Starship Troopers: Book vs Movie

I’m a little late this morning, and I have no other excuse than that I’m still recovering from a busy week. I have no excuse because I didn’t write today’s post. Instead, I shamelessly begged for it from my friend and budding-writer-with-great-promise Jason Fuesting. He made the mistake of mentioning what his final paper for a class was, and I pounced. I wanted it. You see, I love the book, but have never seen the movie, and now I will never need to, because Jason’s comparison fulfills any need I might have had to do this for a blog post. Thanks, Jason, for sharing your paper, and for having taken the time and effort of doing this. 

 

starship troopersStarship Troopers starship troopers movie
Verhoeven’s film vs Heinlein’s print

Originally published by Robert Anson Heinlein in 1959, Starship Troopers has been considered by some to mark the beginning of modern Military Sci-fi.  Just shy of forty years later, director Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation hit the screens in late autumn of 1997 and with mixed reception.  Of the major critics, Roger Ebert said “Its action, characters and values are pitched at 11-year-old science-fiction fans” and pointed out that the film was “one-dimensional.” (Ebert)  Less formally, the film received a 63% overall rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Personally, I saw the film the day of release and, despite the differences between it and the book, I remember enjoying the film greatly at the time.  However, more than twenty years have passed since I have seen the film or read the book, so to provide a fair comparison I obtained copies of both formats and revisited them.

Taken in a vacuum, the film itself is passable for its time.   Despite being released in November, the film clearly fits the summer action film niche and summer action films are not frequently known for in-depth intellectual dialog or for exceptional acting.  Verhoeven’s work does not disappoint that expectation in the least.   What effort is evident in the film remains focused primarily on either the fight scenes, particularly in special effects and explosions, or in finding ways to justify having the actresses expose some amount of skin in some form or fashion as frequently as possible.  As such, Verhoeven’s film comes off not too dissimilarly from what one might expect of a Michael Bay film, except less subtle in every way.

Cinematography, editing, and score were not exceptional, but quite passable.  The film remained fast paced and for multiple scenes camera placement complimented the special effects and other elements quite well.   The effects themselves were as I remembered, great for the time period.  As far as the individual components of the film in terms of film making are concerned, outside of the acting, the film is quite well done.  As for the acting, what I remembered as campy and otherwise forgettable as a teen turned out to be far worse than I remembered.

When one steps back out of the vacuum, the film ultimately falls apart entirely on writing.  Many would likely ponder how a summer action movie that has managed to succeed on the other points could ultimately be deemed a failure based solely off a feature movies of its kind almost universally ignore.  For Heinlein fans, the film is unequivocally a thumb in the eye.  From that perspective, the director took the author’s creation, fed just enough of it through a sausage grinder to get the flavor out, mixed in his own recipe of inanity, and laid out the resulting abomination in precisely the exact opposite direction.  For those not particularly attached to Heinlein’s novel but still fans of decent writing, a multitude of plot holes and grave inconsistency errors abound, all of which were introduced by the writers meddling in Heinlein’s construct like children run amok.

Amok is sadly an understatement.  The film and the book are two wholly different entities. A Joking comment along the lines of the script used by Verhoeven being the result of the soulless Hollywood machine itself parodied in Robert Altman’s 1992 film “The Player” might be closer to the truth.  Simply put, Verhoeven’s script shares names with the book.

In the film, the main character, Johnnie Rico (played by Casper Van Dien) eagerly joins the military with his friend Carl (played by Neil Patrick Harris,) Dizzy (Dina Meyer,) and Carmen (Denise Richards.)  Before shipping out, the audience sees that there is definite love conflict where Rico wants Carmen, but she’s more interested in a guy she just happened to meet the night before at their last football game, the opposing team’s quarterback.  Said guy also just so happens to enlist at the same time and be assigned orders to the same pilot school Carmen is.   Similarly, Dizzy wants Rico and is insanely jealous of Carmen.  Post-enlistment we find that Dizzy transferred to be in Rico’s training unit.  Rico eventually cracks under pressure and calls his parents to tell them he’s resigning.  While on the phone, an asteroid sent by the bugs hits Buenos Aires, killing his family and millions of others.  Rico changes his mind about resigning, finishes his training, and they go to war.  The film winds onward, detailing Dizzy’s attempts to get Rico to pay attention to her, Carmen sending Rico a ‘Dear John’ letter as she’s decided she liked the other guy better, all interspersed between multiple combat scenes.  Dizzy and Rico end up in a unit lead by his former high school teacher.  By the end of it Dizzy and Carmen’s love interest is dead, but the surviving characters are miraculously responsible for finding the bug’s weakest link, the bugs that control the hive mind.  The film ends with the surviving characters gleefully telling the audience to “Enlist now!”

Differences abound.  In the film, Carl is a nerdy kid with psychic tendencies who enlists into the intelligence branch and goes on to be instrumental in winning the war.  In the book, Carl is somewhat instrumental in dragging the main character into the service, but he is an electronics wiz who gets placed in the Terran Research and Development division, stationed on Pluto and ultimately dies early on in the war when the bugs destroy the station he was on.   Similarly, the love triangle in the movie never happened, nor was the main character, Rico, featured in any sort of sports game, major school event, or anything similar.  Carmen was a classmate he’d befriended and had a crush on, nothing more.  Dizzy as portrayed in the film did not exist, the print version was a guy Rico met in boot camp.  His film rival, the quarterback, never existed.  He never meets his high school teacher again, though they do swap letters.  Similarly, his drill instructor does not purposefully bust himself down to private in the book in order to go back to the front.  In the film, his father is very anti-war, and extremely anti-military.  In the book, his father ends up joining the military after Rico’s mother is killed by the asteroid while visiting Buenos Aires.  A little more than half way through the book, Rico has a chance encounter with his father and there’s a heart-to-heart moment where you find out exactly why his father was angry in the book.

