Recently, I’ve had people telling me how amazing the 1997 Starship Troopers movie is and sorry, I just don’t see it. It was originally an unrelated script called “Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine” when people noticed that it had a slight resemblance to the 1959 novel Starship Troopers, written by Robert Heinlein. Therefore, they retroactively got the rights, dropped in a couple of elements from the book, and renamed the movie.
I like the book but this isn’t the book. Director Paul Verhoeven hated the book, could never get past chapter 2 so he asked people to describe it to him and then he did his own thing. What remained was a mess. It had decent special effects for the day but the plot sucked and had very little to do with the novel. I think a lot of people pretend to like it because they think the novel was a classic, even if they’ve never read it. So, because I’ve done tear-downs of Battlestar Galactica and Firefly, let’s see why I think Starship Troopers, the movie(s), is so bad.
Because this wasn’t really meant to be Starship Troopers and wasn’t directed by someone who had the slightest clue what Starship Troopers is, it didn’t turn out to be Starship Troopers at all. We can start with the characters. Johnny Rico, in the books, was Filipino and Carmen was Hispanic. They were recast in the movie as white. I don’t think it was whitewashing, they just put well known actors in the roles regardless of their race, but in the original novel, Heinlein was well known for casting minority characters in important roles and the movie just threw that out the window. And yeah, the powered armor. In the novel, Rico’s troopers were a powered armor brigade. Okay, this is a 1996 movie where the technology just didn’t exist to do it justice on the big screen, but it’s still a point of contention with a lot of fans. The movie also turned society into a satire of fascism which simply didn’t exist in the book. Verhoeven was famous for doing that kind of thing, especially in films like Robocop, but it is diametrically opposed to the society that existed in the novel. They really cut out large portions of what made the book good, like most of the training and instead turned the soldiers into mindless killing machines, something they weren’t in the book. And Johnny got promoted out of the blue and it made no sense. In the book, there’s a whole arc of him attending Officer Candidate School, in the movie, everyone else dies so he gets promoted, seemingly without any training at all. And there is no romance between Johnny and Carmen in the book, they go on one non-romantic date and that’s it. In fact, it’s hinted at that Johnny and another male soldier, Dizzy Flores, have a thing. Oh, and the bugs are not just stupid animals in the book, they are shown with weapons and starships, unlike the movie where they are shown getting mowed down left and right because they’re too stupid not to rush into withering gunfire.
It might seem like I’m nitpicking but I’m honestly not, these are some important elements from the book that are simply thrown away in the movie. The book is really a political and social treatise and the movie is a mindless action adventure bug hunt.
But it isn’t just the original Starship Troopers that sucked, the straight-to-video sequels… well, those were just abysmal. Starship Troopers 2 was directed by Phil Tippet, the special effects guru, in his first ever directorial debut. Now I love Tippet’s effects work, but as a director? Not so much. It looked pretty, expected with Tippet’s involvement, but the story is hackneyed and makes no sense. This only gets worse with Starship Troopers 3, which devolved into religious propaganda. Yes, I am serious. After that, they just gave up, about 3 movies too late.
Seriously, had they had a director for the first film that knew Heinlein and cared about making a Starship Troopers movie, it probably would have been good. Or if they had just made “Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine” and not referenced Starship Troopers at all, it could have been fine. But just sticking the name on a movie that clearly wasn’t Starship Troopers and pretending that it was that story, no thanks, I pass, and don’t even get me started on the sequels that are just visual vomit. At least TRY to make a movie resembling the original book! If you can’t do it right, if you don’t care enough to do it right, please, please, don’t do it at all!
Then maybe we might get a decent movie made by people who actually cared. Wouldn’t that be nice?