Very seldom do 100 million dollar movies qualify for cult hit status, but “Starship Troopers” is no ordinary film. A political satire disguised as an effects-laden monster movie, the Paul Verhoeven-directed feature was released in 1997 and has only become more relevant as bipartisan lines continue to fade.
The latest sequel in the franchise, the CG animated “Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars,” places original stars Casper Van Dien and Dina Meyer on the front lines of the ongoing bug conflict as fan-favorite characters Johnny Rico and Dizzy Flores. The film arrives on VOD, DVD, and Blu-ray September 19.
We recently sat down with Van Dien as he was on his way to the 20th anniversary screening of “Starship Troopers” to discuss the ongoing interest in the franchise, seeing his character evolve in an animated world, and why he never seems to slow down when it comes to working.
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TrunkSpace: We’re living in a very divide world politically. The original “Starship Troopers,” which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, seems just as topical as ever.
Van Dien: Well, it’s an amazing story. It is liked by people who are hardcore Democrats, and is it is loved by people who are hardcore Republicans. And I think what it is, it puts up different perspectives so that people can go and discuss things. It pokes fun at itself and fanaticism. It’s a chance for people to laugh at themselves and each other without doing it in a negative way. It’s not like, “You have to believe this or you’re an idiot!” I think that gives us discussion, and I think that’s the way we need to be more instead of treating each other like idiots in life.
TrunkSpace: It’s a bipartisan movie in partisan times.
Van Dien: Yeah, and it’s funny because Clinton loved it and Bush loved it, and people from both sides say that. People in the military say it and people who are pacifists loved this movie. So it’s just really funny to see and I think it is because they don’t treat either side like a complete idiot. They treat all sides like they’re a joke and they laugh at it. And they laugh at themselves, and I think that’s the genius of Paul Verhoeven and Ed Neumeier.
TrunkSpace: Looking beyond the story as well, the film always seemed ahead its time in terms of special effects. It really was a step ahead of most of the other films out during that period.
Van Dien: It’s amazing. It was nominated for Best Effects, Visual Effects, and it lost to “Titanic.” And I think everybody lost to “Titanic” that year, which was an incredible film. I’m not being negative about it, but I do think that the visual effects and special effects in “Starship Troopers” were superior to all movies at the time. They just were incredible. And “Titanic” was an amazing film, but I think they were creating a new life and new things with “Starship Troopers.” The visual effects people that worked on that movie are still making movies today and they say that audiences today will accept more cartoony-looking things, so they don’t have to work as hard, and they don’t have to put in the time and effort that they did. “Starship Troopers” was like a two-year process for them.
TrunkSpace: Speaking of cartoony, the latest installment of the franchise, “Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars” is an animated feature. What has the medium enabled the franchise to accomplish that perhaps a live action installment wouldn’t?
Van Dien: Well, originally, with “Starship Troopers” they wanted to do the power suits, the big armor, but they could either choose the bugs or the power suits. Even though it was a 100 million dollar budget back then, they didn’t feel like they had enough money or time to do both, and visual effects weren’t up to par yet for what they wanted to do with it. Shinji Aramaki is an incredible director and he’s the number one mech suit designer in the world. He created Soundwave for the original “Transformers” cartoon and he did “Appleseed.” He’s a really talented man and he loved “Starship Troopers.” He became who he is because he saw a cover of the book of “Starship Troopers” when he was a kid, which came out in 1959. He saw the cover and said, “I can make those work.” And that’s how he became who he is. So he loves this. He loves this film and he got Ed and I to come in and be producers, consulting on the last film that he did, but he wanted to do a better job, and he wanted to do the power suits even better. He kind of combined the book a little bit with the movie to give the fans a little bit more of what they wanted.
TrunkSpace: What is it like from a performance standpoint to establish your character in the live action space and then see him grow and evolve in an animated world?
Van Dien: Well, it’s interesting for me in that way, too, because I didn’t get to do the motion capture. That was another actor who went over to Japan to do it. And when he did the last movie, he tried to sound as much like me as he could because he got to do the voiceover for that one. And then, this time, they wanted me to do the voiceover, but I wished they had brought me over to do the motion capture, too, because that just looked like a lot of fun to me. I got to do that in Robert Rodriguez’s “Alita: Battle Angel,” which I thought was just awesome. And for this film, I would have loved to have done that, but Ed Neumeier wrote it, and he knows me really well. We’ve been best friends for years now. He’s one of my closest friends, and he knows me really well, so to see the way he writes and the way he writes for me as he sees me or as he sees Rico growing… the emotional scars that he’s had and he puts it now in his face and his body… it’s just fascinating.
TrunkSpace: When you’re used to being the physical embodiment of Johnny Rico, is it hard to shut that off when you’re in the studio doing the voiceover work?
Van Dien: Oh, absolutely, but you’re in a little box, more or less, a soundproof box, and you’re watching the motion capture and you’re trying to say what this guy said and did and what was written in. It’s a lot of fun in this motion caption world, and it’s a lot of fun when you have these mech suits that you can put in because there’s also… your face is not seen all the time, so you can put in things that maybe weren’t written or that they wanted to add in or that Ed wanted in or even Robert Heinlein, the original author, had written in the book. I get to say, “On the bounce,” which is key to when I first read the book when I was 12, which I loved.
The power armor in the new “Traitor of Mars” is just awesome. It was a lot of fun to be a part of that. I always wanted to do that, and it’s one of the things I regretted not being able to do in the first film. I’m happy we got to do it in this film and how much he paid tribute to the original “Starship Troopers.” There’s not a day that goes by that somebody doesn’t say something to me about “Starship Troopers,” some quote or something. Quoting me, quoting Ed Neumeier or Robert Heinlein and what they wrote. My kids are coming with me to this premiere tonight, the 20th anniversary, and one of them is wearing a Death From Above shirt, which is just so cool.
TrunkSpace: Looking over your career, you are constantly working. Do you keep that momentum going because you love the work, love to work, or is it a combination of both?
Van Dien: I think you’re right when you said is it both. I mean, I love films. I love watching films. I love being a part of them. I never feel more alive than when I’m on a set. And I’m a father. I love being a dad, and it’s one of the most important things to me, but… successful to me is if you’re putting your heart and soul into whatever you do. No matter what it is, I think, whatever job it is, you’ve got to put in your best effort. Even when I did all these other jobs that weren’t acting, I did it with the intention of doing the best I could to be, the best man I could be to be the best provider I could be for my life. I love working, and I love being on set, and I feel alive. I feel very fortunate to be able to continue to be doing this. It’s 30 years next year for me. I’m very lucky I get to do what I love and it’s just so much fun.
“Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars” is available September 19.
“Starship Troopers” 20th Anniversary 4K Ultra HD Edition is also available September 19.