July 5, 2007

Heinlein's Starship Troopers v. Verhoeven's "Starship Troopers"

Paul Verhoeven promoted his 1997 version of Robert A. Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" as satirizing Heinlein's supposed Nazi views, but the reality is Verhoeven, who was born in 1938 in Holland, is the last working filmmaker to have been directly influenced by Nazi aesthetics during 1933-1945 (Ingmar Bergman now being retired). He has admitted that he got hooked on movies as a child watching Nazi propaganda films in Occupied Holland. Knowing that, it's easy to see the Nazi obsessions with blondeness and brutality that run through his films.

For example, Verhoeven has competed with eugenicist Jodie Foster to film the life story of Hitler's favorite directrix Leni Riefenstahl. Verhoeven boasted that Riefenstahl told him that Foster is "not beautiful enough" to player her, and "Leni's ultimate idea of herself is Sharon Stone in 'Basic Instinct,'" which is one of Verhoeven's films.

Verhoeven then spends a lot of time telling the press that he is actually satirizing the Nazi obsessions of _other_ people like Robert A. Heinlein, and a lot of credulous media-types believe him. For example, Verhoeven persuaded a lot of the critics that his casting an Ernst Roehm wet-dream- like Casper von Diehn as Juan Rico in "Starship Troopers" was a parody of Heinlein's Nazi tendencies.

Yet, anybody who has finished the book (which doesn't include Verhoeven, who said he read only a few chapters) knows that Heinlein played a brilliant trick by not revealing until the next to last page that his narrator-hero is a Tagalog-speaking Filipino.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

*bangs head into the wall*
Heinlein was not a Nazi. Anyone who read the book and paid attention knows the book is nowhere near being a podium for Nazi views.
Verhoeven's Starship Troopers is arguably the worst print to reel adaptation ever.

OlaAmigos said...

Steve,
you read the book better than I did. I finished it and kind of liked it. Actually, thought the movie better cause you got to see the bugs and it was a good/crazy B movie. (A friend called it the most expensive B movie ever, though at this point, that's a becoming a common thing.)

My main reflection on the book was that it had a lot of background scenes on the military society they had - you had to enlist to get franchise, but even that was considered a bad deal cause the military was so tough, as many scenes showed.

It is tough to say where the line between parody and propaganda is though. I'd say I enjoyed it on both levels. I suppose I liked the fact that the bad guys (bugs) were really bad. It's no fun watching a B movie where we are all equally bad.
Cheers.
Ed

Anonymous said...

I understand Veerhoven's latest is a paen to the women who slept with Nazi Occupiers in the Netherlands. Black Book I believe it is called.

Fred said...

"Heinlein played a brilliant trick by not revealing until the next to last page that his narrator-hero is a Tagalog-speaking Filipino."

Thanks for giving that away, Steve. Some of us who hadn't read Heinlein might have been prompted to read the book by your Heinlein week post.

Anyhow, a few thoughts from here in NJ:

1) The dress uniform that Neil Patrick Harris's character and others wore is an almost identical copy of an SS uniform.

2) Closer to home, the NJ State Troopers' uniforms were influenced by Nazi fashion as well: the founder of the NJ State Police (Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf's father, btw) was a fan of the Nazis before WWII.

3) Casper Van Dien grew up in Ridgewood, NJ -- on Van Dien Ave. His is one of those Dutch families here that goes back a long way. I think he married the b-movie actress and alleged noblewoman Catherine Oxenberg.

Vol-in-Law said...

Interesting stuff on Verhoeven's fascination with Nazism and the Nazi aesthetic. He does Heinlein a terrible injustice of course, but the ST movie is interesting as simultaneously a critique of Nazism and a love-letter to Nazism, doing a lot to explain the attractions of Nazism. If it had been produced 7 years later it would have been seen as a direct reaction to the Iraq war and War on Terror, in fact you could regard it as chillingly prescient.

Anonymous said...

Verhoeven, who was born in 1938 in Holland, is the last working filmmaker to have been directly influenced by Nazi aesthetics during 1933-1945 (Ingmar Bergman now being retired).

You're forgetting George Lucas, Star Wars and Triumph of the Will.

Also, could you clarify: are you saying you think Verhoeven actually sympathizes with the nazis?

