FILM (1997)

Flashback: Starship Troopers - audiences didn't get the satire

Most people who watched Paul Verhoeven's film saw it as a sci-fi blast-'em-up and missed its examination of militarism, xenophobia and subjection of the individual to the state

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 31 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 11:35am

Starship Troopers

Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Dina Meyer

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Is satire successful if large parts of the audience miss the mockery? That's the question raised by Starship Troopers, an examination of militarism, xenophobia and subjection of the individual to the state, disguised as a sci-fi blast-'em-up - that most enjoyed as a sci-fi blast-'em-up.

Adapted from a Robert Heinlein novel, it is a propaganda film sent back from the 23rd century. It follows five high school students seeking to become citizens by devoting their lives to the global Federation for "at least two years and as much more as may be required" fighting the Bugs, who colonise planets by hurling their spores into space.

After an amusing, ironic first half of indoctrination (high school and basic training), there is much green goo splatter as various species of Bugs are shot up, amid soap operatics from the rookie soldiers, who keep bumping into each other, it being a small galaxy.

A witty script and Dutch director Paul Verhoeven ( Robocop, Total Recall) elevate the film.

The action is punctuated by newsreels keeping us up to date with the dastardly doings of the Bugs and what the glorious Federation is doing to wipe them off the face of their planet. "The only good Bug is a dead Bug!" snarl patriots, as the commentator intones: "Violence is the only authority."

As well as sloganeering, Nazi uniforms, Leni Riefenstahl's propaganda films and Albert Speer's architecture are all evoked by Verhoeven, who grew up during the second world war in The Hague (the family home was near a regularly bombed German air base), and came to Hollywood's attention with his anti-fascist Soldier of Orange.

Verhoeven said he wanted to seduce Starship Troopers' audience, then get them to ask what they were signing up to. Given that he was coming off the dreadful Showgirls this was a brave decision, but perhaps he could have been braver. It's doubtful many in the audience asked that question.

The second half is all-out CGI bug splattering, probably ensuring its success at the box office, with the hordes waiting patiently through the opening half to enjoy some all-American Bug stompin' … many of them perhaps going on to a mobile infantry life themselves.

Verhoeven said he only got Starship Troopers made because Sony's chiefs changed so often. It has spawned three direct-to-video sequels; last year's was billed a "thrill ride that tops the original!"

There's talk of a remake. Fascism may be satirised, but not Hollywood.

James Porteous