When I saw the movie the first time, I had a friend of mine who was a military buff.  He had a number of questions about the film, as the director’s vision for how the Terrans fought made no sense to him.  My friend asked, “Why is it you never see tanks in the movie?  Why did they use air support only once?    Why were they using World War I style mass infantry charges and dumping huge amounts of ammunition at the enemy instead of anything resembling real tactics?”   Even as an open minded person, the director’s apparent ignorance of basic military concepts broke his suspension of disbelief.  He could not understand why the mobile infantry, essentially a bunch of airship dropped light infantry, were sent in alone with little better than flak jackets and machineguns.  To him, it was nonsensical.  I pointed out to him that in the book, the mobile infantry did not use tank support at all because they were the tanks.  The MI used powered armor which allowed them far more mobility and lethality than a modern tank.  Such oversights and alterations by Verhoeven are common.  The film continually digs itself deeper in a hole by inserting content and ideas the author never discussed or omitting important points, ideas, and events that were part of the book to the point that even other fandoms can’t ignore it, even history buffs.

Early on, the film’s writers change a mention of Carthage into a reference to Hiroshima despite the change completely invalidating the point being made, much less completely missing the original message in the book.  The differences are legion and an exhaustive review of every change would be further belaboring a point already amply clear.  The differences in the writing, however, do add up to the overall theme of the movie, which completely corrupts the theme of the book.

In the early scenes, Heinlein portrayed Rico’s enlistment as a near thing.  He wasn’t sure if he was going to do it as he’d basically played along following Carl’s lead and decides that he isn’t going to do it when his father bribes him with a vacation trip to mars.  He ends up caught between Carmen and Carl when they drag him to enlist and he goes along with it.  In the movie, the same scenes play out as if no thought was given and that it was a wholly joyful occasion.

Thematically, the film plays very hard on the idea that the Terran government was right-wing, and that right-wing entities are all fascist, despite little or no evidence existing in the book to make either assertion.   Verhoeven goes the extra mile to paint anything and everything dealing with the Terran government as fascist, from the uniforms all being based off Nazi army and Gestapo uniforms to inhumane and ultimately insane treatment of anything and anyone who gets in the way of said government.

The film plays off the disastrous initial assault on Klendathu as a result of corruption and war profiteering, while in the book the character is never quite sure what happened beyond finding out that the initial planning was far too complicated and depended on far too many things going exactly correct.  Murphy did not disappoint.  Combined with inaccurate intelligence on the bugs, disaster was assured.   As a simple soldier at the time, there’d be no way for him to actually know what really happened.

Ultimately, the book’s message is one that stresses responsibility, personal, to one’s family, and to one’s nation.   Heinlein repeatedly highlights how military service is not easy, that life is a lot harder than we think it is when we’re young, how war is not the cool thing most children believe.  Verhoeven steadfastly ignores every bit of that and takes every point Heinlein made and twisting it to its opposite: war is great, service is so easy any idiot can do it, the military is filled with unthinking robotic idiots and evil right-wing fascists, and the only people who are held responsible are the ones who get caught without an excuse.   Instead of a story that is more or less a post-hoc biography of a soldier, complete with his regrets, Verhoeven’s adaptation is little more than modern actors in remade Nazi uniforms acting out nonsense between scenes further adapted from Nazi propaganda films.  Verhoeven is so over-the-top in his use of Nazi imagery and defacing the concept of patriotism that his attempted smear against the right-wing gets lost in the noise.

The film is offensive on multiple levels.  First, as a veteran, the book is easily realistic science-fiction that carries multiple very pertinent messages and warnings, especially in today’s society.  Many of these were messages I needed to hear when I was younger, but I had neither the maturity nor the experience to truly understand at the time.  Second, as an author, I am utterly horrified at the wholesale gutting the film makers and their writers gleefully engaged in and the complete mockery of their creation.  The idea that one of my prospective works could receive similar treatment sickens me.  Third, as a Conservative leaning libertarian, Verhoeven’s film lampoons ideas central to the survival of any state, left leaning or right, and does so in such a poor fashion that it fails at being even amateur-level propaganda.  Admittedly, hyperbole is a valid tool; however, when using hyperbole one must ensure both that one’s point is valid and that the use of hyperbole does not destroy your message.  Verhoeven fails on both accounts.

Verhoeven’s defense of his film is simple and forthright, his film is satire and his message, “war makes fascists of us all” (Verhoeven).  Essentially his stance is, as it has been on other films of his, anyone who dislikes the film clearly doesn’t understand it.  At first blush, a generous analyst might deem this defense plausible, but the director’s defense is rather inadequate.  The man admits in another interview, “I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring” (Smith).  How can one satirize something they never bothered to completely experience much less understand?  That is how you get nonsense like Verhoeven’s perfect Aryan Johnny Rico from Heinlein’s Juan Rico, revealed near the end to be a Filipino.  Surely the writers knew, but did the director?

