Here's what it's like to shoot bugs with Starship Trooper's Johnny Rico

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Aug 21, 2017

It was an average Wednesday heading to Hollywood Sports in Bellflower, California. Except that on an average Wednesday, I wouldn't be headed there at all. The mission of the day? Do my part by joining Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) himself to shoot bugs (aka fellow members of the press) along with Starship Troopers writer Ed Neumeier.

Starship Troopers is a 1997 satirical sci-fi war film that follows Johnny Rico (Van Dien), Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), and Lt. Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) as they join the military out of high school and enter a war against a planet of alien bugs. And now, 20 years later, Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars brings some of the crew back together in a new animated adventure. But let's get back to the paintball for a second.

After a quick bit of safety instructions (there was only one rule: "Everybody fights, no one quits") and the collective decision against wearing jumpsuits (they were white and would make it harder to hide from the bugs, obviously) we donned our “Death from Above“ t-shirts, paintball masks and guns and headed toward the battleground.

 

It was about this moment that I started to question why I was here. Oh, I remember now—Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars, the latest installment in the franchise, will be in theaters August 21, and the best way to celebrate is by playing “Kill 'Em All Paintball” on some original Starship Troopers sets—in the Southern California August heat. That's right, there are actual set pieces from the film sitting in Hollywood Sports for kids to run around on. Even I'll admit that's pretty neat.

 

After taking a group photo and choosing teams (I was on Team Rico), we split up and began running around the field. In an attempt to be a good captain, Casper threw himself into the center drawing fire. He was immediately shot multiple times. Again, why am I here? Paintballs hurt. But it’s Starship Troopers! And the sets genuinely made it all feel real. Like we were actually shooting alien bugs in an effort to save humanity. Plus, the green paintballs splattered like alien blood, which was fun. At least, that was what I was imagining when I ended up taking a direct shot in the face. 

Take two. Our team had a better strategy the second game—the women protect Casper. And just like real life: “bitches get shit done.” Rico’s Roughnecks claimed a win against the bugs. Yes, we gloated. Repeatedly.

After a victory celebration (and plenty of water), I sat down with my captain, Casper Van Dien, and friendly opponent Ed Neumeier to chat about killing bugs, the upcoming film, and why they think Starship Troopers is still gaining fans 20 years after the franchise began.

So, paintball. How did you guys feel about what went down on the field?

Ed: Well, we were the bugs, so of course we were gonna get slaughtered by Johnny Rico and his Roughnecks. Including you!

Casper: Well, I did better when I had the girls behind me. I had Rico’s Angels as part of the Roughnecks. Because the first game I was like the sacrificial bait that was sent out. And we still won, so our game plan was …

Ed: A sacrifice play.

Casper: I didn’t even know it was going to be a sacrifice play I just knew everybody would go for me, and I knew I had to go down the center. But as soon as I saw the guys coming from over there and started lining up—I had to go up and over. I got hit by three different areas all at once.

They were definitely gunning for you.

Casper: But the second game the girls saved my butt.

I think teamwork is most important we learned.

Casper: Yeah.

Ed: That’s right.

In the new movie, where do we pick up [the story]?

Ed: Well, the new movie picks up 20 years after the end of the first one. It sort of incorporates the movies that have come in between, but in some ways it reunites more of the characters from the original than we've ever done before. With Johnny and Dizzy. And it’s another adventure. This time there are plenty of bugs they need to kill, but there’s another threat from within. And you’ll have to see the movie to find out what it is.

Casper: For me it’s interesting because, I mean, it’s 20 years later, and in the movie it’s 20 years later. In real life, it’s 20 years later. And here we are on the set. This is the set of Starship Troopers. All of these are from the original Starship Troopers and all that out there. And they’ve been weathered 20 years. They’ve been outside. And it’s just wild to see all that. It’s just kinda fun to be a part of that.

Yeah, how was it running around the set again?

Ed: As soon as people are shooting at you, you don’t kinda think about that [laughs]. It’s interesting to me that we’re still here 20 years later. Most movies come and go, and this one holds on and has a part — a little piece of the culture right now. So I’m rather happy about that.

I was going to ask. I’m a fairly new fan. Why do you think it’s …

Casper: So you’ve just seen the movie recently?

Within the last year. For the first time, yeah.

Casper: So you just saw me naked, just recently …

Ed: You always ask that question.

Casper: You were running behind me. And you saw me naked in the movie and then you’re running behind me, was that weird?

It was like, all business when we were playing paintball.

Ed: [Laughs]

Casper: Oh, it was all business.

I wasn’t worried about that, I was protecting you.

Casper: You did a good job. You had my six well. You covered my six well.


At this point Casper went on to again explain what a great job the women on Team Rico did protecting him -- but since I’ve already boasted about that we’ll just continue with the rest of the interview. What you need to remember is that the women led the team to victory. It's a very important part of what happened that day.

Ed: So you asked, why do you think [Starship Troopers] holds on? Probably because this country’s been in a war for 20 years really. We were between wars when Starship Troopers came out in ’97, and since 2001 we’ve been in a war footing, and I think that keeps it a little more relevant in a way.

Casper: I think it’s been around for 20 years because he’s an incredible writer [guestures to Ed] and there’s a satire, a sense of humor—a sensibility this film attracts to both sides, and it makes people have an open discussion. It’s not too far right or too far left, but both sides can like this film. It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat or if you’re neither. But they like the humor in it, and it’s a good film. The visual effects hold up from Starship Troopers.

Ed: It looks good. [Director Paul] Verhoeven made an amazing movie—

Casper: You and Verhoeven and [Phil] Tippett and Jon Davison. And all -- the whole team.

Ed: One day, someone told me in Washington D.C., this was about five years ago, that this movie was playing 24 hours a day in combat theaters around the world. That this was a favorite movie of American troops wherever they went. In Afghanistan, there’s the Johnny Rico Crossfit gym, with a 20-foot Johnny Rico on the front of it. 

Casper: One of my friends used to say, "I work out at that gym every time I’m over there."

Ed: So I think people took it to heart. It’s nice.

What about the new film? What do you think people will hold onto or enjoy?

Ed: You know, we wrote it before this election but it’s kind of about "What do you if you have a bad leader?" and how can the good people work together without destroying the system to thwart the bad leader’s bad decisions. So maybe people will enjoy that.

Casper: I think it ties into the book a little bit—brings the power armor that Shinji Aarmaki was able to put in. [They] wanted to put in the first film, but he had a choice: either the bugs or the power armor.

Ed: Budgetary problems back in ’97.

Casper: We couldn’t do it then, but now we can. Now we can have both the bugs [and the armor], and they’re amazing. The graphics in this are amazing. But the power armor is amazing too. And this is why a lot of people liked the book in the beginning. I did when I was a kid. I read this when I was 12 years old. So for me, I always was like, “Wow, did I understand the satire from the first film?” There’s not that satire in the book. It’s the power armor I was attracted to. It’s a well-written book in its own right. Robert Heinlein did a great job. But Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars ties into Starship Troopers, the first movie. It’s the best sequel to it, I think. And it also brings in the book. Which I think a lot of the Heinlein fans will like.

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Starship Troopers: Traitor of Mars will be in theaters one night only on August 21 and available digitally on August 22 and 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD September 19. The Starship Troopers 20th Anniversary 4K Ultra HD Edition will also be available September 19.