In 2016, it was revealed by TheHollywoodReporter that Sony Pictures would tackle a new incarnation of Starship Troopers with the aim to develop it as a new sci-fi film franchise. Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 novel was reportedly going to be the direct source material that screenwriters Mark Swift and Damian Shannon will be taking cues from and not the 1997 film.
The original 1997 film from director Paul Verhoeven has become a cult-favorite as it held on to satire elements that had been previously seen in his films Total Recall and RoboCop. Paul went a little more extreme with parody elements of fascism as to poke fun of the novel, tonally it worked as I’m not sure you watch that movie and think fascism is awesome as it places a spotlight on harmful aspects of state propaganda, nationalism, and false notion of superiority.
Producer Neal H. Moritz (Fast and The Furious) would be taking on his third Paul Verhoeven remake, he was previously behind the remakes of Total Recall and RoboCop. Giving both films a more studio-friendly PG-13 rating thinking that the movies would end up earning more money globally.
A PG-13 take on the material has been kicking around since 2012, as Total Recall producer Toby Jaffe previously made his case to EmpireMagazine about toning down the violence. Suggesting they’d attempt a tone more similar to Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (originally written as a sequel to Verhoeven’s Total Recall).
“The more expensive a film is, the harder it is now to make it that violent. With Recall, in particular, we made a conscious choice to keep it tonally closer to something like Minority Report. It gives the studio, and us as producers, the opportunity to reintroduce it in a new way.”
“Verhoeven took [Robert Heinlein’s 1959 novel] from one extreme and made it almost comical, whereas our job is to be a little more faithful to the book, and ground it a little more…. Verhoeven made his movie a critique of fascism whereas Heinlein was writing from the perspective of someone who had served in World War II. Y’know, one man’s fascism is another man’s patriotism…”
The box office potential has always been a studio talking-point to giving mature source material a PG-13 rating. Respectively, Total Recall flopped earning $198 million on a budget of $125 million and RoboCop faired slightly better earning $243 million on a budget of $100 million. Not the massive blockbusters that you’d expect from a PG-13 tentpole.
We’re living in a very different atmosphere for R-rated genre films as recent releases such as Deadpool ($783 million), Logan ($619 million), IT ($700 million), and Deadpool 2 ($743 million) are making huge box office earnings.
SIDENOTE: It might be hard to imagine but there at one time had been a short-lived CGI animated kids show called Starship Troopers: Roughnecks.
However, it doesn’t sound like everyone thinks Sony is going the right route with their reboot by returning to the source material.
Paul Verhoeven isn’t happy about the reboot and suggested (via IndieWire) in 2016 that it would be very troubling for the studio to return the original book. This might be playing with fire concerning the aim for a younger audience and might explain why the studio has been dragging their feet on it.
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.”
“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 idea behind “Troopers,” according to Verhoeven, was to create a story that “seduced the audience” on one level, but then make it clear to the audience what they were admiring was actually evil.
“Our philosophy was really different [from Heinlein’s book], we wanted to do a double story, a really wonderful adventure story about these young boys and girls fighting, but we also wanted to show that these people are really, in their heart, without knowing it, are on their way to fascism,” Verhoeven said.
Basically, what could happen is that removing the violence and satire could be exposing younger audiences to fascism, potentially normalizing it rather than pointing out the grotesque aspects. In the current climate that seems increasingly dangerous to expose a young audience to “age appropriate fascism” themes.
While the PG-13 RoboCop remake has some fans that enjoyed it lost gravity the violence and satirical world building that helped make the original one of the greatest action films from the 1980s. Orion Pictures seemed to have learned from those hiccups as it is currently moving forward with RoboCop Returns. A film with director Neill Blomkamp attached that would be a direct sequel to the original 1987 film. Returning to the original’s R-rating and satire as co-creators Ed Neumeier (penned the Starship Troopers films) and Michael Miner tackling the story with Terminator’s Justin Rhodes handling the script.
RoboCop Returns feels more like the type of film Troopers should be.
We already have a good example of how going back to the original novel and toning down the violence for a Paul Verhoeven remake has ended up a miscalculation on the part of Neal H. Moritz. The PG-13 Total Recall incarnation went the remake-the-novel route and excluded the Mars setting and removed David Cronenberg’s addition of mutants, which ended up making the science fiction film more generic if than anything else.
There hasn’t been a big update on the project for a while. But screenwriters Mark Swift and Damian Shannon suggested on Twitter earlier in May and August that they’re still holding out hope the remake will still get made.
“In the world of ST, rights are earned. Our script is finished but there is a long way to go before it would hit the screen. Hopefully there will be some developments soon but Hollywood can be slow. (EXAMPLE: A pitch we sold 6 years ago is finally shooting this fall.)”
”Seems like longer! Some movies take a long time. Baywatch took 13 years and the source material was easier than ST. We love our script and hopefully it keeps moving forward. But ultimately it has to make sense for the studio… and that presents its own set of challenges.”