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The Ultimate Slatepitch

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Um, no.

Showgirls, as certain critical circles have begun to embrace, is not “so bad it’s good.” Showgirls is good, or perhaps great, full stop. But one of the more intriguing things about the film is that it has so widely and so consistently been misunderstood by critics and audiences alike, despite the fact that its director, Paul Verhoeven, made a career in Hollywood out of highly commercial satires that freely indulge in the trash they’re mocking. It’s a constant throughout Verhoeven’s career: nearly every one of his American films, each of which is fiercely intelligent and provocative in its own way, was received at the time of its release with a combination of confusion and contempt, each in turn not so much rejected as a failure as, more frustratingly, dismissed as unworthy of serious thought.

Has Slate already signed Calum Marsh to a multiyear contract?

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  • TribalistMeathead

    “It’s a constant throughout Verhoeven’s career: nearly every one of his American films, each of which is fiercely intelligent and provocative in its own way, was received at the time of its release with a combination of confusion and contempt, each in turn not so much rejected as a failure as, more frustratingly, dismissed as unworthy of serious thought.”

    I don’t even know where to begin with that sentence, but I think I’ll start with “that’s not how RoboCop or Starship Troopers were received. At all.”

    • snarkout

      But it’s true! How can you not view “Starship Troopers” or “Total Recall” as at least partially a sendup of American s.f. action blockbusters?

      • NonyNony

        I think the point is that neither of them were “received at the time of its release with a combination of confusion and contempt”.

        But I assume that the article writer was speaking of film critics rather than the general public.

        (Though frankly – I recall Starship Troopers being received as a satire when it came out. I remember because the outrage of Heinlein fans in my acquaintance over the fact that they “didn’t take it seriously” and “were mocking the source material” could probably be heard on the moon despite the vacuum of space.)

        • Lee Rudolph

          The moon is a hard-of-hearing mistress.

          • LittlePig

            +1

          • catclub

            Well, of course, in space no one can hear you whine.

            • LeftWingFox

              Which is why I, for one, welcome our glorious future of libertarian colony-cans at the Lagrange points.

        • TribalistMeathead

          Yes, neither of them were “received at the time of its release with a combination of confusion and contempt”.

        • Josh G.

          I’m not a big fan of Heinlein or his “philosophy” (using that term rather loosely), but I still think Verhoeven’s treatment of Starship Troopers was wrong. If you’re adapting an existing story into film for the first time – especially a story that has a strong niche following but isn’t well known in the mainstream – then in my opinion you have an ethical and artistic obligation to take the source material seriously, not parody it. Things are different when you’re talking about a franchise that is already well-known (Batman, Sherlock Holmes, etc.) – parody those all you want, since everyone will know and understand that you’re doing parody. But don’t take a niche novel and pass off your parody as if it were a faithful adaptation of the real thing. That borders on artistic bullying.

          • Cheap Wino

            Calling the obligation ethical might be taking it a bit too far. But, yeah, why would you do ST as a parody (or satire)? The same guy who wrote Robocop also wrote the screenplay for ST, so it’s no surprise that both were laced with satirical elements.

            But based on his other works I’m still betting that Verhoeven is absolutely not engaged in some kind of subtle meta-satirization film project. And if he is, it’s a badly done project.

            • Anonymous

              Based on Soldier of Orange and Black Book, I’d say he is. Plus Eszterhas and most of the lead actors on Showgirls said they knew it was camp.

              • Cheap Wino

                I confess to never having seen either of those.

              • sparks

                Just because it’s camp doesn’t mean it’s good camp.

                • MAJeff

                  Two snaps to that!

          • Col Bat Guano

            I don’t think an artist has any obligation to treat the source material seriously if they don’t want to. If the fans want to get upset about it, well, them’s the breaks.

          • It’s very misleading to call what Heinlein writes in Starship Troopers his “philosophy.” Heinlein often approached the same social or philisophical problem from multiple directions, and in fact, wrote a story arguing exactly the opposite of Starship Troopers in the celebrated story “The Long Watch.” (The protagonist in “The Long Watch,” also named Johnny, sacrifices himself destroying the nuclear weapons on the moon rather than follow a legal – but immoral – order from his superior officer.)

            There’s a story in fannish circles that John W. Campbell, the editor of Astounding Science Fiction, challenged several of his authors to write works celebrating unpopular ideas as an intellectual exercise. Purportedly, Heinlein chose fascism, and the result was Starship Troopers. I don’t have contemporary evidence, since I only heard the story recently, but I could probably track it down.

            • Malaclypse

              Heinlein has a lot of awful themes to answer for, but “The Long Watch” makes up for a lot.

              That said, I’m not so sure Towers’ order was legal, and I do think Heinlein got worse by the mid-50s.

              • Cheap Wino

                I devoured the early RH books as an early teen. And it was from him that I learned that libertarianism was unworkable as a societal structure (not that that was the message he was trying to send!). I’m surprised that more of his stuff hasn’t been put on film.

                But as readable as he was during that period it didn’t stay with him. By the time Friday came around he was punching above his weight, both ‘philosophically’ and in a quality of writing sense.

                Still, I’ll always be a fan and recommend the bulk of his short stories too. Especially a decidedly non-Heinleinesque, creepy one called The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag.

                • I loved a lot of his earlier work, and the Heinlein juveniles remain magical. But I prefer to pretend that nothing he wrote after Stranger in a Strange Land exists. Friday most of all – Heinlein always struggled with female characters.

                  It’s worth noting that because Heinlein was financially very successful early in his career, he was able to explore a lot of unpopular or contrarian ideas that other writers couldn’t touch. Some of those explorations worked, but many did not. He also supported some less-fortunate writers financially, such as Philip K. Dick.

                  Not sure where to mention it in this thread, but it belongs in somewhere – Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale seems to have started out life as Heinlein fanfiction (set just before “If This Goes On…”) before having the serial numbers (barely) filed off.

                • Malaclypse

                  But I prefer to pretend that nothing he wrote after Stranger in a Strange Land exists.

                  I loved SiaSL as a teen. But when I read it as an adult, I noticed a discussion between two of Michael’s followers about what would happen if a (male) homosexual came on to Michael in an orgy. And they decided that Michael would recognize their inherent wrongness, and do that folding-space thing so that the gay person would simply cease to exist.

                  And that was it. One paragraph. I can’t convince myself it was satire – it was way too throwaway a paragraph to be that. Gay people are so inherently wrong that they should simply be erased.

                  And that isn’t even getting into Jubal’s treatment of women.

              • Anonymous

                I think his worst was Farnam’s Freehold. I’ve been told it was satire or allegory, but to me it was just vile.

                • That story disgusted me when I read it, and turned me off to his writing.

              • Rhino

                I had forgotten what a perfect little gem that story is. Thanks for the link.

          • mpowell

            Some philosophies are so terrible they deserve it though. Starship Troopers was fine, imop.

          • Gabriel Ratchet

            I disagree. I don’t think a filmmaker has any obligation other than to make the film he wants to make. As a counter-example, I would point to Robert Aldritch’s adaptation of Mickey Spillane’s Kiss Me Deadly: Aldritch’s contempt for the novel is pretty obvious. He and his screenwriter, A.I. Bezzerides clearly regard Mike Hammer as a thug and a borderline fascist, and it shows. Nevertheless, it’s a cracking good yarn, in my opinion one of the best film noirs of all time, largely because the tension between the filmmakers’ point of view and that of the source material gives it more depth than a straight adaptation would have because of the way it functions not just as a story but as a critique of the hardboiled genre at the same tim.

            • Gabriel Ratchet

              Dammit, time, not tim.

      • JustMe

        “Starship Troopers” has a kernel of a satire in it, but it was played just a little too straight. It came across as kind of crappy at the time of its release.

        I believe a great Amazon review of the DVD said something like, “A fantastic satire… I hope.”

        • Halloween Jack

          I don’t think that it was played that straight, although Verhoeven still had to make the point, more than once, that as someone who was old enough to remember the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands (in fact, he made a movie about it), he wasn’t taking the position that Fascism Is Cool If It’s Our Guys.

          • While the book is somewhat subtle about it’s rightwing militarism, the movie is so over the top its hard for me to see it anything other than satire… I mean they were bunch of Aryans basically wearing gestapo uniforms!

            However the fact that it was satire doesn’t stop it from being boring and dumb movie.

            • benjoya

              they were bunch of Aryans basically wearing gestapo uniforms!

              incredibly beautiful Aryans, which I guess is the point. Their enemies were insects. Subtle it ain’t.

              • It exercises Verhoeven’s prurient sensibility and artistic sensibility. He likes 90210 In Space AND satire.

              • Aaron B.

                White Aryans from Buenos Aires, guys.

                • TribalistMeathead

                  White Aryans from Buenos Aires speaking American English, no less.

                • Aaron B.

                  Which I think actually plays up the satire angle. Subtle, but hilarious.