Ultimately, Verhoeven takes a message needed badly by so many today, with their safe spaces and trigger warnings, and turns it into the film equivalent of those same children’s tantrums, a film so poorly written that only Mystery Science Theater 3000 could find use for it.  A better director would have used Joe Haldeman’s “Forever War,” an excellent book in its own right.  Haldeman makes all the points this film bobbled in “Forever War,” but using it would have meant going without all the Nazi imagery that Verhoeven is evidently fond of and not butchering an outstanding work in the process.  Verhoeven’s film is surely satire, but I do not think he realizes the joke is on his side.  It is a sad commentary on our society, where intellectual laziness and bigotry are shielded behind self-aggrandizement and a lackluster defense of “It’s a joke.”

 

 

Works Cited

Ebert, Roger. “Starship Troopers Movie Review (1997).” All Content. Ebert Digital LLC, 1997.

Web. 3 Dec. 2015

Verhoeven, Paul. Audio Commentary.  “Starship Troopers” Dir. Verhoeven. Buena Vista

International, 2007.  (DVD).

Smith, Adam. “Triple Dutch.” Empire. Empire Magazine, 1 Aug. 2012. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

<http://www.empireonline.com/movies/features/paul-verhoeven/&gt;.

92 Comments

Filed under BY THE MAD GENII, CEDAR SANDERSON, SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY

92 responses to “Starship Troopers: Book vs Movie

  1. Peter O

    Well, now I have a link to send people to read when they ask about issues with the movie. 🙂

    An excellent essay. Thanks.

    • I think he did a great job with this, and I’m really pleased he allowed me to put it up here.

    • Robin Munn

      An excellent essay. Thanks.

      Yes, indeed. Verhoeven’s claim that those who dislike his movie “clearly don’t understand it” is amply disproven by Jason Fuesting’s excellent dissection.

      And really, he stopped reading the book after TWO ______ING CHAPTERS, and STILL decided to make a movie of it? And he cheerfully admitted to this crime against intellectual integrity in an interview? What a… well, I’d like to keep this comment PG, so I’ll censor what I was going to say. But Mr. Verhoeven, if you were ever to read this, know this: you were a fool to think you understood a book after reading just two chapters, and you owe EVERYBODY an apology for that movie.

      • given that the first 2 chapters of the book are the totally awesome MI drop onto a world held by the Skinny’s, and which show off the powered armor and tactics of the Mi the most? i doubt he even cracked the book open at any time during his making of the film.

        and his assistant directors claim to be big fans of the book.. yet also claim the movie is an accurate portrayal of the themes in it, which means they may have read the book, but they sure as hell didn’t understand it..

      • bandit, Albuquerque

        The book’s value comes from the soliloquies about why the society is the way it is (whether one agrees with it or not), and the mores of OCS and within the military – why you would send 100 to rescue one, even with 50% casualties.

        The other is the powered armor. The book *created* a whole new genre of SF.

        The fact the director did not bother to read the book (which takes me, at most, 2 hours) does not speak well of him.

        I happen to know a couple of the special effects guys who worked on the film. They are hardcore SF readers, and *begged* the director to do the powered armor. He said to make the vests. They did – a gig is a gig. They went back and begged *again* to do the powered armor, but the money was already spent on the extras, which ***were not** needed if they were able to make the powered armor first. And – they would have done a *fantastic* job on it – they have the chops.

        So – the MI in the film *deserved* to die. They had zero tactics, zero strategy, and wimpy weapons.

        Also – and this is a dated aspect (I married a female Marine) – there were no women in the MI. That is one change I would not mind seeing. The book *was* written in the 1950’s, and Heinlein was a product of his time.

        All copies of the movie (and possibly the director :^) should be chucked into the sun.

      • bandit, Albuquerque

        Forgot to mention – the movie fail is there were three lines hacked out of the soliloquies and zero powered armor.

        One hopes a *real* director will come along with the money to do it properly.

  2. There’s been a couple of what I’d call “hipster reviews” of the movie version of Starship Troopers, lamenting the fact that *only now* is the movie receiving acclaim as satire – – recognized by hipsters, of course. One review was in The Atlantic:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/11/-em-starship-troopers-em-one-of-the-most-misunderstood-movies-ever/281236/

    Another is at overthinking it:

    http://www.overthinkingit.com/2009/11/26/starship-troopers-fascism/?page=all

  3. Draven

    Ok, now you need to compare both to Roughnecks 😀

  4. That’s probably the best comparison I’ve read all pulled into one essay.

  5. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    The Starship Troopers movie is not the book. Don’t bother seeing the movie. Read the book though, even if you disagree with it, you will be enlightened.

  6. Christopher M. Chupik

    This is one of the best takedowns of this movie I’ve read. Kudos.

    I’ve dreamed of a better, more faithful movie version of ST, powered armor and all. But of course we’d have the ignoramuses saying stuff like:

    “Durrr, why are they ripping off Iron Man? Where’s the Nazi satire? Durrr . . .”

  7. agesilaus

    Excellent comparison. Heinlein himself was opposed to making any of his work into a film after he let Destination Moon be converted to a film. He was very unhappy with the result. So whoever owns the copyright to his work is explicitly going against his wishes.

