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References to Latter-day Saints (Mormons)
in the movie

Starship Troopers (1997)

"Starship Troopers" (1997)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Based on the same-titled book by Robert A. Heinlein
Screenplay by Edward Neumeier

Starring: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Jake Busey, Neil Patrick Harris, Clancy Brown, Seth Gilliam, Patrick Muldoon, Michael Ironside, Rue McClanahan

MPAA Rating: R
U.S. Box Office: $54,700,065
Production budget: $95,000,000

"Starship Troopers" features a government news reel or recruitment advertisement which shows Latter-day Saint colonists and a temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on a distant alient planet. Many published movie reviews identify the destruction of this Mormon colony as the pivotal event which triggers the war between the people of Earth and the alien Bugs (the central plot of the movie). The scene takes place approximately 23 minutes into the film. The voiceover narration is as follows:

Every school kid knows that Arachnids are dangerous. However, Mormon extremists disregarded Federal warnings... ...and established Port Joe Smith deep inside the Arachnid Quarantine Zone. Too late they realized that Dantana had already been chosen by other colonists-- Arachnids.

Robert A. Heinlein is the author of the classic science fiction novel Starship Troopers in 1959. Heinlein is considered one of the "Big Three" in the science fiction genre: the greatest, most influential authors of the genre's Golden Age. (The other two are Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.)

Bob Heinlein was never a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but he had friends and acquaintances who were. Many of his novels and short stories include Latter-day Saint characters or references to the Church. These include Stranger in a Strange Land; Tunnel in the Sky; Citizen of the Galaxy; Friday; Double Star; To Sail Beyond The Sunset and Job: A Comedy of Justice. The novel If This Goes On (now published in the collection Revolt in 2100) features extensive references to Latter-day Saints and an extended scene that takes place in Provo, Utah.

Despite Heinlein's propensity for including references to Latter-day Saints in his writing, and the fact that there is just such a reference in the film version of his Hugo Award-winning novel, I have not been able to find such a reference in the book. Ther are two possibilities: The references to "Mormon extremists" and "Port Joe Smith" may appear only in earlier editions of the novel, but has been edited out and does not appear in recently published editions. Alternatively, this scene showing a Latter-day Saint colony on another planet was entirely imagined up by the movie's screenwriter or director.

Neither Dutch-born director Paul Verhoeven nor screenwriter Edward Neumeier are Latter-day Saints, and neither has a history of writing about Latter-day Saints. I can not say with certainty what inspired this scene, but many people believe that Blair Clark had something to do with it. Blair Clark, a Latter-day Saint special effects artist and CGI expert, was the lead CGI animator for the feature film "Starship Troopers." Creation of these scenes would have been under his purview, and the Latter-day Saint imagery (including the Oakland Temple) could certainly have been drawn from his own experiences.

The director's commentary offers no further clue. During this scene the director simply states that this scene illustrates that the alien bugs in the movie were not the ones who originally entered human territory, but that it was the other way around. He draws a parallel between the plot of his movie and the way Americans complain about being attacked by Islamic terrorists, but ignore prior incursions into their territory. [These are Paul Verhoeven's opinions. People who disagree with his take on Heinlein's novel (including probably Heinlein himself) would probably consider Verhoeven the type of liberal pacifist European that frequently leads to Europe needing the U.S. to save it from Nazis, Communists, etc.]

The scene in "Starship Troopers" plays out in the film as follows:

     [Scene: A government film shows the inside of a reinforced concrete room. Hay covers the floor. The room is brightly lit. The walls are dirty. A steel door opens and two frightened workers push a dairy cow into the room. The workers quickly run out and the steel door closes. The cow bellows, trips and falls.]

Voiceover: Every school kid knows that Arachnids are dangerous.

     [The cow stands up. The camera pans right to the opposite end of the room (which appears to be about 30 or 40 feet in length). At the opposite end of the room is an Arachnid alien. It is about 15 feet tall, with a hard exoskeleton, claws, a gaping mandible, and four dangerous legs. The Arachnid screeches and then lunges at the cow. It tears the cow apart, as flesh and blood splatter everywhere. A large black box with the red-lettered word "CENSORED" blocks the image of the cow completely. Only the splattering blood and flesh and an occasional flailing hoof can be seen outside the edges of the "CENSORED" box.]

     [New scene: A futuristic compound or colonists' base is shown on a remote planet. It appears to be the middle of the afternoon, but three moons can be seen low in the bright sky. From this low arial view, people can be seen walking about the outside of the base. Metalic structures have been erected on the flat surface. Outside the walls of the base the planet appears fairly desolate: large rock formations amidst a desert, like something out of a national park in Southern Utah. In one corner of the base is a tall tower, perhaps 15 stories high, standing above the other buildings. The tower is topped with a large golden statue of an angel holding a trumpet aloft: the Angel Moroni.]

Voiceover: However, Mormon extremists disregarded Federal warnings...

     [Closeup on the top of the tower. The statue of the Angel Moroni, clearly modelled after that which is found on Latter-day Saint temples throughout the world, is in the center of the screen. The top of this tower appears to be the spire of a temple, although not as narrow as most we are accustomed to seeing on Earth. Below the statue of the Angel Moroni, on the front of the tower or spire, nearly at the top, is a bass relief sculpture of what appears to be Jesus Christ preaching to the Twelve Apostles of the New Testament. This image appears to have been modelled after the on the front of the Oakland Temple. At least three satellite radio dishes can be seen on top of the tower, although the statue clearly stands highest. Behind the Angel Moroni is an alien moon, only partially seen through the daylight. Another smaller crescent moon is in the lower left-hand corner.]

Voiceover: ...and established Port Joe Smith deep inside the Arachnid Quarantine Zone.

     [New shot: Closeup of the ground of the same base, images evidently filmed sometime later, showing the eviscerated bodies of three dead Latter-day Saint colonists. The camera pans up showing dozens of similarly mutilated bodies. Nobody remains alive on the base except for an Arachnid.]

Voiceover: Too late they realized that Dantana had already been chosen by other colonists-- Arachnids.

     [As this government ad is evidently one intended to be viewed on a computer screen, a menu bar appears at the top of the screen, with the following menu options: FEDERAL, GALAXY, TOP NEWS, ENLIST, EXIST. A large gray bar rises to fill the bottom of the screen, beneath the image of dead Latter-day Saint colonists. The words appear on this bar: "WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?" This government film is part of an aggressive effort by the government to recruit soldiers into the military.]

Voiceover: Would you like to know more?

     [A black arrow (a computer pointer icon) clicks on the menu "EXIT" button on the top right-hand corner of the screen. The scene shrinks into a small circle of pixels, shrinking to leave only a black screen. The next scene is NOT part of the government film. The scene shows a military training base, followed by a classic scene in which new recruits line up on the base and meet their brutal drill sergeant for the first time.]

Webpage created 28 September 2004. Last modified 2 April 2005.