                • TribalistMeathead

                  If you haven’t figured out it’s satire by the time NPH marches out in a black leather trenchcoat near the end, I can’t help you. There’s a reason some people refer to his character as “Doogie Howser, SS.”

                • allium

                  Which just shows he didn’t read the source material, since in the novel “Johnny” Rico was Juan Rico from the Philippines, and his mother was visiting Buenos Aires when it got an asteroid dropped on it, and…I…gotta lie down.

                • Immanuel Kant

                  Note: changes to character back stories in adaptation are not actually evidence that the adaptor “didn’t read the source material.”

                • Lurker

                  Yes, and the scene were he actually resigns is not as striking as in the book. In the book, Rico does not resign, although he is determined to do it. Instead, he doesn’t get any free time, and goes on a long marching exercise with the company. Then, amidst the physical exhaustion, he receives a letter from his high school teacher, who commends Rico for not resigning. Then, during the march, Rico finally realizes that he likes military life and skips resigning. It all happens inside his head.

                  While Heinlein is an old nazi, the character development in that chapter is actually one of the most enjoyable things in the book.

              • LFC

                It may well have been satire, but it was v. unsubtle and a pretty awful movie, imo. (And not all critics treated it as satire at the time. And you can be damn sure that a lot of audiences didn’t.)

            • Sly

              I remember an episode of the Daily Show when Frank DeCaro was still doing movie reviews, and he described the basic dilemma of watching Starship Troopers roughly as “Giant killer bugs vs. the Melrose Place Hitler Youth: Who do you root for?”

              I thought it was an apt description.

              • JustMe

                he described the basic dilemma of watching Starship Troopers roughly as “Giant killer bugs vs. the Melrose Place Hitler Youth: Who do you root for?” I thought it was an apt description.

                It is! But it was better in concept than execution.

                Taken to the “it isn’t a satire” extreme, you could just argue that the nazi uniforms are just artist homages and flourishes (like the brothers in “Darjeeling Limited” wearing black trenchcoats while they try to pick up their father’s Porsche from the “Autobahn Motors” repair shop and head to the himalayas in search of The Aryan Homelandtheir mother). Then it can be just seen as artistic joshing around with references rather than a full-fledged satire. And that’s how it comes across, but for a movie whose basic qualities (acting, writing, believable behavior of the characters) are below-par.

              • I once heard the film described as “Leni Reifenstahl directing the 90210 kids.” By far the best (and funniest) review was written by science fiction writer and longtime Navy veteran James D. Macdonald: http://www.sff.net/people/doylemacdonald/r_startro.htm

                • cpinva

                  i’d forgotten about the co-ed shower scene. it had nothing at all to do with the story line (such as it was), but it did provide a nice visual break from the rest of the “movie”.

                  I guess I really need to pay more attention to the directors of bad movies, so as to avoid them in the future.

                • Anonymous

                  Thank you for that link. ST is one of my favourite films for all the reasons McDonald articulates in his review, which is one of the best roasts I have ever read.

                • Rhino

                  Thank you for that link. ST is one of my favourite films for all the reasons McDonald articulates in his review, which is one of the best roasts I have ever read.

            • agorabum

              Doogie Howser (NPH) was in the psychic gestapo

          • benjoya

            very good point. Starship Troopers seems to be all about Nazis, plus some scenes with echoes of the war on terra (years in the future when ST was made). When Doogie Howser reads the mind of the insect’s mothership bug, he announces “It’s afraid! and the crowd cheers wildly. The distinction between “citizens” and “civilians” is a heavy-handed but effective bit of anti-militarism.

          • JustMe

            I think at best one could claim it was “played straight” in the sense that it was a fascist propaganda film. But the problem with fascist propaganda films is that you watch them and think, “This is crap, it’s fascist propaganda!” Or, “propaganda films are crap because the acting is wooden and the situations are ridiculous!”

            There were such brilliant little kernels there: the Mormons being basically the settler, expansionist interlopers on native (bug) lands. Doogie Howser (Haüser) as a Nazi.

            But for the most part, I found myself thinking, “I’m watching an sci-fi action movie. But it isn’t very good.” It’s a bit rich to turn around and say, “Oh, har har. You just THOUGHT it wasn’t good. It was actually a satire!” One could use the same claim for “Avatar.”

            • Cheap Wino

              But for the most part, I found myself thinking, “I’m watching an sci-fi action movie. But it isn’t very good.” It’s a bit rich to turn around and say, “Oh, har har. You just THOUGHT it wasn’t good. It was actually a satire!” One could use the same claim for “Avatar.”

              Exactly. As a satirical filmmaker he’s worse than any other way you want to view his work.

            • I liked it. We have plenty of films like Aliens or Independence Day where the audience is basically cheering on the genocide of an enemy portrayed as inhuman. Starship Troopers did a good job at highlighting the fascist undertones that are present in cinema (and in the source material). I can’t think of another film that does a better job of that.

              • Hogan

                I don’t know, I think the Nuremberg rally medal ceremony at the end of Star Wars does all right.

                • hickes01

                  +1

              • There is no tension though between “fun” action movie elements and the fascism in Starship Troopers though… largely because the action just wasn’t very good. I feel like a more successful effort would have you enjoying the action while also feeling bad, or at least thoughtful, about it. Robocop I think succeeded at this.

              • Hob

                Independence Day, though it is a dumb movie, is not about “cheering on the genocide of an enemy portrayed as inhuman.” It’s about blowing up several alien spaceships that came to Earth specifically to kill us.

                • any moose

                  Independence Day, though it is a dumb movie, is not about “cheering on the genocide of an enemy portrayed as inhuman.” It’s about blowing up several alien spaceships that came to Earth specifically to kill us.

                  It’s about cheering on a righteous genocide that we can feel good about because they started it.

                • cpinva

                  “It’s about cheering on a righteous genocide that we can feel good about because they started it.”

                  and you know it was genocide how, exactly? I don’t recall it ever being said that aliens in Independence Day were the last of their kind, could you refresh my memory?

                • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn

                  Independence Day goes out of its way to insult the intelligence of its viewers. Moreso than most movies, which is saying something.

            • Anna in PDX

              I absolutely agree with this version of what it is like to watch Starship Troopers. Of course I also watched it without having read the stupid Heinlein novel, so there is that aspect as well, but this is ABSOLUTELY how I felt. “Is this satire? Then why is it so approving?”

              • witless chum

                I saw it in the theater and didn’t really think much about it. Then, I caught on TV in early 2002 after watching a bunch of cable news and it was suddenly the funniest movie ever made.

            • Rhino

              Who would claim that avatar wasn’t any good?

        • cat butler

          I am not sure Doogie Howser in a Nazi uniform could be considered playing it straight (no reference intended to Mr. Harris’ sexual preference by the way). I mean, Doogie Howser in a Nazi uniform.
          That movie is frickin’ brilliant.

          • Anonymous

            Doogie Himmler

      • EH

        All of Verhoeven’s US movies are live-action cartoons. He mocks America with its own immature desires, and I love him for it.

        • sparks

          So if he makes a stupid, insulting film that’s a take-off on American pop culture, it’s brilliant, just because it’s a stupid, insulting film that’s a take-off on American pop culture?

          I get it now.

          • scythia

            The movies are the setup. The punchline is the $$$$$$$$.

            • Brautigan

              +1

          • LFC

            The problem is that the mockery in ST is so total, the satire so over-the-top (if it is read that way), that, paradoxically, the satire is lost on a large number of viewers. Successful satire depends on a certain minimal amount of complicity between audience and director, in which the latter assures the former, in one way or another, that yes, he is indeed really making fun of their cherished “city on a hill” certainties (or whatever). The director has to wink at the audience at least once in the course of the movie. ST doesn’t do that. Someone seeing it cold, with no knowledge of the source material, is likely to read it simply as a bad version of the standard Hollywood action movie, w bugs as villains and bad actors w remarkably regular features as heroes. And that’s it. The satirical edge is swallowed by the movie’s solipsistic obsession with its own idiocy.

    • It seems strange to argue that the people who didn’t like RoboCop or Starship Troopers didn’t understand the satire angle… I mean, it’s not like the satire was subtle.

      • Ronan

        Robocop wasnt satire though, it was just awesome

        • NonyNony

          Robocop was either brilliant satire or a hilariously over-the-top attempt to make an American action movie.

          Verhoeven clearly wants people these days to believe that it’s the former. I’m still not convinced that he isn’t just Pee-Wee Herman falling off his bike and then telling us “oh, I meant to do that”.

          • Ronan

            As I remember it, it was an (admittedly at times heavy handed) critque of neoliberalism, growing inequality and the potential negatives of robotics in such a context..But not a satire so much as a call to arms

          • JustMe

            The funny thing about Robocop is that it turns out that Detroit turned out to be MUCH WORSE than it was depicted in the “dystopian” future.

            • LeftWingFox

              The 6000 SUX also predicted the Hummer, much as Jules Verne predicted the submarine.

              Big heavy car? Check

              Shitty gas milage? Check.

