When Starship Troopers was released in 1997, the world didn’t quite know how to take it. Based on Robert A. Heinlein’s novel of the same name, critics interpreted Paul Verhoeven’s film as too militaristic, pro-war, and — in some cases — fascist, much like the book was perceived before it. What many failed to realize, however, was that the movie set out to criticize far-right ideology.
In actuality, Verhoeven didn’t even finish the novel — he found it too dry and boring. However, he didn’t need to finish it in order to form a critique of the author’s message. Right-wing politics was something the director grew up knowing all too well growing up in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II.
Over time, though, audiences gravitated towards Starship Troopers and these days it’s widely considered as a work of remarkable satire. It took some time, but it’s aged pretty well.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, here are 15 Things You Never Knew About Starship Troopers.
15. THE UNIFORMS WERE REUSED IN POWER RANGERS AND FIREFLY
Reusing everything from stock footage to props has been a cost-effective means of making movies and television around the world for decades. In fact, you could say that recycling hand-me-downs happen almost as frequently as milking old ideas for modern reboots and copycats.
Maybe originality has been a dying art for a while, but the Starship Troopers uniforms were just too good to waste.
After Starship Troopers flopped at the box office and started finding its audience on video, the soldier’s armor appeared in a Power Rangers: Lost Galaxy episode in 1999. A few years later, in 2002, they showed up in “The Train Job” episode of Firefly. The DVD commentary on Firefly also notes that these were reused again at a later date, albeit painted purple and unrecognizable.
14. CASPER VAN DIEN WAS INJURED DURING FILMING
The production of Starship Troopers was no picnic in the park. In fact, filming of the movie was beset with health problems for more than one cast member. However, it was poor Casper Van Dien who experienced the most pain.
During a stunt which involved his character, Johnny Rico, jumping off a “tanker bug”, the actor experienced some rather painful misfortune. In an interview with the Cinema Source in 2006, the actor revealed how he “cracked three ribs” and was “coughing up blood” as a result. Ouch indeed.
Still, his injured ribs didn’t seem to deter the star from soldiering on, as he accepted getting beaten up as just being part and parcel of such physically-demanding roles. A few years later he almost permanently injured his reputation by starring in Dracula 3000.
13. VAN DIEN WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY JOHNNY RICO
Casper Van Dien has appeared as Johnny Rico in the majority of the franchise’s entries, but he wasn’t the first actor they had in mind for the part. Luckily for him, though, Mark Wahlberg and James Marsden weren’t interested.
It doesn’t seem like Mark Wahlberg wants to be in good movies anyway. Recently we found out that he’s ashamed of Boogie Nights, yet he’s more than happy to lend his talents to Transformers sequels. What a confusing man.
Likewise, James Marsden was another fresh-faced ‘90s hopeful considered for the role who said no. Like Wahlberg, there’s no specific reason as to why he turned it down.
12. VERHOEVEN WANTED TO MOCK THE NOVEL
Growing up, Verhoeven experienced Nazi-occupied Holland first-hand, so if anybody understands the ugliness that is fascist ideology it’s him. A staunch liberal, Verhoeven’s politics didn’t correspond with the nationalist and militaristic themes of the novel, so he set out to make them look ridiculous.
“Ed and I disagreed with Robert Heinlein and we felt that we needed to counter with our own narrative,” he told Digital Spy. “Basically the political undercurrent of the film is that these heroes and heroines are living in a fascist utopia – but they are not even aware of it! They think this is normal. And somehow you are seduced to follow them, and at the same time, made aware that they might be fascists.”
While the novel doesn’t promote fascism per se, it does contain far-right politics which don’t correspond with Verhoeven’s own world view. As a work of satire on fascism, however, the movie is genius.
11. CASTING WAS INSPIRED BY A NAZI PROPAGANDA FILM
Starship Troopers has never been praised for its acting. Even Paul Verhoeven has acknowledged that the performances weren’t the greatest. However, when he was looking for his actors, he wanted people who resembled the Nazi’s ideal Aryan specimens. For inspiration, he turned to 1935’s pro-Nazi film Triumph of the Will.
