''Starship Troopers'' (1997 film)

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The 1997 film, Starship Troopers, had great special effects.

That's about the only positive thing I can say about it.

If one has never read the novel that it is very loosely based on, one might be tempted to give it a rating of 2 or 3 out of 5. If, having read the novel, one can somehow forget that this is an adaptation of the novel, one might be able to watch it without feeling nauseated. This is because the director, Paul Verhoeven, produced a film that is more an anti-American polemic than anything else. I gather that Verhoeven hates militarism, and this hatred leads him down certain paths. Fair enough. But he never read past the first chapter of the novel. It is as if he read the first chapter of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and somehow imagined that having done this, he could produce a film accurately depicting 19th century English society.

Verhoeven never read the novel's backstory, and thus never knew that Heinlein had devised a complex fictional "future history" that involved a devastating worldwide war in the far future. And that the events that followed that war produced a world society significantly different from our modern times - one that had changed enormously from what we know today. And those events led to a form of government that were the results of the terrible experiences of that future war and its aftermath. If Dutchman Verhoeven had been born in 1330, growing up under the sway of various Habsburg dukes and emperors, and was then sent forward in time to modern Netherlands, he would have had a coronary at the shape of society. Among other things, he would be wondering whatever happened to all the nobility, the serfs, the horses, and the horse dung! Thus, Verhoeven, unable to see the far future that the novel depicts, assumes that it is to be understood as he understands his own time. Verhoeven, in other words, is a hopeless presentist.

Militarism and Fascism

Some critics have accused the novel of promoting militarism, fascism, and military rule. Which the film satirizes by featuring bombastic displays of nationalism and propagandizing. The film does this, among other ways, by giving soldiers military uniforms that closely resemble those of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Verhoeven stated in 1997 that the first scene of the film, which is an advertisement for the Mobile Infantry — was adapted shot-for-shot from a scene in Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will (1935), which was a propaganda piece created for Nazi Germany by Hitler's favorite film director.

But the society that Heinlein invented for Starship Troopers is not fascist. It is a democratic republic, wherein citizens vote and can hold elected public office all the way up to the highest levels - it is by no means a dictatorship. He never describes the government in detail, but he makes it clear that all adults have the same basic freedoms (of speech, religion, property and so on) that we know about and love in the 21st century. The glaring difference between the requirements for full citizenship in that future society and now is that merely being born does not qualify one to vote. One must instead, successfully complete a term of government service, usually but not necessarily in the military. The reason for this restriction is explained in one chapter when the protagonist, Johnny Rico, goes to officer candidate school. The reason turns out to be a result of how society reformed, basically from scratch, after a particularly devastating world war. One of his instructors posits that rule by military veterans is the ideal form of government, because only they understand how to put collective well-being above the individual. But that instructor also makes clear that the main justification for their form of government is that "it works."

Was Heinlein advocating for the political society he described in the novel? Others may differ, but I don't believe he was. He was simply describing one way in which society could successfully restructure itself.

The Plots