              Patriotic jingo advertising? Check.

              Named after a blow job? Check, check and double-check.

          • Lecturer

            No, the black comedy of RoboCop is pretty much intentional. That’s why Starship Troopers is so disappointing: Verhoeven sometimes can do satire and black comedy that works, but he’s actually not as good a parodist as he thinks he is.

            • Anna in PDX

              Yes, this is true.

          • Anonymous

            See any of Verheoven’s movies in Dutch. It’ll make the satire gobsmackingly obvious.

            Robocop was a satire of 80s vigilante movies (Cobra, Death Wish, etc.) mixed with satire of Terminator. As in “everyone in this Godless crime ridden hellhole is irredeemable, let’s kill ’em all and let God sort em out,” mixed with “wouldn’t it be awesome to just have a machine do it?”

            • Walt

              I think this is just an excuse. He was apparently a talented film-maker in the Netherlands, but then he came to the US to make money. The satiric elements are just Verheoven’s trick for having it both ways — making money while pretending he didn’t go to Hollywood to sell out.

              • Rhino

                Any time someone accuses a professional artist of selling out, I know I can safely ignore any opinion the accuser holds on art.

                • Walt

                  And I give a shit what you think why, exactly?

                • nixnutz

                  Well if you’re putting an artist down for selling out you’re likely full of shit, if you’re suggesting that an artist has anxiety about selling out? Which informs his work? That seems pretty fucking valid to me.

                • LFC

                  Putting Verhoeven entirely to one side, this is a rather absurd comment. Isn’t it the case that, despite the complicated ties between patrons and artists, there are professional artists who have done things solely for money and others who have preferred to do without the money rather than do certain things? (Cf. the play “Red” about Mark Rothko and his decision to cancel a contract to have his paintings put up in a fancy NY restaurant — sorry, I’m grossly simplifying, but that’s the gist.) People have to make a living and I would usually not want to be in a judgmental mode when discussing artists’ choices, but the notion that *no* professional artist has ever “sold out” strikes me as, frankly, nonsense.

                • Rhino

                  Walt, you should care because you obviously require correction.

                  LFC there is no problem with saying that an artist created art for money. The problem is any implication that something is wrong with that. Artists need to earn a damned living like anyone else. The phrase ‘selling out’ is invariably one of two things: a snide comment from a talentless hack, or a snide comment from an talented artist who has never had commercial success.

                • Walt

                  So no artist has ever made worse art to make more money. Good to know.

                • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn

                  Any time someone accuses a professional artist of selling out, I know I can safely ignore any opinion the accuser holds on art.

                  Now that’s just ridiculous.

                • The Wrath of Oliver Kahn

                  Artists need to earn a damned living like anyone else.

                  That’s true, but at what point does the pursuit of “a living” have an irredeemable impact on the art itself, to the point that it is no longer art?

                  The instance I have in mind of a complete artistic sell-out: The band Of Montreal had a song called “Wraith Pinned to the Mist.” They sold the rights to the song to Outback, for use in a commercial – which, in and of itself, would be just fine. I think indie artists *should* take advantage of the exposure a national advertising campaign can bring to them.

                  But … the difference is that Of Montreal allowed Outback to rewrite the fucking lyrics so that instead of “Let’s pretend we don’t exist,” we got “Let’s go Outback tonight.”

                  To me, that says the band didn’t value the song as art, and were perfectly fine with their own artistic vision being defaced (via the rewriting of the actual lyrics) as long as there was a payday in it for them. It thus becomes incredibly difficult to think of the song itself as art – it is now just a jingle, a catchy little musical phrase with no higher purpose than to convince as many people as possible to buy buy buy buy buy buy.

                  So yeah, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that was a sellout move by Of Montreal – which I absolutely would not be saying if the original song itself had been featured in an advertising campaign.

              • He’s not the first to get paid for making a good movie though. Robocop is good.

                • LFC

                  sorry, just to clarify that my comment above was directed at Rhino’s

            • rea

              See any of Verheoven’s movies in Dutch.

              Does it add or subtract from the experience to understand the language?

              • I find reality TV and game shows are both much more fun in languages I barely understand.

        • I don’t disagree with the “awesome” part, but the commercials at the very least struck me as a pretty obvious send ups of issues contemporary to when the film was made.

      • It wasn’t subtle, but I’ve still seen a lot of people argue that Starship Troopers wasn’t satirical.

        • JustMe

          I think filmmakers ultimately have a hard time mocking their own work. I see how it might have been conceived as a satire, but ultimately Verhoeven couldn’t fully commit, just as he couldn’t fully commit to making “Total Recall” a “is it real or all in his head?” mindfuck all the way through.

      • Ian

        There are people who don’t like RoboCop?

        • They’ve seen the new Star Trek and anything with Peter Weller in it is retroactively tainted.

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            even ‘buckaroo banzai”, or whateverthehell it was called?

            • That was tainted on its own.

              • Njorl

                Sealed with a curse as sharp as a knife. Doomed is your soul and damned is your life.

      • NonyNony

        Again, I think he’s talking about film critics, not the general public. And after reading it again and maybe giving too much benefit of the doubt I don’t think he’s saying that they didn’t think it was satire – I think he’s saying that they thought it was stupid satire and it was only with the passing of time that critics decided it was actually intelligently done satire rather than clumsily done satire.

      • Anonymous

        If you watch Robocop side by side with other action movies of the era (say, Predator), the satire is very well-camouflaged.

        • brad

          I think it was covered over by all the blood.
          Whatever satirical elements were in it were largely lost on the teenage fanboy crowd that loved it in my youth for being so hyper violent.
          Verhoeven might have been trying to make a comment by making his gore so extreme, but like with all the unambiguous porn in Showgirls, the comment is drowned out by the response.

          • Ronan

            And Mark Twain’s work was super racist!’

            • brad

              I wasn’t aware Stormfront are big Twain fans.
              Until it became the sequel to The Room, Showgirls was recognized for what it is; crappy porn.

              • Ronan

                We were talking about Robocop*

                *I know, I know

                I havent seen showgirls so cant speak to that soecifically

                • brad

                  Ah.
                  Well, my point was that when your “parody” succeeds because young fanboys missed that point and took it as a straight action film, then your intent failed.

                • Ronan

                  Ive answered this below..

    • Troopers has to be satire– imagine how it would look if it were directed straight. The deviations from the source material are intended to emphasize the wrong-headed glorification of militarism, starting with the faux advertisements. Is it a fair representation of Heinlein’s novel? That’s harder to say, because it is harder to understand Heinlein’s intentions. An ex-navy officer, I think he meant a lot of that stuff. Certainly the book reads as though he meant it. Likewise Robocop which is better than I think a lot of people remember it.

      • And “The Long Watch” also reads as though Heinlein meant it, even though it makes precisely the opposite argument. It’s very tough to pin down Heinlein’s politics because, as they used to say in fannish circles, “they’re a moving target.”

        • Anonymous

          Heinlein’s gender and sexual politics aren’t hard to pin down though. And they’re objectively terrible.

          • Rhino

            So were the gender and sexual politics, by our standards, of 99% of his contemporaries. Judged as a man of his own day he was downright progressive.

      • JustMe

        The deviations from the source material are intended to emphasize the wrong-headed glorification of militarism, starting with the faux advertisements.

        Here’s my question for all you saying it’s a well-done satire: how is the glorification of militarism in the movie portrayed as wrong-headed?

        • Malaclypse

          Well, by having the military be so phenomenally incompetent, for one.

        • Brandon

          Also, because the movie suggests that the bug attacks are basically blowback from human imperialism – that humans are the actual aggressors, not the bugs.

        • Anonymous

          Satire doesn’t have to “portray as wrong-headed” what it’s critiquing. It can just make it so absurd and open to mockery that the audience sees it as wrong-headed. The propaganda films in ST are the most obvious of that.

          • Anonymous

            Yes. This.

    • Murc

      I will just say that I am one of those who, for YEARS, did not know that Starship Troopers was a satire.

      I mean, it seems obvious in hindsight. It’s one of my favorite movies now. But for like ten years I thought “Starship Troopers? Yeah, it had potential, but it’s actually kind of shitty.”

      Then someone pointed out to me it was a satire and it suddenly became a radically different film for me. I’d just had no idea. They play it so straight. There’s no winking at the camera or self-congratulatory mugging.

      • sibusisodan

        self-congratulatory mugging.

        “Give me your wallet! Now!….wow – can I deliver a line, or can I deliver a line? I am just the best…”

        • Anna in PDX

          I scared you! I really scared you!

  • Film critic Adam Nayman will be presenting a special lecture on the films of director Paul Verhoeven next Monday, May 27th, at the Miles Nadal JCC in Toronto. General admission is $12.

    • DocAmazing

      Needs Rob Ford joke.

      • FridayNext

        That’s what Jesse James said just before Ford started shooting off his mouth.

