teenagers™ being exploded and having their brains sucked out by bugs! It's Denise Richards conspiring to use eyes, lips and teeth simultaneously with words!

Actually, back on the Laibach trajectory, I really think there might be something in that - in embracing fascist imagery so wholeheartedly in this film, Verhoeven throws into sharp relief the fascism inherent in the genre itself...
posted by prismatic7 at 3:45 AM on June 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I remember being 16, in a weekend outing from my boarding school (just like Hogwarts! except third world-y, and muslim), and being lucky enough that we could go to the nearest big town, and this was playing in the cinema, and it was probably amongst the best decision I made in that year. I can't explain it, but I really really enjoyed the satire, in amongst all the action. But the thing I remembered the most from that experience, was that my girl friends and I absolutely loved it, and the boys who went to our school and also caught the movie absolutely hated it and they didn't get it at all. Go figure!
posted by cendawanita at 11:39 AM on June 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

This movie always makes me think of Dr. Strangelove which was also based on a serious novel but was too ridiculous to film straight.
posted by octothorpe at 11:23 AM on June 18, 2015

One of my favourites. Happy to watch this pretty much whenever. Though I always feel hell bad for the boss Brain Bug at the end, when NPH says "it's afraid" and everybody cheers.

Next time, let the bugs win.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:02 PM on June 18, 2015

I love this movie on so many levels (social commentary, everyone seemed like they had so much fun making the movie, giants space bugs, spaceships, Dina Meyer - hey, I was 18, post-The Kurgan Clancy Brown).

It was a fair adaptation of Heinlein's novel, if watered down and made much more obviously satire. (And lacking power armor. And anti-military dad "joining up" in the end.)

Which was very interesting to see who amongst my college freshmen cohort understood that it was satire, and who took it seriously as a straight-up pro-government and pro-military cheerleading movie.
posted by porpoise at 10:11 AM on June 19, 2015

In the Cut: Starship Troopers [self-link]
posted by churl at 11:20 AM on June 19, 2015

I'm still not convinced that the book isn't an even subtler satire.
posted by Pyry at 12:00 AM on June 20, 2015

This just popped into my mind: was it ever implied the asteroid attack was just an unfortunate coincidence (because playing space billiards would take a bunch of luck) or that the Human Federation was well aware it could hit Buenos Aires or something but did nothing, just to have a moral excuse to attack Klendathu?
posted by lmfsilva at 1:23 PM on June 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

I thought that it was implied that the attack on Buenos Aires was faked by the Federation or maybe I'm remembering.
posted by octothorpe at 1:47 PM on June 20, 2015

lmfsilva, I don't remember any explicit evidence that the asteroid attack was known about beforehand (it certainly seemed to take Denise Richardson's captain by surprise), but three things come to mind.
  1. Meteor protection is something humans are taking seriously now, and we're not even a spacefaring race yet, so any spectacular failure of a spacefaring Earth's defense array would likely be a deliberate operation. Note that all the finger pointing on Federation media was at Klendathu and not at engineers or adminstrators falling asleep at the orbiting laser trigger switch.
  2. Federation intelligence told mobile infantry that return fire over Klendathu would be light and random, and that the invasion would be decisive. In reality, it was a complete tactical failure. However, the Federation did get hair-raising video of Earth's best army being routed, sending new recruitment skyrocketing. It's another case of Hearst's dictum of "You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war."
  3. Knockout attack planner Sky Marshal Dienes resigned after Klendathu in a showy ceremony and was replaced by Sky Marshal Meru, whose public remarks indicated a social program of indefinite length to distract the entire human population into thinking about nothing but the bug. Militarily, the strategy changed from homeworld invasion to planet-hopping attacks on remote bug outposts and colonies—not policy that wins wars, but policy that keeps soldiers (read: the entire human race) fighting and not thinking.
So I think the idea of the Federation knowing of an attack beforehand, letting it happen, and manipulating the repercussions for political advantage is likely.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:20 PM on June 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've been giving it some thought after not finding any official source, I think I've seen the theory popping up elsewhere, most likely on Cracked or the geocities/lycos fansites 15 years younger me used to check.

Because yeah, considering the Arachnid Quarantine Zone was already under , uh, quarantine, not a chance the infinitesimal odds of a small asteroid (and if the idea was to attack earth, why not attempt to hit it with a huge, mass extinction event size fucker?) would skip past everyone, not to mention also managing to hit a densely populated area. Even if the Bugs were sending millions of asteroids towards Earth to improve their odds, that would just make them pop on whatever futuristic radar they use.

Asking Verhoeven, keeping with the propagandistic tone of the movie, he'd probably agree the Destruction of Buenos Aires as the equivalent of the Reichstag Fire works pretty well, intentional or not.
posted by lmfsilva at 3:01 PM on June 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

The movie is certainly consistent with it being a Reichstag fire, but on the other hand I think a sort of Occam's Razor favors the simpler theory that the Citizen Federation is run by chuckleheads.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:31 PM on June 20, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's not a bad theory per se, but it does seem to be gilding the lily a little.
posted by Artw at 6:33 PM on June 20, 2015

Every school kid knows that Arachnids are dangerous. However, Mormon extremists disregarded Federal warnings... ...and established Port Joe Smith deep inside the Arachnid Quarantine Zone. Too late they realized that Dantana had already been chosen by other colonists-- Arachnids.
To my recollection, there was some sort of a cold war or detente and the above was what kicked off everything.
posted by entropicamericana at 8:43 AM on June 22, 2015

I thought that it was implied that the attack on Buenos Aires was faked by the Federation or maybe I'm remembering.

If the bugs had a method of accelerating an unpowered rock to FTL speeds so it can travel the distance between systems and then decelerating it back to sub-C before it hits Earth, the war should have been over before it even started.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:40 PM on June 26, 2015 [2 favorites]


and link back to the blue
posted by eustatic at 8:32 PM on July 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

“If Veterans Ruled the World | Starship TroopersKnowing Better, 13 November 2021

Cf. My comment from August 2011 outlining the differences between the movie, the novel, and Heinlein's later gloss on the novel. To summarize:
The text of Starship Troopers does not support the argument that most citizens gained the franchise through non-military service. However, Heinlein himself thought that it did because he wrote as much in Expanded Universe. Gifford concludes, "By the text of the novel, Federal Service is entirely military in nature. But if any reader chooses to take Heinlein’s separate comment as evidence of his intent to make Federal Service ninety-five percent “civil service,” they will get no argument from me."
posted by ob1quixote at 6:00 PM on January 22, 2023

Rewatched for the first time since it came out, in the wake of the Helldivers video game. When it came out I was aware that it was supposed to be satire, to a certain extent, did not like it, and was mainly confused. Now that I know what it's supposed to be, it's still not good at all, at least as a movie. The space war parts are too effective at getting you to root for the humans. Perhaps it is more interesting to folks who are less prone to manipulation. I did enjoy the "hypertext" style news broadcasts, those seemed the most effective at being satire, not to mention predicting the state of news. In a world where there was 1 news channel on TV, being able to click for more was revolutionary, but now we don't even click, it just comes to us on an endless TikTok/YouTube Shorts/Instagram Reels stream.
posted by wnissen at 4:23 PM on May 16

« Older Podcast: Welcome to Night Vale...   |  Steven Universe: Sworn to the ... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments