Jump to content
Welcome to the new Earwolf Forums! Read more... ×
DaltonMaltz

Episode 128 - Starship Troopers (w/ Jordan Hoffman)

Episode 128 - Starship Troopers (w/ Jordan Hoffman)  

48 members have voted

  1. 1. Should "Starship Troopers" enter The Canon? (NOTE: If "Starship Troopers" is inducted, "RoboCop" will be permanently barred from consideration.)



Recommended Posts

Host of Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast Jordan Hoffman joins Amy this week to discuss the 1997 sci-fi action film “Starship Troopers.” They break down the multiple interpretations of fascism the film presents and how the most likely one was influenced by director Paul Verhoeven’s wartime upbringing. Then, they discuss the film’s concentration on the human body, why what it doesn’t show is as important as what it does, and how it fits into our cultural narrative twenty years later. Lastly, they dive into a conversation about the fascinating gender politics within “Starship Troopers.”

Share this post


Link to post

Look, I'm not going to lie Starship Troopers is fairly genius in its satire of fascism, especially relevant in today's climate, BUTTTTTT Robocop is, I think, a stronger film overall, and its a better execution of its satirical ideas. I think that the satire in Robocop is more readily accessible and less likely to misconstrue, while, as you discussed in the podcast, even the satire of Starship Troopers was lost on Roger Ebert. I think Starship Troopers under normal circumstances could be inducted into the canon, but if it comes down to it, I think Robocop is a better film, more culturally relevant, and deserves to get a chance to be in the canon more than Starship Troopers should be in the canon.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post

Hearty yes even with the Robocop addendum. At this point, both films have a pretty high cultural relevance that perhaps fluctuates depending on when you were born. Starship Troopers is, ultimately, the smarter film for me and more tightly-plotted and nuanced in its satire. Also, for my money, it has a much better understanding of its female characters and doesn't commit the sin of wasting Nancy Allen, which is unforgivable.

 

But I don't want to make this comment all about Robocop. I saw Starship Troopers as a kid and took it totally seriously and have only realized recently that's its not meant to be taken that way. The fact that it succeeds on both levels really speaks to why it deserves to be in The Canon. Dizzy's death is still one of the most upsetting deaths I've ever seen in a movie and it speaks to how effectively Verhoeven uses gratuitous violence to emphasize his anti-fascist point. Also, the character work is strong all around. The point made in the podcast about how shocking it is when most of the company dies cannot be overstated. This film is brutal in its depiction of war and the way it fundamentally changes the characters without bashing us over the head with that meaning.

 

Really hopes this makes it in.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post

It will be interesting to see how this vote turns out. I think there's little doubt that RoboCop is more influential than Starship Troopers, but I think the latter is probably a more interesting film.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post

I won't be surprised if this gets voted in, but I vote no.

 

I definitely understand what Verhoeven is doing in this movie, taking Nazi iconography and exaggerating it to such a degree. It certainly plays better now than it did when I saw it as a teenager in 1997 and thought it was just a dumb, mildly diverting sci-fi action movie (agreed with Jordan that the ad campaign featuring the Blur song probably didn't help this movie's reception).

 

That said, I also don't think it's fair to blame critics at the time (or even now) for missing the point. It depends on your focus while watching it. Verhoeven's exaggerated presentation is clearly satirical, but the underlying narrative is not. There's no turn in the story, no obvious instance where the Nazism of the universe is criticized or mocked other than in visual cues. In essence, the film's approach towards satirizing Nazis is to crank them up to 11. Personally, I find this approach slightly inadequate. I don't doubt the filmmakers' sincerity, but I think doing it this way has left them open to a whole lot of misinterpretation (as the straight-ahead sequels would seem to indicate).

 

I'm not a big fan of tying this to RoboCop at the last second, but if that is the choice then I prefer RoboCop. That film has some of the usual Verhoeven excesses, but also a narrative that is built around criticizing the police state in which it takes place. Maybe it's not as interesting to talk about after the fact, but it's more functional and better realized on the whole.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post

I think the important question is whether white supremacists will watch the movie and see how cool it is to be in a fascist civilization. Everyone else will see the exaggeration but if actual Nazis show admiration for it in similar vain to Fight Club is it really effective satire. In the Trump-era I see a lot of comments about how the white(washed) characters take down the bugs as if they were "snowflake liberals". Since there is no turn, no direct mockery of the main characters who are victorious at the end I cannot in good conscious vote Starship Troopers into the Canon.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post

I think the important question is whether white supremacists will watch the movie and see how cool it is to be in a fascist civilization. Everyone else will see the exaggeration but if actual Nazis show admiration for it in similar vain to Fight Club is it really effective satire. In the Trump-era I see a lot of comments about how the white(washed) characters take down the bugs as if they were "snowflake liberals". Since there is no turn, no direct mockery of the main characters who are victorious at the end I cannot in good conscious vote Starship Troopers into the Canon.