        • Bill Murray

          he shot him in the back not in the mouth

  • cpinva

    Show Girls runs off and on on HBO, so one night I finally decided to watch it, in spite of the summary. it was as cheesy as I expected, and the rape scene came across (to me, anyway) as a gratuitous attempt to make it a “serious” movie. the attempt failed. but hey, that’s just me, and me isn’t a “professional” film critic. what really struck me were the number of decent actors involved. I can only assume they sniffed an easy paycheck.

    • Matt T. in New Orleans

      I can only assume they sniffed an easy paycheck.

      I got the same impression, though I haven’t seen the movie since it came out. It’s one of those movies wherein, after about 20 minutes of “acting”, one thinks to oneself “Yep. That guy’s buying a house”. Except for Elizabeth Shue, bless her heart. She was trying her damnedest with what little she was given and with what little she brought to the show.

      Total Recall is an okay adaptation of a PKD story, with the added humor of friggin’ Schwarzenegger in yet another role that absolutely doesn’t require a freakishly musclebound slab of ham with a Sgt. Schultz accent so laughable one thinks it’s a put on. The short story is much better, but that’s a given, and it’s still loads better than the snoozer remake put out a couple years ago.

      • Kurzleg

        At the time I liked Total Recall just fine. Not sure how I’d like it now.

      • Just Dropping By

        The short story is better, but completely unsuited for direct adaptation to a feature film (not much dialogue (I think only four characters get more than a single line), really only two locations – the memory facility and the main character’s house, etc.). It would at most work as a half-hour Twilight Zone episode. Also, assuming the “snoozer remake” you’re referring to is the Total Recall remake with Colin Farrell, it came out less than a year ago. You may want to consider whether your memories have been implanted.

      • firefall

        ELizabeth Berkley I assume you mean? – Elizabeth Shue is a vastly better actor, and not in Showgirls

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      actors gotta act

    • Kurzleg

      Funny you should ask. Kyle MacLachlan has one answer:

      Showgirls (1995)—“Zack Carey”
      KM: Uh… yeah. [Laughs.] That was a decision that was sort of a tough one to make, but I was enchanted with Paul Verhoeven. Particularly Robocop, which I loved. I look back on it now and it’s a little dated, but it’s still fantastic, and I think it’s got some of the great villains of all time in there. It was Verhoeven and [Joe] Eszterhas, and it seemed like it was going to be kind of dark and edgy and disturbing and real. I signed on, and… I think they’d wanted Dylan McDermott and he’d passed, so then they came to me and asked, “Do you want to do this?” And I was like, “Yeah!” Because I was really into that mode. And I worked hard, I came in and did my scenes, but then I wasn’t really involved in anything else until it finally came time to do the press for it.
      It was about to première, I hadn’t seen it yet, and I wanted to. So I went to see it and… I was absolutely gobsmacked. I said, “This is horrible. Horrible!” And it’s a very slow, sinking feeling when you’re watching the movie, and the first scene comes out, and you’re like, “Oh, that’s a really bad scene.” But you say, “Well, that’s okay, the next one’ll be better.” And you somehow try to convince yourself that it’s going to get better… and it just gets worse. And I was like, “Wow. That was crazy.” I mean, I really didn’t see that coming. So at that point, I distanced myself from the movie. Now, of course, it has a whole other life as a sort of inadvertent… satire. No, “satire” isn’t the right word. But it’s inadvertently funny. So it’s found its place. It provides entertainment, though not in the way I think it was originally intended. It was just… maybe the wrong material with the wrong director and the wrong cast.
      AVC: But apart from all of that…
      KM: Apart from all that, it was great. [Laughs.] It has a couple of moments in it that are pretty wild. And I gotta say that, when I was watching the actual shows that they created, I was like, “Hey, this is a Vegas show!” I was watching it from the audience, and it was amazing, what they were able to create. But reduced down to its elements, it was, uh, not one of my finer attempts. But it was done initially for all the right reasons; it just didn’t turn [out] to be what I anticipated. Everybody has one of those in their repertoire, I think. It’s just that this one has stayed around. Even Ishtar eventually disappeared. But this one keeps coming back! [Laughs.]

      • cpinva

        the shorter kyle maclachlan: “hey, I needed the cash for a new house.”

        interestingly, he was one of the actors I saw listed in the HBO summary, and thought, well, if he’s in it, how bad could it be? turns out, pretty bad.

        • snarkout

          “I have never seen [Jaws: The Revenge, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific!”

        • Kurzleg

          I think that’s a little unfair, but only a little. Sure, he needed the paycheck, but up to that point PV had done some decent films, so money wasn’t the only attraction.
          Maybe it’s self-serving, but it’s a common refrain among actors that they rarely can tell while they’re filming whether or not a movie will be any good. That could just speaks to their limitations in evaluating scripts (I’m looking at you, John Cusack), but it also might be reality. Ultimately, though, film is a director’s and editor’s medium. Actors have little control.

          • sparks

            I insist that late in his career Richard Burton did know whether the film he was doing was good or bad, he just didn’t care. That bar tab wasn’t going to pay itself.

          • cpinva

            “Maybe it’s self-serving, but it’s a common refrain among actors that they rarely can tell while they’re filming whether or not a movie will be any good.”

            perhaps so. however, there used to be these things called “dailies”, in the movie biz. these were the uncut scenes filmed that day, and reviewed by the director, producer, etc. later that evening. the purpose was to give all involved a sense of how the show was progressing. do they not do that anymore?

            in mr. maclachlan’s case, i’ll give him a little pass. he wasn’t in that many scenes, and unless he had nothing better to do, would have had no reason to hang around the set after his scenes were done. he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to watch the dailies, other than his own, to get an idea of how the whole production was coming along. still, he had a script, which I assume he read, before getting involved. that should have given him a clue.

            nice house though. I understand it’s a salt water pool and hottub.

            • mpowell

              So if you agree to do a film and you start watching the dailies and you don’t like the way things are going… you’re just supposed to quit? That doesn’t really seem like a reasonable expectation.

              • cpinva

                “So if you agree to do a film and you start watching the dailies and you don’t like the way things are going… you’re just supposed to quit?”

                probably not, though some actors & directors have done exactly that, to avoid having their names associated with a dog. what you can do, if you’re honest, is say “look, I thought the film was going to be one thing, then I saw from the dailies where it was going. unfortunately, by then I was kind of stuck, but yes, the movie sucks. it’s a risk we all take, and hopefully, it doesn’t happen too often in our careers.”

                • Gabriel Ratchet

                  If an actor walks off a film once it’s already begun shooting they can be sued for breach of contract. At the very least they can get a reputation as “difficult”, which can wind up hurting their career down the line, particularly if they make a habit of doing so. So, yeah, if a film that looked promising as a script goes off the rails during shooting, there’s not often a lot they can do about it.

    • Jordan

      I can only assume they sniffed an easy paycheck.

      You’d think that, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. At least for Elizabeth Berkley, who got a paid a (relatively!) small 100,000 for it. Well, maybe easy, but not particularly large.

      source here

      • You’d think that, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. At least for Elizabeth Berkley, who got a paid a (relatively!) small 100,000 for it.

        at least she got to buy some new boobs, so there’s that, i guess…

      • Bill Murray

        wasn’t she trying to change her reputation from being the Saved By The Bell girl? Showgirls at least had to make some people forget she worked with Mario Lopez

        • good call…makes one wonder what arc topanga’s career could have taken had she done the same…

  • nixnutz

    I think if you just look at it conceptually it is kind of brilliant, teaming up with Eszterhas at that moment in his career is what allows it to work as Verhoevian satire without being too self-aware. It’s really an effective self-refutation of Hollywood, but as a film it’s pretty much unwatchable. But if you can accept that as part of the work conceptually it doesn’t make it any less great, it’s just unclear how to engage with it in a rewarding way.

    I would suggest that sitting through the whole thing is not the way, for me anyway, but Showgirls is part of why I like and respect Verhoeven and his very strange career in Hollywood.

    • Manta

      Is it a complicate way to say that Showgirls is a terrible movie, and by watching it you waste a couple of hours that could be better employed watching paint dry?

    • At the time Showgirls was originally on cable, I was working crazy hours on various publishing projects and would flip on a movie at random for 10 minutes or so before going to bed. For about a month, Showgirls was on heavy rotation, so I saw the film in 10-minute increments out of order. Viewed that way it’s surprisingly entertaining – it was only when I tried to watch it from the beginning that I realized how unwatchable it was.

  • I don’t think I can even countenance the “so bad it’s good” viewpoint, let alone that it’s a misunderstood masterpiece. I saw it opening night while in college with a bunch of guys, and it was the first time any of us realized it was possible to get bored of breasts.

    • Hogan

      That’s how I felt watching Basic Instinct. The third time Sharon Stone got naked I thought, “That again?”

      • nixnutz

        One of the problems with the thriller mechanics of Basic Instinct was that it you needed to mistake Sharon Stone’s breasts for Jeanne Tripplehorn’s (or vice-versa, it’s been a while). Seems to break the film for most of its core audience although it did remarkably well anyway.

