starship troopers, films about the military

i thought about putting this in the “fascist insect” thread:

last night, for lack of something better to do, i watched starship troopers for the second time (ondemand will be the end of me). i’d first watched it when it was first out on dvd/vhs and while i think i’d enjoyed it then i really enjoyed it a lot more this time around. perhaps because i wasn’t entirely sure the first time if it was satire or not. (michael will now remind me that this was made by the same person who made robocop.) this time i was struck by two things: 1) how this is like a negative of full metal jacket–where kubrick analyzes what the military does to the self by going deep into how it dehumanizes and regimentizes (is that a word?) the world, verhoeven sticks with the surfaces, the military’s ideology of itself; 2) how this now seems so eerily prescient of the war on terror.

there was a sequel, right? do we find out what they do with the brain bug? if you don’t want to talk about starship troopers maybe we can talk more generally/specifically about the military film as genre or about other military films.

15 thoughts on “starship troopers, films about the military”

  1. The sequel is awful.

    Starship Troopers sucks me in like only a few other films can (Blues Brothers, 16 Candles). I actually USED to think it was satire, now – after 6 viewings – I’m not sure what Verhoeven intended. However, when I met Neil Patrick Harris at a party, I knew well enough to be fucking terrified of him.

    The sequel isn’t worth your time Anab – I havent seen it, but it was roundly panned by even people who like these direct to video things.

  2. Starship Troopers HAD to be a satire. I can’t see how it couldn’t have been — at the very least those intercalated sequences meant to be government propaganda. Elementary-school teachers squealingly exhorting their students to squash bugs on the schoolyard as training for future wars and all that. I took that as a mockery both of propaganda and of individual public servants’ subversion of public institutions for allegedly patriotic purposes.

    And the idea in the film that, in the future, only soldiers and veterans enjoy the rights of citizenship? That haunts me regularly.

    I also loved the way Verhoeven played with boytoy Casper Van Dien as his little crypto-fascist idol.

    So Mauer, if you are tired of Starship Troopers sucking you, please let it come over my way.

  3. On the one hand, I’m not sure Verhoeven makes satires, but then again he’s certainly not conventionally serious. I somehow want to tie it all back to his Dutch films, especially The 4th Man, which works very well as an absurdist “thriller” about one guy’s sexual confusion, but I’m not sure I can. The obvious touchstone is Robocop, where, again, you *have* to attend to the silly ads and newscasts and the glorious hyperbole of its violence and its plot. (Ah, Miguel Ferrer, we hardly knew ye.) But then there’s Showgirls, and you get kind of confused–there’s the hyperbole, but where’s the funny? I think Verhoeven works kind of like a David Lynch of the B-movie set, less satirizing these genres than amping them up to a level of excess that makes their energies more perverse, their effects more surreal.

    My favorite thing about Troopers, aside from lots of big bugs running around decapitating and disemboweling, is Michael Ironside. I am a sucker for bad-ass B-movie stars. If this had been made in the seventies, that role would have gone to John Saxon, a veritable Zeus in the pantheon of the furrow-browed-grimace temple of acting.

    And while Van Dien doesn’t do it for me, the equally plasticine Denise Richards stuck out (ahem) in the wondrous co-ed shower scenes. In the future, boys and girls shower together! How advanced!

    But to get back to your point about this film’s vision of the military–one of Verhoeven’s early films is Soldier of Orange, starring Rutger Hauer (see above re bad-ass B-movie stars) as a ne’er-do-well upper-class sort resisting the Nazis. That film’s resistance to the ideology of the military, both the Nazi baddies and even the basic conventions of the ‘good-guy’ army, seems a lens for looking at Troopers. So does the Dutch experience of WWII, which I recall him referencing when ST came out–the propaganda, its influence on a culture ostensibly distant from fascism. I don’t think you could see ST as pro-military; Arnab’s initial point seems right: it shows more how that ideology works, without giving the audience some easy stance outside to judge. (Hmm. Maybe I’ve just explained why it is in fact a satire, but one without a conventional position for the observer to detach and judge.)