    One glitch in your essay, for the main part the Gestapo did not wear uniforms unless you consider a leather trench coat to be a uniform. They did have uniforms for formal occasions but these were SS uniforms with Gestapo badges.

    • oaksden

      Let me add to the historical record: Virginia Heinlein is the one who allowed the making of the movie. She cared deeply about Heinlein’s legacy and reputation as anyone who knew them will testify. There was *no-one* who knew his wishes better than she did.

      In the late ’90’s, when some of RAH’s fans were calling the movie the worst piece of writing since “Plan 9 From Out Space,” Ginny interrupted to point out that sales of the novel skyrocketed since it was re-issued with a still from the movie on the cover and that it was the best-selling book of Heinlein’s since “Stranger.” She expressed great satisfaction with the financial rewards of the movie (Heinlein wrote because he could make lots of money doing it), and pointed out that everyone who read the book because of the movie could be counted as a win.

      • TRX

        Hey, if she wants to turn Heinlein’s legacy into “rip off his fans”, she could authorize Chuck Wendig to do “Starship Troopers: The Expanded Universe.” Maybe a group effort with the Torlings…

        • Ginny is gone these 11 years. And no, she wasn’t turning it into a “rip off his fans.” I will point out I didn’t dislike ST the movie. Yeah, it wasn’t the book, and it was completely different from the book, but people who expect a movie to be faithful to the book are either children or not up on how movies are made. First, a movie cannot be made of a book as complex as ST. IT CAN’T. A movie is about a novella length story. Second, movies can’t transmit real complexity of emotions. That’s where we have the advantage.
          I apologize, but claiming Ginny “ripped off” anything, much less her husband’s fans is unconscionable, insulting and unforgivable.

          • I will add I missed the Nazi imagery — it simply wasn’t on my radar. That might have been inexcusable. BUT all the same Ginny was right. Everyone who bought the book and READ it because of the movie was a win. Ideas sitting in a book that’s kept “pristine” because none of the young people found it? Worthless. Ideas that get into young minds? Insidious.

          • pst314

            “And no, she wasn’t turning it into a ‘rip off his fans.’ “
            Maybe Verhoeven made oral promises to the elderly Virginia to not distort the message of the book, promises that he obviously did not keep?

            • Quite possibly, but honestly, you have to look at the realities of book selling. When an author is dead, (or a book has been out for 10 or more years) books sell almost nothing. A movie, even a bad one, sent thousands to buy the book and get the unexpurgated message at the source. I’d have made the same decision. Her point was not to rip off Heinlein’s fans, but to seed his thoughts in another generation. BTW her name on AIM was Astyanax, because she viewed herself as continuing his work/message after he was dead and “they” thought they were safe.

  8. Chuck-K

    To me the producers and directors had an agenda going into the movie. I had in the past pushed back against the “Heinlein was a Nazi, and Starship proves it” narrative but after a while saw that was a waste of my time. Anyone who has any knowledge of WW 2 can see the influence in the Book. The Movie was a travesty.

  9. Christopher M. Chupik

    Another really funny take on the movie, especially the last line:

    http://www.sff.net/people/doylemacdonald/r_startro.htm

  10. The only Heinlein movie adaptation that i feel is true to the original work was Predestination.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Well, there was a Puppet Masters movie where the makers attempted to be faithful to the book.

      In that case, IMO it wasn’t their fault that it wasn’t faithful to the book.

      I will say that the Puppet Masters movie was closer IMO to the book than the so-called Starship Troopers movie.

  11. Bravo. Great review. Adapting a novel to film is always a difficult task, but in the hands of a vandal the results are invariably anti-art

  12. Uncle Lar

    Other than the obvious distain Vander whosis had for Heinlein’s politics as expressed in the book, one of the main complaints I’ve always heard was the lack of power suits in the movie. I seem to recall that early on they made the decision to expend their meager CGI budget on the bugs rather than what they considered a minor detail. Of course this was back in 1997.
    There has been at least one animated movie that was much more faithful to the original book. This one I believe:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2085930/?ref_=fn_al_tt_6
    The two sequels to the first movie, bleagh, just more of the same tripe.

  13. Great fisking of the movie! We left after the first 15 minutes… Reading this I’m glad that I did!

  14. At the time of it’s release, Verhoeven claimed he had made a point of flipping Heinlein’s message. He also endeared himself to the American audience by claiming Americans did not understand the horror of war because they had never been occupied, as Holland had. Conveniently, he neglected to mention that he had experienced that horror as a sperm cell.

  15. Pingback: Review: Art Books Part II – Cedar Writes

  16. The Other Sean

    “As such, Verhoeven’s film comes off not too dissimilarly from what one might expect of a Michael Bay film, except less subtle in every way.”

    Oh my, that is too laugh-inducing for words. Nice essay, but that quote just takes the cake, in that is both completely accurate and a very dry form of humor at once. I’d never before associated Michael Bay and subtle before, but by comparison to Verhoueven I guess he is.

  17. Randy P.

    Paul Verhoeven’s adaptation hit the screens in late autumn of 1997 . . . However, more than twenty years have passed since I have seen the film”

    It hasn’t been twenty years yet.