 

Even Fight Club has a narrative in which Tyler Durden is ultimately defeated. There's nothing like that in Starship Troopers.

Share this post


Link to post

It's unfortunate that this has arbitrarily been turned into a pseudo versus episode. I would have voted yes on Starship Troopers, but I think Robocop is the better and more culturally important of the two films. :(

Share this post


Link to post

I only saw Starship Troopers earlier this year on blu-ray. I was bored through a lot of it. I loved the melodrama and satire. But, the action and CGI monsters were awful and tiring: made for the 13 year olds. Maybe if those scenes were cut by half, or made smarter, I could see it for the Canon.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post

I believe that Paul Verhoeven definitely deserves a place in The Canon. STARSHIP TROOPERS would be as good an addition as any, even if it's not my personal favorite, but is a good representation of his tone and style. But I still feel rather conflicted here. Not because of the potential of ROBOCOP's exclusion. I could live with one over the other. But like Amy, I feel like The Canon is getting a little crowded with movies like STARSHIP TROOPERS. The kind of cult favorite that is a fairly standard genre flick on its surface, but has enough unique subtext to set it apart and make it seem like a better movie than a "Woo Hoo" trailer would suggest. TROOPERS definitely qualifies there. I remember the surprise I felt when I first saw it, that this killer alien bug movie was actually more of a military dystopia film. And that certainly adds a fascinating layer to this film, but one that I don't think completely eclipses the action adventure to make it an essential entry into The Canon. Jordan made a very strong case for it though, and he made me appreciate the film even more than I already do. And yes, while I may prefer ROBOCOP, ELLE, or even (somewhat guiltily) TOTAL RECALL, I would accept a Yes Vote granting access to STARSHIP TROOPERS. However there's one more thing that is holding me back. Just like how Amy is annoyed that these culty sci-fi and horror flicks keep finding their way in, I'm annoyed how the kinds of films that gave birth to the modern throw-back cult genre have been too often ignored. That's right, I'm still bitter that THE TINGLER, a kind of matinee B movie that a film like STARSHIP TROOPERS is emulating, didn't get in. In my opinion, these films have more in common than they appear to on the surface, and so I think I'm going to vote a respectful NO to STARSHIP TROOPERS. I like it, but The Canon isn't just for films I like.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post

I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this movie so I'm glad this came up for consideration. I'm not sure I would have ever watched it if not, even though it was huge when I was a kid and I always felt like I had missed it growing up. That said, it's not Canon worthy. As some others on here said, it's too easy to walk away with a pro fascist reading. The satire was clear to me in the first few minutes, but considering how the alt right has taken The Matrix and Fight Club and twisted their meanings, this one seems far easier. Of course I cringe when Neil Patrick Harris says the brain bug is afraid, but real fascists would see something like that and cheer (much like the crowd does) at defeating the enemy (the libtard leftists). Does that mean the movie should have been less subtle? I don't know. I'm definitely conflicted on this one but I think I have to give it the slightest nudge to a No vote. I do like it and I'll definitely revisit it at some point, and I won't be upset if it makes it in.

 

And to clear this up, did anyone catch Amy's final vote? Is she a Yes or No? Sounds like she's leaning No but does like the movie overall.

Share this post


Link to post

Starship Troopers all the way! It's a better movie (and a better satire) than Robocop. I think it's a dumb ultimatum, but Starship Troopers should definitely get a yes vote. I only saw it for the first time 3-4 years ago, and I loved it immediately. I don't understand how people missed the satire; it's clear as day. I've seen it 4-5 times since, and it's just as good every time. I've avoided the sequels, though.

Share this post


Link to post

My vote is yes.

 

Starship Troopers is a provocative response to All Quiet on the Western Front which is appropriate since they have virtually identical stories. Both films follow young people who go on a dehumanizing odyssey through the horrors of war.

 

However ,where Paul Verhoeven breaks with Lewis Milestone is that the meat grinder of war doesn't turn soldiers into disillusioned shells but mechanized tools of the state; an effective social control to pull young people further towards the credos of racism, nationalism and militarism.

