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Movies & TV

07th Nov 2022

Released 25 years ago today, this sci-fi action film is more relevant today than ever

Unfairly dismissed at the time, it definitely deserves your attention now.

Rory Cashin

Starship Troopers review

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Released on 7 November 1997, the world just wasn’t ready for this movie.

If you look at big budget blockbusters today, very few of them have much in the way of depth, subtext or, dare we even say it?, satire.

Sure, we could say Captain America: The Winter Soldier has shadings of political corruption, or Kong: Skull Island is warning of taking nature for granted, but primarily, these kinds of movies are explosions first, sexy poses second, and somewhere near the bottom of the list you might find potential for theorising possible hidden meanings.

This was not the case for director Paul Verhoeven, and back in 90’s Hollywood, he was untouchable.

Coming out of Europe with both a Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination (for romantic drama Turkish Delight), and a Best Foreign Language Golden Globe nomination (for war movie Solider Of Orange), Verhoeven made an almighty splash with only his second ever English-language movie, Robocop.

In 1987, his super-satirical European sensibilities merged effortlessly with a fantastic eye for over-the-top violence, and people were drawn to the entertaining but hugely intelligent sci-fi actioner.

He followed this up in 1990 with Total Recall (still a much smarter film that it is given credit for), and he then took an unexpected off-ramp into erotic thrillers with 1992’s Basic Instinct, which made a ridiculous amount of money at the box office.

However, this was followed by 1995’s Showgirls, a film that wouldn’t be properly appreciated for the camp classic it so clearly is for another two decades. So Verhoeven returned to a genre he was sure would return his box office crown, and made Starship Troopers in 1997.

The movie cost $105 million, and made just $121 million at the box office, so including the costs of promotion and advertising, it was very much a flop. Additionally, the critics were no longer on his side, and the movie currently stands with just 51% on Metacritic.

So what happened?

Quite frankly, Starship Troopers was ahead of its time, and was too smart for its own good.

Based on a book by Robert A. Heinlein (one that Verhoeven is quite outspoken about hating due to its far-right leanings), and a trashy, mostly unrelated script originally titled Bug Hunt At Outpost Nine, Starship Troopers is essentially about a group of Abercrombie & Fitch looking teenagers (who are all clearly in their late 20’s or early 30’s), who are willing to die for America their planet, no questions asked.

Mixing in the expected blind nationalism of the “youth” with some startlingly on-the-nose Nazi-esque propaganda did not sit well with viewers, who simply thought that Verhoeven had made an action film that supported fascism.

Verhoeven, who was brought up in Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II, had other ideas, telling The A.V. Club: “[P]laying with fascism or fascist imagery to point out certain aspects of American society… of course, the movie is about ‘Let’s all go to war and let’s all die’.”

Back in 1997, this was unheard of. Today, looking at the current climate of 2022 America, it could not possibly be any more relevant.

Audiences arrived at the cinema expecting attractive people with big guns to shoot the bad aliens.

When they left, they got all that, but along the way they discovered that the attractive people with the bad guns were actually the bad guys, invading the planets of the aliens who were simply defending themselves.

Viewers came for fun, and left feeling bad about humanity. Where was the escapism promised by the movie title??

The savvy would’ve been aware that the fun-sounding, means-nothing title would have been a dead give-away about hidden depths; all you have to do is look at the anti-commercialism in Robocop to see that there is always so much more going on beneath the shallow surface with these movies.

Regardless, Verhoeven obviously felt that keeping the high IQ was no longer acceptable in big budget fare, so he followed Starship Troopers up in 2000 with Hollow Man, an unlikeably weird invisible man horror movie, which admitedly made more money ($195 million), but critics hated it even more (24% on Metacritic).

From there, he simply abandoned Hollywood completely, and returned to European film-making, making the critically lauded trio of Black Book, Elle and this year’s Benedetta.

And up next? He’s reuniting with the writer of RoboCop and Starship Troopers for a new movie titled Young Sinner, a political thriller set in Washington D.C. To say we’re excited to check out this reunion is an understatement.

Starship Troopers is available to watch at home right now on Disney+.

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