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The Good, The Bad, and The Badass: Paul Verhoeven

11.07.2016
Last week, we took a look at the career of actress Tilda Swinton, who’s gonzo aesthetic would by right at home in the work of this week’s subject...
Paul Verhoeven
paul verhoeven arnold schwarzenegger total recall

It’s funny, but when I look back at the directors I was aware of as a child, in the early-nineties or so, one of the standouts is Paul Verhoeven. For me, he was up-there with Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, other heroes of mine at the time. Bear in-mind, as a ten or twelve year old, I was pretty ignorant to the works of people like Martin Scorsese and other high-brow auteurs. My palate wasn’t sophisticated enough for drama. All I wanted was action, action, action.

paul verhoeven robocop

Two of my favorites growing up were ROBOCOP and TOTAL RECALL. Even though I was probably too young to watch them when I did (thanks Mom & Dad) I was a big fan of both, viewing them over-and-over on well-worn VHS tapes. While my parents drew the line at me watching BASIC INSTINCT (I had to wait until high school for that one), I knew, even before being sophisticated enough to articulate it, Verhoeven had a wicked sense of humor, something which made the violence of those films more palatable.

michael douglas sharon stone basic instinct

After being raked over the coals by the press after the failure of SHOWGIRLS (which has gone on to become a camp classic), Verhoeven bounced back with his masterfully dark and witty STARSHIP TROOPERS, but the fact that it was satire went way over the heads of audiences, meaning it lost money for the studio, and the relative failure of his follow-up, THE HOLLOW MAN, put the brakes on his Hollywood career for awhile. A couple of years ago he came back with the Dutch WW2 actioner, BLACK BOOK, and now is getting his best reviews in years for the Isabelle Huppert starrer- ELLE (which I reviewed at TIFF). Notably his movies have also been prey to horrible remakes, none of which have succeeded, because they lacked his wit and creativity. I’ve given up hope of Verhoven ever directing another major Hollywood action movie (he’s way too iconoclastic for the current studio mindset), but hopefully the success of ELLE will allow him to get funding for more projects - as he’s a vital as ever.

His Best Work
paul verhoeven robocop

I had so many issues with the recent ROBOCOP remake, the biggest of which was that the filmmakers decided to make Robocop just Alex Murphy with armor. The original is far darker, with the Frankenstein-like Murphy being “other”, in that he has some of Murphy’s memories, bits of his soul and some chunks of flesh, but, in the end, is still a machine - albeit one with a consciousness. This gives they whole thing a tragic feel which, to their credit, the later sequels tried to emulate to varying degrees. However, they couldn’t even come close to matching Verhoeven’s anarchic spirit, with this ranking among the most violent films of all-time, and a biting satire of the vacuous eighties culture. It’s a delicate mix no one but Verhoeven could have pulled-off, and his action scenes are incredible, being matched by the amazing score by Basil Poledouris and terrific performances by Peter Weller as Murphy/Robocop, Ronny Cox, Nancy Allen and (especially) Kurtwood Smith.

His Most Overrated Work
kim dickens josh brolin kevin bacon elisabeth shue the hollow man

Verhoeven’s THE HOLLOW MAN has some fans, and initially I was one of them. I enjoyed it theatrically, but a few years ago I revisited it on DVD, and it’s a mess despite some good bits, like the Jerry Goldsmith score and Kevin Bacon’s performance. Verhoeven’s own perversions got the better of him here with a really graphic rape scene and another icky scene involving Bacon fondling Kim Dickens that makes it really hard to enjoy what’s supposed to be a fun actioner.

His Most Underrated Film
paul verhoeven casper van dien starship troopers

I remember seeing STARSHIP TROOPERS opening weekend in 1997, and boy oh boy, did people not know what they were in-store for. I remember watching the cast interviewed on Entertainment Tonight, and they seemed to think they were in a STAR WARS-style fantasy. The fascistic satire clearly went way over most of their heads (although Neil Patrick Harris, Clancy Brown and Michael Ironside seemed in on it), which is probably just what the movie needed. Playing like a fascist propaganda piece, I remember people in my high school walking out of it feeling icky, but they didn’t know why. It’s definitely a movie that improves in hindsight, especially once you’re hip to what Verhoeven was doing - something the studio downplayed hugely in the advertising.

His Best Scene

While there are loads of amazing scenes to choose from, such as any of the hardcore BASIC INSTINCT sex scenes, the warehouse shootout in ROBOCOP and more, my personal favorite is the subway shootout in TOTAL RECALL. Another insanely violent actioner (with a great mind-bender of an ending), Verhoeven once again ramps the action up to insane levels, particularly when Arnold Schwarzenegger uses a human body as a meat-bag shield, a bit Mel Gibson seems to have poached for HACKSAW RIDGE.

His Five Best Films

5. BLACK BOOK
4. STARSHIP TROOPERS
3. BASIC INSTINCT
2. TOTAL RECALL
1. ROBOCOP

Up Next

With a potential remake of STARSHIP TROOPERS on the way, Hollywood has obviously not learned its lesson in regards to remaking Verhoeven movies. What’s next - a BASIC INSTINCT remake with Zac Efron and Jennifer Lawrence? Oh well, hopefully Verhoeven gets enough royalties off these that he can go on doing his own thing, with ELLE being a triumphant return to form.

Source: JoBlo.com

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