Thursday, April 17, 2014
Reads to Reels: Starship Troopers
C'mon, you apes ! You wanna live forever?
Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers combined intelligent speculation about the future of space warfare and controversial if thoughtful political philosophy; Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers does not. The dramatization of Troopers has the same characters, the same belligerents, and the same labels; what it lacks in every department save for looks and mocking humor, is substance. A military adventure flick that spits in the face of military adventurism, Troopers uses a generically ominous world government’s bombastic war against a planet of “Bugs” to deride military enthusiasm and pugnacious patriotism generally. The tactics employed by the ‘Terran Federation’ are so execrable that even Hollywood must have winced to see them onscreen: imagine sending scores of ships across the galaxy to dump a mob of men armed with light machine guns, into a desert, with orders to kill anything that moves, eventually deployed against a building-sized monster with a flamethrower! Although the film’s desert setting might scream “Iraq” to modern viewers, the characters’ costumes and the series of propaganda reels that serves as a framing service are drawn more from the 1930s and 40s, with officers looking like members of the SS. The graphics strike me as impressive for 1997, especially the varieties of ‘Bugs’ that rise against the human invaders, and -- assuming one can forget any attachment for the actual book -- the film is stupidly fun. All would be well were it not for the fact that the film does pretend to be a version of Robert Heinlein’s story, and so much is lost that claim is tragic. There’s no trace of the motorized suits Heinlein imagined, for instance, and one of the book’s better moments – Johnny’s discovery that his father, who scorned him for choosing the military, had joined the service himself – is completely erased. I enjoyed it for the lampooning of warmongering, but I now understand why Starship Troopers fans grimace at its mention.
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