    Otherwise, great essay. Verhoeven has never been a mastery at subtlety, though he apparently believes he is. The movie was flat out bad film-making. Reminds me of that adaption of Brideshead Revisited a few years back by a director that went out of his way to attack the source material and anyone who loved the book. Nothing like contempt for your audience to make a film well worth seeing, huh?

  18. To add insult to injury, the producers showed up at LASFS and tried to talk attendees into working as extras in the film for free. Er, no, there are enough people here who actually work in the film industry to know that extras usually get paid…

  19. Charles

    A couple of things. One, there was a persistent rumor that neither “Starship Troopers” nor “I, Robot” were really adaptations of the novels they were named after. The story goes that the studios had these scripts in production, 20th Fox doing a movie about robots and Tristar making a movie about interstellar war, and the studios discovered they had for decades owned the rights to SF novels popular enough to draw fans to purportedly based on movies. So a few details from Heinlein and Asimov were thrown in and the titles changed. Second, directors almost never read the novels they are adapting. And it often shows, a movie that has the events of the novel but not the pace or the tone. There are even gross examples such as “The Mothman Prophecies,” directed by a talented man who thought the book was a novel, a work of fiction. Third, the nazi costumes. In 2006 Veerhoeven made a movie called “Black Book.” I don’t think it was ever released in America, and it was followed by accusations that it depicts the Dutch Resistance of WWII as being made up of sadists and lunatics but that Veerhoeven’s Nazis were perfectly reasonable fellows. If so, maybe the psychic’s bizarre stormtrooper uniform was not meant to have a negative connotation.

    • John R. Ellis

      The “I Robot” thing isn’t a rumor. The studio was quite open that they’d imported the three laws and certain character names into a separate script just for the name recognition value.

      • The best part of the “I, Robot” movie for me is highly personal. It’s the first movie in which my youngest (then 12) correctly observed nonsense with firearms. He turned to me in the middle of a big gun battle, and said of the Will Smith character, with outrage in his voice, “HE HASN’T RELOADED EVEN ONE TIME!”
        Yup. Mah boy done growed up raht!

      • Reality Observer

        You know, I think they do that because they know that only garbage will actually satisfy the critics.

        Case in point: The one movie (in recent times) that I felt actually got what the story author meant to say across was “Bicentennial Man.” And the idiots all hated it.

  20. And speaking of contempt, I would say to Verhoeven what Exeter had to say to the Dauphin:

    Can’t say it any better than that.

  21. First night. Tired of my wife’s hissing at me and her elbow slamming into my ribs, I realized that the movie was an alternative universe Starship Troopers, began cheering for the Bugs, and the final half was a wonderful tragedy.

    Great essay.

  22. David Lang

    Unfortunately, the Hollywood movie types see the movie as a groundbreaking masterpiece. If you look at the various organizations that run theaters showing old movies, you will find that they periodically show this movie, pitching it as being historically important.

  23. Joe in PNG

    “…a film so poorly written that only Mystery Science Theater 3000 could find use for it.”
    Happily, the late MST crew (Mike, Kevin, and Bill) have done a Rifftrax on this abomination.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      The Baen superstar authors need to do one too.

      Yes, I’ll keep pushing this idea until someone does it!

  24. Karl Sandwell-Weiss

    The movie was pretty bad, but the music was excellent, done by Basil Poledouris. He also did Conan, Blue Lagoon, Robocop, Hunt for Red October, and Quigley Down Under.

    His score for Conan the Barbarian is some of the best movie music out there.

  25. This is a sobering article for anyone who hasn’t been in the military but wants to write battle scenes. That raises the question: How can someone without military experience get up to speed? This included period military tactics. And what if we can’t figure out the difference between strategy and tactics? How do we include what may be the second most neglected topic: logistics. Then how to we account for the most neglected topic: Emperor Mong?

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Mong, Emperor of Mingo?

    • agesilaus

      That’s why aspiring authors are told to “write about what you know”. It really irritates me when some yahoo writes a book and sticks in his .9 mm pistol in it. If you don’t really know this stuff then at least find someone who does and run the drafts by them for correction.

      • That used to mean something to me, until I met more and more authors who didn’t know what they thought they knew. Besides, if I wrote a novel centered on electric utilities, no one would believe it because it wouldn’t square with what they’ve been told.

        • I’m still amazed at the electrical engineers I’ve met who don’t understand 3-phase power and load balancing! At my school it was one of the specialties, so even if you weren’t taking the power option, you still picked up a lot about it.

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            Is there a place on the internet where someone who has taken calculus can learn about 3 phase and load balancing?

            I’m not an EE, and thought AC sounded too complicated when I was younger. I think I might be up to it now, and would like to know more about var than ‘internet people say it makes solar and wind hard to match to baseline power demand’.

            • It’s not hard, and no calculus is required. It can be done two ways:

              1. Expressed as three sine waves separated by 120 degrees.
              2. As a phasor diagram, which is just a polar vector plot with each phase separated by 120 degrees.

              Either way, only basic trig is required. You can get into complex numbers, but you can get by without it. The phasor diagram is really the easiest, and allows you to visualize Wye and Delta transformer banking.

              What’s fun is that from the phasor diagram you can fall back basic Pythagorean theorem for 60°, work out the trig values, and apply those. Handy for seeing how values like the square root of three come in.

