Iconoclast and provocateur director Paul Verhoeven has numerous cult standards in his filmography. Everyone tends to have their own favorite among the former Hollywood giant’s best: Basic Instinct, Robocop, Total Recall, or maybe even Showgirls. Verhoeven is happy to indulge the nostalgia, and recently appeared at a Film Society of Lincoln Center screening of 1997’s Starship Troopers in Manhattan to speak.
Indiewire reports that during the speech, the director took a moment to deride the recently announced remake of the film, which comes courtesy of the producer of the Fast and the Furious franchise and the co-writers of the new Baywatch film. Verhoeven particularly objected to the fact that, according to him, the new filmmakers were revisiting sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein’s source text, which Verhoeven interpreted liberally and mocked, inserting subversive messaging. (In Verhoeven’s version, there are references to Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda epic Triumph of the Will.) The choice to return to Heinlein’s 1959 novel for inspiration, Verhoeven reckons, is fitting for our time.
“Of course, we really, really tried to get away from the novel, because we felt that the novel was fascistic and militaristic,” said the director. “…Going back to the novel would fit very much in a Trump Presidency.”
He elaborated, discussing the message of the original film: “Our philosophy was really different [from the 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 also ascribed the potential failure of the upcoming film to a problem he sees with other recent remakes of his movies: “The studios always [want] not to have a layer of lightness, a layer of irony, sarcasm, satire.”
In discussing the process of conceptualizing political movies in these troubled times, Verhoeven said that he’d been revisiting the Nazi history he’d looked at while making Starship Troopers. “[With] all [that] started to happen lately, I started to read about Hitler and studying 1933 and 1934 in Germany, [which] could be a metaphor that you could use to talk about now,” Verhoeven told the Manhattan crowd.
Will Verhoeven’s follow-up to this year’s Elle be a subversive exploration of the president-elect’s ascendancy? We’ll have to wait and see.