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Director Paul Verhoeven & the Woeful Reboots of Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers


What have the following all got in common: Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers?

All three are cracking — if a bit O.T.T. — films by Dutch director Paul Verhoeven.

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Usually a term like ‘maverick’ is thrown in at some point but, as the only other Dutch director I’m aware of is Jan de Bont, I don’t know how maverick or not he is with relation to his Dutchness. Unfortunately, there is another connection…and that is woeful remakes. I’m not talking sequels here… a lot of Verhoeven’s films spawned sequels, but never with him at the helm, and they all lost some of the magic because of that.


Robocop (1987) is probably best described as a Sci-Fi/Action/Comedy. Experienced cop gets transferred into a high crime area. First day goes spectacularly badly and he ends up being brought back like a chewed up piece of gristle. Unfortunately, as it’s his first day and he hasn’t built up any sick leave, they stick the bits into a suit of armour and whack him back on the streets.

During the course of events he gets his memory back, realises who killed him, who was in charge, and goes off to right all the wrongs.

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The 2014 remake follows some of that story, but manages to lose most of the violence, social satire, and humour. With the likes of Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, and Samuel L Jackson on board it should have been mighty instead it was — being generous — adequate.

The sequel was cancelled and, instead, they’re looking at doing a reboot of the original series, picking up from the original and bypassing the increasingly ludicrous 90’s sequels.

Total Recall

Total Recall (1990) was, again, a Sci-Fi/Action/Comedy. Whereas the humour in Robocop came mainly from the satirical adverts, in Total Recall it comes from the situations and seeing Arnie gurning his way through the scenes; the sight of him pulling a glowing golfball out of his nose still makes me smile! At the time it was one of the most expensive films to be made, and may even have held the record at one point. All in all it was a fun filled romp.

The 2012 remake was another example of a stellar cast being assembled but missing the mark. Gone is the Mars subplot, replaced by a tunnel between London and Australia. The humour has gone completely, along with any character development or emotional subtlety. Colin Farrell was good, as usual, as was Bryan Cranston… well, right up until the big fight at the end when it looks like a teenager beating up his dad.

Starship Troopers

And we’re left with the splendid Starship Troopers (1997), which was mauled by the critics on release but has since gained a more positive reception. Over two hours of non-stop gory fun and frolics taking the rise out of the militaristic society of the distant future. Whereas Verhoeven’s Robocop was punctuated with mock adverts satirising the rampant consumerism of the time, Starship Troopers is interspersed with mock fascist propaganda. As is typical with European’s working in the USA, Verhoeven had no problem showing horrendous injuries and mutilations — but the mixed shower scene was a problem!

But now there are rumours of Hollywood continuing not to learn from their mistakes, and planning a new version of Starship Troopers. Maybe they think the ultra-fascist sentiments will play a bit better to today’s M.A.G.A./Brexit audiences. It doesn’t bode well that Joseph Kosinski, director of such sci-fi non-classics as Tron: Legacy and Oblivion, is being suggested as the source for the re-imagining. Paul Verhoeven has expressed his skepticism about the remake, thinking that it will end up as a celebration rather than a condemnation of the fascist and militaristic nature of the source novel.

I just hope they learn from Paul Verhoeven and take it seriously, but not humourlessly.

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6 responses to “Director Paul Verhoeven & the Woeful Reboots of Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers”

  1. I didn’t catch this, but wasn’t there a Total Recall TV show?

    I love the original Total Recall. One of my old favorites. I had no desire to see the reboot.

  2. Yes Jill, there was a TV series (Total Recall 2070 – 1999) but it has been noted as sharing no major plot points or characters with it, other than the Rekall company and the concept of virtual vacations. I’ve never seen it but read that a much larger influence on its plot elements and visual style seems to be the 1982 film Blade Runner. I think it’s ominous in that it only hung around for one season but, fair’s fair, it did make the full twenty two episodes.

    And it seems we’ve found somewhere that we differ in our approach to the cinematic arts… I loved the original and that is why I was desirous of seeing it! I mean… more than twenty years worth of improvements in SFX must be worth seeing. I remember seeing the trailer and thinking “Colin Farrell… OK. Bryan Cranston… awesome! He was riding the Breaking Bad high and thought it would be great. Ah well, just goes to show I know nothing!

  3. LOL, I’m just not a fan of reboots to amazing movies. I’m more the ‘retire the jersey’ type. For me, it’s only worth rebooting if the concept is good but the reality didn’t bring their best game to the table.

    This is why I don’t want to see *Star Wars* (the original trilogy ) redone. In fact, I don’t want to see the Skywalker saga redone, ever. There are lots of stories to be told in that galaxy…look at how great *The Mandalorian* is. I don’t want to see another *Lord of the Rings*, or a new MCU…just add more to a great universe.

    I’m NOT a fan of the rebooted *Star Trek* with JJ Abrams. It misses the whole positive future aspect i loved so much. It’s just action in a sci fi setting. It bothers me.

    The best example of a reboot in my mind is the ‘re-imaging” of *Battlestar Galactica.* They took a property that was middling and made it incredible by picking up the story in a new place, not a reboot.

    The only real reboot I’m on board with is *Spiderman*…mainly bc it failed in previous incarnations. I can see a new *Fantastic 4* bc both attempts failed. I will reserve judgement on the *X-Men* films, since they are all over the board.

    I didn’t mind *Into the Spiderverse* bc it wasn’t a reboot, it was an imagining.

    This is something I do want to break down into a post. But really, if it’s perfect as is, retire the jersey.

  4. Michael Avatar

    I LOVED each and every one of the originals and wish more were made of that quality, but I have to say the Reboot Of Robocop in 2014 was EXCELLENT, and I really liked it a lot and liked how the gave a nod to the original towards the end of the movie, and I wish they would have made more like that, the story was relevant to today, and with the special effects I think it was something Paul Verhoeven would have made today. (The other ones nope and not worth the time,) I think Starship troopers was a good complete movie (The original) but they made what 3 more with stories that really did not follow the original.

  5. I’m reaching for the tin opener while I have one eye on this massive can of worms…

    How do you feel about whatever they did to Star Wars?

    When I went to see it back in the seventies it was, as far as I can remember, a slightly different film. Over the years new levels of SFX have developed and they’ve retro-fitted them.

    I would love to be able to see the original cut of Star Wars again!

  6. Thanks for your contribution, Michael.

    If you saw the article I wrote about having a second look at Guardians Of The Galaxy you’ll know that I saw a lot of films around that time under less than ideal circumstances… Robocop 2014 was one of those!

    I will definitely give the 2014 version of Robocop another look.

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