I Do Movies Badly: Starship Troopers

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4 Responses

  1. FictionIsntReal says:

    I don’t think there’s a “consensus” that Starship Troopers is Verhoeven’s best. I would expect that’s Robocop. There hasn’t been a “shift” in favor of Robocop, because it was already nigh-universally beloved. It’s not trendy for precisely that reason. The lack of consensus around Troopers is why people like talking about it.

  2. FictionIsntReal says:

    George Lucas famously imitated Leni Riefenstahl at the victory ceremony at the end of the original Star Wars, which was not intended to indicate that the Rebels are actually bad. He just thought it was effective filmmaking. Dressing characters like the SS is usually indicative of them being evil though.

    I think Denise Richards was cast in this for the same reason she was cast as a Bond girl: the assumption that young attractive white people are renumerative in blockbuster films. Starship Troopers seems particularly aimed at a young audience. A talented actor has wider range and thus should be able to do the things a less talented actor does (and more), although untrained actors can lend realism at times (mostly if they are basically playing themselves). So I don’t think there’s any good artistic reason to cast such people for lead roles. You mentioned how odd it is that they’re cast as residents of Buenos Aires, and it’s worth noting that 84.6% Argentinians identify as being of European descent (genetic studies indicate about 78.5% of their DNA is), but Rico in the book* does not: he’s a Tagalog speaking Filipino. I don’t think Verhoeven was particularly interested in the ethnic/racial angle: he was making a film marketed mostly toward white Americans and the transnational nature of the society/government could be ignored.
    *I haven’t actually read the book, nor did Verhoeven, but I’ve still argued about what it’s actually valorizing and thereby how well the movie satirizes it.

    Now that I’ve brought up in that footnote what Heinlein was going for, I don’t think he’d consider a veteran teacher dying in battle to be any kind of indictment of his principles or society: like an ancient Roman, the book says the noblest thing a person can do is lay down their life for their country (or planet, in the case of this global government). The military in the movie is just portrayed as being dumber and throwing away many lives needlessly.

    Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner is an intersting example, since he now claims Deckard is a replicant, which Harrison Ford is very much against and the screenwriters also seem to disagree (although one notes that there is supposed to be some ambiguity intended when it’s suggested Deckard use the machine on himself). Personally, I side with the latter against Scott. In the case of Starship Troopers I wasn’t really arguing about intent, because I think even if you grant Verhoeven that the movie still isn’t that good of a satirical action movie.

  3. I gave the commentary tracks a listen last month, the two accompanying the DVD. One has Verhoeven and the writer, Edward Neumeier, whose relationship with Troopers rivals Gerald Casale’s with Devo. They discussed politics, some pretty out there, and went over how the film covers those. They did not even address any issue of the quality of the performances. There was no discussion of any tempering of the acting style as a part of the message. The other commentary track has Verhoeven lightly hosting Casper Van Dien (Johnny Rico), Dina Meyer (Dizzy Flores) and Neil Patrick Harris (Neil Patrick Harris). That group also make no mention of calibrating their performances into over the top territory, or Bad Acting territory. There is no mention of any kind of direction to their acting as being part of a subversive message.

    Is Starship Troopers about fascism? Sure, it really is, and it was intended to be, which very much matters. It is just as unhelpful to universally reject directorial intent as it is to be a slave to it, and those are not our only options. We should always apply it when it is a real factor, and it is here.

    Are the things that make Starship Troopers kind of lousy part of the construction of that message? The hammy acting? The humanly silly parts of the screenplay? There is much evidence against, and little for, that read, though perhaps it must remain at the very least an option. It is quite fair to read the clunky screenwriting and bad acting as flaws in a film with a message, rather than part of the makings of that message. Personally, I think the other read requirers too much imposition on the text, and the message does even not require that element in order to be present. It’s an anti-fascist film whether the actors and screenwriter did a good job or a bad one, and I think they did a bad one.

    Also, the actors seem like a genuinely fun bunch, who really enjoy each other’s company, and Paul’s, both in the commentary and to listen to their stories, also on the set. There is *plenty* of evidence that Verhoeven is not a cruel man, as Jim suggested he might be if he’d actually used the actors in the way that is so often suggested.

  4. Philip says:

    Between the Comments on the Verhoeven intro episode and this one, I’m so pleased to finally find some thoughtful and balanced discussion on this film. I love the novel, having read it and listened to the audio book multiple times from childhood well into my adulthood. The paperback I read as a teenager was only 208 pages, and the fact that Verhoeven couldn’t bring himself to finish it is an indictment of his adaptation, which I find clumsy & hostile to the source material.

    This is my review of the book if you wish to read it:


    Great episode, great discussions all around!

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