I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that Jon Zelazny, described as a “director’s assistant,” would come to the defense of director Paul Verhoeven’s exceedingly lame satire, “Starship Troopers” (“Amid ‘Troopers’ Gore, It’s Easy to Miss the Message,” Counterpunch, Dec. 1).
Pity the poor, misunderstood filmmaker, who had to actually live under Nazi occupation as a child, yet who somehow fails to clearly present the satiric focus of his movie in a manner that the masses can appreciate and understand. When did it become the responsibility of the moviegoer to ferret out the hidden meaning of such broad satire? Is it no longer the director’s task to ingratiate his audience, to bring meaning to them, rather than the other way around?
Yet I would argue that Zelazny missed something when he chose to pick on a few selected reviewers to suggest that “99.9%" of moviegoers missed the point. I find it incredible that Verhoeven, who took satire to new entertainment heights with his first American film, “Robocop,” manages to bring such dullness to the propaganda genre.
Propaganda, in order to excite an audience to sympathetic cheering and action on behalf of the propagandees, must grip the watcher and make him part of the world the filmmaker seeks to create. Hence we root for the cyborg-cop of the earlier film, with its brilliant futuristic television media coverage and commercials, because it strikes a chord with us and draws us into the world we see.
In “Troopers,” we see only a bunch of dumb kids following dumb leaders into a dumb war that eschews tactical maneuvers in favor of putting the youth of the planet Earth in front of an insect army that’s as sure to devour their false hopes and dreams as we in the audience are to yawn in the face of all this stupidity. We aren’t gripped and drawn into this future world because Verhoeven fails to entertain with anything other than initially intriguing special effects that reach their climax in nothing more than the dreadfully boring and eventually helpless “Brain Bug” that controls the insect troops.
Whether or not I believe Zelazny’s contention that the obliteration of Brazil by the bugs’ meteor is more the Earth government’s foul-up than the intended result of a vicious race of aliens, I had no trouble recognizing the propaganda aspects of Verhoeven’s effort. Sadly, though, I was still bored, and the incessant flatness of the movie’s satire can never be overcome by a recognition that the director has a deeper purpose. Furthermore, despite the apparent faults of those reviewers Zelazny chooses to quote, Times film critic Kenneth Turan included, most people I’ve spoken with did recognize the film’s purpose. They simply couldn’t believe he spent so much money and failed to gain their interest.
As a propagandist, Verhoeven has simply lost his touch. Because he fails to respect the intelligence of his audience, he fails to convince.
Do I smell a new Hollywood trend? First, director Taylor Hackford writes to say that his “Devil’s Advocate” movie was actually a “satire” (“A Cinematic Satire With Purpose,” Counterpunch, Nov. 17). And now Counterpunch contributor Jon Zelazny says that ‘Starship Troopers” actually “exposes through satire” the mentality of a Nazi Germany propaganda film. Why weren’t these films promoted as satire, if they are being so misinterpreted by reviewers and audiences as something else?
Is this because the promo departments remember that satire, as George S. Kaufman said, “closes on Saturday night”? Maybe things have sped up so fast in this culture that satire now closes on Friday, the first days these films get released. Hence the 2,000-screen opening?
Still, it makes me want to go see both pictures, now that I know what the filmmaker intended me to think. Preferably on a double bill for six bucks as second-runs over at the Aero on Montana.