        • Another Anonymous

          Well, it’s entertaining to cut the DVD back and forth and compare.

          … The principal problem with the script, IMHO, is that it disposes of the most interesting possibility, which is that Michael Douglas really is (one of) the killers. They needed Ira Levin on rewrite.

          • Bettencourt

            Of course, the reverse happened with the movie SLIVER. Eszsterhas did a lame adaptation of one of Levin’s worst novels, and then the studio re-shot the ending which changed the identity of the murderer, resulting in the film making even less sense.

    • MH

      For a movie sitting firmly within the ‘sleazy/erotic’ movie genre it’s hard to believe that the total lack of any eroticism of any sort wasn’t intentional. I really find it difficult to believe that an extended and quite explicit sex scene could be as completely unappealing looking as it was in the movie. There’s just no way that that was intended to be a straightforward and sexy scene, and I dare anyone to watch it and argue otherwise.

      • What difference does it make though? If his intention was to make a terrible movie as “satire” he succeeded, but his movie is still unwatchable garbage.

        • nixnutz

          “My Kid Could Direct That”?

          It’s weird that 100 years after the Armory Show there are still so many people who cannot grasp how art works.

          • JustMe

            It’s weird that 100 years after the Armory Show there are still so many people who cannot grasp how art works.

            Just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s worthwhile. I’m sure it takes a lot of technical skill to film unappealing sex scenes. But unless I have some stake in the technical craft of sex scene filmmaking, I’m going to think, “wow. This film is unwatchable in so many ways.”

            Why is it beyond the pale to criticize art in terms of, “it failed to fulfill its intent” ?

            As I said, satire in film is really, really hard because filmmakers can’t fully commit to undermining their own work, just like many of them can’t fully commit to making unlikable protagonists.

            • nixnutz

              Right, it’s about the intent. Complaining that Verhoeven makes clumsy sex scenes is the same as complaining that Picasso’s portraits are unflattering.

              Now I’m not sure he’s particularly good as a conceptual artist working in the medium of Hollywood crap either but I don’t think misunderstanding what he’s doing is helpful.

              • But understanding what he is doing is a complete waste of time because the movie is not worth watching regardless.

                • nixnutz

                  Yeah, I can’t really disagree with that. The most charitable interpretation is that he raised the question of whether a terrible film could make for valid art. I would say that he failed to make a strong case but it’s neat that he basically burned $40 million in the attempt.

                  It’s still better than Matthew Barney.

                • LeftWingFox

                  Sez you. Creemaster Cycle at least had an awesome cheetah girl in it.

                  I’ll get my coat.

                • nixnutz

                  Sure, if only Verhoeven had included some amputees than people would totally be giving Showgirls more leeway.

          • So you can declare something “satire” and thus make it immune to criticism? Presumably anything I say negatively only further illustrates my inability to comprehend it?

            A neat trick.

  • Shakezula cited the only true sentence at that link.

  • Another Anonymous

    Basic Instinct, while flawed by a plot that goes south, definitely has its moments. That is the best I can say for Verhoeven.

  • Daniel

    “It’s satire, you just don’t appreciate it,” is probably the most common defense of awful art.

    • sparks

      I know I laughed at parts of Flesh+Blood, but it wasn’t because it was satire. I just found it stupid.

    • sharculese

      See e.g.: Family Guy fanboys.

    • TribalistMeathead

      Hell, allegedly The Man Show was satire.

      • Bill Murray

        Adam Carolla’s career since then might argue otherwise

    • Murc

      That doesn’t mean it’s never true, thought. “People deploy this argument disingenuously” isn’t a refutation of the argument itself.

      • Anna in PDX

        Is there a logical fallacy term for this? Because I really like it.

  • And Sucker Punch is the greatest feminist picture ever.

    • Kurzleg

      Someone just read the Onion AV Club piece on that film.

    • Murc

      I stand by my opinion that Zack Snyder is an excellent director, but that he needs to learn he’s a shitty, shitty writer.

      I kind of, sort of, get what he was trying to do with Sucker Punch, and the extended cut gets much closer there than the theatrical version (there are some genuinely fucked-up scenes in it with Jon Hamm as the High Roller, who is basically ‘Don Draper without the pretense that he’s any sort of decent person’) but ultimately he not only failed, he failed HARD.

      • NonyNony

        I stand by my opinion that Zack Snyder is an excellent director

        Hm. I’m intrigued by your suggestion and would like to know what you use as evidence. I haven’t seen “Legends of the Guardians” yet so perhaps that’s it.

        but that he needs to learn he’s a shitty, shitty writer.

        Let’s see – writing credits include “300” and “Sucker Punch”. I’m going to say I’m in total agreement with this opinion.

        • Murc

          Hm. I’m intrigued by your suggestion and would like to know what you use as evidence.

          I don’t really have an objective standard here. I find his films visually stunning, well-shot, and well-assembled?

          I know a lot of people have a lot of hate for the way he uses slo-mo during fight scenes, but I really actually love that. I tend to get lost during extended fight sequences that are just endless, fast action.

          This is far from an uncommon reaction; a lot of directors respond to it by having lulls or pauses in the action so people’s brains can catch up. (If you’ve ever watched any Hong Kong cinema, part of the reason people pause during their fights to monologue at each other, often while in a burning building or balanced on a dangerous cliff face, is to let the audience absorb the rapid-fire kung-fu exchange they just witnesses.)

          But I really like how Snyder does it. It’s like, wham-wham-wham, then a slo-mo shot of a high-impact part of the action sequence or fight, then back to wham-wham-wham. It makes the whole thing far less choppy to me.

          What it boils down to is I like his style.

          • nixnutz

            There was a British hospital sit-com called Green Wing that used the same style. I liked it at the time but Snyder kind of ruined it for me, it does make a lot more sense in an action movie context than a sit-com but after 300 and Watchmen I find it grating as hell.

            I think if he’d just done it for 300 it would have been a neat choice but returning to the well was a bad idea. And to me this is partly because I think of it as “the Green Wing effect” rather than “the Todd Snyder effect”.

            • Anonymous

              It makes even less sense to use it in Watchmen IMO. I always read the graphic more as critiquing the violence in it rather than wallowing in it (though you could argue Moore does some of that), but there’s not even a hint of critique in the way Snyder filmed it.

        • brad

          Well, he did direct the Dawn of the Dead remake.
          Some might consider that a strike against, and I share in the general veneration of the original as the high point of all zombie film.
          But it was a decent flick.

        • LeeEsq

          Going good is a bit far but I think that Snyder has decent craftsmanship if you keep him on a leash. If you want an adaptation that sticks as closely to the original as possible but still looks good, Snyder is probably one of the better choices for a director.

  • David Hunt

    Some friends of mine who were in a Vampire: Masquerade campaign with me (that’s a tabletop RPG for those of you who don’t know) told me that Showgirls was a great working model for the back-stabbing politics of certain elements of the vampiric upper-class, specifically the artistic Toreador clan. Viewed that way, it can be interesting/fun to watch, but I’d never suggest it as something to watch just for it’s own sake.

    • I am pretty sure there are better ways to combine geekdom and nekid women.

      • Another Anonymous

        Eyes Wide Shut?

        • Walt

          When Slate puts out the call for a pitch that Eyes Wide Shut is a musunderstood masterpiece, I’ll be there to answer it.

          • brad

            I’ll go there, I have many times in the past.
            It’s not about voyeurism at all. It’s about the arrogance of Tom and Nicole, and how they think that having a little money and fame makes them privy to the real secrets of humanity’s true lords.
            Basically, the whole film is Kubrick making Cruise and Kidman be part of a joke at their own expense.

            • Gabriel Ratchet

              I think it’s possible to look at the film as some kind of weird, intentional subversion of Tom Cruise’s screen persona. To take just one example, Kubrick seems to be going out of his way to emphasize his shortness: Kubrick tended to shoot scenes in symmetrically-composed medium-long shots with the camera at the characters’ eye level and in EWS, if Cruise is in a scene with someone taller than him, or standing on a higher level, it’ll more often than not be at their eye level rather than his. It’s kind of funny when you first notice it.

          • JREinATL

            I think that EWS pretty commonly understood as a masterpiece, at least in the cineaste community.

          • My impression is that the critical consensus is now that it was a good or great movie.

            I still can’t stand it.

          • ricos roughnecks

            I actually think Eyes Wide Shut has been positively reevaluated in recent years. Although I thought Starship Troopers had been as well…

  • SeanH

    It must be very strange to be Paul Verhoeven. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile.

    • nixnutz

      My idea is that he’s very much like Damian Hirst; Showgirls was his For the Love of God, basically he was angry at the public for rewarding him so richly for Basic Instinct and Showgirls was both commentary and punishment.

    • +|(Stripper Pole)

      • Stripper Pole

        72% of strippers said Show Girls was crap.

        54% said it was unrealistic.

        92% said this pole was fake.

