Viking Night: Starship Troopers
By Bruce Hall
May 24, 2011
What do you get when you combine an episode of Dawson’s Creek with interplanetary war, and then give the wheel to the guy who made RoboCop? You get Starship Troopers, that’s what. This means you get a movie very, very loosely based on the controversial novel of the same name by famed science fiction author Robert Heinlein. For this reason, most devotees of Mr. Heinlein despise the film version the way most people despise proctologists. Without a doubt, cheese-meister Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation merely appropriated one or two of the novel’s minor themes and used them for an entirely unrelated message. And it was a message he largely failed to deliver. The novel and its writer have a worldwide cult following, so to them, that level of artistic betrayal is unforgivable. Personally, I think the big screen translation stands up fairly well on its own merits, and oddly enough, this appears to be largely unintentional.
There’s often a wink and a nudge behind Verhoeven’s material, vaguely reminiscent of someone like Sam Raimi. The problem is that Verhoeven is half as talented, yet takes himself twice as seriously. The gulf between what his films aspire to be and what they actually achieve is usually considerable, but I have to admit I still consider myself a casual fan. Not everything he does hits the mark, but his work somehow demands to be loved despite itself. You forgive it the way you forgive someone in a cast for limping, or a dumb dog for barking at its own shadow. That kind of forgiveness is the very essence of love, and most people tend to really love Verhoeven’s work or they really don’t. For me, his films fall somewhere in between the “so bad it’s good” (Showgirls) and “too good to be bad” (RoboCop) categories. Where do I think Starship Troopers ranks? You can probably already tell, but this would be a bad place to end the article. So stay with me.
Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) is a conflicted young man; a resident of Buenos Aires, Argentina - which in this movie is populated entirely by ridiculously good looking Americans. Rico is at a crossroads; it’s time to go to college and his parents see him as a Harvard man, but Johnny’s not so sure. He’s got the wanderlust of a typical 18-year-old and he wants to join the military - see the galaxy, as they say. And what a galaxy it is - Western democracy has collapsed and been replaced by a completely hilarious form of fascism. There are two kinds of people in this regime - Citizens, who have the right to vote, hold office and bear children, and Civilians, who do not. For a Civilian to become a Citizen, he must swear two years of service to the Government, which usually includes an unbelievably hazardous military tour. This is more or less because humanity is waging galactic war with a disgusting race of insect like aliens, and the Government needs “fresh meat for the grinder”. Young men and women, eager to make a difference, sign up for service and quickly find themselves unprepared for the horror and senselessness of war.