  4. And while Van Dien doesn’t do it for me, the equally plasticine Denise Richards stuck out (ahem) in the wondrous co-ed shower scenes. In the future, boys and girls shower together! How advanced!

    denise richards isn’t actually in any shower scenes, co-ed or otherwise. it is the other woman (dina meyer) who bares her breasts (and later has sex) and so is killed at the end.

  5. What a wonderful slip on Reynolds’s part. I know he’s got a thing for Richards–so much so that her actual presence in a scene is not a requirement.

  6. You’ve seen two fake breasts, you’ve seen them all. My apologies to Ms. Richards, or to Ms. Meyer. Or to their respective surgeons.

    I of course was chastely ignoring the nudity, while admiring the future people’s revolutionary approach to cleanliness.

  7. ms. meyer’s breasts, as represented in the film, do not look to be surgically enhanced. strange how reynolds sees large breasts even when he’s not looking at them.

  8. Don’t let Reynolds’ pervesions get the best of this thread.

    Something is up with Starship Troopers / Verhoeven.

    Soldier of Orange was featured in Z Channel and seems well worth seeing. I like the comparison to Lynch a lot. Especially in light of Kyle McLachlan’s – Lynch’s on-screen alter-ego for so many years – role in Showgirls. But I have a few other thoughts on S.T..

    I’ll say this: The good guys are cast as the nazis in this “satire.” 1. The film of the kids squashing bugs is based on a Nazi propaganda film wherein the bugs were jews (no actual jews were squashed in the making of Starship Troopers.) 2. Neil Patrick Harris’ excellent black leather coat is – like most good 20th century leather fashion – based on nazi design. 3. (the kicker): Theis white hero guy in the film, and maybe other characters too – where are they supposed to be from? Rio. Brazil. Yet, there’s not a single brown or black skinned person in this film – not even in the cannon fodder. It’s as if Verhoeven has reimagined an earth where even Brazil is populated by strong-chinned clean-cut Riefenstahl-approved white folk.

    It is possible that Starship Troopers imagines some sort off Aryan wet-dream world that itself comes under attack by giant bugs?

    Sure, it’s a fascist world; we know. Citizens are those who have served in the army and managed to survive. But how does Verhoeven (or even Heinlein, whose book I’ve never read) imagine that this futuristic world even came to exist?

    In any case, these eager-to-fight-and-serve white faces are what we’re supposed to identify with (but man, it’s a weird detached sort of empathy isn’t it?), but all indications are that these are the sons and daughters of people who had commited horrible sins on earth in the past. I sure wouldn’t expect to see Adam Goldberg cast as a bug-killin’ soldier in S.T. Or Ice Cube for that matter.

  9. mark, if you’re really desperate for a laugh some night you should read the websites that fans of heinlein’s book have put up excoriating verhoeven’s film. they seem to get that their favorite writer is being made fun of. one of them does point out, however, that the book is far more ethnically diverse than the film is (the character in the book is juan “johnny” rico”, in the film he’s just johnny rico). and the city in the beginning is buenos aires. but i don’t think we’re supposed to identify with these characters in the usual sense (as you suggest). i think in this film they’re all white because in films like this they’re usually all white–in fact, jake busey is white enough for everyone (though not as white as he is in contact, where he’s almost albino).

    but you’re as wrong about there not being brown or black cannon fodder as reynolds is about breasts. van dien is put in his place a number of times by a couple of black “roughnecks”–after his inital company/platoon/whatever gets massacred. you need to watch it a few more times to get it down–this time you’ll notice not only that the black guy puts van dien down but that later he all but proclaims him his master. so yes, some funky racial politics. but as to whether this is supposed to function as a further critique of an aryan fantasy-future, as you wonder, i’m not sure either.

