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November 1997, Week 2


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Joe Lamantia <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 13 Nov 1997 14:25:22 -0500
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Despite some excellent commentary on Starship Troopers's subtleties, I've not
anyone specifically address the differences between Heinlein's novel and
film, which I believe add to the depth and sophistication of possible readings
both.  The bio information posted sofar identifies Heinlein as a man with strong
militaristc and patriotic impulses, which naturally in light of the milieu
(1959)include anti-communism.  The novel is a pro-military, gung-ho,
patriarchal propaganda rag.   I underlined a great deal... But it's a
read for many reasons; ST won a Nebula in '60, is one of the few examples of
'bootcamp SF' translated into film,  Heinlein's significance within SF (industry
dominated) is immense -- he won the first Grand master Nebula Award in 1975.
Two strains of discsussion are prevalent regarding Verhoeven's ST, these
strains have been noted in previous posts, and roughly break down to
(1) ST is a shameless glorification of war and death
(2) ST deliberately presents images of war and death in a context encouraging
or oppositional interpretations.
I susbscribe to the latter; a quick look at one of the central quotations from
novel might help to illuminate the issue.   Heinlein uses a highschool 'History
Moral Philosophy' instructor, Mr. Dubois (Rasczak, Rico's unit commander, in the
film another intersting change), as the primary didactic, pedagogic,
vehicle for expounding ethical and moral principles.  Just as Rico's (our
protagonist)bootcamp comes to a close and he 'crosses the hump', or decides to
committ fully to voluntary military service, he recounts a discussion on the
of citizenship and morality which Dubois concluded with, "Liberty is <i>never<i>
unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it
<i>always<i>vanishes."  Heinlein speaking through Dubois is of course
Jefferson's "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the
of patriots and tyrants" here, but in omitting the key phrase 'and tyrants',
Heinlein changes the meaning entirely.  Without delving into questions of
philosophy on which I am unqualified to provide comment, I take Jefferson's
to be that some degreee of self-correction (possibly violent) must occur in any
nominally democratic system, as much as it must be defended against external
threat.  I argue that Heinlein's omission implies that in a democratic society
United States of America, specifically) such threats are only external in
and consequently youth are sent elsewhere to die for their country and earn the
right to vote (ST posits a multi-world mono-state in which citizenship is earned
military service).  Tyranny by one's own government is conceptually impossible,
simply ignored.
    The many devices Verhoeven uses to suggest otherwise -- summable as an
ironic tone toward the images, events, and characters on-screen -- seem to
the absent half of the patriot/tyrant opposition by encouraging question of the
overt content of the news/info presented.   Naturally the film text and the
relationship of the film to the novel in audiences' expectations and perceptions
merits more attention; I'll mention a few issues that struck me.
    Heinlein's Troopers are suited in enormously powerful and independetly
armor that amplifies the violence any one infantryman can bring to bear, and
units to cover large ares in dispersal;  Verhoeven presents soldiers little
different from contemporay rifle-carrying grunts, who are depicted as (IMHO)
naked and defenseless in direct confrontations with the heavily armored,
powerful arachnid bugs.  As a consequence, death in Verhoeven's ST is sudden,
brutal, frequent, and sweeps through small clusters of disorganised humans like
wildfire, in exact opposition to Heinlein's narrative.
    When Rico enlists immediately after graduation, the recruiter has an
arm and no legs, he shakes Rico's hand with his automated prosthesis and
congratulates him on joining the infantry, which "made me the man I am today".
officer addresses Rico and his friends as "fresh meat for the grinder", a
borne out by the extremely violent ways in which Troopers are torn to pieces by
articulated jaws, pincers, etc.  Yet in Heinlein's book, the recruiter appears
Rico whole and undamaged just moments later, explaining that his dismemberment
 is a
charade used to discourage the weak-hearted, and the one death described is
other casualties are mentioned with military detachment.
    Rico remains in the M.I. in the novel as a confirmation of his manhood.
Verhoeven places this decision in a wholely differnet context by presenting Rico
packed and ready to withdraw from bootcamp when he receives a video call from
parents supporting his decision to join the military -- during which they are
as Buenos Ares, his home, is struck by an pseudoarachnid-launched asteroid.
    In Verhoeven's ST official intelligence (the fantastically campy
as uberbrained military intelligence colonel in Naziesque leather [I had to
repeatedly]) beleives the bugs dumb and instinctive, the movie develops as a
to discover the mysterious source (brain caste bugs) of their 'smart' actions as
explanation for the dramatic defeats human forces suffer in the beginning of the
narrative.  Heinlein assigns the arachnids superior tactical savvy and
from the beginning, arming them with beam weaponry and intelligence.
    In short, Verhoeven's alsmost sarcastic rendering of some central
events/elements in Heinlein's novel implies that ST is intent on undermining
the sort of ideological sermonizing that consitutes its source novel, and much
the adervtising/news/progaganda disseminated by the institutions and
that might assemble the contents of a nominally viewer-directed information
    This is just to braoch such issues; I hope this enumeration of some of the
dissimilarities defining the relationship between novel and film is helpful.
    Joe Lamantia
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama.