Robert A. Heinlein Movies
Robert A. Heinlein was one of the giants of 20th century science fiction literature and a peer of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Arthur C. Clarke. Though he strongly influenced the direction of postwar science fiction in movies and television, none of the books for which he was most famous were ever adapted to the screen, except in the most superficial manner. Born in Butler, MO, Robert Anson Heinlein was the son of an accountant. As a boy he was fascinated by astronomy and was an avid chess player who also showed remarkable abilities in mathematics. He attended the University of Missouri for one year before entering the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, ML, in 1925. He was commissioned an ensign upon graduation in 1929, and he later served on the carrier U.S.S. Lexington and the destroyer U.S.S. Roper. Heinlein made lieutenant in 1934, but later that year, he was forced to retire from the Navy when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He pursued graduate degrees in physics and mathematics at the University of California. For a while, Heinlein was living on a meager Navy pension and tried supplementing it by managing a silver mine in Colorado; he also got involved in politics and even ran for public office in the California State Assembly in 1938.
Heinlein began writing professionally in 1939, when he sold his first short story, "Life-Line," to Astounding Science Fiction for 70 dollars. He began building a serious following over the next few years as part of the new wave of writers in science fiction's "Golden Age" -- Isaac Asimov, Henry Kuttner, and other giants were gaining popularity at the same time, and Heinlein was there with them, achieving remarkable success in just his first two years. In 1941, he was chosen as the guest of honor and keynote speaker at the World Science Fiction Convention. The outbreak of World War II led Heinlein back into military service as an aviation engineer at the Naval Air Experimental Station in Philadelphia, PA, for the duration of the war. He devoted at least some of his time there to developing high-altitude pressure suits for aviators, which utilized technology that subsequently went into the designs of the first spacesuits for America's astronauts 15 years later.
After World War II, Heinlein was among the first of the new generation of science fiction authors to cultivate a mainstream audience by getting his work published in general interest magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post. He also began writing some works aimed specifically at young adult readers, most notably Rocket Ship Galileo (1947), which became the basis for the movie Destination Moon in 1950. Heinlein's technical training made him uniquely qualified to write about science and scientific principals, and it can be said that some of the appeal of Heinlein's writing lies in his firming up of the science side of science fiction; the fiction side of his work was equally compelling in its embrace and quick presentation of various philosophical ideas, especially politics, in which he tended toward the right. Less obvious but also present in his thinking was a terrible concern for the consequences of the newly launched nuclear age; he and his wife spent years trying to locate themselves a place which they thought would be overlooked as a potential target of Soviet nuclear missiles.
Heinlein won his first Hugo Award for his 1956 novel Double Star and his second in 1960 for Starship Troopers. By the late '50s, however, Heinlein's politics had shifted even further to the right, as reflected in Starship Troopers adapted into a film several decades later, in 1997. Starship Troopers reflected this criticism in its presentation of a future society in which Earth is united in peace and harmony but only those who have served in the military possess full citizenship. His beliefs almost certainly would have collided with the changing social mores of the 1960s if it were not for the publication of Stranger in a Strange Land in 1961. This was the first of Heinlein's books to explore the breaking of social taboos, and it fit right in with the perceptions of younger 1960s readers by attacking accepted sexual and religious conventions and middle-class, middle-brow conceptions of social propriety. It began building an audience beyond the ranks of serious science fiction readers in 1963, and by the second half of the 1960s the book was accepted by the budding counterculture; it was perhaps the second most influential book to come out of the science fiction/fantasy orbit during this period after J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy. There were numerous overtures made by studios and producers interested in filming Stranger in a Strange Land, but Heinlein had lost all enthusiasm for screen adaptations of his work following his experiences during the early 1950s, and for the remainder of his life he stayed clear of such activities.
He would continue to write at a furious rate over the coming decades, most notably with books like I Will Fear No Evil, Friday, Job: A Comedy of Justice, and The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. Heinlein's influence on film and television would be somewhat limited, despite his involvement with various projects for both media. Destination Moon is probably his most straightforward and significant contribution as a source novelist, but it dates from a period in which filmmakers and audiences were very much in sync with his political views. Strangely enough, The Puppet Masters, a story about slug-like alien invaders who take over their human hosts and begin infiltrating the government and society at large, has been his most well-represented book on screen. It has been filmed twice, once without permission by actor/director Bruno VeSota under the title The Brain Eaters (executive producer Roger Corman was unaware of the plagiarism, and a settlement was paid before trial), and in 1994 by Stuart Orme under its own title. The Puppet Masters was also the basis for one of the most harrowing installments of The Outer Limits television series (1963-1965), "The Invisibles." The late-'90s screen adaptation of Starship Troopers was somewhat of a cheat -- it had already been conceived independently as "Bug Hunt," and it was only in the early stages of completing a screenplay that the interested parties recognized some similarities to Heinlein's 1959 novel and purchased the rights. Most Heinlein fans seemed to loathe the movie, as it contained none of the book's element of social criticism and, indeed, almost seemed to burlesque some elements of the story. There were other attempts to film Heinlein projects in the late '90s and beyond, all of which fell through. ~ Rovi
