Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Monstrous Mini-Review: Starship Troopers

The last one was fun, so why not keep it going?

Starship Troopers

1997, 2 h 9 min
Director: Paul Verhoeven


The deal:  So, until very recently, I had never actually seen Starship Troopers, which I imagine many would refer to as a classic, even if its execution was polarizing.  When it came out in 1997, I'm pretty sure I thought it looked a bit...silly.  It became more intriguing once I found out it was based on a seminal science fiction novel, and as I became more entrenched in the culture of gaming, I started to realize just how important Robert A. Heinlein's story has been in establishing the archetype of the space marine...especially the space marine that fights big alien bugs.  It was time for me to finally get a feel for the setting.

The flick:  I enjoyed this one quite a bit...but I can sympathize with those who don't.

Let's get some of the obvious criticisms out of the way.  The acting isn't stellar...but it's definitely functional.  The plot is farcical...but that seems to be intentional, and I suppose it allows a much "bigger" story to be told once you let go of complete plausibility.  The boobs and gore might be unnecessary...but they fit into an overall tone that seems to shout, "This movie is R-rated, dammit!"  And the effects do sometimes look dated...but when this occurred, I actually found it to have a certain retro-SF charm.

To be fair, I would even say I liked the effects overall.  The space action scenes look great (with the occasional green-screen artifact, of I said, retro-SF charm!).  And those bugs came out a lot better than I imagined they would.  (That may be thanks to limiting the battle environments to barren landscapes, but if so, it was probably a trade-off worth taking.)  The obvious CGI effects didn't detract much, if at all, from my enjoyment...from my personal perspective, it was much less distracting than...well, just about any scene involving Gollum.  And...I mean, it was 1997!  The extent to which the effects fall short of that era's version of perfect is balanced out by the extent to which it seems the filmmakers knew they were producing a B-movie. for the accusations of fascism.  I couldn't remember, going into the watch, what the general consensus is regarding the right-wing particulars of the movie and how much of those aspects are rooted in the source material.  I did have the benefit of being able to look up, while stepping away mid-film, some details of the movie's production and initial reception.  I wish I forced myself to make a solid prediction of whether I was going to read that the film is actually pro-fascist or only mockingly so...because I'm pretty sure I was leaning toward a satirical interpretation, BUT there is enough ambiguity of value judgment on the future fascist society depicted in the film that I probably could have been convinced it was genuinely meant to glorify that way of life.  It would have been poorly executed...just too goofy and over-the-top about some things...but I get why some viewers assumed that was the case.

I can't really understand why anyone would force the issue once the conversation went "hey that's fascist," answered with "I know, I'm making fun of it"...but maybe that also has to do with the difficulty of getting such a message out in 1997.  If Starship Troopers were released today, there wouldn't be a dearth of sources to tell us about its political intentions; instead, we'd have an avalanche of unreliable reports that place it all over the political spectrum.  So...I suppose the world would still be confused, just for a different reason...

The rating:  Well, I'm still trying to figure out my benchmarks here.  I felt like this deserved more than The Killer Shrews' rating of 3/5, but there's no way I could justify a 4.  For now:

3.5 out of 5 shrews

The monsters:  The aliens/bugs/arachnids are, overall, fantastic.  Visually, the various types of aliens (differentiated by appearance and role in bug society) range from excellent (warrior bugs) to not-great-but-not-terrible-for-1997 (hopper bugs).  In a way, these things are literally genre-defining, so there's a lot to chew on with regard to their presentation and place in the story...

Y'know what?  This needs its own post.  I'll get back to you on these guys...

Image from HERE


  1. Hang on, there are people that genuinely think the film is glorifying fascism? Really? Wow.

    1. Well, now you have me questioning whether or not it should ever have seemed to be up in the air..!

      My main responses would be that (1) the current political climate in the USA has made it clear that people are more than willing to embrace "obviously" pointed caricatures of their values, and (2) my impression could easily be off, considering how long ago it was released, BUT to pull a (long) quote from the film's Wikipedia entry:

      "Many reviewers did not interpret Starship Troopers as a satire and believed that its fascist themes were sincere. An editorial in The Washington Post described the film as pro-fascist, made, directed, and written by Nazis. Stephen Hunter said the film was "spiritually" and "psychologically" Nazi and born of a Nazi-like imagination. Hunter described it as a "perversion" of Erich Maria Remarque's 1929 novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, which portrays the physical and mental tolls of war, by glorifying the horrors of war. Others, such as Empire, argued that the "constant fetishizing of weaponry" and "[Aryan] cast", combined with the militaristic imagery in RoboCop and Total Recall, made it seem as though Verhoeven admired Heinlein's world more than he claimed."

      So...make of that what you will...! :)

    2. Huh, well there you go.

      It's so obviously satire to me that the very idea that it wouldn't be recognised as such is baffling.

      That Empire review is insane, because the context of the earlier films only makes the satire more obvious. I've never really liked Empire for many reasons -- if Spielberg had made Starship Troopers in exactly the same way as Verhoeven they would give it 5/5 -- but that's dunderheaded even for them.

    3. Now that you mention it (the Empire review), the comments do pretty much amount to, "He acts like it's satire, but deep down, I think he really likes this shit..."