“The public persona that Paul Verhoeven has is of this kind of like barely contained wild man who’s always out there trying to show full frontal fornication and decapitations every moment he can. That may, in an exaggerated way, be a part of Paul’s personality, but Paul is also a very serious man and a very intelligent man.”
“Starship Troopers” was a sci-fi action film by director Paul Verhoeven. He had made a name for himself with futuristic action classics such as “Robocop” and “Total Recall”. His action movies tended towards the ultra-violent with scenes of exploding body parts and mutilations and “Starship Troopers” doesn’t fail in delivering a heavy dose of gore laced with automatic gunfire. Just as many of his action films they can be taken at face value as a pure action flick which was typical of the 80’s and 90’s. Verhoeven instead of being an action movie director (which he was fairly good at) instead used his action movies to deliver deeper and even personal messages of his past.
Verhoeven used “Starship Troopers” as a vehicle to show his thoughts on fascism. As a child he grew up in Nazi occupied Netherlands and witnessed the mentality of fascism firsthand. While the main character Rico (Casper Van Dien) and his friends are supposed to be from Buenos Aires the actors and characters are pure American. While many people may not have noticed the nationalism and militarism of America in 1997 reflected in the movie it is clearly shown in post-911 America. The idea that since we were attacked we much do everything militarily in order to destroy the enemy.
Many original viewers were turned off by how the idea of war and fascism seemed to be shown in a positive light, whereas the movie as a whole is a satire. There is definitely a hidden meaning throughout the film. It’s an almost hidden message as if Verhoeven were being forced to make a fun action flick, but using it as a way to send a secret message out.
Michael Ironside asked Paul Verhoeven, “Why are you doing a right-wing fascist movie?”
Verhoeven replied, “If I tell the world that a right-wing, fascist way of doing things doesn’t work, no one will listen to me. So I’m going to make a perfect fascist world: everyone is beautiful, everything is shiny, everything has big guns and fancy ships, but it’s only good for killing fucking bugs!”
Even some of the actions scenes could easily replace the alien “bugs” with turban clad terrorists as the fight takes place in barren areas which could be Afghanistan or the Middle East. The initial attack by the Earthlings on an alien planet was similar to the idea that superior technology could finish the war in one swoop without realizing that the enemy could lead a guerrilla campaign to counter any technological advantage.
“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”
― Mahatma Gandhi
The road to fascism as shown in the movie and even current American history is shown not as a road to evil for the sake of evil, but that the road to hell is lined with good intentions. For the individuals they are simply doing what they are told is best for their families and nation with each step creating an authoritarian government that relies on propaganda and force to maintain order.
Reception Then and Now
“Starship Troopers” was a failure upon release by almost every definition of the word. The movie barely made back it’s initial budget of $105 million with ticket sales of $121 million worldwide. Considering the marketing campaign and everything else involved with releasing a film this was a major flop. Critics panned the movie as a dud and fans of the book “Starship Troopers” by Robert A. Heinlein were extremely disappointed that the movie had almost nothing to do with the book. While the militaristic jingoism was present and the majority of characters kept their names the overall story had been changed. If you haven’t had a chance to read the book I would highly recommend it as it is a great piece of science fiction.
Johnny Rico: I wanna join up. I think I got what it takes to be a Citizen.
Jean Rasczak: Good for you! Go find out…
Johnny Rico: Well… my parents are against it… and I know it’s my choice. I was wondering. What would you do if you were me?
Jean Rasczak: Figuring things out for yourself is the only freedom anyone really has. Use that freedom. Make up your own mind, Rico.
While critics tended to hate the movie upon release over a decade later there has been a change of tune. From being one of the most disappointing movies of the 90’s “Starship Troopers” is now ranked number 20 for the best movies of the 90’s. Considering the movie was released during the booming Clinton years the idea that the dangers of a fascist America around the corner was something that people couldn’t even consider.
Enough Politics Give me Spaceships and Guns
As an action movie at face value “Starship Troopers” is a fairly fun ride. Verhoeven does a great job in delivering an action movie that still stands up today. The special effects 20 years later still looks great with a great blend of practical and CGI effects that holds up much better than Star Wars: Episode 1 released in 1999 using purely CGI effects. The effects team really understood where the strengths and weaknesses of each style would work and created a movie that still stands up well today.
The action set pieces and scenes of an endless horde of bugs creates great battle scenes with a sense of desperation. Even the initial scenes of training are somewhat reminiscent of “Full Metal Jacket” with the tough training Sergeant with a no holds barred approach (taken from the book).
While the story itself comes off as the daydreams of a typical 90’s teenager (me) it is still a fun action filled romp with plenty of violence to keep you entertained. Verhoeven includes a bit of humor throughout the film as he tends to do in his movies not with silly jokes or one liners, but with ludicrous things that can happen during complete mayhem.
The movie does go into some tropish corniness and cheap emotional string pulling (the death of Dizzy), but does it under a serious enough facade as not to ruin the moment. The acting overall while not winning any awards does well enough for an action movie and you do get to see Neil Patrick Harris play a combination of Doogie Howser and Barney Stinson (a bit more Doogie though). Most of the critics initially trashed the acting and characters of the movie as being vapid and straight out of Beverly Hills, 90210 and on the surface that is an absolutely correct take on things, but misses out on the satire of the movie. “Starship Troopers” is a movie that could have been used by the Nazi’s as a propaganda film, with one of the news clips being copies of those released by Nazi Germany.
“War makes fascists of us all”
For those who haven’t seen “Starship Troopers” or haven’t in a while I would recommend seeing it again. Just don’t watch it with too many expectations, but do watch it with an open mind and you’d be surprised how good the movie really is.
For a great video review check this out.
Originally posted 2017-02-15 10:00:23.