 

In that respect it's even more pessimistic than Verhoeven's RoboCop where Alex Murphy ultimately overcomes his dehumanization by the corporate state to reassert his humanity. Conversely, Johnny Rico descends deeper into the propaganda of the Federation until his sense of self is completely subsumed. I've always found his speech at Dizzy's funeral the most chilling aspect of the movie and the moment we realize Rico is lost for good:

 

Someone asked me once if I knew the difference between a civilian and a citizen. I know now. A citizen has the courage to make the safety of the human race their personal responsibility. Dizzy was my friend. She was a soldier. But most important, she was a citizen of the Federation.

Share this post


Link to post

I started the episode thinking I'd be a no for the same reason that a lot of people here are citing to: that there's no turn, that the movie never explicitly says that it's against fascism. But during the great discussion I realized that it's exactly what makes the movie so brilliant.

 

In never making that turn, Verhoeven shows us what actually makes fascism so terrifying: that in some respects, it works. At least this far in the war, blind jingoism is making headway against the aliens. Starship Troopers challenges us to feel uncomfortable with the fact that fascist propaganda, while it can warp the minds of young people, it can also and serve to kill a seemingly unstoppable enemy like the bug aliens. It makes viewers feel the joy that comes with a victory, then feel uncomfortable with feeling that joy in knowing that it forces clueless teens like Rico to their deaths.

 

The only other movie that I can think of that challenges its viewers in this daring way is Blue Velvet. Here Lynch makes us sit through a disgustingly saccharine penultimate scene, wherein a robin previously discussed in a cheesy monologue by Laura Dern earlier in the movie appears and everyone laughs. While some viewers leave the movie thinking it ends in a very corny way, Lynch is juxtaposing it with the omnipresent darkness, highlighting the latter.

 

We should have movies like Starship Troopers and Blue Velvet in The Canon because they play with our understanding of how a movie viewer's expectations/perceptions work, in order to challenge us both intellectually and emotionally.

 

Also I've never seen Robocop, but I find it hard to believe that it works at as high a level as this.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post

Roger Ebert actually noted the satire in his review:

"Heinlein intended his story for young boys, but wrote it more or less seriously. The one redeeming merit for director Paul Verhoeven's film is that by remaining faithful to Heinlein's material and period, it adds an element of sly satire. This is like the squarest but most technically advanced sci-fi movie of the 1950s, a film in which the sets and costumes look like a cross between Buck Rogers and the Archie comic books, and the characters look like they stepped out of Pepsodent ads.

[...]

Discussing the science of "Starship Troopers'' is beside the point. Paul Verhoeven is facing in the other direction. He wants to depict the world of the future as it might have been visualized in the mind of a kid reading Heinlein in 1956. He faithfully represents Heinlein's militarism, his Big Brother state, and a value system in which the highest good is to kill a friend before the Bugs can eat him. The underlying ideas are the most interesting aspect of the film.

What's lacking is exhilaration and sheer entertainment. Unlike the "Star Wars'' movies, which embraced a joyous vision and great comic invention, "Starship Troopers'' doesn't resonate. It's one-dimensional. We smile at the satirical asides, but where's the warmth of human nature?"

I've seen multiple fans of this film point to Ebert as a person who failed to understand that it was satire, but he did. He just didn't like it. And I'm in the same boat.

 

The lecture in school about how (unlimited suffrage) democracy collapsed is actually in Heinlein's book. His idea that veterans councils gradually re-established order might have been inspired by GIs returning from WW2 who violently overthrew the machine government of McMinn county Tennessee. But as you alluded to, the original "soviets" were "soldiers & workers councils" with grievances over the tsar's (and later, the provisional government's) handling of the first world war, and in Germany the "freikorps" of demobilized veterans were important in putting down revolts near the end of the war and afterward (as well as sometimes participating in putschs themselves).

 

The most recent Verhoeven films I watched were Soldier of Orange and Black Book, both about the Dutch resistance in WW2. The former is based on the protagonist's memoir, and I would not describe it as "anti-war". It's against the OTHER SIDE, but isn't that generally the case in war? The resistance is highly imperfect and the overall strategic objective they're serving isn't the one they think (the British want to keep the Germans on alert there so they won't suspect the invasion will be elsewhere), but it ultimately seems worth the fight. Black Book humanizes one of the Germans more, and there are attempts made to make a sort of truce between sides rather than engaging in reprisals, and afterward the retribution taken by the victors on collaborators takes on a shameful light, so it's not just "hooray for our side" (although Carice van Houten's protagonist is if anything more idealized than Rutger Hauer's was). There is an airborne bombing in the former movie of the sort Verhoven himself witnessed as a child. Verhoven stated that he greatly enjoyed this time, regarding it as an exciting adventure, and that childish enthusiasm does seem to carry over into his action films.

