Starship Troopers

I finally saw it. "Starship Troopers", I mean. I had read the book, preparatory for the movie's release, to remind myself of what I'd read many years earlier. I posted my thoughts about the book on the internet; why, I don't know. The movie was finished, and my comments weren't likely to have an effect on writers or directors, nor on critics or the movie going audience.

But then the bad reviews started. Most reviewers seemed to complain about violence in the movie. That left open the question of fidelity to the book. Talking to my friends, I gathered that many of the book's characters were in the movie. I also found that many of these characters had new roles to play. Well, that didn't condemn the movie in my view. But I wasn't tempted to spend time or money on "Starship Troopers", given its reception by the public.

So the other day my son and I were looking for something to do. "Movie?" "Sure." "Which?" "I don't know."

We ended up going to a movie rental place and renting a couple of movies. "Something funny, and something exciting," suggested my son. That's how "Starship Troopers" ended up being played on my VCR at home.

Quite frankly, the movie left me flabbergasted. The special effects certainly were masterful, just like my friends had promised. But there was more gore than any other movie that I've ever seen, and that includes, believe it or not, "Saving Private Ryan", a movie that gave me nightmares when I saw it.

There was some resemblance between some of the book's characters and those in the movie. Mr Dubois, the teacher from the book, also appears in the movie, but is renamed to something like "Radchek" (isn't that the name of the lieutenant that led Juan's MI sqad "Radchek's Roughnecks" in the book?) and later reappears as lieutenant Radchek, a hero who saves Juan Rico's life. Sergeant Zim, from Juan's bootcamp, is probably the most true to the book. Juan's father and mother are properly upper class and disinterested in citizenship, but they both get killed by a bug attack, so Juan's father isn't able to make an appearance later in the movie to drive home how right Juan was about his decision.

Carmen, Juan's girlfriend, does become a pilot, but instead of just a cameo appearance at the beginning to get Juan recruited, the relationship between her and Juan dominates the entire movie. And Karl, the friend with whom Juan went to the recruiting station makes a couple of reappearances as an intelligence officer reminiscent of an SS Sturmleiter, except this one is psychic.

The book's message of conservative morality did survive the rewriting. "Might Makes Right" is trumpeted loudly in the first few minutes of the movie, during the classroom scene that also appears (sort of) in the book. Moral authority, moral hierarchy, and a leader's responsibility to protect, to reward, and to punish, all are reflected in the movie. In my opinion the whole thing was rather heavy handed, tending to the ludicrous in places, but for the most part the message of the book remains intact. (Verhoven, the director, now claims that the movie was intended to be a satire of the book all along. I think that's a bit of revisionism on his part, since before the movie's poor reception, particularly by Heinlein's fans, Verhoven promised a movie that would be true to the book, with the exception of the MI armor, which he said was too expensive.)

So what about those bad reviews? The movie is excruciatingly violent. Juan's Mobile Infantry are depicted as eager troopers, armed with nothing but armor so flimsy that it must be almost worse than no protection at all, an oversized machine gun that appears to be practically useless in the battle against the "bugs" and runs out of bullets at exactly the wrong time, and a knife. Viewers are treated to dozens of scenes featuring deadly "bug" appendages piercing troopers' bodies, troopers snatched up into the air and snipped in half, and troopers enveloped in some kind of super hot napalm that seems to dissolve them. That many of the killed troopers are women (not a feature of the book) may have contributed to atavistic revulsion. The high point of the movie is a close up view of a brain bug sucking the brains out of the skull of Sandy, Carmen's fellow pilot (and Juan's rival in love). Much of this violence was implied in the book, but the movie brings it into the foreground, instead of letting it play in the background.

In my opinion the movie was relatively true to the book's ideas, although it played havok on the book's plot and characters. There is nudity, but it is relatively innocent. The troubling feature is the violence. If it weren't for the intensity of the violence, I'd recommend the movie.

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