            • Actually that’s not a load balancing problem per se, Load balancing of three phase is normally a problem for power generation facilities, as all power is generated in three phases, but most homes are running off of two legs of that power (two 110 lines here in the US). But all three legs have the same power on them. So the electric company has to switch who is getting which two legs of those three legs, throughout the day, as power loads change, to keep the demand on those three legs balanced. When you see your lights flicker for a moment, odds are they just switched one of your two legs to balance power.
              Of course they don’t do this for individual houses, but for entire neighborhoods at a time.

              Now as for Solar, it all generates power at the same time, across the grid, of varying amounts, so you have no control over how much you’re getting, and you can only get it during a portion of the 24 hour period. You can’t control it, because you can’t control sunshine, nor can you control the generating sites.
              So you get this power coming in semi-randomly, that you have no control over. In small doses, you can deal with it, but in larger doses? You can’t count on it being there, and the times you need it the most (at night when it’s cold out) you can’t get it. So you can’t factor it into your plans.
              Now if you build a solar plant, you have a bit more control over it, but again, you can’t control the sunshine. And it’s only available during daylight hours (at varying levels) throughout the day.
              Wind power is even less reliable than solar power, because the winds are completely random.

              So you’re trying to figure random elements in to a system that can not be random. We don’t live in India (where I think they still only get power for 4 hours a day in much of it), people would scream here if they couldn’t have whatever power they wanted 24/7. As civilization is 100 percent based on power, no power company, or government that is serious about keeping its place in the world, or improving its people, is ever going to rely on something that is fairly random for power.

              • Well . . . .there’s load balancing and then there’s load balancing. On the grid level, if we shifted phases on the fly, we’d have three-phase motors spinning backwards and folding up tower irrigation systems like an accordion. That’s because when you start tinkering with phases, you affect phase rotation. That’s why we’re very particular when working on transformer banks, and have things like phase rotation meters (though today’s three-phase KWh meters can show phase rotation),

                On the grid itself, practically all distribution in the US is based on Wye configuration, which is handy because you can get single-phase current with just one phase and a ground. (Note: some small distribution, notably military bases, are on Delta configuration, and this requires two phases to produce single-phase current). Using Wye is more economical, but can also end up with unbalanced loads if you’re not careful with how your taps pull off, or in what’s called Open Delta transformer banking. Yes, you can connect a transformer bank in Delta onto a Wye system, and Open Delta is popular because you can get three-phase power out of just two phases, and works just dandy on smaller loads.

                We pay close attention to loading for three reasons: Voltage drops, fault protection device coordination, and conductor ampacity (how much load a given conductor can carry). Odds are we’ll never get it absolutely perfect, but we try to get it as close as possible. Since this involves transformer and tap connections, changing loading means crews in trucks going out and swapping single phase transformer and tap connections. It’s non-trivial, to say the least.

                When lights blink on the grid, it can be broken down to either distribution or transmission. On the distribution side we have things called reclosers. We use these to allow a fuse to blow, limiting an outage “downstream” while keeping most of the lights on. You watch some old utility guys when the lights blink, and you’ll probably see us counting. Two or three blinks in close succession usually means a recloser is operating, and we’re sort of holding our breaths to see if the lights come back on after the third try. Then there’s blinks due to faults, and this can happen on circuits where the fault isn’t located. At the office we know we’re about to get calls if the lights flicker a certain way, because that means there’s a fault on on of the distribution circuits at that substation.

                What can make fuses and reclosers operate can range from downed conductors to snakes on transformers (it happens). Even a limb brushing a line can cause a blink.

                On the transmission side you also have critters (have seen buzzards take out 46 KV lines), ROW issues, and switching feeders. The latter can be done because of sectionalizing or load balancing issues. This sort of load balancing is a bit different than on the phase level because it’s essentially looking at the feeder as a whole. Note that transmission also monitors load balancing at the phase level at substations, but can’t deal with it by switching phases because of things like three-phase motors running backwards and irrigation towers folding up. This makes a single, sharp, blink.

                Every transmission outage I’ve seen has always happened without multiple blinks. Note that fuses (and CSP transformers) go out the same way, so just because an outage doesn’t have multiple blinks does not necessarily mean it’s on the transmission side of things.

                Load balancing is also important beyond the metering point, but this tends to be a customer issue – unless a utility engineer has decided to roll the dice and specified service conductor with a smaller neutral than “hot” legs. Note that in US single-phase, the two 120v legs are not different phases. They’re essentially separated by 180° because of AC flipping polarity. Actually, since the 120v refers to the voltage between the leg and the center ground, calling each leg 120v is not accurate. You’ve got 240v between legs, and the 120v is leg to ground. If the load isn’t balanced, you’ve got return current on the neutral, and this is where the roll of the dice comes in:

                “I know what you’re thinking. Half the outlets and lights are on one leg; and half on the other, and the stove, drier, water heater, and central unit are on both legs, and so it ought to be balanced. But you’ve lost track of what’s on and what’s not, and to honest, in all the confusion I lost track myself. The question you want to ask yourself is whether you feel lucky. Well, do you?”

                Emperor Mong moonlights.

                On three-phase it’s somewhat different, but accounts like factories have to worry about load balancing, too.

                As to solar and wind, we can simplify the problem by knowing that we have to offset the capacity by storage or base generation. Anyone who grasps that has more of a clue than the current administration.