(Finally, revealing that "Juan Rico" is not a WASP is perhaps not a stunning surprise to all readers, by the way.)

Anonymous said...

And what's with Michael Ironside being in just about every Verhoeven movie?
And anon at 7:36, please don't knock Starship Troopers too hard. After all, it has a great load of character actors and lots of rather funny lines and scenes and perhaps most importantly, Denise Richards.
The movie didn't take itself too seriously and was just simply a shameless B movie action flic with lots of gunplay and gore Works for me most of the serious movies today suck. We even snuck beers into the theater and nobody cared.

Anonymous said...

Steve, have you seen Black Book, Verhoeven's last film? Set in Nazi occupied Holland, it's about a jewish woman in the dutch resistance who is given the task of seducing the nazi bigwig in order for the resistance to infiltrate the nazi headquarters. It's a definitely interesting movie, and it shows Verhoeven's subversive streak by portraying the nazi top guy as the most sympathetic character in the movie.

Anonymous said...

Starship Troopers the movie really used the book as a jumping-off point to satirize American militarism and media culture, especially in the wake of the first Gulf War-- the patriotic imagery is drawn as much from Capra's "Why We Fight" films and CNN conventions as from Triumph of the Will. A lot of the film plays like a bar bet between Verhoeven and his European intellectual buddies that he could take 100 million dollars from an American studio to make a movie telling Americans how gullible and dumb they are. Of course, Verhoeven is so technically gifted that the film's action scenes are actually pretty darn gripping (and impressively gory), even through the heavy layer of irony.

A lot of Heinlein fans really hate the film, and perhaps justifiably so, but as its own thing, Verhoeven's Starship Troopers is a fascinating and fun movie. And watching it again in the wake of the second Iraq War, a lot of it plays as shockingly prescient, especially the use of the mass civilian casualty attack as justification for the disastrous Klendathu invasion.

Oh, and if you watch the DVD, definitely do it with Vehoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier's commentary track on-- it's absolutely hilarious and addresses many of these issues directly.

Anonymous said...

Verhoven's Nazi obsession actually explains a lot about the film. I was always surprised by the obviously Nazi uniforms, since the attitudes on display in the movie itself are not Nazi, but are obviously based on U.S. propaganda during WWII. Nazi propaganda was very different. But if Verhoven thought that Nazi uniforms were way cool, that would explain it.

Also, anonymous (headbanger) is right. Heinlein was the farthest thing from a Nazi - he was a militant libertarian...

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ, now you've gone and ruined Starship Troopers for me.

Last night, after lounging around on the couch and watching 4 hours of Broken Trail*, on AMC, they followed it up with High Noon [at high midnight], and I think it was the first time I'd encountered it since I learned that it was intended as a parable about COMMUNIST cowardice in the face of HUAC & the blacklisting in Hollywood [parenthetically: apparently Olivia de Havilland & The Gipper, of all people, were instrumental in purging the commies from SAG].

Anyway, knowing what I know now about High Noon, the thing is simply unwatchable.

Almost vomitous.

*PS: Talk about flaming hot chinese babes, check out the Curriculum Vitae on Gwendoline Yeo.

Somebody needs to get that chick "knocked up" [in real life].

Anonymous said...

I don't buy the whole "Verhoeven was satirizing American militarism and Nazism" schtick. That may be how he justifies it to himself, and to his PC Hollywood colleagues, but its obvious that Verhoeven thinks that Nazi uniforms and militarism and warfare are just plain cool, and he revels in it, with a layer of "irony" as protective cover. He's like an overgrown 10 year old boy. "Troopers" just gave him an excuse to do what he loves doing.

daveg said...

Sharon Stone is so over the hill. Has been for a while.

SP_Immortal said...

"Starship Troopers the movie really used the book as a jumping-off point to satirize American militarism and media culture, especially in the wake of the first Gulf War-- the patriotic imagery is drawn as much from Capra's "Why We Fight" films and CNN conventions as from Triumph of the Will. A lot of the film plays like a bar bet between Verhoeven and his European intellectual buddies that he could take 100 million dollars from an American studio to make a movie telling Americans how gullible and dumb they are. Of course, Verhoeven is so technically gifted that the film's action scenes are actually pretty darn gripping (and impressively gory), even through the heavy layer of irony."