Some of the most recognizable names in the movie are actors with blond hair and white complexions, such as Neil Patrick Harris, Jake Busey, Amy Smart, and Van Dien. The film is full of good-looking Caucasians, which was done deliberately to evoke Nazi Germany.
Additionally, the first scene of Starship Troopers was adapted shot-for-shot from a scene from Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film. The scene in question features the Mobile Infantry standing at attention, which is identical to the Nuremberg rally scene from Triumph of the Will.
10. JAKE BUSEY SUFFERED HEAT STROKE DURING FILMING
Casper Van Dien wasn’t the only one to experience pain during shooting. His co-star, Jake Busey, got a little too much sun and suffered heat stroke as a result. Have you seen Jake Busey? He doesn’t look like a guy who gets a lot of sun after all.
The movie was shot in the heart of the desert. Couple that with being forced to wear a spacesuit and you can imagine how uncomfortable it must have been. Busey recalled the experience in an interview with Esquire: “It was 115 degrees, and I was standing in the sun in a suit that didn’t breathe. I’m from a pretty fair-skinned white Nordic bloodline. I can’t handle the sun like that.”
9. THE NEW YORK TIMES HELPED CHILDREN SNEAK IN
Part of the reason why Starship Troopers flopped at the box office was due to stiff competition from family-friendly fare like Bean and the re-release of The Little Mermaid. You can imagine parents were more keen for their kids’ to see the latter two movies. But the kids wanted the best of every world and found a way to see Starship Troopers anyway — and the New York Times helped.
In an interview with ComingSoon, Van Dien spilled the beans on how the newspaper helped underage audiences see a violent R rated movie. “The New York Times did a piece where they gave 1000 13 and 14-year-old boys tickets to Mr. Bean to see if they could sneak into Starship Troopers because people were doing that a lot at multiplexes then. After that they had to put the kibosh on it. They think we would have doubled our income so instead of 25 million it would have been 50 if it had been a PG 13 film.”
8. TEST AUDIENCES HATED DENISE RICHARDS’ CHARACTER
Despite fighting for a far-right ideological cause, Johnny Rico is an endearing character and ultimately very likable. When we meet him, he’s very much in love with his high school sweetheart — played by Denise Richards — and while she seems to reciprocate the affection at first, you can’t help but feel she’s stargazing into a future that doesn’t include her boo.
In the movie, it is implied that her character has feelings for her starship co-pilot and that’s because she does. In the film’s original cut, she eventually left Johnny for him. However, test audiences were so vocally scathing about that storyline that those scenes failed to make the final cut.
It’s probably for the best. In high school love is all gooey-eyed and puppy dog. Then adulthood happens, people move on to college or employment, and hearts get crushed. Maybe it hit too close to home for those test audiences?
7. THE HIGHLANDER CONNECTION
Since its release, Starship Troopers become a certified cult classic. As such, its young actors Casper Van Dien, Neil Patrick Harris, Jake Busey, and Denise Richards have grown older and been embraced by geekdom. At the time, though, Verhoeven made sure to throw in some established cult icons to lend some gravitas to proceedings — and two just so happened to be villains in the Highlander franchise.
Clancy Brown, who played the intimidating but fun Sgt. Zim in Starship Troopers, appeared opposite Christopher Lambert in the first (and best) Highlander movie as the savage Victor Kruger. Michael Ironside, on the other hand, who played Lt. Jean Rasczak, was cast as Gen. Katana in Highlander II: The Quickening.
6. THE BOOK WAS REQUIRED MARINE CORPS. READING
The Marine Corps Professional Reading Program started life as the Commandant’s Reading List in 1988, but they’ve been recommended books to read as far back as the 19th century in a bid to strengthen to their knowledge and motivate them for war. While each Commandant since 1988 has added their own suggestions to the program since its inception, many of the books have been on it since its inception, including Starship Troopers.
