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According to imdb Starship Troopers is an Action adventure sci-fi where "Humans of a fascistic, militaristic future do battle with giant alien bugs in a fight for survival."

I remember going to the cinema to see it and everyone laughing for the whole film.

Was it meant to be funny or funny by accident?

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Satirical would be a better description than funny as others have pointed out. – matt_black Jan 25 '12 at 16:42
"Verhoeven". Does anything more need to be said? :) – DA. Nov 17 at 20:36

4 Answers 4

up vote 23 down vote accepted

It's a bit unclear what you meant by "original" in the question - did you mean original intent behind the film? Or original as in the book that the film was supposedly based on? I'll try to address both sides.


  • The film was meant to be a satire of a fascist/militaristic state and as any good satire was meant to be funny.

  • The film has almost nothing whatsoever to do with the original book except minor superficial trappings.

  • The book was a serious work with philosophical and political ideas packaged in a form palatable to young readers (e.g. adventure SciFi). It wasn't meant to be funny, beyond minor chuckles that are typical of well-written SciFi story.


  • Original "Starship Troopers" book by R.A.Heinlein was basically a philosophical and political book told with SciFi trappings - like any good SciFi book.

    While the ideas Heinlein presented were serious, the book was written for teenage audience; and as such was well-packaged as a military SciFi adventure; which of course implied a small amount of military-jingoistic SciFi action patina/trappings that the genre dictates.

    In addition, the book presented positive views of soldiers (note the critical distinction - NOT militarism or even the military. Soldiers).

    Most notably and relevantly, the society is depicted as fully democratic, extremely unbiased and largely egalitarian (especially notable considering the book was written in 1959, with a non-white protagonist and female starship captains), and with explicit full civilian political control of the military. Basically, the polar opposite of the film's militaristic pseudo-fascism.

  • In turn, Verhoeven - who's somewhat left politically[1] - took Heinlein's book, and basically discarded 98% of it took 2% of the latter-mentioned patina/trappings to visibly base his movie on (ironically, the original film wasn't even planned on being called "Starship Troopers" and was only renamed - and connected to teh book - for marketing purposes).

    Verhoeven didn't get or use any of the deep philosophical ideas in the book (or at least didn't exibit any evidence of getting them based on either the film itself, or the interviews).

    He then turned that 2% into a witheringly sarcastic criticism of a strawman pseudo-fascist society of his own imagining that shared pretty much nothing except the name with the original book (for details of how the film has nothing to do with the book, please see this excellent SciFi.SE answer). As any good satire, it has elements meant to be funny.

    Here's what Wikipedia summary has to say about the film (although I would strongly recommend reading detailed analysis of the differences, both in the linked SciFi.SE answer or in far more rigorous way, Christopher Weuve's excellent analysis):

    The name was first licensed for an unrelated B-movie script called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine, which was then retitled Starship Troopers to utilize the book's credibility. The resulting 1997 film... had little relationship to the book beyond names and superficial plot details... Admirers of Heinlein were critical of the film, which they considered a betrayal of Heinlein's philosophy, presenting the society in which the story takes place as fascist.

    Christopher Weuve, an admirer of Heinlein, has said that the society depicted in the film showed only a superficial resemblance to the society that Heinlein describes in his book. Weuve summed up his critique of the film as follows. First, "while the Terran Federation in Starship Troopers is specifically stated to be a representative democracy, Ed Neumeier decided to make the government into a fascist state ... Second, the book was multiracial, but not so the movie: all the non-Anglo characters from the book have been replaced by characters who look like they stepped out of the Aryan edition of GQ... Third, there is real element of sadism present in the movie which simply isn't present in the book."

  • Just for reference, most of the overtly ridiculous fascist stuff in the movie - the stupid propaganda, the kids stomping on the bugs, glamorization of war, etc... - is 100% Verhoeven's, NOT RAH's, and isn't even remotely present in the book.

I could go into more significant detail in the answer if you add specific elements that piqued your interest as "too sarcastic to be in a SciFi movie".

[1] - when I say "left", I don't necessarily mean modern late-20th-century USA mushy and undefined left/right split, but more classical start-20th-century alignment. Moreover, Verhoeven's personal political views seem to be reasonably complicated, and don't neatly align with a typical Hollywood celebrities who are indeed 100% in line with US progressives politically.

