Starship Troopers (1997)
Editor’s Notes: The following Starship Troopers review is part of our coverage for TIFF’s Flesh + Blood: The Films of Paul Verhoeven which runs from January 24th to April 4th at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For more information on upcoming TIFF film series visit http://tiff.net and follow TIFF on Twitter at @TIFF_NET.
“Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor, and the contrary opinion is wishful thinking at its worst.” - Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers (1959)
Heinlein’s militaristic novel did what most sci-fi books do, they talk about the future while commenting on the present. Heinlein saw the rise and fall of major military powers in World War II, creating his support for nuclear weapon testing and the novel to espouse those views. Similarly, but with different intentions, Paul Verhoeven made the film after two major and controversial U.S. involved wars: the Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) and The Bosnian War (1992-1995). The word controversial is key here. Motives for international involvement in these conflicts were never quite clear, protests surrounded the war proclamations, and while the Persian Gulf never recovered, the Bosnian War inflicted an overwhelming damage among all those involved. It is with those facts in mind that I’m reminded of the quick, but subtle change of reportage of war. There was little bloodshed shown, and if any it would be via radar or bloodless black and white satellite imagery.
“They’re doing their part. Are you? Join the Mobile Infantry and save the world. Service guarantees citizenship.” – Starship Troopers newsreel (film)
Verhoeven’s keen and sardonic eye filtered Heinlein’s novel to produce a Starship Troopers that was both a satire of the war propaganda of the past and the collective spectacle of the news in the present. It’s the future and Earth has an insectiod enemy from space. Johnnie (Casper Van Dien) enlists in the Mobile Infantry to follow his girlfriend Carmen (Denise Richards) who finds a career in the fleet. After a series of stumbles and hard lessons learned, a toughened up Johnnie becomes a model serviceman and citizen for the Federation.
The charm in this film truly lies in the pageant of war through the series of realistic advertisements for enlistment for the war cause…
The charm in this film truly lies in the pageant of war through the series of realistic advertisements for enlistment for the war cause: bugs are seen crushed by children in a playground as a mother manically cheers them; a bug is seen ripping a live cow to pieces with the word censored over the carnage while blood splatters everywhere; and as a giant cursor flies by the screen the words “Would you like to know more,” prompt the viewer into enlisting into the madness.
Actors Van Dien, Richards, Dina Meyer, Neil Patrick Harris, and Patrick Muldoon are graduates of Saved by The Bell, 90210, and Doogie Howser, M.D. While their acting is adequate, it is in their glossiness and sleek delivery of lines such as, “It’s afraid. IT’S AFRAID!” where they individually shine. The dialogue is superficial and syrupy thus making scenes ironic or bombastic in tone. There’s a small mention of human colonization of planets may have provoked the reactions from the bugs, but it is never really made clear. It’s a purposeful note since the bugs are only seen as a disgusting enemy that kills everything in its path. There’s no pathos for the bugs’ intentions. The subversiveness of the story, the characters, and the settings where the battles take place (desert, global nuclear destruction), pokes fun at the grand illusion of war for the creation of peace and building safe world for tomorrow. Michael Ironside as Lt. Jean Rasczak is brilliant for he offers the role an authority and sly wit among the film’s most campy moments.
It’s been seventeen years since Starship Troopers first premiered in theatres and watching it now it seems it was eerily prescient of a post 9/11 world.
It’s been seventeen years since Starship Troopers first premiered in theatres and watching it now it seems it was eerily prescient of a post 9/11 world. This is what I have always loved about Paul Verhoeven: while his commentary may be layered in violence and sex, he knows what kind of entertainment brings the blockbuster audiences. Some might find the bug battle scenes disturbing (reminiscent of rape scenes Verhoeven is fond of subtly including in his films), they tap into how the media chooses to present the enemy of the present, in this case, the bugs. Bugs are enigmatic, unknown in their motives, are disgusting, and in that disgust humans must fear and eliminate the threat without negotiation.
As the news scrolls by on our twitter feeds and the cable news gives us the latest in viral memes, here’s a small sample of the current ongoing armed conflicts: War in Afghanistan, Somali Civil War, Islamist insurgency in Nigeria, War in North-West Pakistan, the Mexican Drug War, Syrian Civil War, Iraqi insurgency (post-U.S. withdrawal), Central African Republic conflict, and South Sudanese conflict. That doesn’t mention the tensions mounting in Venezuela or the Crimean conflict with Russia. When was the last time you saw images of the above conflicts, and if you did, were they pro or anti-international involvement?
Would you like to know more?
[notification type=”star”]88/100 ~ GREAT. Verhoeven’s keen and sardonic eye filtered Heinlein’s novel to produce a Starship Troopers that was both a satire of the war propaganda of the past and the collective spectacle of the news in the present. [/notification]