    • Epicurus

      What you did there, I see. Trolling for work at NRO or RedState? The Frum Forum is hiring…

      • firefall

        at least he didnt beat around the Bush

  • Cheap Wino

    I watched it a 4:00 am one morning after waking up and not being able to sleep.

    But one of the more intriguing things about the film is that it has so widely and so consistently been misunderstood by critics and audiences alike, despite the fact that its director, Paul Verhoeven, made a career in Hollywood out of highly commercial satires that freely indulge in the trash they’re mocking.

    Basic Instinct and Showgirls are somehow meta-satire? I’m calling bullshit and bringing up the series faux TV commercials that run in Starship Troopers and Robocop as evidence. Those were satire. Simple, kind of funny in a limited way, satire. That somehow he’s also engaged in a deeper level of satire that 98% of audiences are oblivious to is about as likely as me winning the lottery. And I don’t buy lottery tickets.

    If Verhoeven is actually producing satire it’s an even more damning indictment of him as a filmmaker than the far more likely critique that he’s just a misogynist hack who lucked into a decent script with Robocop — As satire his movies are worse than they are as voyeuristic, titillating, typical Hollywood dreck.

    Plus, the scene in Showgirls in the empty theater where the two female leads slap each other then start to dance is one of the most insultingly stupid things I’ve ever seen on film. And I saw Cocktail. I somehow missed the humor in it? Riiiiight. . .

    • Lecturer

      No, he’s making fun of the sort of movie designed to appeal to a fourteen-year-old boy by, um, making exactly the sort of movie designed to appeal to a fourteen-year-old boy.

      It reminds me of critics who look at pieces of clear hackery and say that, um, the author is subverting the genre by slavishly adhering to its conventions and producing a piece of hackwork….

    • Immanuel Kant

      The thesis that he’s a hack who just lucked into a good script with Robocop would, I think, have to grapple with his Dutch films, which are, as I understand it, very highly regarded.

      • Cheap Wino

        I’m definitely ignorant of his Dutch work.

        Somebody up/down-thread said that the satire of his American work becomes obvious if you’ve seen them. I’m skeptical but willing to temper my judgement. Fwiw, I’m a sci-fi kind of person and liked Robocop and Starship Troopers (but don’t think they’ve aged particularly well). But I’m having trouble conceiving of what kind of films that would significantly alter my take on how bad Basic Instinct and, worse, Showgirls are. Then again, I’m not the sharpest tack in the box, either.

        • sparks

          I’ve seen Spetters and still don’t get it. That film seemed fucking juvenile.

          • Gabriel Ratchet

            The Fourth Man is actually quite good. It’s a rather twisted Hitchcockian psychosexual thriller with a streak of genuine black humor to it. I’m guessing he thought he was doing something in the same vein when he did Basic Instinct, but, perhaps because Joe Eszterhaus doesn’t do subtlety, it didn’t work nearly as well and ended up being loud and crass instead.

        • nixnutz

          I think for Showgirls it would be the Kyle MacLachlan/Laura Dern scenes from Blue Velvet. Not that that interpretation makes it any less bad but it’s an example of “bad” writing/acting working.

          I’m not arguing that it works in Showgirls but it suggests what he may have hoped for.

  • Halloween Jack

    Simply because (as commented on above) his SF movies like Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are successful (and, in the latter case–sorry, Heinlein fans!–superior to the source material) doesn’t mean that his Eszterhas films deserve the same regard. If you want to see Showgirls done right, watch All About Eve.

    • BigHank53

      I would almost be able to tolerate Starship Troopers if it wasn’t for the small-unit tactics that wouldn’t be employed by eighth graders. “Let’s all stand in a big bunch and wait to be strafed from the air! It’ll be cool!”

      • They can fly across the galaxy, but the idea of hand grenades escapes them.

        • sharculese

          That seems like something that would be direct from the book though, given the weird gaps in technological development Heinlein’s is riddled with. Like how it never occurs to him that someone might develop handheld calculating technology more advanced than the slide rule.

          • No, the book was very military oriented compared to the rest of Heinlein’s work and was focused on “mobile infantry” that used powered armored suits. Their absence in the movie is responsible for a large part of the nerd backlash to it.

            • Lurker

              I think this is one of the points that shows that Starship Troopers is intended as a satire.

              Heinlein’s mobile infantrymen are unstoppable, superhuman monsters (but from all races). They can jump like the Superman and they are armed with anything from rocket launchers to nuclear-tipped missiles. They are actually pretty cool, and compared to Verhoeven’s way of presenting his troopers as cannon fodder, they are much more valuable individually. Not infinitely valuable, but a scarce resource nonetheless.

              From cinematic point of view, they are hopeless. Heinlein devises a doctrine where each mobile infantryman fights about half a mile from the nearest colleague. While Heinlein actually pays quite a lot of attention to the drilling required to make that work, this is difficult to filmatise.

            • sharculese

              No, I know the book. My point was that, ‘oops didn’t think to include/update grenades,’ is totally a thing I could see Heinlein doing. But I don’t recall the book well enough to remember if they had grenades or not.

          • rea

            Darn few people anticipated handheld calculators back when Heinlein was writing Starship Troopers

            • weirdnoise

              Like the one Hari Selden used in The Foundation, written a decade before? I’d expect that Heinlein might even have read it…

        • Col Bat Guano

          Or artillery or air support or armored vehicles…

          • liberalrob

            In the book the Mobile Infantry were tooling around in powered armor that could essentially fly, and they’re lobbing around tac nukes, so they’re pretty much their own artillery, air support, and armored vehicles. The screenplay dispensed with whole chunks of the book.

            The movie works better as satire or pure escapism, but it still doesn’t work.

  • Bitter Scribe

    I’ve always thought that “Showgirls” was karma’s revenge on Eszterhas for all the money and praise he got for the equally absurd “Flashdance.”

  • Manta

    Who are these people saying that Showgirls is “so bad it’s good”?

    Showgirl is so bad it’s bad.

    • Anonymous

      I always thought Hensley / Screening Party ought to have included “Showgirls,” where, for certain, it would have been lauded as so-bad-it’s-good fare.

  • Is this somehow tied in with ironic beer drinking?

    • Uncle Ebeneezer
    • LeeEsq

      I have a friend who wants to develop a Showgirls drinking game but can’t think of one that won’t lead to blood alcohol poisoning.

      • Bill Murray

        rent Showgirls
        have your friends come over
        drink every time someone says “Hey let’s watch Showgirls”

        • BubbaDave

          I think that a drinking game that can be practiced by a teetotaller sort of misses the point….

  • Aaron B.

    I think the read of Starship Troopers, Robocop, Total Recall, etc. as satire gains a lot in credibility because there’s clear evidence that he can make excellent serious work (Black Book). Granted, many directors can do great serious work but can’t make satire to save their life, but it does add a little to the “Verhoeven is just fucking with you” theory.

    On the other hand, he made Hollow Man, so he should probably go die in a fire.

    • NonyNony

      On the other hand, he made Hollow Man, so he should probably go die in a fire.

      The linked to article – despite the title and the pull-quote – is essentially the critic trying to redeem Hollow Man as an act of social commentary.

      I buy that as much as I buy that Sucker Punch is a feminist film (as sleepyirv said above).

      • Aaron B.

        The author’s argument basically boils down to “yes, Hollow Man is awful, but it has this one sequence that’s pretty thought-provoking.” Which isn’t much of an argument.

  • After Robocop, I saw The Fourth Man. Verhoeven confuses when he’s not being heavy-handed.

  • LittlePig

    Wow, I didn’t realize just how many of the awful films I’ve seen were Paul Verhoeven’s.

    And I’ve never seen Showgirls or Basic Instinct. Sheesh.

    • cpinva

      “Wow, I didn’t realize just how many of the awful films I’ve seen were Paul Verhoeven’s.”

      me either, and I’ve never heard of the guy until now, and I’ve still never seen Basic Instinct. as a rule, if a movie is really, really bad, I turn it off, and I don’t go back just to see the credits. this would explain why I’ve never heard of this guy, just seen parts of his bad movies.

  • TribalistMeathead

    BTW, my appreciation for ST increased when I went to my first arena football game a couple of years ago and went “Hey wait, this is basically Jump Ball”

  • Icarus Wright

    I’ve always been impressed with how dirt-fucking-cheap his production sets look. Running Man and Total Recall had huge budgets but look they were shot in an abandoned aircraft hangar.

    • hickes01

      Agreed. I kept waiting to see a Gap store on the Total Recall set.

    • Papa Bendi

      Verhoeven did not direct Running Man. That was the work of the one from Starsky & Hutch who is not David Soul.

  • rea

    I’m going to make a bad, unwatchable movie as a satire of bad, unwatchable movies! Slate will, of course, love it–just to be contrarian

  • Mean Mister Mustard

    I forget who said ‘You can hire half the poor to kill the other half”?

