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Friday, August 6, 2010 4:53 am
Reading the Screen: Starship Troopers
Posted by: David Pitt

starship_troopers_-_movie_posterNot 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 starship-troopers-coverthe 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.

2 Responses to “Reading the Screen: Starship Troopers”
  1. christina Says:

    Ya’know when I watched Starship Troopers I sorta just viewed it in a B-flick way. It was so cheesey that it was funny which then equals good in my book. I also read Heinlein’s book – I had to write a paper, an author study in my Science Fiction class.

    There’s a large part of me that appreciates what Heinlein did, for science fiction and (more importantly to me) for women. Uh, can we say Girl Friday? Yay! **But** I’ve never really been a huge fan because his characters tended to be flat. I wanted more character development.

  2. David Pitt Says:

    Troopers is one of those movies, I think, whose many subtle similarities to its source material are overshadowed by a few obvious differences.


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