Cross-posted on Film.com
Last night, tons of die hard Starship Troopers fans descended upon the Arclight Hollywood to celebrate the 15 year anniversary of the Paul Verhoeven cult classic film, adapted from the Heinlein novel. Beware, spoilers abound! Although if you haven't seen the movie by now, that is very silly and should be remedied immediately.
Right outside of the theater, various props and costumes were on display, that in retrospect, I probably should have taken a look at again *after* re-watching the movie, as I had kind of forgotten the significance of any of it, this being the first time I revisited the film since I was 11 years old.
This seemed to be a popular theme of the night. I kept hearing audience members talking about their Troopers circumstances and the majority either hadn't seen the film since it came out, or watched it fairly regularly, and anyone who could, brought someone who had never seen the film, correctly figuring that this would be the best forum to introduce them to the now classic.
Read on for how the film holds up, audience reaction, and what I learned during the Q&A! After the jump we go!
The crowd was extremely enthusiastic (and extremely tardy due to the president visiting Clooney in the valley, the whole shebang started a half hour late, but it's LA, such things are to be expected even when the president isn't in town), so much so that after the trailer was shown for Starship Troopers Invasion, the fourth in the series, and the lights went down as the glorious 35mm reel of the original was getting set to begin, audience members took turns yelling out quotes from the film. Even Casper Van Dien himself took part in this, eliciting giggles all around, especially from the first timers who had no idea what was going on. Naturally, because this is a cool Los Angeles movie related event, Edgar Wright was in attendance, along with Anna Kendrick, and one can only assume they fell into the same category as the rest of us, the long time fan educating the newbie. Although wouldn't it be kind of awesome if Kendrick was the one obsessed with Troopers, showing Wright for the first time? Let's go with that. I approve.
The crowd also included a bunch of Phil Tippett's original fx team, a handful of crew members, and actors Blake Lindsley, Jake Busey, Patrick Muldoon and Casper Van Dien, most of which were recruited to attend by Van Dien himself. Although there were tons of VIPs and press there, there was no reserved seating section. I thought the lack of pretension and air of, hey, we're all just here to celebrate, was awesome, and started the night off on a great note, as we all kind of felt like we were in this together.
I'm not familiar at all with the Starship Troopers sequels, but apparently there is one dude left at Sony who really loves the franchise and is helping them make this fourth installment. The trailer was simple enough, a guy suiting up for war, but I'm not really sure I understood it out of context. To keep up to date with the film, follow @startroopmovie.
On to the film itself. As I tweeted last night, Starship Troopers is the very definition of awesome and I totally see why I loved it so much as a kid. The film starts off with these characters graduating high school with all sorts of romantic entanglements, surrounded by impressive world building that only gets better when they graduate and head off to their various training centers. The special effects are unbelievable and STILL HOLD UP. 15 years later, there is not a single shot that struck me as outdated. It's no surprise Phil Tippett got an Oscar nomination for his work on the film that year. The violence and sex take no prisoners and no part of the movie feels bad for any of it. I can't remember any recent science fiction film that is so open with sexuality and so unapologetic for its brutal, bloody and graphic body count. While parts of the movie are incredibly cheesy and we hated Denise Richards' Carmen as much as we always did (yes, even at 11 I identified with the badass chick, not the ingenue), something about the movie owning its cheese, yet winking at it at the same time makes the experience so unique and endearing, it becomes all too clear why this film has the cult status it does. And guys, NPH in a floor length duster because he is like, the head of the military science division??!!! AND CLANCY BROWN BEING THE BEST??! It's genius!! Obviously my favorite character remains Dizzy, the badass friend of Johnny Rico who steals his heart in the end because she is so much better in every way than stupid Carmen.
But the best way to explain the vibe of the audience in reaction to the film? I present to you, the ten moments in Starship Troopers the audience applauded after:
1. "The only good bug is a dead bug"
2. "Kill em all!"
3. The first major action sequence which is a continuation of what we see bits of in the opening scene
4. Ed Neumeier's cameo
5. Michael Ironside returns, now with robotic hand!
6. Rico stabs a hole in a fire-breathing bug and throws a grenade in. The result is messy and fantastic.
7. "They sucked his brains out!"
