Reading the Screen: Starship Troopers
Posted by: David Pitt
Not that you asked, but I think Starship Troopers, Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 film version of Robert A. Heinlein‘s classic novel, is woefully misunderstood. It got some good reviews, but it got a lot of pretty awful ones, too, many of which slammed the movie for being nothing like the book.
That’s just not true. Sure, Verhoeven and his screenwriter, Edward Neumeier (they also did RoboCop together), tweaked the story — they updated the technology and made the Mobile Infantry coed, for example — but I think if Heinlein had written the book in the late 1990s he would have incorporated those new elements, too. One of the niftiest technological elements of Heinlein’s novel, the infantry’s powered suits of armor, is missing from the movie; I wish Verhoeven had kept the suits, but their absence doesn’t really affect the story. If you didn’t know they were supposed to be there, you’d never know they were missing.
Here’s what Verhoeven and Neumeier did keep: the novel’s exploration of the nature of combat, and of the type of person who excels at it; the central character, who discovers his own sense of purpose amid the chaos; the enemy, a nasty race of arachnid-like creatures; tantalizing hints of the enemy’s social and military structure; the notion of a “brain bug;” many snippets of Heinlein’s dialogue. There’s more, but you get the point.
According to various stories, Verhoeven was deep into preproduction of the movie before somebody realized it was awfully similar to the Heinlein novel, and snatched up the rights to the book; Verhoeven never read the book; or he started it, but never finished it. I don’t know about any of that, but I do know this: Starship Troopers, the movie, is an excellent translation of Heinlein’s novel. Check ‘em out. You’ll see what I mean.