Some movies get better with age while some just get dated. Then there is another class of movie that is wholly different. These don’t simply get better or worse, but they almost seem to change into something else over the years, something different than what they were when they were first released.
Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers is one of these movies. When it was released, it seemed a standard if somewhat jingoistic action movie, with audiences and critics alike largely missing the satire. Now, the movie seems like something else entirely, which makes it well worth viewing, especially if you’ve never seen it before.
1. It’s Largely Unrelated to the Novel
Though they share a name, characters, and a vague overall structure, director Verhoeven didn’t set out to lovingly capture Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers. As a matter of fact, preproduction on the film was already underway before the rights to the novel were secured. If they hadn’t been secured, we may have seen the movie released under its working title, Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine.
Verhoeven wasn’t even particularly familiar with the book. While script writer Ed Neumeier was a fan, Verhoeven found the book boring and gave it up after a few chapters. This undoubtedly is part of the reason the satire of the film is so biting, as it isn’t seeking to parody the book.
2. It’s About as Verhoeven as Verhoeven Gets
If you’re familiar with Paul Verhoeven’s other work, especially Robocop and Total Recall, you know well what to expect here. Verhoeven and script writer Neumeier even worked together on Robocop. So while the film is plenty violent, frequently in an over the top fashion, this often isn’t violence for its own sake.
Verhoeven was keenly aware of the way the novel glorified war, and set out for the film to turn this concept on its ear. Instead, as Verhoeven states in the DVD commentary, the theme of the film is largely “war makes fascists of us all.” This explains the similarities between the uniforms worn by the characters in the film to Nazi uniforms. Even the opening shot of the film is a shot-for-shot remake of the propaganda film Triumph of the Will.
3. It’s a Product of Its Time…
Lofty as Verhoeven’s intentions may have been, no film made in the 1990s could escape the decade’s inertia, and Starship Troopers is no different. While some of the cast were known before the film, many of them were inexperienced or came from soap opera backgrounds, giving the film a feel similar to a Beverly Hills 90210-style teen soap drama at times.
Putting TV’s Doogie Howser in the role of a military psychic may seem funny now, but when the movie came out, it just seemed like “hey, look, it’s Doogie!” Remember, this was before Neil Patrick Harris pulled his career turnaround. Even the trailers for the movie pushed it as a straight-ahead action movie instead of a satire.
4. …Yet It’s Strangely Relevant Now
Looking at Starship Troopers now, it’s easy to see the movie for the satire it is. The sad fact is that this is probably because of the way the world has changed around us. Fascism has always been a part of our modern world, but it’s far easier to see around the world now than it was in the late ’90s.
Stop paying attention for a second, and you’ll miss a minor detail in the background of the movie: The entire war between the humans and the bugs was sparked by the bugs defending a planet that humanity encroached on, meaning the entire war was our fault.
5. No Reboot Could Possibly Be as Fun
Despite the themes, Starship Troopers is a fun movie. Whether it’s the always off-kilter Jake Busey getting a knife through the hand or the co-ed shower scene that director Verhoeven and other crew members also stripped for to comfort the actors, the movie is out there in the very best sense.
While there is talk of a remake, it would take a miracle for it to be anywhere near as fun. For a preview of how different it may be, look no further than the relatively recent remakes of Robocop and Total Recall.
Prefer the Novel?
As mentioned earlier, if you’re expecting a faithful adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s novel of the same name, you’re looking in the wrong place. In fact, if you’re looking for classic science fiction, you’re not going to find much to love in movies, at least not in movies from the last few decades.
That said, if you’re looking for another read, we’ve got plenty of ideas. Just take a look at our list of classic science fiction novels that still hold up.