Robert Heinlein is one of the founding fathers of modern science fiction. A giant whose stories were never rejected –save for one editor who was brow beaten by the author into accepting a tale as is- gave us such classics as Red Planet, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Green Hills of Earth, and scores of other classic science fiction stories that have been ingrained into the cultural landscape over the decades. Of all his works, however, none is currently more recognized, revered, and in some circles reviled as Starship Troopers. My first encounter with this particular piece was in 1997 when Paul Verhoeven managed to get the name rights to Heinlein’s story to use with his “satirical” script about fascism and fanaticism. For a 13-year-old kid, it was an amazing movie full of visual effects and imagery I had never even imagined possible combined with an exciting story about humanity struggling against an alien menace. A couple of years later I picked up a copy of the book to read over the summer and ever since, I’ve felt let down by the film. Both the novel and the film follow the exploits of Juan “Johnnie/Johnny” Rico, a boy raised in the Terran Federation who becomes a part of the Mobile Infantry in a bid to earn his full citizenship. The book itself views the protagonist’s plight to earn his way in the meritocracy of earth as a noble and valiant cause, a free society where you have to sacrifice and work for your rights which by extension adds value to those rights. The book explains that the democracies of the 20th and 21st centuries imploded on themselves because citizens expected to be given everything rather than having to work for anything. The movie took a different stance on this suggesting that the current society had devalued non-citizens while simultaneously luring the ill-informed and unprepared into a fascist military complex where they would be indiscriminately slaughtered and maimed and, if they were very fortunate, be released into society when their service was through. Regardless how you view the political and social commentary of the story, both versions have one incredible thing in common: the bugs! “Specialization is for insects.” Heinlein said, and in his book the “pseudo-arachnid” bugs are just that, specialized for a specific task. They build, they plan, they attack. Each bug has a purpose within the hive from warriors and tanks to the speculative queen itself. Meanwhile, Verhoeven’s take introduced us to the Arachnids, a seemingly more primitive and specialized group under the control of a theoretical Brain Bug. The Warriors are very much meant to be the insect counterpart to the Terran Mobile Infantry, fighting and dying at the orders of those far from the combat without any true sense of purpose other than their desire to kill. Heinlein’s bugs were meant more as a social –and, yes, racial- allusion to the communists of the Soviet Union, Korea, and the growing threat that was Vietnam. They were creatures who tunneled under the earth and ambushed the Terran MI troopers without any warning, save for the “bacon sizzle” noise their digging caused. Also, Heinlein’s bugs had allies in the form of Skinnies, a subservient sapient that was often used as a proxy when the bugs felt need of the service. Heinlein chose to pioneer what has since become staples of military science fiction, especially in video games, using dropships, hoppers, and powered armor for the troopers in his book. The opening chapter is about Johnny Rico being propelled to a Skinny controlled planet inside little more than a cheaply constructed bullet. Thousands of troopers are launched from the bays of the Roger Young and other orbiting cruisers like World War Two era paratroopers behind enemy lines at Normandy. Some are caught up in the cross fire of orbital bombardments and anti-aircraft guns while others die from failing to engage their jump jets as the protective shell around their power suits breaks away. Dizzy Flores –a male superior officer in the book- is literally decapitated inside his armor and is drug a short way before Rico realizes the man’s head is rattling around inside his helmet. Even as well trained and well armored as they are, the Skinnies and the bugs are still a huge, dangerous obstacle. Jump from the 1959 novel to the 1997 film where the troopers of the Mobile Infantry are basically less protected than troops in the middle of Iraq and Afghanistan today fighting against giant arachnids with a sole weak spot that requires expert marksmanship and a butt load of ammo to hit and you end up with the sort of figurative and literal bloodbath that Verhoeven’s narrative needed. I mean, war is hell and all and even Heinlein’s battles in the book are none-too-pleasant, but the waves of hundreds of thousands of human beings being mulched and mangled by the bugs in the film is stomach turning. I saw Saving Private Ryan the following year and was much less disturbed by the graphically real depictions of war and death than by what I saw in Starship Troopers. That said, the flying warrior bug smearing that sniveling general across the pavement was both gross and glorious all at the same time. Standing alone, each version of Starship Troopers has its merits and failings. I’d have loved to have seen a mech-suited Rico dropping a wrist mounted nuke on some Skinnies and bugs and despite liking Neil Patrick Harris, I think we all could have done with his character Carl being a much more ancillary figure. There again, Jake Busey getting stabbed in the hand by horror/scifi veteran Clancy Brown was epic. “The enemy can’t press a button if they can’t use their hand!” My badly paraphrased CB aside, it’s important to note that the movie was first titled Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine and was inspired in no small part by Verhoeven’s hatred of Heinlein and the book it would eventually be named for. It was never actually meant to be a screen adaptation of the book but more a middle finger. Now, twenty years later, the internet has brought fans of the book a new hope. Damian Shannon and Mark Swift who brought us the 2003 slasher showdown Freddy vs Jason have announced on twitter (@shannonandswift) their plans to bring the controversial novel back to the screen and back to its roots. That said, anyone who’s read the book knows that it’s not just a love letter to the armed forces but has some real insight into the progressive potential of the human race. It’s going to be interesting to see what the team brings to life over the coming months. What are you apes waiting for?! Check out the book and movie and see what you think. See larger image Starship Troopers (+ BD Live) [Blu-ray] From the bridge of the Fleet Battlestation Ticonderoga, with its sweeping galactic views, to the desolate terrain of planet Klendathu, teeming with shrieking, fire-spitting, brain-sucking special effects creatures, acclaimed director PAUL VERHOEVEN crafts a dazzling epic based on Robert A. Heinlein’s classic sci-fi adventure. CASPER VAN DIEN, DINA MEYER, DENISE RICHARDS, JAKE BUSEY, NEIL PATRICK HARRIS, PATRICK MULDOON, and MICHAEL IRONSIDE star as the courageous soldiers who travel to the distant and desolate Klendathu system for the ultimate showdown between the species. 20th Anniversary Synopsis From the bridge of the Fleet Battlestation Ticonderoga, with its sweeping galactic views, to the desolate terrain of planet Klendathu, teeming with shrieking, fire-spitting, brain-sucking special effects creatures, acclaimed director Paul Verhoeven crafts a dazzling epic based on Robert A. Heinlein’s classic sci-fi adventure. Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Pa New From: $9.49 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.