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This is a great answer, although I would argue that Verhoeven definitely 'got' Heinlein's philosophical ideas, but chose to make a different film. – Nobby Jan 25 '12 at 14:51
Who said anything about being "too sarcastic to be in a SciFi movie"? I see no reason why a SciFi Movie can't be sarcastic, or funny! I love Red Dwarf Some great uses of Sarcasm in it. – AidanO Jan 25 '12 at 15:08
@AidanO - sorry, that was how I understood the thrust of your question. Thanks for the correction. – DVK Jan 25 '12 at 15:09
@DVK, no problem, maybe I should have said I was one of the ones laughing too :) thought it was a great film at the time, will have to re-watch and see if it has stood the test of time, I know I wasn't impressed with the 3rd one which I saw recently. Don't think I've seen the 2nd one. – AidanO Jan 25 '12 at 15:15
@Nobby The original bughunt movie concept was created before the studio realized they had the rights to the book Starship Troopers. As a result ST was only applied as a thin veneer on top of the movie Verhoeven had already created. I don't think Heinlein's philosophical ideas had any meaningful input in the movies creation. – Dan Neely Jan 25 '12 at 15:55

The very short answer to this is yes and no. Verhoeven certainly intended for some elements of the film to be funny, as well as a rip-roaring adventure yarn and more than a little over-the-top (especially the more overtly satirical bits) but he didn't set out to make a film that was wholly amusing.

His feeling was that the more you enjoy the front-end of the film (with the set-piece scenes at the Bootcamp, nude showering, powerball game and spaceflight sequences), the greater the emotional impact when the Bug War turns out to be actually quite appalling with heads being blown off and characters being chewed up and spat out by the super-realistic arachnid warriors:

We're taking the genre a step further in a certain direction, into realism, in fact. It's definitely sci-fi, but it's grounded in a very timely realistic world. Although it's also romantic and adventurous, even funny and light sometimes, it's realistic in its depiction of people dealing with fear....

It's a war movie, like the ones you saw in the 1940's. It's gung-ho kids thinking they'll have fun, then learning that war is very violent, very ugly. - Daily News Interview

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Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 novel was a serious work of fiction, written by a man who had himself done military service, having graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1929. It was not a comedy. Hence, the humour in the movie does not derive from the novel.

The novel is an attack on communism, and celebrates the American dream in a manner common in the 1950s. It represents the enemy as an inspect race; by implication, this depiction of the 'bugs' as having a hive-mind instead of being individuals is a representation of the communists, as they were usually seen by Americans at that period in time.

The Earth soldiers are fighting for the right to vote. Only soldiers, in the novel, can acquire this right, which has to be earned. The bugs, in contrast, are loaded down by the author with all the worst aspects of communism, being mere slave labour.

The novel seeks to give a realistic picture of life as a boot-camp trainee soldier, and paints quite a grim picture of that. Very little of the novel involves actual combat missions. Despite the notional SF background, the storyline is nevertheless based much more on World War II than on 'The War Of The Worlds'.

Very little of all this makes it into the movie, which is a comedy broadly based on a mix of the Harry Harrison novels 'Bill the Galactic Hero' and 'The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the Universe', with merely a few character names and placenames borrowed from Heinlein's book.

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While I think that this reading is reasonable, Heinlein wrote an essay on his intent in writing the book and communism wasn't central in that report. Rather he writes that it was a paen to the sacrifice of the muddy booted foot soldier, and in particular to the volunteer soldier. – dmckee Oct 27 '12 at 17:10

Well it has a very satirical touch, with this extremely conformist/fascist society and its stupid citizens. And it also has many trash elements. Although it's obviously a SciFi-Action movie, you cannot oversee these elements.

It is something like a grey area between a serious movie, a satire, and a trash movie. This is IMHO typical for many of Verhoeven's movies, which often contain what I would call "high-quality trash" elements along with satirical elements. Think of Total Recall, Robocop or Showgirls.

So I think it was indeed meant to be a bit funny or parodistic in the first point, even though that's not its only intention.

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Yep - I was just writing the exact same answer :) I might even add that the violence associated with this (and his other films) is so over-the-top that it could be considered absurd - adding to the overall feel of the film. – Nobby Jan 25 '12 at 13:07
@Nobby +1 for the " so over-the-top that it could be considered absurd" that's one of the things that really stands out to me about the film. – AidanO Jan 25 '12 at 13:31
i don't understand what you mean by trash movie – DForck42 Jan 25 '12 at 14:12
@DForck42 Well, something that's obviously (or sometimes even intentionally) bad-made/low-quality/exaggerated in such an extent that it's already funny. I don't say this applies in a whole to his movies, but there are certain elements or a bit of a trashy feel to certain parts of them, while still staying high-quality movies. That's why I coined the paradoxon "high-quality trash". Starship Troopers and Total Recall (and to some extent Robocop) are perfect examples for this. – Napoleon Wilson Jan 25 '12 at 14:25
@ChristianRau So you mean a B-movie. Alternatively a 'trashy' movie would have a similar but different meaning. – user209 Jan 25 '12 at 20:18

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