One week after the election of Donald Trump, Paul Verhoeven was at the Film Society of Lincoln Center presenting “Starship Troopers,” a 1997 film that highlighted the fascist possibilities of American society. It was a connection that wasn’t lost on the provocative 77 year-old filmmaker, who the Film Society is honoring this month with a two-week retrospective. In discussing the recent news that Sony and producer Neal H. Moritz (“Fast & Furious” franchise) were going to reboot “Starship Troopers,” Verhoeven didn’t pull any punches during a Q&A.
According to the Dutch filmmaker, the reason Hollywood’s remakes (“Total Recall,” “Robocop”) and sequels (“Basic Instinct,” “Robocop,” “Starship Troopers) of his films fail is “the studios always wanted not to have a layer of lightness, a layer of irony, sarcasm, satire.” Referring to the announcement that the new “Starship Troopers” reboot would go back to science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein’s original novel was particularly troubling to Verhoeven.
“It said in the article [that] the production team of that movie of the remake, that they would go back more and more towards the novel. And of course, we really, really tried to get away from the novel, because we felt that the novel was fascistic and militaristic,” said Verhoeven. “You feel that going back to the novel would fit very much in a Trump Presidency.”
The film was widely rejected in 1997. At the time, critics didn’t see the double narrative and panned the film for advocating the very the neo-Nazi tendencies Verhoeven and Neumeier were actively trying to skewer. Watching the film today, 19 years removed, it is hard to understand how people missed Verhoeven’s obvious satiric perspective, with its heightened artifice, campy performances, propaganda newsreels and clear references to Nazi flags and uniforms.
Verhoeven says the only reason his original film got past the studio was because at the time Sony was in turmoil with top executives being replaced every few months.