Maybe it’s because Paul Verhoeven is Dutch and his grasp of the subtleties of English is still shaky. Then again, maybe the guy’s just completely nuts. Either way, he doesn’t seem to have a clue what ”big” means.
Case in point: When asked why he tackled the $100 million killer-insects-in-space carnage-fest Starship Troopers, Verhoeven deadpans, ”I always wanted to make a big movie.” When in recent memory has Paul Verhoeven not made a big movie? RoboCop, Total Recall, and Basic Instinct weren’t exactly whimsical little art-house bonbons. Heck, even when Verhoeven makes a bomb like Showgirls, it’s a big bomb.
Big also describes the reservations the 58-year-old director had when he first heard the Starship Troopers pitch three years ago (”kids going off and fighting giant bugs in outer space”). ”I had to laugh because it sounded so silly,” he says in a thick Holland-aise accent.
What helped win Verhoeven over was the involvement of Oscar-winning f/x guru Phil Tippett (The Empire Strikes Back, RoboCop, Jurassic Park). The pair hashed out the blueprints for the film’s razor-taloned, plasma-spewing intergalactic beasties. With 550 digital shots in Troopers, Tippett only half jokingly refers to his Jurassic raptors as a piece of cake by comparison. ”At least with the dinosaurs we had something real to base them on,” he says. ”This was almost like creating an animated feature.” In fact, Troopers is so heavy on envelope-pushing gee-whiz eye candy that Verhoeven was left with only half of his $100 million budget for everything else. Which explains Troopers’ cast of inexpensive pretty-girl and even-prettier-boy actors like Dina Meyer, Casper Van Dien, and Neil Patrick Harris.
”To be honest, we didn’t have any money left for stars,” says Verhoeven, who did briefly consider adding Leonardo DiCaprio or Chris O’Donnell to his battalion of square-jawed, largely Aaron Spelling-trained commandos.
If the cast members seem somewhat expendable, that’s because they are in Starship Troopers, which boasts an alarmingly high body count. So high, in fact, that after Verhoeven completed his 120-day shoot in the sweltering badlands of Wyoming, he prepared himself for a tussle with the MPAA ratings board. ”I was surprised,” says Verhoeven, laughing. ”They only made me cut a few seconds of a decapitation. They actually thought for once in my life I’d restrained myself.”