Paul Verhoeven’s films are famously packed with action, violence, and bleak and biting satire. But the most defining characteristic of any the director’s movies is the inimitable practical effects. Classics like Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers are filled to the brim with robots, creatures, and explosive incidents that help to fill out some of the most visually stimulating worlds in modern science fiction cinema. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of his most underrated classic, Starship Troopers, we’ve put together a list of the director’s most radical and memorable practical effects for your viewing pleasure.
Easily one of the most iconic onscreen robots of all time, OCP’s first attempt at robotic law enforcement makes an entrance you can never forget after brutally killing a member of the corporation’s board. Brought to life with incredible stop motion by Craig Davies and Phil Tippett, ED-209 is one of the best parts of Verhoeven’s uber-violent takedown of privatized policing. ED-209 has many brilliant moments, from his bold introduction to the moment when he meets his greatest adversary: the humble staircase.
The titular cyborg is obviously a fantastic feat of SFX work, designed by Rob Bottin, who’d just come off of creating the wild world of The Thing. The production budgeted $1 million for the groundbreaking suit, making it the most expensive part of the movie. Bottin was inspired by Toei’s Space Sheriff Gavan; the suit was meant to resemble an exoskeleton with barely any of Murphy’s face visible. It’s important to recognize that Robocop is a movie with a message but also just a really cool robot suit.
Death of Emil Antonwsky
If you saw Robocop as a kid it’s likely you remember being terrified by the moment that one of the criminal gang who almost killed Murphy drives into a pile of nuclear waste, dying a horrific and very melty death. That man was Emil Antonwsky and the effect was created by Rob Bottin. Inspired by the ’77 cult classic The Incredible Melting Man, the freaky death is one of the standout moments of the peak era of practical effects.
From the opening moments of Verhoeven’s outrageous adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story, special effects maestro Rob Bottin showed he wasn’t messing around. This opening shot of Arnold on Mars drinking in the deadly martian air showcased some of the best and most outlandish practical effects of the era, and gave us a hint at all the joys we had to come during this sci-fi romp.
Airport Robot Lady
One of the most spectacular effects that the film has to offer is undoubtedly this unforgettable moment where Arnold unveils himself from inside a robot made to look like a very stressed-out middle aged woman. Not only is this a great comedy beat but the radical reveal of the head opening up in segments is still one of the best looking movie moments in Hollywood history.
Cronenberg’s fingerprints can still be felt on the movie he was meant to helm before parting ways to make The Fly, and the grotesque practical puppetry of Martian mutant leader Kuato is one of the prime examples. After finally locating the ringleader of the Mars uprising, Arnold’s Douglas Quaid is shocked by his monstrous appearance, as were audiences of the 1990’s smash hit.
The Bug Autopsy
Though Starship Troopers is remembered as a CGI-heavy feature, it actually has a large amount of practical effects, thanks to artist Phil Tippett. One of of first glimpses at the serious practical proficiency at play is this early scene featuring Rico and Carmen, where he dissects a Bug and pulls out all of its guts. It’s a fantastically simple and effectively gross moment that sets the B-movie tone perfectly.
The Brain Bug
One of the largest practical puppets on set was the massive Brain Bug, which the crew members meet when they’re deployed to the Bugs’ planet. Brought to life using puppetry and CG, the Brain Bug is a sight to behold. In a particularly memorable scene, Neil Patrick Harris’ Carl Jenkins walks up to the creature and touches it, truly showcasing the mastery at work behind the scenes as the Brain Bug really looks like a really gross living, breathing alien.
There are a couple of great practical moments during the Troopers’ training that really hearken back to the ’80s heyday of special effects. Though we’d love to shout out every single one, we can’t. That’s why we’re picked this brilliantly brutal head shot. After Casper Van Dien’s Rico removes a crew member’s helmet, he gets shot by live ammo in the training and his head blows up just like it’s the ’80s again and Tom Savini himself envisioned it. Classic.
Images: Touchstone, Orion, Tri-Star