                • Thanks for all of that information, that was pretty interesting. I didn’t know about the Wye and the Delta stuff (I may have been taught it, but EE school was back in the late 70’s so I probably forgot), and I’ve never worked in the field, so not surprised I got some of the details wrong.
                  On the 3-phase motors, yes, I’ve heard about that problem, but isn’t that why the companies with 3-phase are on special dedicated lines?
                  Also familiar with the reclosers, though when they were described to me, I was told it was an attempt to burn off whatever was shorting out the line. Was that a good explanation? (I have gone through the full three count several times when I lived out in the sticks in Oregon, during bad storms).

                  As for storage, well Hollywood told us that is an evil plot only done by batman villains (it was the central plot of I think the 2nd batman movie) 🙂
                  Of course apparently water storage is also viewed as an evil plot here in California these days.

                  • Dedicated lines are for big loads and loads with special needs. One I know of (but we don’t serve), is supplied by a transmission line, and essentially has its own substation. That’s actually common for large factories.

                    Other than that, there’s no dedicated circuits for smaller three-phase. If the load is to be served by Wye, it’s a matter of having three phases available or constructing it. For Delta, you can get by with two phases for smaller loads, but all three is better. There’s also a gadget called three-phase converters, which take single phase and produce three-phase. The latter can be mechanical, where a single-phase motor drives a three-phase generator, or through electronics, in which case you’re dealing with banks of capacitors. Have never had the “joy” of working on the latter, but you can easily run through an entire book of intectives twice while troubleshooting the things.

                    About reclosers and burning off/clearing the fault . . . eh. That’s a common idea, even among linemen, but it’s really for sectionalizing device coordination. In general you have a fuse, beginning at the transformer, then maybe another fuse upline, followed by two or more reclosers. We coordinate the things using timing curves, which used to mean laying tracing paper atop logarithmic graph paper showing the time for a setting/coil/fuse, and make sure there’s enough time to allow downstream devices to open before upstream devices kick out. Essentially it’s to give the downstream devices time to open.

                    We often put reclosers on “single shot” when working on or near a line, which really means it can only kill you once, but gives a greater chance of an open casket funeral. When that happens and there’s a fault on the line, everything below that recloser opens on just one try. That’s because it doesn’t allow time for all the other devices to lock out. If we have a circuit on “single shot” at the substation recloser, then one fault even at the end of the line can open up the entire circuit. Yes, that’s happened while we’re doing line work.

                    One of the things we learn is that anything built by man is subject to fail. If the load gets too high, a sectionalizing device will kick out under “inrush” current, when everything comes on at once. It will also play havoc with timing curve coordination. And sometimes reclosers just fail, which is why we use visible air gaps when opening a line and don’t trust just opening the reclosers. We’ve also had reclosers to fail the other way, and open all on their lonesome and never kick back in.

                    When a seconalizing device opens, we ride the line. If we find nothing, we try it again. If it holds, fine. If not, we go over the line again. At night we have looked for the flash to figure out where the fault’s at.

          • Well, EE is a broad field. Our EE had to do circuits and such in school, an never saw a real live transformer hook-up until out of school.

        • agesilaus

          Heh. I retired from 31 years in electric utilities. And I was a reactor operator in the Navy on top of that.

      • Not much bullet weight but the muzzle velocity must be awesome!

    • You do a lot of research, and then ask around to see if anyone with germane experience would mind going through your story and flagging the worst bits. I had a friend with small-unit leadership experience read over some things and see if the officer in charge was acting stupidly enough. He concurred, and I knew I was OK.

      • Reality Observer

        Yup. It’s not what you know, it’s knowing that the people you know really do know what they think they know.

        Note that “Starship Troopers” was written by a man with military education and experience, true. But he was a Navy officer. He did not go through infantry training of any sort and he had zero personal experience with ground operations. He studied the subject intensively, though (and most likely knew many who did have infantry experience).

        Of course, that does not make all that much difference – who, in those days, or these days for that matter, have any experience with dropping heavy and fast moving infantry forces from orbit into a ground action? The closest thing we have, IMHO – long after the novel was written – is operations by Abrams, as shown in both GWs. Which approximates the speed and armor, although certainly not the versatility of a Heinlein MI unit – that still takes combined operations to do everything that they were represented as capable of doing.

  26. It was always obvious that Vanwhateverhisnameis hated the book, hated the military, and was way too impressed with his own intellect and importance.
    Quite frankly the movie was stupid and it sucked, as it got everything wrong, and nothing right. And not just about the book, but about reality as well.

    One of the stupidest scenes in the movie, that only a fool could have written is when Rico, a highly trained combat soldier in perfect physical condition, gets into a fight with a PILOT who is NEITHER. And he Loses!!

    It was obvious that he never read the book, just talked briefly with someone who had skimmed it.

    • Laura M

      And the orbital mechanics–where a ship gets hit and just falls down. On the planet. Right away, not decades later.

  27. Good essay. A little too kind to Verhoven, who made the movie as a deliberate smear of the book.

    IMHO a proper version of Starship Troopers can’t be made in Hollywood in 2015. They’d have to sabotage it, because it runs counter to everything they hold dear.

    • Griz

      The question to ask is…

      Can Clint Eastwood handle a special effects movie?

    • It can’t be made, period. Look, Phil Dick has a lot of movies made of his books, because you can skim the saner/more logical bits. But ST is too complex. It could PERHAPS be made into a six movie mini-series. BUT not one movie.

