An ode to Fascism? Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers

Coming off the huge successes of Robocop, Total Recall and Basic Instinct, Paul Verhoeven created Starship Troopers, a much maligned mega-budget, SFX laden story of war between Earth and a Bug-planet, Klendathu. The movie is only loosely based on the book Starship Troopers by the master of SciFi, Robert Heinlein. The major characters have the same names, there is a war with a bug-planet, and yet the details are quite different. The screenplay is credited to Edward Neumeier and Heinlein.

Many have maligned Starship Troopers for the teeny bopper stars shown off in a co-ed shower scene (which, one hears, the actors agreed to do after Verhoeven agreed to film it naked!!! So Saif’s request to Vishal Bharadwaj was a derivative one!). It is not often that public opinion is so polarized about a film that has such a terse and serious theme. We can credit this to Verhoeven’s standing as a director, the big budget, and the extremely slick look. Starship Troopers stars Ken and Barbie type clean-cut good looking actors with almost no acting credentials or credibility. One recognizable face was that of Neil Patrick Harris of Doogie Howser, MD., fame!

Caspar Van Dien plays Johnny Rico, the guy who goes into the military to impress a girl and then eventually becomes a true soldier (Lakshya, anyone?) The girl he is trying to impress is the always smiling Carmen, played by Denise Richards

And the girl trying to impress him is Dizzy, played by Dina Meyer in an incredibly fuzzy hairdo! Eventually Dizzy managed to impress the guy and this viewer, while all Denise did was smile and smile and smile.
The real stars of the show were the incredible BUGS!!

These included one with gigantic “LIPS” and an appendage that could suck out the brains of a victim and thus divine his/her thoughts! To combat this there was an empath in Neil Patrick Harris, he could touch any living thing and read its thoughts. Victory for humans in this epic battle between bugs and humans came when he read a bug’s thoughts and said “IT IS AFRAID!!”

The intention of the director is made all the more murky by an overtly Nazi theme in the uniforms and the boot camp set ups. Large parts of the film are in mockumentary style, and the ads for recruiting into the military suggest that one reason to do it is to get full citizenship benefits, those who do not serve do not deserve! So is Verhoeven praising fascism and overt militarism? What is the intention of the film, and what does the audience get out of it?

Verhoeven’s stated intent was to make it known that War makes fascists of all of us, and to thus promote a pacifist stance. In this satire on American military aggression or military aggression wherever it may exist, the federation troops wear Nazi inspired uniforms, and yet they are in a war to save humankind. However, their war, just like any other war, must be fought without much empathy for the other party, and with cruelty and an intent to destroy. So scratch below the surface and those who seem to be the good guys are really not that different from the bad guys. The film was not viewed as a satire by many and did not get its due at the hands of the audience. But its later near cult status attests to the fact that it has withstood the test of time, spawned a few sequels and popular video games.

It is slick and sophisticated film, that rises above the vapid looking main cast on the shoulders of the brilliant special effects and the creation of a whole different world populated by life forms that feed into the fears most of us have of BUGS! The relentless onslaught of bugs (tapping into a common fear of locust and bee swarms) in the outpost battle is spine-chilling.

The astute placement of “documentary” features and “newscasts” adds to the sense of urgency and drama. The human fear of aliens that was brought forward in District 9 is showcased in “interviews” where people object to a psychologist saying “We must try to understand them”, and the family bug squashing footage!

I saw it with almost no expectations and came out pleasantly surprised. One of the better SciFi films, and one that could have been so much more if it had a better cast.

5 Responses

  1. I agree. It is a movie that is better than you think it will be. Hardly the most intelligent or hardcore Science Fiction material, but surprisingly coherent and consistent within it’s own imaginary universe … in spite of some of the major characters seeming to have walked out of a high-fasion perfume ad.

    Part of the reason for its mxed reception is the source material. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is at once one of the most seminal SF novels of all time, and also one of the most controversial. Surprisingly it didn’t irk people because of the writing or story, but because of the social commentary they assumed the author to be making through the book.

    The book has a lot to say about militarism, citizenship, and war. It really has as much to say about war as something like 1984 had to say about beuraucracies and control. A fine book, if a little slow to get into. Now I feel like reading it again. I should.

    Ultimately, the movie takes very little from the book other than the skeleton of the setting, but it is entertaining, and I’m sure it spurred many people to go on to read the book, which is a good thing.

    Thanks for a good review,


  2. Thanks Samir, you have said much more eloquently what I was trying to get at in my review. I should read the book again too!

  3. Pardesi – I am not much of a Sci-Fi fan. But still will try watching Verhoeven films. Among the ones you have seen, which one do you think, I should start with???

  4. “…Verhoeven’s stated intent was to make it known that War makes fascists of all of us, and to thus promote a pacifist stance…” He’s changed his tune along the way then – when interviewed around the time the movie came out, he accredited the mass invasion scenes ‘in action’ to images of the D Day landings and his desire to honour those soldiers and their sacrifices.

    • Thanks!!! Interesting factoid that I had not come across before. Normandy landing and the relentless swarming of soldiers to their death has inspired the visuals of several films. Depending on which side you favor, those soldiers were lauded for their sacrifice. BUT I do not think that, in itself, goes against a pacifist stance.

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