    The meetings with bureau chiefs were supposed to help Holder dig out of a hole, but demands that they remain confidential have sparked more howls of protest.
    The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Huffington Post, CNN, Fox News, Reuters, CBS News, NBC News and McClatchy are among the media outlets boycotting the meetings.
    The New York Daily News, New Yorker, The Washington Post and Politico were among the outlets that attended Thursday’s meeting.

    Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/302657-holder-to-face-media#ixzz2Ut44NaBj
    Follow us: @thehill on Twitter | TheHill on Facebook

    • TribalistMeathead

      I forgot who said “Making an Obama-bashing post in a thread about Paul Verhoeven is a terrible way to prove you’re not a troll.”

      • Maybe we’re living in a Verhoeven movie. It would explain the Teabaggers.

        • Karate Bearfighter

          The Onion joked after 9/11 that life had turned into a bad Bruckheimer/Bay movie. After living through the last 10 years, Verhoeven seems closer to the mark.

      • Cheap Wino

        Possibly Verhoeven’s next film is a political satire that features a man who horribly cheapens discourse with the new scourge undermining America, gender fraud?

        • rea

          I’m more concerned about condiment fraud–I have it on good authority that a certain commentor is not actually made of mustard . . .

        • sharculese

          I always wanted to destroy America.

      • Manta

        He’s being satirical.

        • Mean Mister Mustard

          Bingo

        • Malaclypse

          Yep, satire.

          • Mean Mister Mustard

            Really want to revisit this,eh? Boredom on a thread leads to decorating one’s warts.

            • Malaclypse

              Well, I’m not particularly embarrassed by the thread.

              • Mean Mister Mustard

                ‘Natch...

              • Malaclypse

                Yea, there are advantages to not going into a public freakout over the gender of cartoon avatars. Who knew?

    • Deggjr

      It took 45 seconds to get the answer via Google: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Gould. What’s the difference between ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t care.

    • Colin Day

      I forget who said ‘You can hire half the poor to kill the other half”?

      Attributed to 19th-Century railroad operator Jay Gould

      Gould quote

      • Mean Mister Mustard

        Apparently has some application wrt our MEdia. Divide and conquer and all that rot.

  • owlbear1

    Verhoeven tossed the ONLY cool thing in Starship Troopers, the armor the troopers wore into battle. Environmentally sealed and dropped from low orbit. Lasers, auto-cannons and even a couple of frickin’ NUKES.

    Too bad the franchise was so fucked by Verhoeven. A remake using the armor with today’s available CGI technology would be sweet.

    • Anonymous

      Sure, but if you jump too high, you get flogged. I think?

    • LeftWingFox

      Wasn’t there an actual tv series that included the powered armor and alien allies? AH, there it is…

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pcfpzfPdx-U

    • Hob

      Well, Ridley Scott is apparently making The Forever War, which isn’t the same thing at all but does work well as an ideological counterweight to Starship Troopers (the book), and also has cool space gadgets.

      If someone wants to do an action movie with powered suits in it, I’d much rather see an adaptation of John Steakley’s Armor than another version of Starship Troopers.

      • Cheap Wino

        I was more excited about Ridley Scott doing The Forever War before I saw Prometheus. But I remain optimistic.

      • Joe Haldeman wrote The Forever War specifically as a reaction to Starship Troopers.

        • Bruce Baugh

          He says he didn’t. Here’s an example, from Joan Gordon’s interview with him. Haldeman gladly admitsto being influenced by Heinlien in a lot of ways, both agreeing and disagreeing, but no, he didn’t set out to respond to any other writer, but to draw on his own experiences, and related experiences by others, and cast them into a new framework and tell an engaging story.

          • I’m not sure I buy that (and I say that as someone who has known Joe Haldeman at least socially for many years). I agree that it’s not ALL he’s doing in The Forever War, but there are places where it’s a more-or-less point for point response – what with the cool powered armor and the direct refutation of the glorification of military bureaucracy. It’s especially noticeable in “Hero,” the novella that later became the first third of The Forever War. The rest of the book is focused much more on the kinds of ideas that Joe Haldeman was interested in than ones Heinlein was particularly concerned with.

            Remember, at the time both work came out (just over 10 years apart) there was a lot less science fiction published, and you could fairly easily read all the science fiction that came out every month. It was more-or-less impossible to be in fandom (as both writers were) and not see the clear connections between the two books – and it’s not at all unusual for science fiction stories to be a direct response to earlier stories as part of a critical argument. Again, I’m not saying that there isn’t a lot more to The Forever War than a response to Starship Troopers – it’s a favorite book and I love teaching it. But to minimize that response, particularly in the context of when it was written and the split among SF writers over Vietnam that it was so much a part of, is misleading.

            • Bruce Baugh

              I’m running here mostly of memories of stuff said on his GEnie topic, so that’s coming up on 15 years old, but he’s always seemed very up-front about stuff in his work that is a response to other stuff in the field. The guy who wrote “The Hemingway Hoax” doesn’t hide that. :)

            • Another Anonymous

              It’s still more plausible than Orson Scott Card’s claim that he’d never read Starship Troopers.

              • Bruce Baugh

                Haldeman claims – as in the link I provided – to have read Starship Troops several times in the years after it came out. He just says that it wasn’t in his conscious mind as a thing to deal with when plotting and writing the first seventy pages or so, at which point someone reading it pointed out the connection.

                I presume, of course, that whatever Card’s relationship with Starship Troopers may have been, it was manly in a very chaste way.

  • Johnnie

    Hey, the actor who plays Carver in The Wire is in Starship Troopers, they’re not all Aryan. And Jake Busey “plays” violin, ON ANOTHER PLANET! But seriously, I’m appartently the only one here who loves both RoboCop and Starship Troopers on both a juvenile-testosterone-explosion level and as very funny, if very heavy handed, satire. I think Neil Patrick Harris’ acting in Starship Troopers pretty much sums up the intent of the film, it seems like he’s winking at the audience every twenty seconds or so.

    • Murc

      I will at least TRY to watch anything with Neil Patrick Harris in it.

      I’m not a big fan of HIMYM, but I at least gave it a chance purely on his presence.

    • I feel that way about RoboCop… fun cartoon violence coupled with effective satire. I specifically found Starship Troopers disappointing because I didn’t find it good on the “juvenile-testosterone-explosion level” even though I think it did reasonably well attacking the element of fascism running through most sci-fi action movies.

      • nixnutz

        I think that Starship Troopers was done cheaply basically because Verhoeven ran his career into a ditch with Showgirls. He tried to make the syndicated TV quality of it integral to the film, so you might mistake it as part of the satire, but that was just cover for the fact that he didn’t have the budget for a real sci-fi action epic.

        It works very well on some levels but it would be ten times better if one of those were that most basic level.

    • liberalrob

      NPH probably does the best job in terms of performance in the entire movie. Really can’t fault the cast in general, even Denise Richards; they did what they could with the material. The screenplay was atrocious, and that’s what sank the film for me.

  • Showgirls is a dreadful film. But, BOOBS! So.

    • liberalrob

      That movie was my introduction to Gina Gershon, who probably was the highlight of the whole production.

  • Interesting, although I’d argue that if they have to explain to you that it is in fact satire, it doesn’t work very well.

    OTH I saw Soldier of Orange a long time ago and I was blown away, so clearly the guy does (or did) somethings right.

  • Ronan

    The problem with seeing Robocop as a satire is that we’re missing the most important aspect of the film.. it is working within a specific genre, utilising the narrative skills of that tradition, making a serious political point..it is Paul Verhoeven standing athwart history shouting ‘we have lost our moral compass!’..the lack of subtly it the point

    • nixnutz

      The notion of indicting the audience for enjoying violence, and for rooting for a fascist revenge plot, that can’t have been novel but I can’t really think of what the earliest or best examples are. I think some people have interpreted The Searchers this way but I don’t buy it. Anyone have any ideas?

      • Ronan

        Not even indicting the audience..offering both a good story and a devastating plea for sanity

        • Bill Murray

          that probably half the audience missed

          • Ronan

            ..devastating, rather than effecitive

            • Bill Murray

              I’m not sure it can be devastating if it’s not effective

              • Ronan

                It devastated me, but didnt get it’d message across to others effectively

    • I guess I don’t know why viewing Robocop as satire is incompatible with it having a serious political point or him saying ‘we have lost our moral compass!’ I mean Jonathan Swift surely did both.

      • Ronan

        I think, because then we get bogged down in the over the top violence/dialouge etc itself and imagine that it is satirical, rather than an example of the genre itself and his own inclinations as a filmmaker..
        The beauty is that Verhoeven pulls us in with 2 hrs of enjoyment, and leaves us with lingering doubts about gentrification (for example)

        • nixnutz

          “Satire” may be too much. By the time of Robocop revisionist westerns had been around for a couple decades; it was unusual to make a western that didn’t grapple with the meaning of the genre, its relationship to history, violence, etc. i.e. they generally had a bunch of metatextual stuff going on.

          This wasn’t unknown in action/revenge films but the bulk of the 80s action films–the Arnold/Stallone/Chuck Norris stuff–wasn’t doing this. So it passes the low bar of being aware that it’s a movie in a particular genre and having some meta content, it also had some satirical humor but yeah, it’s not really “a satire”.