A sci-fi novel about killing bugs might seem silly in many ways, but the themes which resonate within the pages of Starship Troopers appeal to the mindset needed for Marine life. The book has also influenced military concepts and their war-gear; for example, it’s been hailed as the inspiration for introducing face shields.
5. STARSHIP NAMED AFTER A REAL WAR HERO
The film’s starship, Rodger Young, was named a posthumous US Medal of Honor recipient who was killed who gave up his life so his comrades could escape heavy gunfire at the hands of Japanese troops. The movie’s Sergeant Zim was also based on Young, as the real-life soldier gave up his position as an instructor so that he could join the Privates on the front-line.
The ship’s name was carried over from the novel. Young’s war heroics were clearly admired by the author and corresponded with the writer’s evident patriotism. While there’s no denying the soldier’s bravery to give up his life to save his unit, the film doesn’t seem to acknowledge it. You could argue that Zim cares for the Privates, but the character is also a pompous war-hungry stereotype as well.
4. IT WASN’T ORIGINALLY BASED ON A BOOK
Before it became an adaptation of Heinlein’s novel, the film was originally supposed to be called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine. However, when similarities were noted between the Ed Neumeier’s concept and the classic sci-fi tale, the rights to the book were licensed and the story was mined source material.
Given that the film started out as an original script, there are several differences between the book and the film. In fact, the movie is a pretty loose adaptation, with events and characters tweaked at the behest of Neumeier and Verhoeven. For example, in the book, Johnny is called Juan. Additionally, the film is ideologically opposed to the viewpoints Heinlein expresses in the novel, which we’ll discuss further later on.
3. IT INSPIRED A MINUS THE BEAR ALBUM
Seattle math rockers Minus the Bear are a band who don’t take themselves too seriously. Sure, when it comes to the music itself, they’re the real deal, but if you judged the band solely by their chosen song titles you’d assume they were a strange comedy act.
Their debut album, Highly-Refined Pirates, was released in 2002 and it is an impressive musical feat which boasts plenty of originality. With that record, they crafted and honed a distinct sound from the get-go and have since expanded and mastered their craft even further. But with songs entitled “You Kill Bugs Good, Man” and “Damn Bugs Whacked Him, Johnny”, they clearly set out to have some fun and celebrate Verhoeven’s sci-fi satire as well as launch a credible music career.
2. IT INSPIRED A POLITICAL CAMPAIGN
Much like Verhoeven’s previous anti-authoritarian movie Robocop, Starship Troopers’ satire is often implemented through the use of commercials within the movie. The recruitment videos and merchandise ads aimed towards kids to instil militaristic attitudes in them are prime examples of how the Verhoeven hammers his message home like a clobber to the head.
However, he probably didn’t anticipate a real political party copying his biting satire for their own agenda. Yet, it happened in 1998 when Australia’s far-right One Nation party mimicked the use of the “Do you want to know more?” advertisements from the film in a bid to attract younger members.
They were probably unaware of the satirical nature of the ads, or maybe they just thought they could mold the slogan to fit their own narrative, much like Verhoeven twisted Heinlein’s novel to suit his own. The party didn’t succeed at all, however, but it was a good attempt nonetheless.
1. IT’S VERHOEVEN’S FAVORITE OF HIS OWN FILMS
Paul Verhoeven has a filmography most directors would sell their soul for. Between Starship Troopers, Total Recall, Robocop, Elle, and even Showgirls, his oeuvre comprises of both masterpieces and unsung gems that have found fans over time. He considers Starship Troopers to be his best work, however, and he’s ardently opposed to this one being remade.
Of course the director’s work has been remade before. In this case, though, he thinks it would be dangerous. The proposed remake incurred the Dutchman’s wrath as the idea is to make it more in spirit of the novel. In the current divided political climate, Verhoeven doesn’t think that’s wise.
In an interview with Indiewire, he said: ““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.”
Are you fan of Starship Troopers? Are there any other facts we’ve missed you’d like to add? If so, sound off in the comments.
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