  10. I don’t remember that scene at all, but will take your word on it.

    But I dont agree with this: “i think in this film they’re all white because in films like this they’re usually all white”

    Aren’t these films usually striving to be a multicultural microcosm of ethnicities and stereotypes that have to learn to fight together instead of fighting each other?

    In Aliens there was the “Vasquez,” as mentioned before there’s frequently Ice Cube (Anaconda) or LL Cool J (S.W.A.T.), even Empire Strikes Back had Lando.

  11. From my viewing experience, in every squad there’s usually the wisecracking but secretly vulnerable Italian from Brooklyn, the shy kid from the Midwest, the friendly and raunchy inner city black guy and perhaps the sensitive book-worm Jew who may later turn out to write the book about his war experiences (sometimes the kid from Brooklyn is the Jew). And then the Sarge of course–perhaps of Eastern European stock but rather undefinable origins-wise but always white. As for Starship, I take it as a deadpan spoof and the casting of perfect specimens of humanity contributes to that sense–polished teeth and large breasts out to save the human “race.”

  12. paul verhoeven at the onion’s av club. here are the starship troopers related bits:

    AVC: In order to get a film like, say, Starship Troopers made, do you have to sell the studio on a giant bug movie, then sneak in the satirical commentary?

    PV: Sneaking in [those elements] was never something that I intended to do. They were all in the script. In my opinion, the movie got made because there were so many regime changes at Sony at that time, one after the other. Mike Medavoy disappeared, then Marc Platt came in, then Bob Cooper came in, and so on. There were five or six changes, and I don’t think anyone ever looked at the movie! All the satire was in the script from the beginning, but they might not have been really aware of it, or had read it precisely. By the time one of them might have understood what movie I was going to make, he was already gone. The next group came in. I think we slipped through this labyrinth of changing regimes until finally the movie was done. By then, it had become a stable regime, but then, of course, the movie was already made. It was not that I was lying to anybody. It was already in the script, all this ironic stuff, all this hyperbolic stuff, all this playing with fascism or fascist imagery to point out certain aspects of American society, that was all in the script.

    AVC: What do you think of the film now with regard to the way the current war was generated? It almost seems like they were following that same script.

    PV: Well, yeah. If you were very nice to the movie, you would call it prophetic. But we never thought of Starship Troopers as a warning, or something like that. When we were working on the [Robert] Heinlein book, we felt like we had something that was pretty militaristic, pretty right-wing, and you could even say had a tendency to be fascist. We felt we should counter that with irony and other means to make it interesting to ourselves. And, of course, there was a built-in situation that we sensed at that time and that was visible. The new conservatives had already written many articles, and I think we used some of that thinking, and what we saw happening. Although this was all still during the Clinton years, of course, it was vaguely there. I think we picked it up, because we saw it and perhaps it annoyed us, but then, in a pretty playful way, we put it in the movie as a kind of second layer. And of course, the movie is about “Let’s all go to war and let’s all die.” That was clear from the beginning. Not that I had in mind that this would become kind of a reality in the years that followed Clinton. That would have been really prophetic. [Screenwriter Ed Neumeier and I] were just tapping things that we saw at that time, and then extrapolated, unfortunately into a direction that life took.

    AVC: That film is really subversive and has found a cult following, but it was so badly misinterpreted in some circles.

    PV: It was terrible, and quite punishing. There was an article in the Washington Post—the editorial, not the review—that said the movie was fascist, and the writing and directing were neo-Nazi, or whatever they wrote, that was extremely punishing to us, because that article was picked up, before the film came out, by the whole European press. The movie was introduced to the Europeans as a fascist movie, as a neo-Nazi movie. Which it was not, of course, it was the contrary of that. When we came on our promotion tour to these countries that had been fascist, notably Germany and Italy, and France to a certain degree, it was a continuous fight with the journalists, explaining to them that the movie basically used fascist imagery, and was using images of Leni Riefenstahl to point out a fascist situation.

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