What’s Wrong With This Picture?

In this clip from Starship Troopers the most inspirational speech that Heinlein never wrote is given by a character who – in the book — never went into combat with Johnny Rico.

I saw this link in a sports blog this morning and it set me to thinking about the different reactions to films made from sf/fantasy novels.

Only a few fanwriters got really cranky after seeing Starship Troopers — it was simply too bad. People were much more critical of The Hobbit, perhaps because it hewed more closely to Tolkien. Heinlein needed no defense — the makers of Troopers kept his title and threw away the book (a line I’d credit if I could remember who I stole it from.) To have defended Heinlein would have seemed a case of protesting too much.

My favorite dissection of the movie was performed by James D. Macdonald at “Red Mike’s Reviews”, who walks through Starship Troopers like a sergeant major breaking down a failed training exercise:

Our guys stand shoulder to shoulder, firing at the mass of bugs, using a set of tactics that hasn’t worked well since Gettysburg. Actually, the guys at Gettysburg were a bit better better equipped for what they were doing, since they had artillery (a concept that has been lost, apparently) and weapons with an accurate range of over eight feet. Other lost concepts that would have proved Really Helpful here include close air support, mortars, air-dropped mines, barbed wire, fire, maneuver, cover, concealment, objectives, and useful orders. (I mean, “Kill everything that has more than two legs” is really neat, but “Go to coordinates XXYY, and set up a perimeter. Your covered arc runs from AA through CC. You’ll be linking up with Unit Name on your left and Other Unit Name on your right. Hold the position until you’re relieved by Unit Name. At that time go to YYZZ and await further orders” would have actually been helpful.) Nor, for that matter, do we have armored fighting vehicles, heavy machineguns, shoulder-launched missiles, or other stuff (a spray can of Raid?) that might have come in handy.

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7 thoughts on “What’s Wrong With This Picture?

  1. All too true… that movie made Jenny cease all movie negotiations on other RAH properties…alas, maybe…

  2. “Kept the title and threw away the book” applies even more, of course, to Bladerunner.

  3. Odd you should bring this untimely film up at this late date — I just saw it for the first time a little while ago, and rated it as just about the worst movie I’d ever seen. There are movies that are technically worse — Ed Woods’ Plan 9 From Outer Space is the infamous poster child for bad films. But often a bad film has some redeeming quality. “The Adding Machine,” for example, stars Milo O’Sea and Phyllis Diller in a wildly schizoid 1969 film about an ordinary shmoe driven to murder his shrew of a wife. In the second half of the film he is in heaven, baffled not to be in hell (he is a murderer, after all). The film is so strange that, bad as it is, you can’t stop watching. “Starship Troopers” isn’t bad in the same sense as either of these. It is professionally competent. What’s bad about it is that it is a mass of war movie cliches and militarist ideals that would put Genghis Khan off. Ten minutes into the story and I was wondering whether or not I was watching a satire of Heinlein. I’m getting to my point, finally … while the film may have departed in many ways from Heinlein’s novel, I found it true in essence to everything Heinlein said. What was bad about the film was largely the same stuff that was bad about the book. There is no point in wising for a better production of “Starship Troopers” someday. The special effects may be better, the plot stick closer to the original, and the actors possess greater depth, but it will be the same shtick about the superiority of the military man above the civilian, the same vaguely fascisitc and certainly undemocratic political views, and the same naive glorification of violence. A better job of filming “Starship Troopers” might only have made it worse.

  4. Paul Verhoeven, director of “Starship Troopers”, on the movie:

    “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.” http://www.avclub.com/articles/paul-verhoeven,14078/

  5. Phil Dick did do a lot of whining about Bladerunner, but the product that resulted was a brilliant film. Starship Troopers was such a disaster that Paul Verhoeven has never been given a comparable budget for any subsequent project. I think there’s no question that he set out to defame both the novel and its author, presenting as stupid a movie as could be imagined, and concentrating on details like Neil Patrick Harris in Nazi Drag.

    As for the tactical idiocy exhibited by troops in the film, I believe it was generally based on the “Warhammer Space Marine” franchise, another world in which troops armed with plasma weapons fight in lines and squares that Napoleon would have found anachronistic. It is so incredibly stupid that it has the potential to ruin both gamins and science fiction all on its own.

    If anyone ever wanted to buy the rights back, there would be room for a completely different project. The Verhoeven film ignored everything that made the book cool, even including the Mobile Infantry’s ability to drop from orbit and fight on the bounce. One could write an accurate adaptation, title it something different, and no one would know the projects were from the same source.

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