Good grief, you can't be serious. There aren't any heavy layers of irony in Verhoeven films. Any attempts at moralism are only the proverbial fig leaf over the lurid subects of sex and violence that he loves so much. Exhibit A is Showgirls. He tried to go with the full on trash approach in that film and ran into criticm, so what did he do? He went on the airwaves and insisted that it was actually some deep "morality tale". You seem to be pretty gullible and dumb if you've managed to bite into his usual spiel.

Starship Troopers as a critique of American militarism seems pretty revisionist considering the major characters in the movie were supposedly Brazilians from Rio. And tying American militarism to Iraq I is flat out stupid considering it was a world wide military operation sanctioned by the UN.

Ultra violent movies sell violence, not a worldview. Social commentary is just something that's slapped on in order to give plausible deniability to the makers against charges that they're producing "trash", and to soothe the guilt of viewers that get their jollies from simulated torture, murder, and mayhem. Anyone that doesn't realise that is a fool.

Having said that, ST was a pretty good movie. I occasionaly get my jollies from on screen violence.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:08 --

Yes the bigwig Nazi is the "most sympathetic" character in the film and the dynamic of women in Occupied Holland screwing the Nazis is interesting.

Subversive? Hardly. SUBVERSIVE would have been to forthrightly endorse the sort of heroic resistance seen in "300." After about 180 years of "shock the bourgeoisie" and anti-Western sentiment in elitist art/intellectual movements, Veerhoeven is trodding the safe, conservative, same path as everyone before him.

What is interesting is how Veerhoeven, like most artists, identifies with powerful elitists. Also how women love these themes (since they generally prefer to be the mistress of a powerful man than a wife of an average one). Within a film like Black Book, you see the destruction of a civilization.

Jared Diamond argues the West was just "lucky" with the "right" combination of germs, geography, and resources to dominate the world. Hanson argues that "political freedom" formed the basis for the success of the Greeks onwards.

They are both wrong. The basis for the West's success is the mobilization of the beta Males. Who had space and freedom, including family, to produce things like the printing press, steam engine, etc. And just as importantly could be mobilized to fight like the 300 at Thermopylae at awful costs.

Slaves don't fight for the Sultan's Harem. Men with families/wives that can't be taken away by even the King will die in awful ways for them.

Of course that is collapsing under consumerism/materialism and constant status seeking. It's probably worst in Europe (and Verhoeven is a stunning symptom) and indicative of huge problems including the demographic decline, loss of military ability, etc.

Forget that Black Book has the Nazi as the sympathetic character. Focus on how Verhoeven has the high-status Occupier as the hero and the heroine is essentially, a whore intent on being a mistress. THAT right there is the essential difference between him and Heinlein: Heinlein idealized the common man, Verhoeven the aristo.

Anonymous said...

Dogmatic, judgmental and Victorian are attributes that don't translate well into heroic.

I guess right to privacy doesn't matter as long as your political/religious beliefs are different from the ones whose civil liberties are being violated.

What are you saving us from? Aren't you just exchanging one hegemony for another?

What an incredible waste of time.

Fred said...

"Sharon Stone is so over the hill. Has been for a while."

"Over the hill" is relative. Leni Riefenstahl may have been 100 years old when she mentioned Sharon Stone to Verhoeven.

"Starship Troopers as a critique of American militarism seems pretty revisionist considering the major characters in the movie were supposedly Brazilians from Rio."

Argentineans from Buenos Aires ("BA" as the characters called it), not Brazilians from Rio. Not that I agree with the "critique" idea, but one need not set a story in the U.S. to address U.S. themes. Much of science fiction has used alien planet settings to address contemporary American themes.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 2:20,
Hanson argues that "political freedom" formed the basis for the success of the Greeks onwards.

They are both wrong. The basis for the West's success is the mobilization of the beta Males. Who had space and freedom, including family, to produce things like the printing press, steam engine, etc. And just as importantly could be mobilized to fight like the 300 at Thermopylae at awful costs.

Slaves don't fight for the Sultan's Harem. Men with families/wives that can't be taken away by even the King will die in awful ways for them.

