There are some articles that deserve to be fisked, as done by people like Larry Correia. One of them popped up in my Facebook feed yesterday: Starship Troopers: One Of The Most Misunderstood Movies Ever (Calum Marsh).
And really, this is an article that needs Larry’s touch, because I lack his skill at pointing out the gamut of untruths and misinterpretations. But I’ll give it a go.
I wasn’t expecting the movie version of Starship Troopers to be any good. Despite its reputation in certain circles (mainly those, including Paul Verhoeven, who haven’t read the book) Starship Troopers is not a ‘blood and gore’ splatter-fest. Indeed, one of the reasons I put the book down the first time I picked it up was because there was very little actual action in the novel. Starship Troopers exists on many levels, but at its core it is both the story of a young man maturing into an adult (and becoming a military officer) and a digression on the nature of society. The movie took the first part of the story (tuning out the second part entirely), dressed it up in blood and gore, added a romance that was largely platonic in the novel and, in generally, completely ruined it.
In short, Starship Troopers: The Movie is little more than literately character assassination. About the only thing it has in common with the book that actually matches is the title!
The reason I was not expecting the movie to be a great success was because I thought it would be hard to translate the book’s concepts onto the big scene. How does one represent the philosophical side of the novel without boring the audience to death? Paul Verhoeven did not, it would seem, even try. His movie started life as something completely different and, though some fluky mischance, he somehow acquired the rights to call the movie Starship Troopers. As a stand-alone movie, there is little to recommend it; as an interpretation of Heinlein’s novel, it is appallingly bad.
There is, for example, no suggestion in the novel that the government (and frankly, it isn’t a military dictatorship) provoked the conflict with the Bugs. Indeed, there is a strong hint of a reluctance to go to war that surprises many, I think, who only hear about the book through hostile propaganda. Nor are the Mobile Infantry anything like as incompetent as the movie suggests – and powered combat armour, a trope that Heinlein may well have invented, is completely missing from the movie. And, perhaps worst of all, there is a morale inversion between the source material and the movie. In the book, a recruit’s wrist is broken by accident; in the movie, Sergeant Zim deliberately breaks the recruit’s wrist. (This is not the only scene that suggests the movie deliberately warped the book beyond all recognition.)
Calum Marsh suggests, in his article, that “resulting film critiques the military-industrial complex, the jingoism of American foreign policy, and a culture that privileges reactionary violence over sensitivity and reason.” Ignoring the simple fact that neither of the first two played any significant role in Heinlein’s book, the third suggests a reading of international affairs that is more than a little naive. It has been proven, time and time again, that “sensitivity and reason” may not be bad things, but they tend to leave us defenceless against enemies who see them as little more than proof of our weakness. How many times do we have to learn the lesson, over and over again, that appeasing one’s enemies only tends to delay war, rather than prevent it? As the saying goes, it takes two sides to make peace, but only one side to make a war.
Further down, Marsh notes “the conclusion makes a point of deflating any residual sense of heroism and valor: we see our protagonists, having narrowly escaped death during a near-suicidal mission, marching back to battle in a glorified recruitment video—suggesting that in war the only reward for a battle well fought is the prospect of further battle.”
Again, this is a dangerous attitude. Very few wars are fought and won in a single battle. Victory in one battle does not, alas, mean the end of the war. Yet this too is a lesson that has been forgotten by too many of our political leaders. Wars are messy things, the enemy tends to get a vote and there will be many advances and retreats before the war finally comes to an end.
Starship Troopers: The Movie is neither funny nor smart. Part of the reason for that is that the source material is very definitely not satire or parody. The other reason is that it is a simply appalling rendition of a well-known and well-loved book – and, even viewed on its own, it simply isn’t a very good movie. And because it bears the name ‘Starship Troopers,’ it cannot be viewed on its own. In short, it has not been misunderstood.
And if Starship Troopers was a human being, it would be suing for libel.