15 Things You Never Knew About Starship Troopers

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Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico in Starship Troopers.
Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico. Starship Troopers.

When Starship Troopers first arrived back in November, 1997, cinema-goers and critics alike were a little confused.

On the face of it, the movie looked like just another bug hunt, pitting a group of militaristic and inherently vapid young folk against some rather unpleasant looking aliens. Director Paul Verhoeven saw things differently though. To him, Starship Troopers was “the most expensive art movie ever made”, offering biting satire on fascism and militarism alongside your standard sci-fi action movie thrills.

Two decades on and it’s fair to say most people now agree, with Starship Troopers enjoying the same kind of critical reappraisal that classics of the genre, like The Thing and Blade Runner, also have. It’s also a movie with countless stories behind it, as this list 15 Things You Never Knew About Starship Troopers demonstrates.


The Movie Didn’t Start Out As Starship Troopers

The dissection from Starship Troopers.

The film actually started out as a script completely independent of Starship Troopers, which was called Bug Hunt at Outpost Nine. It was only after the similarities between the new script and Robert A. Heinlein’s novel were noticed that the idea to adapt the book was born.


The Book Was A Huge Influence … On James Cameron’s Aliens

The 1986 classic Aliens.

Cameron saw plenty of parallels between his Aliens script and Heinlein’s book – the idea of a group of technologically superior soldiers going up against a relentlessly determined native force – so had the entire cast read it in preparation for the film’s shoot.


Paul Verhoeven Hated The Book And Didn’t Read Much Of It

Verhoeven never read Heinlein’s book all the way through. Though he did get through the first few chapters, he said it made him “bored and depressed” so decided to skip the rest.

“I stopped after two chapters because it was so boring … It is really quite a bad book. I asked Ed Neumeier to tell me the story because I just couldn’t read the thing. It’s a very right-wing book.”


The Film Was Inspired by Verhoeven’s Experience Growing Up In World War II

Dutch director Paul Verhoeven.

Verhoeven grew up in Nazi-occupied Holland, and had vivid memories of life under the oppressive fascist regime. He saw the film as an opportunity to add a layer of irony and satire to Heinlein’s straight line pro-militarism, pro-authoritarianism stance, creating something more thoughtful than it might first appear.

Michael Ironside once asked Verhoeven  “why are you doing a right-wing fascist movie”?, Verhoeven replied: ” if I tell the world that a right-wing fascist way of doing things doesn’t work then no one will listen to me, so I’m going to make a perfect fascist world everyone is beautiful, everyone is shiny, everything has big guns and fancy ships but it’s only good for killing Fucking bugs!”


Most Of The Movie’s Authority Figures Are Scarred In Some Way

A clip from Starship Troopers.

Most of the adults in authority positions that Casper Van Dien’s Rico comes into contact with are scarred in some way. Michael Ironside’s Rasczak has one arm, while Robert David Hall’s recruiting sergeant has no legs. This was an intentional choice from Verhoeven, who was trying to use the characters to symbolise the belligerent history of the Federation.


The Movie’s Propaganda Newsreel Segments Were Inspired By Real Life

The newsreel segment from Starship Troopers.

The film’s interactive propaganda segments are the most obvious examples of satire in the film. Though they do owe a debt to the similar segments that appeared in Verhoeven’s Robocop which he worked on with Starship Troopers writer Edward Neumeier, the filmmakers were also inspired by similar newsreels from the second world war. In fact, several slogans and images of military pageantry were directly inspired by Leni Riefenstahl’s infamous 1935 Nazi propaganda film, Triumph of Will.


Some Big Names Were In The Frame To Play Johnny Rico

Mark Wahlberg was offered the part of Johnny Rico but turned it down to appear in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. X-Men and Superman Returns actor James Marsden was also in contention for the role of Rico. In the end, the part ended up going to Van Dien because of his G.I. Joe-like, aryan good looks.


Neil Patrick Harris’s SS-style Costume Earned Him A Nickname On Set

Neil Patrick Harris in Starship Troopers.

All of the officer uniforms that feature in Starship Troopers were designed to resemble those worn by the Nazis. Each were designed in gray-and-black hues and came complete with jackboots and eagle pins. Harris, who was better known for his work as a child star on Dougie Hower M.D. , landed the nickname Dougie Himmler on set because of his SS-style topcoat.


Dizzy Was A Very Different Character In The Book

The Starship Troopers in combat.

The character of Dizzy, played by Dina Meyer, has a much smaller role in the original book. Dizzy is a man in the book, for starters, and dies during an early mission. Though the film version of Dizzy doesn’t make it through the events of the movie, test audiences appeared to favour the character surviving over Denise Richards’s Carmen. Despite the feedback, Verhoeven refused to change the film.


Jake Busey Prepared More Than Anyone For The Role Of Ace

Jake Busey in Starship Troopers.

To prepare for the role of Ace, the fiddle-playing joker of Rico’s squad, Jake “Son of Gary” Busey took the unusual step of teaching himself to play the violin for real. That’s dedication.


The Film’s Naked Shower Scene Was All About Equality

Starship Troopers' naked shower scene.

Verhoeven has spoken at great length about the naked shower scene from Starship Troopers and how both he and cinematographer Jost Vacano both got naked in order to put the cast at ease during filming. What many fans don’t realise is that the scene was insert by Verhoeven to highlight how, in the future, men and women would think little of showering together, fully naked. To him, the scene showed the gender equality of future society.


Most Of The Time The Actors Had To Pretend They Could See The Bugs

Starship Troopers

Though a few animatronic bugs were created for the shoot, in the majority of scenes the actors playing the troops were fighting against nothing. With most of the bugs added into scenes in post-production, they were forced to simply pretend. In some instances, Verhoeven would help out by standing in, waving a pole or bullhorn, while shouting “I’m a big f**king bug! I’ll kill you!”


Denise Richards’s Role Was Cut Down Significantly In The Final Version Of The Film

Denise Richards in Starship Troopers.

Test audiences responded badly to the plot development that saw Richard’s character Carmen dump Rico for Patrick Muldoon’s Zander and a career as a pilot before returning to Johnny at the end of the film, after both character’s new respective love interests have died. Therefore several scenes showing Carmen grieving over Johnny and then starting a new relationship were cut while Rico and Carmen’s reunion at the end is only implied.


Johnny Rico May Have Descended From Escaping Nazis

Fans have often questioned why Casper Van Dien, a white American actor, would be playing a character called Johnny Rico, from Buenos Aires in Argentina. The actor though, has an interesting theory: that Rico is the descendant of Nazis who escaped to Argentina after the Second World War.


The Film Boasts A Pretty Impressive Body Count

Someone getting killed in Starship Troopers.

There are a grand total of 256 kills in Starship Troopers. 128 of these kills are human while 128 are bugs. Rico is the most prolific killer, taking out 15 bugs and one human. Seth Gilliam’s Sugar is next, having killed 12 bugs and one human with Jake Busey’s Ace third with eight bug kills to his name.

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