 

Rico being a Tagalog-speaking Filipino is relevant to the world depicted in Heinlein's book, because it's a global society rather than a nationalistic one of a fascist state (although one could argue that nationalism simply expanded to include Earth and exclude extraterrestrial species, with the "skinnies" perhaps being analogous to those eastern european states who collaborated with the Germans after being invaded). A lot of people say the casting of actors with limited talent who look like models is intentional, but I say it still results in bad acting. You don't get to make a bad movie and then just say "I meant to do that" as an excuse. Something like Garth Merengi's Darkplace can produce a steady stream of laughs through a mock tv show of poor quality, but Starship Troopers is far closer to just being a mediocre action scifi movie than a comedy.

 

To me the question of whether Starship Troopers or Robocop belongs in the Canon is a no-brainer: the latter was an enormously successful film (it even had a children's cartoon!) which they tried (and failed) to remake just recently. The former basically ended Verhoeven's career but has a cult following among people who think all the detractors just don't realize it's satire (they should check out The Four-Dimensional Matrix of Starship Troopers Criticism for all the possible evaluations of the film, written by one of its fans).

 

Amy's comment about Heinlein's fears of the hierarchical Soviet Union reminded me of James Burnham, the ex-communist who joined the anti-communist right. His fellow Trotskyist-turned-anticommunist George Orwell notably criticized Burnham's "power worship" in the aftermath of WW2, but his own writings sometimes seem somewhat Burnham-esque (Asimov thought the society of 1984 was implausibly stable & functional). If you remove Verhoeven's satirical fascism from source material, you still have Heinlein saying it's folly to expect an end to war and that violence was ultimately the solution to Hitler. Hans Morgenthau made a similar sort of argument in the aftermath of the war in Scientific Man vs Power Politics. But afterward the world got peaceful enough that Steve Pinker could write "The Better Angels of Our Nature" on the long-term trend of falling violence which would seem to validate those pre-war optimists Morgenthau criticized.

Edited by FictionIsntReal

Share this post


Link to post

What might have been a soft yes is a soft no because Robocop is a hard yes (nice putting your thumb on the scale, Amy). But Starship Troopers is pretty great.

 

I remember seeing this during college in the theater with friends when it came out, expecting nothing more than a splattery sci-fi action flick. I remember picking up on the underlying fascist and militaristic themes, and being uncertain as to whether they were being mocked or embraced (not knowing anything at the time about Verhoeven personally), and my resulting growing discomfort. And I remember getting to the end, when Doogie Howser walks out to the cowering brain bug dressed like a Gestapo officer only to declare triumphantly that “It’s afraid!” and relaxing, because it was clear that Verhoeven knew exactly what he was doing.

 

And postscript, I remember that cheap second run theater in the 50s and miss it too.

Share this post


Link to post

I'm waiting to cast a vote because I'm genuinely curious what people think about the number of entries into the canon that fit a certain criteria. Should we allow all movies that are genuinely great, or just the best example of a certain trend in filmmaking? Is it redundant to have Evil Dead II and Re-Animator, or is it the more the merrier? I love Starship Troopers and find it's characters to be far more compelling and fleshed out than anyone in Robocop, so that's not really my hang up. I do think that a larger discussion should be had (and I may start a new thread for it) about redundancy vs. options within a time period/genre of film. Let me know what y'all think.

Share this post


Link to post

Jesus Amy. If Starship Troopers gets in, that means no Robocop? So unfair. Robocop is a much better movie and the foreshadowing of trash TV to the militarization of the police should automatically elect the film for canonization. I didn’t like ST when it first came out and still don’t care for it. The movie does have its B movie charms. But it’s still not a great film. At least not worth being in The Canon.

Share this post


Link to post

Making this about Starship Troopers vs. Robocop makes this a tough choice, and while I agree with almost everything Jordan said, and while I do love this movie, I cannot in good conscience say this belongs in The Canon over Robocop. I love Starship Troopers for all the same reasons you guys did, but Robocop is just more indelible, more daring, and more imaginative. It's also more personal, more creative and more interesting of a movie in my opinion.

 

I love Starship Troopers, I really do. I want it in The Canon so badly. But not at the expense of Robocop which unquestioningly belongs as a cultural icon and touchstone. Robocop had actionfigures, an animated series, a TV show, video games, comic books, it's in the cultural lexicon. Starship Troopers, as great as it is, is still just that other Paul Verhoeven movie. If I could take them both, that would be great, but if I have to pick one...it's got to be Robocop.

 

Really this is your fault. It's not fair to Starship Troopers to put it up against Robocop. There's room for both I say!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post

I've been spending the whole week pondering this episode, trying to figure out what I want to say. I think many others have touched on excellent points about Robocop and seeing the tie in the votes currently shows the absolute problem with arbitrarily turning this into a versus episode.

