Friday’s Turkey: Starship Troopers or Starship Bloopers

My personal recommendation, read the novel, avoid the movie…unless you’re really in the mood for a solidly low-end of mediocre action movie.

I am a fan of controversy, anyone who knows me can tell you this.  One of my favorite things in the world is a good debate (I think some people call them fights). Now don’t take this to mean that I like pointless argument–I’m not going to go around in circles with someone about what color the carpet should be or which is the best flavor of ice cream. I am a fan of controversy because controversy makes us think about things, makes us consider viewpoints which are foreign to us, and, if we keep an open mind, makes us assess the weaknesses and difficulties of our own positions.


Such a Great Book

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein is a book that has been causing controversy since 1959. Over the years it has weathered accusations of promoting and supporting militarism, fascism, utopianism, and racism, among many more, less public, accusations. It has successfully weathered these attacks and come out on top because it is a great novel. In fact in 1960 it won the Hugo Award* for best novel.  On top of all of this, it happens to be one of my all-time favorite novels**.

Starship Troopers raises many social and political questions, primarily (at least for me) revolving around the nature of social responsibility and the individual. Lesser themes include the nature of justice, punishment, and redemption along with the nature and purpose of violence and its positive and negative affects on the individual. Heinlein creates a world where the acceptance of social responsibility, in the form of Federal Service***, is a prerequisite for full citizenship and voting rights. His argument is that only those who have shown a willingness to sacrifice for the good of the whole should have the right to make decisions about the whole.

He differentiates between a justice system designed to promote reeducation or redemption and a system designed to punish in the hope of eradicating crime. One of the most memorable lines in the book, and one of my favorite lines, is delivered by Lt. Col. Jean V Dubios:  ‘For any punishment to be truly effective it must be both cruel and unusual’. The context in which this line is delivered is a discussion of the nature of punitive justice, if the goal is to punish the offenders and discourage future activity then the punishment must be as horrific as possible. Alternately if the goal is to rehabilitate the offender then the ‘punishment’ must be much less harsh. Heinlein seems to think that both punitive justice and redemptive justice must be a part of the justice system for it to be effective.

But Such a Horrible Movie

I remember in 1997 when the movie Starship Troopers was released. My family went to see it together–we are all fans of the book and so we had been looking forward to the movie with ever increasing anticipation****. The movie was a horrible slight to the book, truly horrible. Not only was this film, written by Edward Neumeier and directed by Philip Verhoeven, a poor movie in the first place*****. On top of this the movie, as a whole, felts like a recruitment add for Nazi Germany, which was intentional according to Verhoeven******. Normally I am a fan of satire, however Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers does not cause the audience to ask questions*******.  It instead attempts to silence the questions which the book provokes.

This movie most certainly makes the turkey list because it not only attempts to make a mockery of one of the 20th century’s best science fiction novels but also because it does it so poorly. The movie is plagued with poor acting********, worse effects, and detestable writing. Where the novel inspires controversy, invites questions about politics, society, and morality; the movie inspires a slight adrenaline rush followed by a good deal of yawning, and invites nothing but contempt. My personal recommendation, read the novel, avoid the movie…unless your really in the mood for a solidly low-end of mediocre action movie*********.


*The Hugo Award is Science Fiction’s most prestigious award and has been given annually since 1955.

**’Which of course matters more than any of the rest of this’ you say sarcastically…that’s right…I can read your minds…I have many powers.

***Federal Service is not necessarily military service according to the book, though the only example of Federal Service shown in the book is the armed forces.

****This exuberance was slightly dulled when it was announced that they had opted out of having the powered armor in the movie due to costs…that made us very sad.

*****Really, the dead soldiers are clearly mannequins, they didn’t even try to make them look real…you can see were the arms attach on some of them.

******Verhoeven is one of the major voices accusing the book of promoting fascism, though according to one article he has admitted that he never actually finished reading it.  The moral here, if you’re going to make a movie about a book…read the book.