8. The flying bug falls out of the sky and onto the loopy general, smashing him
9. The escape from the base, but before Dizzy dies
10. Neil Patrick Harris feels the emotions of the brain bug - "It's afraid!"
After the film, the most long winded person in the history of man kind who I'm sure is a nice guy but really shouldn't be moderating these things, Paul Sammon, brought up a slew of special guests for the Q&A, including co-producer/screenwriter Ed Neumeier, co-producer/creature effects supervisor Phil Tippett, Patrick Muldoon (Zander), Blake Lindsley (Katrina), Zoe Poledouris, daughter of composer Basil Poledouris, whose band performs at the high school dance in the film, Jake Busey (Ace), and Casper Van Dien (Johnny Rico). The hour Q&A was fantastic when any of the panel was speaking, but unfortunately way too much of it was spent with the moderator speaking. Still, it was fun and informative and below are 11 things I learned.
1. Casper Van Dien went to military school, was a huge fan of the novel, and loved old Harryhausen films. They brought him in initially because he had the perfect look, but Van Dien out to be even more than the complete package and quickly got the part.
2. "I went kicking and screaming into the digital age" - SFX maestro Phil Tippett
3. Each of the bugs' functions reflected an iconic role in the cannon of WWII, and in the way that the first film is a WWII movie, the second mirrors the Korean War and the third Vietnam
4. There was a horrible storm during boot camp one night, and Denise Richards' tent was all but destroyed, so she stayed in the tent with Busey and Van Dien. Although Busey had a girlfriend (who he is still with today and they are expecting a baby soon!) so he kind of ignored the situation, Van Dien was very single and coming off a divorce, so he and Richards shared a sleeping bag, and although Busey was cut off before he could finish the story, the heavy implication is that the two hooked up. Van Dien put the kibosh on the rest of the story and the implication, exclaiming, "She was dating Patrick then...She had hypothermia...I didn't touch her!" Patrick insisted this happened before they started dating, because he was cast during boot camp. Whatever the actual story is, it was hilarious to watch them reminisce and I always loves me some gossipy on set stories :). The whole exchange was super friendly and lively and showed off the camaraderie these guys all seem to still have
5. Zoe Poledouris' band got to play in the film because her father Basil who composed the film, often had her demo playing. Verhoeven heard it one day and thought it sounded the right kind of futuristic and suggested her band appear in the film
6. Busey was the best shot, and the worst shot was one of the girls, who accidentally unloaded a magazine of blanks into Tippett's face, but we didn't get to hear the whole story
7. There were more blanks shot on this set than on any film that came before
8. Busey loves the timelessness of practical effects and spoke rather eloquently about how it connects audiences more to a film than CGI laden blockbusters of today where merely by knowing the effects are computer generated, we are unconsciously separated way more from what we are watching
9. Busey took six months of violin lessons using one owned by Verhoeven's wife (worth $250,000!) before the shoot in order to play the three songs he rocks in the movie
10. The actors were so timid about getting naked in the group shower scene, that Busey said to Verhoeven, who was giving them shit, "oh yeah if it's so easy, why don't you do it?" So both Verhoeven and DP Jost Vacano dropped trou, Verhoeven commenting, "See? What's the problem?" Slowly everyone else followed suit, but Busey had gone to a local sex shop and purchased 16 inch extenders for himself and Van Dien, so when they took their clothes off, it sent the room into hysterics.
11. The design of the brain bug was based on Cthulhu
After the Q&A, everyone stuck around signing autographs and taking pictures. There were no egos in the room, and Casper Van Dien especially was so warm hearted and kind. I showed him photos of us together from when I was a kid and he graciously recreated one of them with me. He is so active on social networking, it's fantastic, he loves staying in touch with his fans and kept encouraging everyone to post their photos with him to Twitter or tag him on Facebook. Plus he took the time to have a full conversation with each and every person that came up to him, asking questions, staying engaged. This sort of thing is bizarrely rare in the industry and it was nice to see.
All in all, it was a long, but great night, and reminded me why Starship Troopers meant so much to me in the first place.