The Burden of Guilt: Ed Neumeier on Starship Troopers: Invasion

The man who brought you the Starship Troopers franchise apologizes for taking so damned long to get to the power suits.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


The Starship Troopers film series continues, on DVD and Blu-ray at least. Starship Troopers: Invasion is an animated feature film produced by Ed Neumeier, the writer of the three live-action Troopers films and director of Starship Troopers: Marauder. The story follows a new team of Troopers, under the command of Carmen Ibanez, with appearances by Johnny Rico and Carl Jenkins. We got to chat with Neumeier about the fourth feature film and his thoughts on a Starship Troopers remake, which led to Robocop remake talk, the original of which Neumeier also wrote.


CraveOnline: If you had gotten to write an animated Starship Troopers, would you have gone so many more places and done so many more things, since once you’re animating you can animate anything?

Ed Neumeier: I’ll tell you, the guy who wrote it [Flint Dille] has had a lot of experience in animation. It was a guy they knew and they’ve worked with him before in some capacity. So I think they were comfortable with him and the deal with animation, which I think, I understand from my work in special effects, it’s like a puzzle you have to figure out of your resources and what you have. It really always comes down to, it’s kind of sad it always comes down to okay, you can only have one spaceship and 17 bugs. You have to work with those parameters. I probably would have done different things but I don’t think I would have done what Shinji Aramaki has done visually with it. I certainly could not have been able to.


So animation is still not carte blanche?

No, it never is. In fact, I think the lament of the animator and the visual effects supervisor everywhere is that everybody thinks it’s a big rubber stamp kit, and it’s not. It’s just hours and man-hours and 300 people working for two years to come up with, in the original Starship Troopers for instance, there were 250 or 285 shots of bug animation. That was two and a half years of people working, people having babies and building houses and animating all those man hours. So it’s a long, long process, so for instance, I’ve often told this tale but in the original Starship Troopers, they kind of said to me, writer, “Hey, you know that power suit stuff you have written in the script? Well, ha ha, isn’t that nice? You want that or you want the bugs?” And I said all right, I get it. Those were the resource management decisions of 1995 and ’96. Sorry to get so technical.


No, I love it, but the power suits are actually from the original Heinlein book. Is this the first time they’ve actually made it into the movie?

No, I actually put one, I have to say I’ve carried the burden of guilt for these many years, and I did put the power suits into the live-action direct to video Starship 3: Marauder. They make a brief appearance there.


I have seen that, I’m sorry I didn’t remember the power suit.

No, I apologize not to you but to fans. That was a primary thing that you like when you read that book mostly, particularly if you’re 13 or 14, is the power suits. They’re just the most amazing cool things that most people discover in that book at a certain point and that kind of subjective idea of being inside this armored military grade destruction machine. It’s a big fantasy for a lot of guys I know on some level.


What was the decision to have Johnny Rico come in mainly at the end, but be more of a background character in Invasion?

You’d have to ask the writer and I think particularly you’d have to ask the producer Joseph Chou, who also I believe has along with Shinji Aramaki a story credit. I think they had a concept which was more of a team idea that was more focused on a story, sort of a mirror hero situation there. They even have a guy named Hero. I don’t quite understand the narrative structure there but I have a feeling it has a kind of meta Asian narrative going in it. I don't know that it was completely made for American audiences either. I think it’s going to be released on screens in Japan.


It sort of looks like the “Roughnecks” series in style, but much more technically advanced.

Listen, I think what you really see, I love that it’s Starship Troopers. Man, I’ve been eating a steady diet of Starship Troopers for a long time now. I like it because it’s familiar to me and I like it when talented people have come to it and done something else with it. I’m not particularly possessive about it. There are days when I just don’t need to think about how to do it anymore, but really Aramaki is a very talented guy. If you look at his other stuff, he’s just really good, I don't know how else to say it, at machine stuff. He is like a gearhead’s gearhead. I’m kind of a sucker for that stuff so I really enjoy what he did. In fact, I kind of wish he had done even more of that because that’s the stuff I want to see. I like it when machines come to war and the people and the machines working together. I think he does it very, very well.


What do you think of this idea of a Starship Troopers remake without the fascist satire?

Well, I don't know. I think that this was a project, just a slight little background here, a project that was kind of nascently hatched with Paul Verehoeven right as Robocop was finishing shooting in Pittsburgh. It kind of incubated around in various ways. I was the one who knew about Starship Troopers. As Paul said recently at the Egyptian theater, he said, “Yeah, Ed brought me this script. I never read the book. He just told me the stuff in it that was good” or something. I read the book when I was a kid and that was my take on it, this thing of I like propaganda, I like stuff. Paul and I had a very good collaborative thing going about those kind of things. He liked the satirical issues. He understood them. He’s really good at the tone of it. Other people are not. It’s fairly subtle what he pulls of regularly. So it was a really nice thing to work on. Somebody else should do a good job with it. I think they tried very hard on Total Recall. I think that they really believed seriously. My theory is that it’s sort of the end of the studio driven stuff that came out of the Nolan films and the Bourne films, where it’s like global entertainment, it’s nonstop action, not a lot of story to get in the way, big stuff, event, event, event, event and serious. The Nolan part is the serious part.


