By Oliver Lyttelton | www.oliverlyttelton.com June 27, 2012 at 2:45PM
"Starship Troopers" just might be Paul Verhoeven's masterpiece. The Dutch helmer has several films that might run close to that title -- "Flesh & Blood," "Soldier Of Orange," "Black Book" and his Hollywood debut "Robocop." But it's his epic, slyly satirical adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein's sci-fi novel about the war on a bug-like alien race that we keep coming back to rewatch and rewatch, and feels like the culmination of everything he worked towards across his career. Which is why of all the remakes circulating out there, the one we're most puzzled by is "Starship Troopers."
After all, it's just under fifteen years since the release of Verhoeven's film, which is still on heavy rotation on TV, and the original was strong enough that we don't feel the need for a different take, and successful enough that it spawned a couple of direct-to-video sequels. But apparently that's not good enough for producer Neal Moritz and Toby Jaffe; already with one unnecessary Verhoeven remake in the can with "Total Recall", the men behind "xXx," "Stealth" and (to be fair) "21 Jump Street" announced last year that they were working on a new take on Heinlein's source material, penned by "X-Men First Class" writers Edward Miller and Zack Stenz.
And as part of an extensive and excellent feature on Verhoeven's sci-fi pictures in the new issue of Empire, Jaffe has spilled the beans on the approach for the "Starship Troopers" remake. Are they planning on bringing in someone like Bobcat Goldthwait for an even more remorselessly satirical take on the material?
Don't be ridiculous. In Jaffe's words, the plan is for a take that's closer to the right-wing militarism of Heinlein's books, rather than the sly subversion of the 1997 film. "Verhoeven took it from one extreme and made it almost comical, whereas our job, as I see it, is to be a little more faithful to the book, and ground it a little more. The novel is extremely widely read, even today; it's on school and university reading lists, and it's read at all the military academies in the United States. Verhoeven had an agenda that made his movie a critique of fascism, whereas I think Heinlein was writing from the perspective of someone who had served in World War II as an American soldier, and was writing it at the time of the Korean War. Y'know, one man's fascism is another man's patriotism..." Just to sum up again: One. Man's. Fascism. Is. Another. Man's. Patriotism.
And as for the hard R-rating, full of equal-opportunity nudity and grisly deaths, of the original? Nowhere to be found. "The more expensive a film is, the harder it is now to have it be that violent," Jaffe says. "It's about re-interpreting it with a very new sensibility for a new generation that doesn't really know the first film. It gives the studio, and us as producers, the opportunity to reintroduce it in a new way." And of course, there's another reason to remake it: more visual effects! "What Verhoeven was able to do with the bug army in 1997 was phenomenal at the time, but working in a visual-effects renaissance as we are, just logically we have the ability to do so much more now. We can do the Jump Suits, for example, which I don't think they could have done before," Jaffe told Empire, referring to the giant mech suits in which the heroes fight the bugs in Heinlein's novel.
So to sum up: less satire, less gore, more robots, more patriotism. We would call this the stupidest decision in Hollywood history, but this is an industry that didn't just develop a movie based on "Battleship," but also made it, released it, and were surprised when they lost nine figures on it. So, you know. We're not against another take on "Starship Troopers" in principle, and we're tentatively hopeful about next year's "Robocop" remake, which is assembling an interesting cast and has some decent behind-the-scenes-talent on board.
But it sounds like "Starship Troopers" is in exactly the wrong hands, and it doesn't just make us abandon all hope for that film, but also the same team's "Total Recall" remake. We'll find out it if that's capable of restoring our interest when it hits theaters on August 3rd, while "Starship Troopers" will, assuming all involved don't wake up and see the light, follow on in a few years. For more on Verhoeven's sci-fi movies, pick up the excellent new Empire, which is in stores now.