Something That Is NOT Satire

28 Nov

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.

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14 Responses to “Something That Is NOT Satire”

  1. Rob Godfrey November 28, 2015 at 7:09 pm #

    The government presented in Starship Troopers (the book) while not fascist is warped in my view, but the reasons presented for WHY it became a soldier worshiping society to the degree presented, appearing to view people who haven’t seen combat as somehow less than fully human, at least make a kind of sense (tho admittedly required Heinlein to straw man philosophies he disagreed with to a large degree and present their adherents as moronic, to bring those events about). The film was…complete idiots without tactics try to out zerg rush a zerg style enemy, I mean come on, charging an enemy whose only tactic is cut you to pieces, while spraying bullets randomly? Artillery, airstrikes, orbital bombardment, fire and maneuver..anyone? No? Again, moronic strawmen enter the picture.

    • Rob Godfrey November 28, 2015 at 7:12 pm #

      as an addendum if you are trying to make a point about ISIL, that using the exact same methods and tactics that gave them the field (mass collateral damage air campaigns, torture, supporting one tribe against another) is somehow THIS FINAL TIME, after almost 15 years of complete and utter failure, and tens if not hundreds of thousands of deaths at our hands, let alone the militants, going to work? Yea, not buying it, new plan needed, sober reflection required, not more MURDER DEATH KILL as has been our foreign policy since Blair/Bush

      • Tim November 29, 2015 at 4:36 am #

        Rob, if you think MDK has been our foreign policy only since B/B, you really need to bone up on your history. Seriously.

        Or were you just taking the “traditional, obligatory” American Progressive shot at Bush because it’s the *IN* thing to do?

      • Rob Godfrey November 29, 2015 at 7:42 am #

        Fair comment about MDK and foreign policy. Also not american. The point about needing an actual plan stands.

  2. MishaBurnett November 28, 2015 at 8:21 pm #

    If you listen to the director’s commentary that Paul Verhoeven recorded for the DVD it is very clear that he disliked the source material and made the film as a deliberate attack on what he thought the book was about.

  3. duncancairncross November 28, 2015 at 11:34 pm #

    So did Verhoeven dislike the book and make a film as an attack on it?
    Or did he simply not read and understand the book?

    I’m inclined to the “not read” theory as he does NOT attack what the book actually said – just what some people reported the book said

    I liked Starship Troopers (book) – it was NOT a “military dictatorship” it was a democracy with a single provision that voters needed to show that they were citizens by working for the society for a few years – there were provisions for those that did not want to serve in the military
    And the prime reason was the elimination of the “Chicken Hawk”
    The idea was that a society when then voters had served would be LESS likely to go to war
    (But more effective if needed)

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard November 28, 2015 at 11:42 pm #

      He had planned a movie about a war against Alien Bugs and somebody had told him about Heinlein’s book.

      He apparently did read it but filtered what he read through what the haters told him about the book along with his experiences with Nazism.

      Note, there are scenes in the movie that are distorted from scenes that were in the book. Chris mentioned one scene and the asteroid hitting Earth in the movie relates to the attack on Earth in the book.

  4. RandyBeck November 29, 2015 at 1:04 am #

    I’ll confess to liking the movie, but not really disagreeing at all with the complaints about it. And I’m pretty sure the reviewer, Calum Marsh, doesn’t understand half of what he’s talking about.

    I am glad that Dubois had a prominent role. They even touched on the class, “History and Moral Philosophy.” Other filmmakers wouldn’t have done that.

    Yes, I don’t like the satiric style either.

    It deserved to have been done much, much better, but only in our dreams could that have happened. This is Hollywood, after all. The ending was a helluvalot better than the standard anti-war film where the hero becomes disenchanted in the end. (Think about what they did to John Carter.) At least this Juan Rico, like the original, still wants to be in the fight.

    The satire may have been what saved it, for me at least. Without it, leftie Verhoeven would have ended it with Rico winding up drunk and experiencing interstellar-Vietnam flashbacks.

  5. Bruce Fullerton USN(ret) November 29, 2015 at 5:40 am #

    I’m not sure if I know how to say what I want to say, Heinlein’s book Star ship Trooper’s to me was and is a Classic story as well as a social commentary about a with a complex world build about a boy coming to adulthood. The movie was just garbage period in my opinion. Ok yes like everyone else just my opinion. I spent twenty years in the service Navy submarines by the way not that that makes my opinion necessarily better than anyone else but it does give me maybe a different point of view. To me the movie was not a even a good war movie unless the war was run by total idiots!

  6. Paul MacBean November 29, 2015 at 6:25 am #

    well i have read the book at least a dozen times in the last 20 years and i enjoy it but i found the movie to be extremely disappointing as i thought it might’ve included some of the philosophical parts of the book.The movie reminded me of an old B grade ’50’s alien fight fest but brought forward into the modern times by using extravagant cgi to try to prop up a badly written script.I felt sorry for the actors as you could see they were having a hard time trying to make the movie look viable.All in all it just ended up as another silly kill the aliens movie using every weapon possible.

    • Bruce Fullerton USN(ret) November 29, 2015 at 7:30 am #

      Very True I was really sad that such a good book would be treated so poorly.

  7. Lindsay November 30, 2015 at 4:00 am #

    I read the book as a teenager and have re-read it several times since. It’s criminal what the movie did to a sci-fi classic. A shallow spatter fest without a hint of the deeper meanings and questions raised by the book.

  8. sjallen343 November 30, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    Plan. Take a book and ideology he didn’t agree with and turn it into a laughing stock.

    Sound familiar to anybody else? How many times have people been laughed down or humiliated when they objected to things no sane or free man would ever agree to until those ideas become so instinctively repugnant to the masses that they become a byword for foolishness.

    Sounds like Verhoeven did exactly what he set out to do.

    Jack Donovan has a recent and relevant article, All They Have Is Fear.

  9. georgephillies December 5, 2015 at 2:07 am #

    Friends with west coast contacts opine that they made the movie, learned about the book, and retitled, with a few scenes re-shot.

    The other comment was that the Starship troopers would have been ill-advised to go up against a British infantry battalion of the late-World-War 1 period. The lack of indirect fire weapons on one side would have had negative consequences.

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