And gloomy, taking the fun out of everything.

Well, they do like gloomy for some reason, everybody always does but it looks good for visual effects. Also the visual effects component has to be tied too into it because they went really hard to make that movie look cool with the hovercars. They really worked at that. One of the great compliments of that movie actually came from Rob Bottin, who said, “Well, listen, you look at that movie and they really worked hard to make that thing work. It’s a lot of detail work.” That’s pretty high praise actually from a guy who knows how that stuff is done. Anyway, the remake, somebody has to have a military fantasy and play with that and use that as their platform and their stage is what I would say, and they should do it. I actually told them when they came to me and said, “What do you think of this?” And I said, “I know you don’t want me having anything to do with it because I’m used to that by now, but let me set up a tour. Let’s put your guys through a nice military culture tour because you have to understand that the reason people love that material is because they love the military.”


The military today with the war on terror could be very different.

Well, it would be. It would be. It’ll be interesting to see what Jose Padhila is doing with Robocop because he’s going to bring that kind of Brazilian police paramilitary, I don't know, a different take on the way violence and force works, and corruption essentially. So it’ll be interesting to see how these things get played out by other filmmakers from other places in particular. I’m intrigued.


How much did you know about Darren Aaronofsky’s Robocop plans?

You know, I never really heard what it was. I’ve never heard it defined. I knew that a fellow named David Self was writing something and I didn’t ever get to see a script but what was the idea?


As much as I heard, he talked about how in our society we’re already cyborgs with our electronic attachments. I took it to mean he was implying that he might have done it without a suit, that it was so advanced that a Robocop would not even look robotic.

Well, that’s always the way. It’s so funny because that’s always been the other thing you could do. Hey, yeah, what if he didn’t have a suit. That goes all the way back, I mean you don’t need to hear this and probably at the end you’re going to say shut up, Ed, but this was developed when I was a young executive. Over a period when I was a young executive at Universal, a long time ago in the distant really past when Lew Wasserman was the old man. Frank Price, the guy who gave you “The Bionic Man” was the head of the feature division who was my boss. The short story is, when I wrote the script, I offered it to them when I offered it to everybody. He took me aside and he said, “The problem with this, Ed…” He’s a good guy by the way but he says, “You’ve got it wrong here. The guy should look like a human being, be a robot on the inside. That’s how it’s done.” I like Frank Price a lot and he was a very encouraging man but I don't think he was right about that. To me, I have a very simple and clear way of looking at what Robocop is and understanding his character and his appeal, at least to me. I think there’s been mistakes made, even in the sequels with that, that I would not make but I haven’t been involved with it and I’m not involved with the new one. The Aaronofsky one would have been interesting just because he’s a smart guy.


Yeah, I thought it was the greatest news of the year when he announced he was doing it.

Well, really, we’ll just see. Even if they do it with a suit, my producer, Jon Davison has a theory, and I think he might be right. He essentially says if there’s not a guy in the suit performing it as a performance and it’s all animation, it’s not going to work.


They are using a suit in this one, but have you seen the teaser with OmniCorp and the super Ed-209?

The super ED-209, my namesake? Yeah, I did. I noticed he’s gotten a lot bigger now that he’s been out there in the world. He is literally tall, I mean much bigger. He’s fighting a tank so it probably means in that shot you saw, he’s about 12 feet tall maybe.


He’s also got so many more moving parts.

Well, you know, he’s all CG. So for instance, the guy who made Ed, who animated Ed, Phil Tippet who’s got a couple Academy Awards for doing things like that, not for that one, but for other things, has said, “Yeah, it’s all CG.” That’s all he said. Actually it was in giant letters in the e-mail. He just said, “C G I.” Now that’s a guy who’s won an Academy Award for CGI by the way and also did all the bugs in Starship so he’s a guy who’s in both worlds, but I think the problem when you can do anything is that you just tend to keep putting something else on it. Put another gun on it somewhere. Put another this on it. I think it’s going to come down to the design idea, whoever is overseeing this stuff, and the process, whoever you’re trusting and that’s what you have to do.


What are you doing next?

What I’m doing next? Oh, I’m just trying to make a dollar in this town, buddy. How about you? What are you doing next, another interview with a sucker like me?


Yes, I have another filmmaker calling me next and I’m making my schedule for the Toronto Film Festival.

All right, well listen, it was very nice to talk to you. I hope I said something amusing. Don’t make me or my friends look bad.


You did, and I’m interested in all the technical details.

Well, listen, it’s nice to talk to someone who wants to know about that. The last thing I’ll say about Invasion is it’s really cool because you’ve got that kind of stuff happening. You said it yourself. It looks so much better, it’s almost real. What you’re seeing is the R&D of the animation industry going towards what’s going to be the industry standard of how movies are made quite honestly. So anyway, on that note, farewell, sir.