Starship Troopers (1997)

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Casper Van Dien, Denise Richards, Michael Ironside, Dina Meyer, Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Muldoon

Screenplay: Ed Neumeier

Novel: Robert A. Heinlein

Cinematography: Jost Vacano

Music: Basil Poledouris


In one line: a militaristic, future Earth wages war with giant extra terrestrial insects.


I’ve got a soft spot for Paul Verhoeven’s films. Even the rubbish ones (Basic Instinct, Blood and Fire, Hollow Man, Showgirls) have a certain something to give some indication of an occasionally brilliant director. (Well, maybe not Showgirls)

Heinlein’s novel is often seen as problematic. It’s difficult to tell if the book was written for right wing teenagers or whether the author had a natural prurience which made him avoid ‘adult’ situations. Either way, the common consensus is that the author forgot to add a plot to his futuristic boot camp/sub-Nietzschean philosophising book.

Verhoeven’s film adds a huge amount of irony (largely thanks to Neumeier’s script) to Heinlein’s story, but it’s difficult to dispel the idea that the director was in thrall to the Nazi imagery and ideals espoused by his characters and his own mise-en-scene. Never have so many beautiful people died in vain whilst dressed in such striking duds.

The film follows the fortunes of Van Dien, Richards, Meyer, Muldoon and Harris as they join the Earth’s military forces to wage war on a giant insect civilisation on the planet Klendathu. Various love triangles emerge and are broken as Richards and Muldoon are made pilots whilst Van Dien and Meyer have to rough it out in the Mobile Infantry (they’re not ‘Mobile’ in the film, because the flying armour described in Heinlein’s book could not be replicated in the film without looking silly – apparently).

Van Dien and Meyer’s experiences at boot camp take up a good proportion of the early part of the film. A key part of the script and film requires Meyer to take a shower. A seminal moment for the director, evidently, and calling to mind the lines that formed on the battered video rental copies of the Sharon Stone interview scene in Basic Instinct where some obvious perverts had damaged the tape by holding the ‘under the table’ shot on freeze frame until the ‘pause’ gave up.

Meyer and Van Diem meet the ruthless Lieutenant Rasczak played by the ever dependable and should-have-been-a-big-star (vol 236) Michael Ironside. Rasczak is sort of a Beau Geste’s Sergeant Lejeune for the nineties. Except he proves to be a ‘goodie’ rather than a ‘baddie’.

The Earth invaders set out for Klendathu to attack the bugs. There are numerous brilliant and very violent set pieces which bring to mind Zulu and the aforementioned Beau Geste (the marauding and encircling insects trapping the Troopers in an other worldly corall), as well as the director’s own Robocop (in terms of stylistic violence and counterpointed irony).

The CGI still holds up after twenty-odd years and there’s the usual brilliant cinematography from Vacano.

The film explores many of the ideas about ‘citizenship’ and ‘personal responsibility’ found in the novel, but Verhoeven twists Heinlein’s ideas so much that it’s often difficult to establish his real motives. Some of the Leni Riefenstal imagery is ‘pushing it a bit’ to say the least and Neil Patrick Doogie Hoswer MD Harris’s Big Ron Long Leather*  Nazi trenchcoat can fuck right off.

Next time: The Children’s Film Foundation’s Stranger in a Strange Land with Brindsley ‘Spring’ Ford and Peter ‘Scooper’ Firth from The Double Deckers. And Casper Van Doughnut.


 *Atkinson’s early eighties ‘long leather’ should have alerted Searchlight of his racist tendencies.