 

I do not think the two movies, Robocop and Starship Troopers, are truly comparable. I think Robocop was called an 80s sci-fi film and I think that label is absolutely wrong. Robocop is a superhero movie. The arc of the film, focused on Alex Murphy, follows the arc of the origin story of a superhero (movie). The story elements treat the science more like grounded fantasy as would be found in superhero origin stories like, say, Darkman or Batman (1989) from the era. The tropes of Robocop are superhero tropes.

 

Verhoeven's science fiction films, Total Recall, Hollow Man, or Starship Troopers have more in common with each other as they are clear allegorical tales, to varying successes. Robocop, yes, has allegorical elements, but again, contains leans more on superhero tropes, not science fiction tropes which includes allegory in a very different way than superhero's use allegory. Starship Troopers is so clearly a satirical fascist propaganda film where the story is perfunctory whereas Robocop is a superhero origin story with light satirical Reagan/80s Corporate world as backdrop.

 

Finally, I was going to abstain from voting, but I decided to come down on the side of Starship Troopers. I thought about which film is the better Verhoeven and Starship Troopers is tighter, clearer in vision, and makes a stronger point with its satire. I feel Robocop, while brilliant, is a little sloppier in its presentation.

 

Please give us a better heads up next time there is an arbitrary versus episode. I do not think anyone was happy with that decision. With a tie, I hope Starship Troopers gets in and Robocop will someday show up on another episode. (Robocop vs. Darkman!)

Share this post


Link to post

So, so weird to be on the negative side of this. I have been an unrepentant defender of Starship Troopers since it came out (as can be attested to by the many customers who suffered through my pro-Starship Troopers rants when I worked in a video store), but I think the pendulum has now swung too far in the other direction. It's better than was appreciated in '97, but nowhere near as deep or subversive as it's now given credit for.

 

One thing that everybody seems to have missed is that the filmmakers (both Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier) wanted to have their cake and it eat too--and got neither. Like the 1966 incarnation of Batman, RoboCop managed the impressive feat of working on two different levels for two different audiences, and it's obvious that Neumeier and Verhoeven thought they could pull this off again with Starship Troopers.

 

But Starship Troopers was not a smash hit by any measure, and it sure as shit didn't make any kind of lasting impression on a populace that sleepwalked into the Iraq war a few years later. Jingoism--and I would argue that the satiric target of this film is jingoism, not fascism (even given how loosely the latter is defined these days)--was on full, unironic display in the real-life military ramp-up after 9/11.

 

Of course, just because the audience didn't get it (and still doesn't get it, frankly, based on some of the comments I've read in this thread), doesn't necessarily make the film a failure. (It certainly succeeds as an enjoyable send-up of its own source material.) But is it canon worthy? Honestly, I don't think so.

 

As for RoboCop, I'll save any further comment until it shows up as a contender for the Canon. (Although I have a feeling that if it survives this round, it'll eventually be put up against Brazil or Videodrome or some other 80s sci-fi classic in yet another cruel quandary.)

 

P.S. It's funny that Wonder Woman was brought up during this podcast because (at the risk of shitting all over everyone's Wonder Woman parade) my biggest problem with Wonder Woman is that it is guilty of very unironically indulging in what this film satirizes: Wonder Woman is about nothing more than "might makes right." Superior physical force is the deciding factor in that movie (other than Steve Trevor's self-sacrifice). Ultimately, whoever punches harder wins, and I think that's a shit message for the little girls in the audience. (And the boys, for that matter.)

 

P.P.S. Another casting fun fact... One of the roughnecks is played by Seth Gilliam, aka Carver from The Wire (sorry if anybody else pointed this out already and I missed it).

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post

With a tie, I hope Starship Troopers gets in and Robocop will someday show up on another episode. (Robocop vs. Darkman!)

If it's a tie, I suggest we find a guest host to mount a defense of RoboCop, and put RoboCop up against Starship Troopers in a fair fight.

Share this post


Link to post

This is a slam dunk for The Canon.

 

If They Live, another sci-fi satirical masterpiece is in, then Starship Troopers is 100% in.

 

The film is literally lightning in a bottle and Verhoeven needs to be in the Canon.

 

We will never see another auteur like him again and his work needs to be discussed more, especially in the post-truth Trump era. No other director in Hollywood was able to tweak genres and tropes like he did, but also make wildly popular escapist entertainment at the same time.

 

Yes to Verhoeven, yes to the amazing Dina Meyer, yes to Casper Van Dien not knowing what film he is in and yes to the subversive anti-fascism that permeates the entire film.

Share this post


Link to post

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×