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Project Moonbase is a "feature film" cobbled together from several episodes of the unsold TV science fiction series "Ring Around the Moon." Set in the future -- 1970, that is -- the film takes place on a huge space station, where a group of pilots and scientists draw up plans to establish a U.S. military base on the moon. This project is nearly stymied by foreign spy Dr. Wernher (Larry Johns), who is exposed when he cannot answer a few simple questions about the Brooklyn Dodgers (it's that kind of film). The story comes to an abrupt conclusion when female colonel Breiteis (Donna Martell) -- pronounced "Bright Eyes"! -- and male major Moore (Ross Ford) are married on the surface of the moon, with the President of the United States (Ernestine Barrier) presiding via two-way television. Though the sets and special effects are impressive, the storyline is rather infantile. Surprisingly, Project Moonbase was co-scripted by Robert A. Heinlein. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
- Donna Martell, Hayden Rorke, (more)
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Producer George Pal assembled an impressive roster of behind-the-camera talent -- including noted science fiction author Robert Heinlein and artist Chelsey Bonestell -- for this pioneering sci-fi adventure. Scientist Dr. Charles Cargraves (Warner Anderson), former Air Force General Thayer (Tom Powers), and industrial tycoon Jim Barnes (John Archer) believe that it's time that the U.S. blazed new trails and found new adventures. Convinced that exploration of space is the wave of the future (and that America's dominance in space is vitally important if they are to continue to dominate the Earth), the three men begin planning and constructing a spaceship called "Luna" in the Mojave Desert that will take the men to the moon and back. However, anti-American forces begin flooding the press with propaganda against the moon mission, and finally the men make their way to moon without the aid of the federal government. While the men are thrilled to succeed in their mission, it turns out that they miscalculated the amount of fuel needed to return -- and that the rocket needs to drop a lot of weight if it is to return to Earth. Destination Moon won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects of 1950; the film also features a brief appearance by cartoon favorite Woody Woodpecker, who helps explain how rockets work. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi
- Warner Anderson, John Archer, (more)
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Humanity's war against the bugs continues in this sequel to Paul Verhoeven's sci-fi soap opera epic, Starship Troopers. This time, when a squad of troopers is stranded on a bug-infested planet, their only hope for survival lies in an abandoned outpost, where things take a turn for the worse. A lone survivor by the name of Captain Dax (Richard Burgi) awaits them there, locked away for killing his crazed commanding officer. When a group of strangers arrives at the base, the squad is faced with a new threat from their alien enemy that will pit every surviving human against each other. With an army of bugs surrounding the compound and mysterious internal forces plotting against the group, it's up to Dax and Pvt. Lei Sahara (Colleen Porch) to try and hold out before the rescue team arrives. Effects maestro Phil Tippett (Star Wars, Jurassic Park) makes his directing debut in this made-for-cable movie that features a script by the series' original scribe, Edward Neumeier. ~ Jeremy Wheeler, Rovi
- Richard Burgi, Lawrence Monoson, (more)
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Director Paul Verhoeven (Showgirls, Total Recall) reunited many from his 1987 Robocop team for this $100-million science fiction adventure, adapted from Robert A. Heinlein's 1959 novel, originally serialized in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (October-November, 1959). After graduation, Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) volunteers for the Mobile Infantry to do his Federal service -- but also to win over his girlfriend, Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards), who has signed with the Fleet Academy to become a starship pilot. Johnny joins other boot-camp recruits -- Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), who has had a crush on Johnny since school, and Ace Levy (Jake Busey). Ace and Johnny become pals, and Johnny's abilities earn him the squad leader position. A training accident occurs on Johnny's watch, and he is about to resign when Earth is attacked by alien insects intent on eradicating all human life. Johnny's home, Buenos Aires, is no longer on the map. Horrified, he chooses to stay on and fight to destroy the insect threat. The Mobile Infantry travels to the planet Klendathu to battle the warrior bugs, a ruthless enemy with only one goal -- survival of their species no matter what. In the initial encounter, some 100,000 lives are lost. At a distant fort, Johnny's unit discovers that the bugs drain brains to acquire knowledge. Soon they are overwhelmed by an advancing arthropod army of immense proportions, attacking both in space and on the planet surface. The notion of human extinction becomes a possibility. For this $100-million production, some 300 artists and technicians combined models and miniatures with CGI effects to fashion a variety of creatures -- from breeder bugs to armored tanker bugs. The film employed hundreds of extras and has over 500 visual effects shots. Filming began 4/29/96 in California (LA and Long Beach, where Cal State's pyramid gym was used for the Jumpball game), New York, South Dakota, Wyoming (Casper, Hell's Half Acre), and Utah (an abandoned Wendover airstrip where the Enola Gay WWII bomber crew trained). At an abandoned airfield in Fountain Valley, California, an elaborate set was constructed to resemble a military boot camp of the future -- complete with an array of pup tents, gull-winged spaceships, hurdle obstacle course, and training facility buildings. Cinematography by Jost Vacano (Showgirls). Licensed products include Lewis Galoob Inc. toys. ~ Bhob Stewart, Rovi
- Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, (more)
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Robert A. Heinlein's 1951 novel The Puppet Masters comes to the screen 43 years later. Sharp-eyed viewers will recognize similarities to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but Heinlein's book came first. Parasitic space aliens invade the Midwest, taking over the bodies of humans and manipulating these unfortunates to do their bidding. US security agent Donald Sutherland and his team of troubleshooters attempt to squash the extraterrestrial scheme before everyone in the world is turned into Howdy Doody. Adding an extra layer to this familiar scenario is the fact that Sutherland doesn't get along with everyone on his side-in particular, he has a lot of trouble relating with his son Eric Thal. Stuart Ormes' perfunctory direction is not up to the standard set by the actors and special effects. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
- Donald Sutherland, Eric Thal, (more)