          Are you guys aware of the Blood Bros. mixtapes? It’s a series of three mixes of music from 80s action movies, makes for an epic workout or laundry day soundtrack.

          • Ronan

            I wasnt aware of it anyway, nixnutz, so thanks for the link!
            ….also, Im fascinated by this idea of laundry day that you have in the US, and would love to have a thread opened up around here about it some day

    • brad

      In a very, very roundabout way this reminds me of a friendly ongoing argument I have with a former student of Ann Althouse about whether Ann is truly a conservative or not.
      The student points to their personal interactions over a decade ago and says don’t take Ann’s writings at face value. I point to the company Ann keeps and the audience she’s found.
      Robocop found its audience, and they were the type to demand sequels where they see him shoot more stuff and make go boom, yay explodey blood. Maybe Verhoeven thought he was saying something, but he didn’t.

      • Ronan

        I dont mind what company something/one keeps, personally…

        • brad

          I’m not arguing for guilt by association, but rather that in debatable cases how something is received can be telling. Not definitive, I’d take a somewhat contrary position about Eyes Wide Shut, for example, but it’s still information to consider.
          But my own personal opinion is that Robocop fails as a satire because it’s a shallow attempt at commentary stapled onto what was for its time an over the top hyper violent standard pushing action/slasher movie. Others feel differently.

      • LeeEsq

        If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck; chances are its a duck.

        • Ronan

          Ah here now, thats a very incurious way to approach something

          • rea

            Not incurious, no. I’d be very curious to see any evidence that the unidentified duck-like objects under dicussion are really swans. But absent such evidence, I’ve got to conclude the UDLOs are ducks.

            • Hogan

              Maybe it’s a goose that was raised by ducks, speaks fluent duck, and wears duck makeup. It could happen.

              • Ronan

                Or a cat with a bad leg, a hoarse throat and swollen lips?

                • Bill Murray

                  no that’s Angelina Jolie

            • Ronan

              This is true..I guess Im more objecting to the argument that Robocop is obviously a duck

        • brad

          But what if it’s wearing a t-shirt that says “I’m not a duck”?
          And then spends an evening with a box of wine, staring in a mirror, telling itself how smart it is.

          • Bill Murray

            It just went to a Dada exhibition?

    • LeftWingFox

      I think that might be expecting too much of the satire.

      On one level, Robocop is an action film that works very well as such.

      On another level, it’s set in a crap-sack post-Reaganomics world where many conservative ideologies (Glorification of nuclear war; the chipper, contextless commercial media; privatization and consolidation in the hands of conscienceless corporations; and jingoistic consumerism) get stabbed repeatedly.

      Saying it’s satirizing “the decline of civilization through movies like this” is stretching the point well past the intended target.

      • Ronan

        Sure, that’s why Im saying not to see it as a satire, but as a watchable action film with a political point made in a hamfisted manner

        • Cheap Wino

          I can agree with that assessment.

      • liberalrob

        I’d buy that for a dollar! :)

        • JustMe

          You literally made me spit out my coffee, right onto my white pants. Blast you!

  • Showgirls is dreadful in every way. It’s one of the few movies I couldn’t make it through.

    If Starship Troopers is satire then that’s the most “played straight” satire I’ve ever seen, aside from the Federation commercials I guess. Though now that I think about it, is everything that isn’t explicitly a commercial still just actually a commercial? If that’s the case then it would go from just being a fun, not to be taken too seriously movie to being pretty good on it’s merits.

    • Karate Bearfighter

      is everything that isn’t explicitly a commercial still just actually a commercial?

      I always took it that way; IIRC the “Would you like to know more?” transitions frequently lead straight in to “movie” action.

  • Anonymous

    Ill just leave this here:

    http://sergioleoneifr.blogspot.com/2006/01/glorious-excess-of-showgirls.html

    “I love Showgirls! It’s pitched high, it’s crazy, it’s wild and it’s a hell of a lot of f**king fun.”
    Quentin Tarantino has said

    French director Jacques Rivette called it “one of the great American films of the last few years” (in 1998). He even referred to Elizabeth Berkley, whose performance has been the butt of jokes from the get-go, as “amazing!”.

    • brad

      *compulsory Jerry Lewis mention”

    • Anonymous

      Accidentally posted before finishing. Anyway, it gets the point across.

    • nixnutz

      Well Deathproof definitely showed that Tarantino appreciates directors trolling their audiences.

  • Anonymous

    Showgirls was unpopular because 90% of its audience expected to be titillated and was instead subjected to relentlessly (and clearly deliberately) unsexy scenes.

    The other 10% expected to see a morality tale in which the ruthlessly ambitious characters are punished and was instead subjected to a story in which all of the characters are relentlessly ambitious, striving, and manipulative, and the most relentless, striving and manipulative characters end up successful in the end.

    • Manta

      Your argument shows how horrible the movie was: even when trying to defend it, the best you can do is giving reasons why people did not like it, instead of giving reasons why they should have.

      • Anonymous

        I wasn’t trying to defend the movie with that comment. I was explaining why it was so disliked.

        The movie is ably defended here:

        http://sergioleoneifr.blogspot.com/2006/01/glorious-excess-of-showgirls.html

      • Anonymous

        I agree with the original Anonymous’s take, and would further suggest that films with the same inherent message (greed wins, and most of the world / the US is full of greedy shitheads), when they feature men in clothes rather than women without clothes, are generally lauded.

        • Manta

          Maybe because whether a movie is good or bad does not depend on the message it sends?

  • Royko

    I do think Verhoeven likes to play with and poke fun at Hollywood conventions, but he also seems to be infatuated with them as well. It’s true that Starship Troopers pointed out some of the fascist undertones of in the action-adventure genre, but it also seemed oddly taken with them as well. I’m not convinced that Verhoeven could tell you where his satire begins and ends.

    For me the difference between Verhoeven and the Coen brothers is that, even in their lesser efforts, I know what the Coens are up to, and I generally enjoy the results. With Verhoeven, the only thing that is clear is that the blatant awfulness in his films is tipping its hat toward the more discrete awfulness in other films, and I’m not sure that’s enough to redeem his work.

    Maybe Verhoeven is giving us Andy Kaufman, but I’m not going to assume that just because a movie is incredibly terrible that its terribleness has to be a sign of a brilliant satire.

    • brad

      I have to wonder to what degree the satirical elements are ultimately for the same of Verhoeven’s self-image, as well, so he can tell himself he’s not just making commercial crap for audiences to hoot at unironically or jerk off to. I tend to doubt the original script for Robocop was dripping with satirical wit that was muddled by a studio’s desire to make a commercial action movie. If anything he pretty much glossed over the most interesting Reagan era related idea in the whole thing; the crime victim turning himself into a vigilante hero by using the criminals’ hyperviolent methods against them. No ambiguity to it at all, just good guy shoot bad guy, yay. (Not saying I embrace the idea, but it was the Rambo, Bernard Goetz (sp?) fantasy of the day.)

    • sparks

      I was going to point out if Verhoeven were an arthouse director trying for that sort of audience, there’d be more justification in the protests of misunderstanding his films.

      To give him the ultimate backhand compliment: At least he isn’t Renny Harlin.

  • Jameson Quinn

    For a while, Dan Savage would do a show which was basically MST3K of showgirls, with him as the robots. It was pretty good. So the movie can at least be an element in good art.

    • Bill Murray

      so were Sidehackers and Mitchell

    • stranger reader

      I think you must mean David Schmader? He’s known for doing screenings of Showgirls with live commentary, and I believe that his commentary was included as an alternative audio track on one of the DVD versions of the film.

  • DrS

    That rape scene was rough, or at least that’s how I remember it so long ago. Might just be my particular psychology. I’ve seen the rest of the movie a bunch since then, but often on basic cable.

    • Royko

      On the Showgirls VIP DVD, they include a hilarious mocking commentary track by David Schmader (the only way to watch Showgirls, IMO.)

      But I seem to recall when it gets to the rape scene, he basically says, “What is about to happen is so awful, I can’t even joke about it. So let’s just get this part over with.”

      Up until that point, most of the movie is a lot like “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls”. When you get to that point, it becomes “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” made by loathsome people.

  • witless chum

    I’m not going to go so far as claiming it was good, but I’ve seen Showgirls on cable (It’s really funny edited.) and it’s not that unpleasant to watch. I’ve watched a whole bunch of movies I found more boring and eye-rolling. Have you people not seen anything featuring Kristen Stewart?

  • Morbo

    I am a bit disappointed that the Joe Eszterhas skit from MadTV appears not to exist on the internet. The script will have to do.

  • ajay

    One thing in his favour: Verhoeven gets injuries right. He gets slated for them every time, people say his films have “over-the-top unrealistic gore”, but that’s actually what serious traumatic injuries look like and Verhoeven knows it because he’s seen them.

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