Ed Neumeier was working on the development side of Hollywood when a chance encounter on the set of another sci-fi movie changed his life forever.
The movie was Blade Runner and it was unlike anything he had seen before. Helping out on set in any way he could, Neumeier soon hit upon the idea for his own dystopian sci-fi movie: RoboCop. The rest, as they say, was history.
Lightning doesn’t strike twice but in the case of Neumeier and Hollywood, it did. A decade on from the success of RoboCop, he re-teamed with director Paul Verhoeven on another sci-fi epic: Starship Troopers.
Initially rebuffed by the critics, Starship Troopers went on to enjoy critical reappraisal, helped by a script that maintained the same biting satire and social commentary as RoboCop, along with Verhoeven’s familiar approach to violence.
Now back as the writer of Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars, Neumeier has also been reunited with Casper Van Dien, the star of the original movie for an animated follow-up with a difference.
To mark the movie’s released on DVD, loaded caught up with Neumeier to discuss Starship Troopers, Donald Trump, a shared universe with RoboCop and, of course, that shower scene.
loaded: What is it that Casper Van Dien brings to the role of Johnny Rico?
Neumeier: I remember him walking through the door for that first audition and that he just made me smile because he’s just so good looking and so positive. He just had this persona that matched what we were trying to do Johnny Rico. By then we had decided to create this cast of incredibly good looking people. Paul Verhoeven and I had been talking about Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia and the whole “body beautiful” cult of the Third Reich and that notion of a super race. It was easy to cast Casper because he was pretty but also a good actor.
loaded: Starship was made in 1997 – does it scare you how much of it rings true today?
I was talking to Paul Verhoeven recently and he had got a call from the LA Times asking: “How did we predict the age of propaganda and Trump?” and we just find that kind of amusing. I never thought these provocative and silly ideas would become as true as they seem to be now. As a screenwriter, I find it extremely amusing and familiar. I’m not necessarily happy about it as a human being though.
loaded: In Starship Troopers they are fighting a seemingly never-ending war. That idea still rings true today – was that deliberate?
Neumeier: Well, we were really just taking a snapshot looking forward from about ’94 onwards in the wake of the Gulf War. The idea of a seemingly endless war just felt right in that moment and unfortunately that feels like what we are doing now.
loaded: What are your biggest inspirations and influences when it comes to writing Starship Troopers movies? Other than the book, of course.
Neumeier: Robert Heinlein must be given due credit here because I read Starship Troopers when I was 13 and was quite taken by it. My interest in warrior culture and the military all stemmed from that. I also grew up around the time of the Vietnam War. There was certain aesthetic that came out of that conflict – the idea that war was terrible and that people felt Vietnam, in particular, was a bad conflict.
Years later, I began to imagine, what would it be like if there was a “good” conflict. One where we were all together, fighting this unknowable foe. Then you realise that’s basically Starship Troopers and that you can use that story to comment on contemporary life. I have also always been fascinated by propaganda and the way the media handles war.
loaded: Is Starship Troopers a spiritual sequel to Robocop?
Neumeier: Yeah, I think it is. It jumps from one warrior culture, the police, to another, the military. When we finished work on Robocop back in the 1980s, Verhoeven and I were both pretty eager to work together again. He started talking to me about all these different movies he wanted to make. One of them was about a bunch of young people growing up in Nazi Germany, when everyone was joining the party. I told him they wouldn’t really want to make a movie about that though. Then one day it occurred to me that you could make it as a science fiction movie, so I went back to one of the Robocop producers and that was the beginnings of the movie.
loaded: Is Hollywood a poorer place in Paul Verhoeven’s absence?
Neumeier: Of course. I think Paul should make many more films, but it’s a different era. Verhoeven came up at a time when directors were considered more auteurs. We don’t live in that age now, apart from someone like Christopher Nolan. Today’s huge productions don’t allow for as much experimentation. If you work cheap, they will let you do stuff, but if you have a budget of £200m, then there are going to be a lot of cooks in the kitchen. That kind of environment isn’t conducive to someone like Paul.
loaded: There’s been talk of a Starship Troopers remake – could it work today?
Neumeier: There has been talk of a remake. But Starship Troopers has a certain tone to it and it’s a tone that’s also present in the original Robocop. It’s something Paul and I worked together on and it’s present in the sequels. They don’t have that in mind for this remake though. They want to adapt more of the book this time. It’s going to be a pretty straight military adventure. It’s about the characters fighting this war, how they react and what it means to them.
loaded: Would that be as effective a movie though?
Neumeier: There was a moment when we were making Starship Troopers when someone suggested making it and PG-13. I discussed in with Paul but I knew he would never make a PG-13 movie and I began to realise I didn’t want to either. It may not have made as much money, but I don’t think there will ever be an R-rated movie like Starship Troopers ever again. And that’s good because any remake needs to find its own, unique, contemporary voice.
loaded: Have there ever been any discussion about a live-action TV series?
Neumeier: Netflix were interested at one stage. I don’t know how far that got but it would be quite a commitment in terms of the scale and special effects. It could work, as long as you had a set of established characters that people like. You could have this show where, each week, they go off on a spaceship and fight some bugs and not everyone makes it back alive. I think that would get an audience.
loaded: Now let’s talk about that shower scene from Starship Troopers – is that something you wrote into the script or did Paul Verhoeven push for it to be included?
Neumeier: There’s a short scene in Robocop where we’re in a locker room and you see some female nudity briefly. I always knew we would return to it in another movie though. Paul and I never even talked about it though. I wrote this shower scene in the script – it’s not in the book – I put it in before he read the script. I just knew it was something we were going to do. This idea of equality, with men and women existing on the same level, together in the same space.
I remember, on set, everybody was afraid to eat anything before that scene though. They were all working out constantly and on diets to prepare for it. The schedule was 120 days but the shower scene was never officially on the schedule, which meant they all had to diet and stay in shape throughout, until we filmed it right at the very end. That was a smart idea.
loaded: You wrote the first Robocop movie but a writers’ strike prevented you from doing the sequel – what would your version of Robocop 2 looked like?
Neumeier: We wanted to make the sequel about a future where there were wars between billionaire tech giants for the soul of the human race. We wanted to explore the idea of people potentially living forever and what that would mean. Robocop was going to be caught in the middle of all this.
loaded: Are Starship Troopers and Robocop set in the same fictionalised version of Earth?
Neumeier: They exist in same universe. The difference is that Robocop is probably about 15 minutes into the future whereas Starship Troopers is more like 300 years. The world is the same and people act the same, but they are centuries apart.
Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars is out now on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK now.