  28. The movie was basically the comic book version of the novel.

    • David Lang

      That is both a slander against comic books, and overly complimentary to the movie.

      • David Lang

        to expand on the comment,

        Good Comic Books will simplify the story, but they won’t change the theme or make something that is good in the main story be something that is bad in the comic book version.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        I’m imagining a Classics Illustrated version of Starship Troopers now.

    • Joe in PNG

      “Based on the back cover blurb” is probably a bit closer to the truth.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        “Based on the director skimming the first two chapters and giving up” doesn’t sound so good.

        • Joe in PNG

          I get this picture of the director trying to read this (or any book, really), yelling things like “Booring!” or “Where’s the pictures?”, tossing the book away, and calling out for his coke & hookers.

  29. jon spencer

    As I have said before, the only good points the movie has are in the shower scene.
    :>)

  30. kenwd0elq

    The BOOK of “Starship Troopers” was inspiring and phenomenally good. Still one of my favorites.

    The MOVIE of “Starship Troopers” had nothing in common with the book except for the title and the “hero’s” last name. (In the book, the hero is a Filipino Juan Rico; in the movie, he’s the All-American White Boy John Rico.) The movie featured an extensive co-ed nude shower sequence which, in my mind, was the ONLY redeeming feature of the movie; the rest of the movie was terrible. No powered suits. No political philosophy. No “Why We Fight” explanation.
    (Looking up in this thread, I see that jon spencer has made these same “points”.)

  31. Robert "Garwulf" Marks

    I may be in the minority here, but I rather liked the movie…although it took me about a decade or so to reach that point.

    The thing is that it IS effective satire. But it’s effective satire of war movie tropes in general, not a satire of the book. Every ridiculous thing you see in the movie is something that is played straight in other movies, where some character or another does something suicidally stupid and comes out of it as a hero. In Starship Troopers, every single one of these instances happens, but results in the person or people doing it dying horribly.

    Go alone onto high ground to send a transmission in hostile territory with no air cover to speak of? Die horribly. Put a fortified base in the middle of a valley with the structural supports on the outside? Die horribly. Stand in front of everybody trying to mow down enemies like a hero? Die horribly. Invade an enemy planet with nothing but infantry and rifles? Die horribly.

    Once you realize that Starship Troopers is actually an extended and brutal takedown of the stupidity of Hollywood war movie tactics, it becomes a REALLY fun movie.

  32. Wayne Borean aka The Mad Hatter

    Jason,

    Very well written. I really enjoyed reading it.

    For everyone else:

    Verhoeven looks like a lunatic from a fan’s point of view, but he once said about a different movie, “It’s like all my movies, on time, and under budget.” From the point of view of a movie studio, that makes him a valuable commodity (does anyone remember Heaven’s Gate?)

    The studio behind Star Wars thought that the movie would be a great tax write off. That’s why they made it, not because they thought millions of people would love it. Hollywood is a business now. There was a time when the major studios made movies to showcase great stories. Now, they make movies to move cash around.

    Which is why I’ve pretty well stopped watching American TV and movies. Most of it is terrible crap. I far prefer Canadian and British shows. Yes, the Canadians and the Brits are quite capable of producing garbage, but even their failures are interesting…

  33. Vladimir G.

    I`d say the movie managed to accomplish one fairly unique thing: it was complete crud compared to its made-to-sell-action-figures animated tie in(a feat not repeated until green lantern afik). I watched Roughnecks long before I ever saw the movie and the contrast to the series WW2 tropes-in-space was so jarring I couldn`t even laugh at the movie–and I was drunk and watching it with good friends to mst it!!
    I get that a multiple episode series has an advantage when it comes to developing characters and actually giving them character arcs (which the cartoon did with all of the cast) but even the action sequences seemed better designed and more varied-not to mention included exoskeleton support suits with rocket pods and a variety of demolition gear.

    • Draven

      There were no action figures for Roughnecks. There were never action figured planned. Under the original template for the series production, the run of the entire series would have been too short to get toys into stores much less have the longevity necessary to pay for the design and production of said toys. There was powered armor and power suits because, well, Starship Troopers- the omission of said armor was something people criticized about the movie.

      (In cause you dont remember,, the armor they wore every day was implicity stated to be powered armor, they usually called them power suits. The ape mech and duck mech were called ‘Marauders’)

      • Vladimir G.

        I remembered about the power armor and the marauders although i forgot what the subvariants were actually called. Could have sworn there were toys though…guess I got confused by the movie based toys. To be precise though I thought that the reason they made a pg rated cartoon adaptation was to drum up interest in the younger crowd rather then the series was invented as a toy tie in the way some other were.
        Doesnt really matter though the series was freaking awesome and I`m glad it got made(albeit left tragically unfinished)

        • Draven

          The audio for the last three episodes was recorded, the storyboards were done, but production of them was suspended before they entered the animation phase.

  34. pst314

    “Verhoeven’s film is surely satire, but I do not think he realizes the joke is on his side.”
    An especially bitter joke, the Netherlands (and the rest of Europe) is invaded by another implacable fascistic enemy, this time of a theological sort. Patriots willing to fight and die to defend their home are demonized, while those who want to conquer and enslave us are turned into “victims” of “islamophobia”.

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