A young man and his friends defend Earth from giant intergalactic insects. [Dir: Paul Verhoeven/ Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards/ 130 min/ SciFi-Fantasy, Action-Adventure/ Heinlein, Robert]
Some critics have called the book a tribute to the military way of life; other have called it a subtle satire of fascism, or maybe just a tribute to the military way of life. At the very least, as interpreted in this film dramatization, it seems at odds with Heinlein's otherwise individualist reputation.
Partly this is simply because it's about going to war and as such is almost intrinsically unlibertarian. The typical libertarian distrust of government, and scruples over the indiscriminate use of force is, after all, not a state of mind very sympathetic to war. Also, in this story the military has taken over, and full-fledged democracy is gone. Democracy, it is suggested, was too weak.
Near the beginning of the film, a history teacher explains this projected future: "This year we explored the failure of democracy, and how the social scientists brought our world to the brink of chaos. We talked about the veterans, how they took control and imposed the stability that has lasted for generations since."
When a student in the class objects that force never solved anything, the teacher snaps back: "Naked force has resolved more issues throughout history than any other factor. The contrary opinion, that violence never solves anything is wishful thinking at its worst."
First, the idea that the military (i.e., a giant unlimited bureaucracy) would run the world better than some democratic institution (which are at least subject to some constraints and public scrutiny) is optimistic is to put it mildly. And as for "naked force" solving the problems of human progress, that is just macho talk.
Anyway, there is some limited democracy here; it's just that in order to participate in it, you have to serve in the military first. Given that the Earth is in a fight for its life from invading bugs (as is the premise), and that defense is the classic free-rider problem, this restriction might not be entirely unreasonable. At least this projected world is free of the draft, which Heinlein opposed.
Also in the plus column, parts of the story are told through government propaganda films that are a transparent parody of the real thing.
All that aside, this is a terrific action film. State of the art special effects deliver a credible if sometimes gory image of hordes of alien insects battling heroic and vulnerable humans, and once it gets going there is almost no break in the action.
Lead actor Casper Van Dien is not exactly a household name, nor are there any other really big names in the picture. It doesn't need them. The story and special effects are the real stars here. The actors, as Alfred Hitchcock once said, are just cattle -- in this case, cattle on their way to the slaughterhouse.
Much of the tone is over the top in an authoritarian kind of way, but otherwise it is not entirely offensive.
Even libertarians would take up arms against invading insects. The film is also too light to be taken all that seriously. In any case, it's entertaining and upbeat, which is to say not much like real war.
But it deserves its R rating. Giant insects can get pretty vicious.
This article was reprinted from Jon Osborne's Miss Liberty's Guide to Film and Video: Movies for the Libertarian Millenium, available in the Advocates Liberty Store.