My reading of Hanson would indicate that these are precisely the sort of uniquely Western attributes that lead to its success.

Anonymous said...

I have just started reading Starship Troopers, and what do I find but feminist propoganda on page 5 of the edition with the cover containing a still from the movie:


{Referring to the female pilot of the space ship they were on) Yes, yes, I know they make better pilots than men do: their reactions are faster ...


Sigh. Don't see much in the way of Nazi views there, unless they are Feminazi views.

Anonymous said...

Anon 3:53 -- I suppose you might be right. When I read his books I got a bunch of civic militarism which seemed ... off considering the loss of almost all written knowledge during the Dark Ages.

But what does stand out during that period is that Europe's military recovery as a fighting force able to repel both Viking raiders and Muslim invaders is the ability to form large, fairly dangerous, infantry companies of pikemen and such. Which seems to coincide with the development of monogamy and enforcement of same.

Vol-in-Law said...

SP_Immortal:
"Exhibit A is Showgirls. He tried to go with the full on trash approach in that film and ran into criticm, so what did he do? He went on the airwaves and insisted that it was actually some deep "morality tale". "

I watched Showgirls without being aware of any explanation by Verhoeven, and thought it was very obviously self-consciously drawing on myth-history, especially the Golden Bough! That it has lots of t&a doesn't change that. Likewise with Starship Troopers - it's both an OTT gorey action movie and a critique of its subject; that's just how Verhoeven works.

Vol-in-Law said...

Another example - where 'Showgirls' is based off pagan myth, in particular that of Diana/Artemis (Nomi represents both the goddess and the priest of the goddess, the escaped slave who slays his predecessor and will one day be mudered by his successor), the movie 'Robocop' drew heavily on Christianity as myth, in particular on the death/resurrection of Christ; to make it more explicit, at one point Verhoeven even has Robocop appear to walk on water.

You have to be pretty blind or ignorant to miss what Verhoeven does so consistently and heavy-handedly. Compared to Verhoeven, George Lucas' self-conscious use of Joseph Campbell's Heroes' Journey and Jungian archetypes in the Star Wars movies is the height of subtlety.

Svigor said...

I've only listened to the first few minutes of Troopers' director's commentary, but it only took Verhoeven the first few minutes to announce that he wanted to show that fascism could be multiracial (he uses "multicultural").

So there goes the Naziism theory.

SFG said...

but the ST movie is interesting as simultaneously a critique of Nazism and a love-letter to Nazism, doing a lot to explain the attractions of Nazism.

Oh, the attractions of Nazism? It couldn't have been a mass movement if it didn't have anything to recommend besides whaling on the Jews.

Nazis are strong. Nazis are tough. Nazis are macho. Nazis are disciplined. Nazis have great fashion sense. The Nazi has become an archetype of authority...as PJ O'Rourke said, nobody ever wanted to be tied to the bed and ravished by someone dressed as a liberal.

Anonymous said...

"Nazis are strong. Nazis are tough. Nazis are macho..."

Nazis are also sort of gay.

Anonymous said...

This has been discussed pretty extensively over at IMDB, although not everyone agrees. But here are some facts: Verhoeven does not understand Starship Troopers. This is clear from the commentary on his DVD; second, he lies about the origin of the movie. The movie was originally a script called "Bug Hunt" that had nothing to do with Heinlein. Someone noted that military guys hunting alien bugs sounded a lot like "Starship Troopers," so they did a script retrofit. Verhoeven weaves an elaborate story of the origins and purpose of the movie, but somehow leaves that part out. It's almost as if he is feeding off of the media publicity that surrounded the movie's theater release. Imagine that!

I loved the movie, I own it on DVD and have seen it dozens of times. But Verhoeven did a hack job to Heinlein's reputation.

SFG said...

Nazis are also sort of gay.

I won't deny there are quite a few gay men with Nazi fetishes, but the Nazis were quite virulently homophobic. It was one of Hitler's excuses for killing Ernst Rohm. (Though of course it was a power struggle at the root of it.)

Anonymous said...

Is it just me? Jodie Foster's got the features and bone structure all over Sharon Stone. Besides which, isn't Sharon Stone in AARP by now?