"Come on you apes, you wanna live forever?!" This fall will feature the return of Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico, who's still protecting Earth by battling bugs in space in the animated film Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars, written by Edward Neumeier, the screenwriter who originally adapted Robert A. Heinlein's seminal sci-fi novel for Paul Verhoeven's 1997 film. To gear up for the next fight against the Arachnids at San Diego Comic-Con, Daily Dead had the great pleasure of taking part in roundtable interviews with Van Dien and Neumeier, as well as co-directors Shinji Aramaki and Masaru Matsumoto.
What did you guys find different between doing the roles and the writing live action versus CGI?
Casper Van Dien: Voice acting is different. I wish I could have done the motion capture as well, I like doing that, I think that's fun, too. There's a certain talent to that, too. To do the voiceover for it, to bring the character back to life, it's pretty easy for me to do this character, especially because he knows me so well, which probably doesn't say a lot about me as a person, but he understands me. It's interesting to where this character goes from 20 years. It's been 20 years. He even says it in the movie, "The battle 20 years ago."
To see my character grow through that, and to see it grow through his eyes knowing him and also to see the way he [Edward Neumeier] writes, where I think he's one of the most talented writers I know. RoboCop and Starship Troopers... when you read them and you see the films you know that he's got a sense of humor that is undeniably incredible. Then, with Paul Verhoeven directing those, you see the genius. Now you have [co-director] Shinji Aramaki, who loves this world and is the number-one mecha suit designer in the whole world, which is what we wanted to do in the first Starship Troopers, and we didn't get to do. To still make the characters have heart and go through stuff and see it, it's a lot of fun. I love doing this movie, I love doing the voiceover for it and being a part of it, and seeing how he saw the world.
Edward Neumeier: For me, you would think, "Wow, in animation you can do anything," which is its own problem, but actually it's just the same as all the other movies. There's not enough money and you go, "I have this really good idea." They go, "We don't have enough money for that." You're still fighting resource battles and you're still trying to get the best with what you can.
On the other hand, working with Shinji has been great because he really likes this world. I think that he says in interviews that one of the reasons he is one of the best mecha designers in Japan is because of Starship Troopers, that as a boy he read the book. They really like that book in Japan. What they liked about it back in the day was, in the ’50s and the ’60s when it was very popular as a book, was that it was about this giant machine that was also incredibly precise. The image in the Japanese version of the book is of the power suit picking up an egg. To them there was something amazing about that. I think it's a nice marriage of culture.
This franchise has endured for 20 years whereas other sci-fi R-rated franchises haven't. Why do you think is that? There's no more R-rated science fiction movies anymore.
Edward Neumeier: Even the first movie at $100 million was an under-the-radar picture. They were like, "Yeah, they're making this weird thing over there." We're still under the radar. I think that that allows us to keep doing something. We've really been encouraged throughout the process to do what we wanted. Not to do something bad but to do, "Hey, that's not too wild, do whatever you want." I think that that's why it's always a bit fresh.
I also think that in the United States, I don't know how this plays in the rest of the world, we've been at war since Starship Troopers. I think it's in the zeitgeist to think about it and this is a pleasant way to think about it. It's not real, but you have these military tropes and this military character. I think that's one of the reasons people like it.
Rico has a noticeably different look this time around. He's got the eye patch and scars and it almost seems like he's become Michael Ironside's character from the first film. Were you conscious of those similarities during this film?
I can't help but be conscious of it because of the way he [Neumeier] writes it. Even in the end of the original Starship Troopers film, I go, "Come on you apes, you want to live forever?" And I do it the same way Ironside did it. My character evolves quite quickly because somebody dies and you move up in rank. I just got promoted and promoted. It just keeps happening. I think what's interesting is that with the way [Neumeier] writes and the way Shinji directs, they've created now a lot of the battle scars on him. You see not just what he's gone through as a soldier, he goes through a lot emotionally, too, you can feel it by where he is on Mars now. Then you're seeing the scars on him, it's what happens in the Starship Troopers world. It's violent. War is violent.
This film is really ambitious with the battles between the bugs and the roughnecks. Looking back on the making of the movie, is there a scene that was particularly challenging or that you're the most proud of?
Shinji Aramaki (via a translator): One that he is really proud of and was actually happy that he was able to do was, when you read the original novel, there's a scene when they fight, they jump, and then its more like a jump and land, jump and land, There's a lot of the battle that happens in that context. So, he wanted to actually really try to recreate that in the visual format. So, you know, pulling that off actually was something I was really happy about.
Another thing that was iconic for the first film was the army of bugs basically covering the entire earth, the ground, and just coming at you. When you make them CG, the bugs weren't articulated yet. So when the animators were working on it, it was just a bunch of boxes, so all the boxes started coming in, and it was like, "Oh yeah, those are actually bugs." Trying to convince people that it's actually going to be bugs covering the Earth, it was quite tough for him, but the end result was very good so he was happy about that.
Masaru Matsumoto (via a translator): As far as Matsumoto, I think he feels the same way about the bug scene, but another thing that was challenging for him was just because of the type of film this is, he wanted to actually limit the how he positioned the camera and how he moved the camera because, just because it's CG, people tend to use it in a way that is very unrealistic. But they really wanted to follow the physical law so that it's actually convincing that you are actually there on the ground and it follows the law of physics rather than video cameras just going all over the place just because you can. That wouldn't fit the movie style. To pull that off, they had to explain that a lot to the animators, but a lot them actually weren't used to that type of live action, camera movement and things like that. So, just to kind of really let that sink in to the people who were working on that from the ground, that was a tough part for him. But I think they were quite happy with the end result.