2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 26: Starship Troopers (1997)

Day 31 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 26. MILITARY INVOLVEMENT. When the men in green take on the little green men. I’ve decided to go with a movie that gets unfairly maligned — Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers, which may be the most anti-government, anti-imperialism movie ever made. Trust me — I have plenty to say about this one.

Originally an unrelated script called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine, this movie licensed the name Starship Troopers from the Robert A. Heinlein novel. That novel is as militaristic and fascistic as it gets. This movie? Well, upon its release, many critics saw it as a celebration of fascism. How anyone came to that conclusion is an absolute moron. This is a movie that rails against it from its very first frame, building on the mega mobile awareness that Verhoeven only hinted at in RoboCop.

There’s no way to not reveal my politics as I write about this. I usually keep that out of these articles, but a constant source of worry for me is that our universe has done more than slide to the right; we’ve seen Nazi and fascist ideologies written off as “some good people.” So when Verhoeven alludes to wartime newsreels and Triumph of the Will (the Mobile Infantry ad at the beginning is taken shot-for-shot from this film), he’s doing more than just some satire. I have no idea how anyone can watch a movie where Doogie Howser is wearing full SS regalia and see it as an endorsement of militaristic ideology.

In the DVD commentary, the director states that he “evoked Nazi Germany’s fashion, iconography, and propaganda because he saw it as a natural evolution of the United States after World War II, and especially after the Korean War.” Obviously, if we believe conspiracy theory, the Nazi powers that be became part of our CIA, NASA and military/industrial complex. We won the war and became the enemy. Verhoeven motto for the film? “Let’s all go to war and let’s all die.”

As manifest destiny takes mankind into the stars, they discover arachnids, called “bugs.” While it’s never outright stated, it seems like the bugs are several steps down the evolutionary ladder from humans and would have never attacked us if we’d just left them alone.

On Earth, citizenship in the one world government is a privilege that only comes from military service. That’s one of the reasons to sign up. You also get to be a pilot. Or impress the girl you’re in love with. That’s how Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) joins up, trying to win the heart of pilot Carmen (Denise Richards). Then there’s Dizzy (Dina Meyer), who is the way better choice, but as she’s more masculine, Johnny never sees anything in her until it’s too late. They also have a friend named Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) whose psychic ability means he will be one of the ruling class.

The film unfolds in episodic form where we progress from basic training to initial battles with the bugs to the first meeting with one of the more intelligent members of their species, a “brain bug.” Throughout, commercials and military propaganda fill the screen, always ending with “Do you want to know more?” That’s ironic — real, uncontrolled information does not exist and executions air live on TV at 6 PM. This is the government-controlled media empire that we are constantly spiraling closer and closer to.

Every time Starship Troopers hints at the fact that humanity is doomed and that we’re in over our head — like the disastrous battle on Klendathu — these messages nearly erase those feelings. And one only has to look at the climax of the film, where an army of masculine warriors gathers around a very female creature and celebrate the emotion of fear as people celebrate in a moment that should be the emotional feel-good close of the film. But it’s hollow. And it’s wrong. And the emotions that it makes you feel are false, put in there to teach you a lesson.

“Come on you apes! Do you wanna live forever?”

“They’ll keep fighting and they’ll win!”

“These are the rules. Everybody fights, nobody quits. If you don’t do your job I’ll kill you myself.”

Yet every single authority figure in this movie has been scarred by the very Federation they serve, particularly Rasczak (Michael Ironside, absolutely amazing in every film and beyond that here), who goes without an arm until signing back up for service, his stump now replaced by quite literally an iron fist.

I still can’t believe that they sold kids toys of this movie.

Want to know more? Watch it for yourself on Hulu.

4 thoughts on “2018 Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge Day 26: Starship Troopers (1997)

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