“It’s an Ugly Planet”

I saw Starship Troopers in the theaters opening weekend back in 1997, and immediately thought it was brilliant—a clever and searing satire of war and nationalism, lightly disguised as a summer shoot ’em up action flick. Unfortunately, at the time the critical consensus was the reverse, that the film was a witless, inept celebration of violence and thoughtless destruction. The non-satire reading has always struck me as totally untenable, you need to willfully ignore the way the action is explicitly framed as part of propaganda broadcasts from a state-control TV/internet data stream:

At any rate, over the years the battle between these two schools of interpretation has played out, and I always try to do my part to advance the ball. And I’m proud to admit that increasingly the correct interpretation seems to be gaining the upper hand. The latest step in that direction is Scott Tobias’ Onion AV Club essay canonizing the film as a new cult classic: “even though it was produced in 1997—and based on a Robert Heinlein novel from 1959—Starship Troopers is such a clean, strong, almost direct post-9/11 allegory that Verhoeven and Neumeier had to have seen what was coming.”

I think that’s an insightful remark. One of the problems the film had, I think, is that American audiences weren’t ready to see a satire of the warmonger’s mindset and run-amok nationalism in 1997. People didn’t see those as problems an artist could be plausibly addressing. Today it’s a different scenario.