Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers directed by Paul Verhoeven and based on the book by
Robert Heinlein is a custom-made vehicle for the expression of what I take to be
the Hollywood worldview. In the fanciful future utopia it conjures up for us,
the fearsome tide of poor, dirty, low class, and superstitious people, with skins
both swarthy and oleaginous, which is advancing northwards from Latin America,
has somehow (we are never told how) been reversed. Instead, a new and unmistakeably
Californian culture, both Anglo and anglophone, has spread itself
southwards — as far as Patagonia. Buenos Aires has become a scarcely
altered version of Orange County. Boys and girls with blue eyes, gleaming
tributes to the future of orthodontia between their lips and fashionably empty
heads not only school together but, despite the fact that there have been no
obvious or species-general alterations in the female physique, play football
together, shower together and fight
earth’s enemies together.

For unfortunately, the tide of alien filth has not receded completely. It has
merely been displaced to distant galaxies from which it periodically threatens
the earth in the safely non-anthropoid form of giant beetles and spiders. These
do not speak and are otherwise quite as lacking in lovable characteristics as
most bugs are, so that even the most liberal and pacifistic conscience will
suffer scarcely a twinge when they are blown away — as they are with great
frequency but considerable difficulty by the oddly ineffectual if large-calibre
machine guns that the boy and girl soldiers all carry around with them. True,
they also carry little, portable nukes, but these have the rather obvious
disadvantage of incinerating both the shooter and the shootee — unless the
former have, as three of our heroes do, the remarkable ability to outrun a
nuclear fireball.

These heroes of whom I speak are largely drawn from the graduating class of a
single high school in Buenos Aires and all join up together just before a
dastardly attack by the extra-terrestrial bugs. Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien),
rich, handsome, strong, athletic but not very bright, is an infantryman; Carmen
Ibanez (Denise Richards), Johnny’s
much smarter girlfriend, joins the starship fleet as a pilot; Carl Jenkins (Neil
Patrick Harris), their superbright but sexless pal, is accepted to military
intelligence, which goes under the name of
“Games and
Theory.” He rises to the rank of
Colonel after only a year’s training.
These three pledge undying devotion to each other, but two others intent on
coming between Johnny and Carmen are also present: Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) who
has long carried a torch for Johnny and joins up in the infantry to be near him,
and Zander Barcalow (Patrick Muldoon), a football rival of
Johnny’s who precedes Carmen in flight
training and becomes her pilot-instructor.

Set on earth with real human enemies and some degree of realism about the
differences of the sexes (strangely, in spite of the co-ed showers in which
otherwise familiar young bodies have somehow been trained not to get aroused,
girls still shave their underarms and legs) this bunch of characters might have
added up to an old-fashioned, epic saga of love and war. But the Californian
impulse to sanitize even the most fundamental of human realities here results in
what a number of critics have noticed amounts to a celebration of fascist
militarism. This I see as being not deliberate, in spite of the look of many of
the uniforms and what must be a consciously ironic reminiscence of All Quiet
on the Western Front
, but a more-or-less unintended by-product of the lack
of moral ambiguity in the extermination of the killer bugs, as opposed to human

One can easily imagine real Nazis representing their enemies in this way, and
using their loathsomeness as an excuse for the further glorification of what
they see as, essentially, a mission of hygiene. As one politician puts it,
“human civilization, not bugs, must
control the galaxy, now and forever.”
Who could disagree with that? Even the wacko tree-huggers might be guilty of a
in such a case. A half-hearted attempt at political satire based on the
distinction between
“civilians” — which
(I gather) derives from Heinlein’s
original—dies, unmourned, along the way. Instead, the filmmakers really
agree with the universalism of the young, blond, square-jawed colonel who bears
a strange resemblance to Doogie Howser, M.D., and who says that these supermen
and supergirls of the hopeful future are
“in this for the
species.” They are too.
It’s just not our species.

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