*******The point of good satire is to invite questions, normally about the morality, ethics, or practicality of the status quo. (For examples of good satire see The Simpsons, Dogma, Office Space, Idiocracy, Family Guy [First two to three seasons only], Dead Like Me).

********Michael Ironside is the only actor in the movie who even begins to play his part well…it’s too bad that the part was so terrible.

*********I think I might have gone a little overboard on the notes here.


About noothergods

I hate writing these things. Ok, a little bit about me. I split my time between this world and other worlds so I'm only here about 25% to 50% of the time. Other times my body might be here (or you never know it might not) but I am off somewhere else having strange and usually pretty horrible adventures. I consider myself a scholar of Christian Theology and of Religion in general, I love learning about other people's belief systems. I think that Shinto is fascinating and I'm obsessed with the theology of sin...and with monkeys...I don't know why I'm obsessed with monkeys but I blame Gus...if you know him you'll understand that, if you don't then...well...I blame Gus. Anyway, I'm the one of the blog that needs to be censored the most so if there's anything posted that you find offensive it was probably me. I think that my brain doesn't really work the way it's supposed to but that's an issue for a whole other time. I have two degrees, a B.S. in Religion and an M.Div. in leadership. I enjoy a great many things some of which include writing (gee, what a surprise), martial arts, anything media that has a good story to tell, cooking, discussing/reading/occasionally writing about Christian theology, General theology, religious belief systems, philosophy, etc. I also enjoy reading medieval and previous magical texts and studying the history, practice, and beliefs about magic from around the world. I don't practice magic and if you want to know my personal beliefs on the subject you can email me, however the intersection of magic and religion is a very interesting topic.

Posted on November 26, 2010, in Books, Educational Resources, Political, Science Fiction, Social Commentary, Tobias Mastgrave, Turkey Posts and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Well said.*

    *Even the foonotes.**

    **Well, most of them.***

    ***Which ones, you might ask?****

    ****And I might answer . . . or not.

  2. Starship Troopers – one of the best books ever made into one of the worst movies ever. and i do mean ever. although occassionally I watch it on TV as a comedy.

    loved all the out of control notes tho!

  3. The movie was pretty comical and I actually do think that Ironside pulls off the crazy, fascist Raczack well…problem is that the Raczack in the book wasn’t crazy or fascist.
    I also love Zim’s speech about how you can’t push a button if you can’t use your hand, it cracks me up every time.

  4. Totally agree!
    I have watched all three movies in the series.
    Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, we loved reading science-fiction, especially in the summer. Our teachers encouraged summer reading. Sadly, times have changed.
    Happy holidays!

  5. I tend to agree with you — the book is superior to the movie and most definitely a classic. However, I’m not convinced that Heinlein’s politics in Starship Troopers aren’t dangerous (remember, he wanted it to be considered one of his JUVENILE novels) — extreme jingoism/ultra pro-military etc. I tend to think the controversial nature of the politics was the reason for Haldeman to write The Forever War (winner of the Hugo as well) — a vicious satire written in response to Starship Troopers — something Haldeman has downplayed — although it engages with many of the same themes etc.

    Definitely read The Forever War (and the loosely connect sequel, Forever Peace — won the Hugo as well) if you haven’t.

    Nice review!

    • The Forever War came up in some of the background research I was doing for this. I haven’t read it though I plan to when I get the time. I agree that Heinlein’s politics can be dangerous but he raises some very good points as well, especially where the justice system is concerned. Also Heinlein himself admitted that the novel was pro-military, but he vehemently refused accusations that it was militaristic. His argument was that those who have sacrificed for the common good should be honored for the character of their sacrifice, not that war was a good, noble, or honorable thing in and of itself (though he did note it’s practicality). In fact he attempted to portray war as a very negative thing in the book, though I’m not sure he succeeded.

  6. The fact that the novel has raised this much discussion has to be a good thing as well!! It certainly makes people think — I read it at least 9 years ago or else I would engage with more specifics.

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