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A fascistic Starship Troopers reboot for Trump era? Paul Verhoeven aghast

Dutch filmmaker satirised fascist and xenophobic tone of Robert Heinlein’s 1959 novel in his 1997 film, but worries remake will adopt the book’s militaristic tone. It ‘would fit very much in a Trump presidency’, he says

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 1:01pm
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 2016, 1:01pm

Some reboots are simply superfluous. Others? They could be downright dangerous.

At least that’s what Paul Verhoeven thinks of the new take on his 1997 cult sci-fi satire Starship Troopers, for which Columbia Pictures has just hired writers in the hope of kick-starting a new franchise.

In New York this week, at the Film Society of Lincoln Centre’s retrospective of his work, Verhoeven made his unhappiness clear.

Flashback: Starship Troopers (1997) – sci-fi blast-’em-up tackles militarism and xenophobia

“It said in the article [that] the production team of that movie, of the remake, that they would go back more and more toward the novel,” Verhoeven said, referring to the Robert Heinlein tome on which his original, well, wasn’t really based. “And, of course, we really, really tried to get away from the novel, because we felt that the novel was fascistic and militaristic.”

Then he added a more charged, political spin. “You feel that going back to the novel would fit very much in a Trump presidency,” he said.

The original Starship Troopers looked at a futuristic society in which humans achieved status by imposing their military will on so-called “Bugs” – foreigners from a distant planet. It’s seen as a satire of a civilisation unwittingly heading towards fascism.

Heinlein’s 1959 novel, meanwhile, takes the form of classroom debates about individual sacrifice and the greater good. (Coincidentally, the novelist is about to get another 21st century take as his Stranger in a Strange Land is developed as a series for NBC cable channel SyFy.)

Of course, depending on how the new movie is shaded, it could be seen as its own comment on the present American situation. But Verhoeven didn’t seem to agree.

He also generally wondered if any movie about fascism would be too uncomfortable.

“We are living in a very interesting, or you can call it scary times, and of course you would like to do something about it too,” the director said. “But I think if you go too directly into the now, you have no distance.”

The Dutch director, whose Cannes sensation Elle is about to hit US cinemas, has seen many of his 1990s pulp classics turned into modern movies, with mixed results. He had a theory about why they tend not to work in these bigger Hollywood reimaginings.

“The studios,” he noted, “always wanted not to have a layer of lightness, a layer of irony, sarcasm, satire.”