Magazine article The Spectator

Who Needs Actors?

Magazine article The Spectator

Who Needs Actors?

Article excerpt

What does the future hold for motion pictures? Not in 1998 - that's too specific to figure out - but in the years ahead, or, as we say these days, in the next millennium. If Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers is anything to go by, we may as well forget it. In precis, it sounds like a summer movie six months late: in the usual futuristic dystopia, a crack formation of granitejawed top guns go off to kick alien butt against some intergalactic bugs bent on destroying planet Earth. But in America the film was hailed both for its irony and for its hommage to Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will.

Well, maybe. But it lacks Triumph of the Will's warmth and humanity. I mean it. We shudder at Fraulein Riefenstahl's film of the Nuremberg rallies because it's so composed, choreographed and controlled, forgetting that all films are like that. And, intentionally or not, odd moments of human recognition keep intruding into the demented valentine, as the director cuts between the crowd scenes - heady and intoxicating - and the close-ups of the Nazi leaders, who with almost endearing incompetence come over as seedy and shifty.

By contrast, Verhoeven's techno-fascist reductio has no time for mankind's infinite variety. The company are almost all teenybopper bit players from glossy television soaps - a dreamboat from Melrose Place here, a hunk from Beverly Hills 90210 there - and, as far as acting goes, you'd be reluctant to burden them with any assignment more demanding than a swimwear calendar. Yet that's precisely why Verhoeven picked them - to prove that actors are no longer necessary; that the 'people' in a film are no more than props. Most of his directorial energies are saved instead for the picture's real stars - the hundreds of 15ft Arachnids, spider-scorpions with spiky legs that can poke through your chest. Wave after wave of these Arachnids pour from the screen, leaving you feeling as if you're trapped in a giant computer game. Like so many films these days, it's about sensation, not feeling. At the same time, the cumulative effect is desensitising: Verhoeven's relentlessness becomes unthrilling, boring even. Hollywood is signing its own death warrant in films like this, rearing a generation that can't follow anything approaching a coherent narrative (we never even find out why the bugs want to destroy earth in the first place) but whose appetite for sensation can never be gratified. This is the first film for the post-film generation. We should treasure the cheery humanity of Spiceworld while we can. …

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