This weekend, director Len Wiseman’s science-fiction actioneer Total Recall opens in theaters. The film is said to be, in some ways, a more faithful adaptation of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale – the Philip K. Dick short story that inspired it – than Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall from 1990.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Wiseman to talk about what he wanted to bring forward in his depiction of the world of Douglas Quaid and Rekall, Colin Farrell as a modern day action hero, his commitment to practical effects and the possibility of a Total Recall 2.You said that you wanted to stay a bit closer to the Philip K. Dick story. How do you think you’ve done that with this film?
“It’s a combination of more of a tone that I’d say is familiar with with the short story. Our biggest difference with the Verhoeven film is that we don’t travel to Mars. Which – the book never goes to Mars, as well. They talk about it, but it all takes place on Earth, and it’s actually, for those who know the book, the imminent threat is actually about invasion on Earth. And so we incorporated a lot of those ideas. But I really think it’s a fun combination of a lot of things that are familiar from the story, things that are familiar from Verhoeven, and things that are entirely original to our own film.”
What are some of the shout outs to the Verhoeven film? I’m curious about that because one of our writers, Rob Keyes, was on the set visit where he learned about the Ethan Hawke portion of the film in which he was playing the early version of Quaid (Farrell) prior to the character having his face changed and his memory wiped. We’ve heard that that scene has since been pulled out. Why did you decide to change that and will that be on the DVD?
“That will be on the DVD. You know there were many things that I wanted to try, and it was simply a sub-plot that got really complex for people. I personally really love as many layers as you can possibly put into a movie and sometimes those layers are just too complex for the majority of audiences, and that’s just the truth of it. I would definitely love to see what we did together still alive in some form.”
We have the short story, the Verhoeven film, and now your film, and in general terms, science fiction has a tradition of kind of hitting on cultural themes that are relevant in the present. I feel like Verhoeven’s version was really dealing with things that were of that time…in a fun way. I’m imagining that this version of Total Recall is going to be a good action film but, in addition to that, what are you tapping into thematically?
“I think that we are, maybe even in a different way, because we are staying on Earth – I think it’s even more relevant. You know, sci-fi has always fascinated me because it’s all about ‘what if.’ It’s a possibility, it’s an extension of if science could possibly take us somewhere, right? But it’s also if our society could possibly take us somewhere in a very dangerous way, as well. And so in terms of the political structure and how we work as a society, there are themes in there that I think it’s like the expanded version of things that are going on today and what they could possibly break into. And so it ties into a bit of plot that I don’t want to give away, but it was something I thought was, you could say, fun, because it’s—I hope it doesn’t happen to our society—but it’s fun to imagine the ‘what if’ scenario within a science fiction world.”
Do you want to sort of say what some of those things are in broad terms? I know you don’t want to give a plot point away and I don’t want to give a plot away either.
“Yeah, it’s very tied into the plot of the twisted plot.”
I won’t spoil that for audiences.
Another thing I’ve seen kind of evolve is – and it’s really funny because The Expendables 2 is nearly here – the whole idea of an action star has changed so much in the last ten years.
Where do you think Colin Farrell is on that spectrum of action heroes? Say over here you’ve got the sort of old martial arts people that became actors, and then the Bourne franchise which is a more grounded version of an action star.
“My opinion is that people are looking for a bit more vulnerability within the action hero. […] It has been interesting because people ask who are the action stars today, and you don’t necessarily immediately come up with these names. But for me, I just hope that we get back to some of the things that I grew up with, you know. I grew up on the ‘Lethal Weapons’ and the ‘Die Hards’ and it was back [during] a time when I did think there was that vulnerability within the action star. You know, I mean, ‘Lethal Weapon’ opens up with Mel Gibson in tears looking at a picture of his wife and he’s a lunatic and he’s about to blow his head off. You know, you look at – as tough as Bruce Willis became in other movies, in ‘Die Hard’ the guy breaks down.”
He has family issues.
“Yeah. And so I would love to see that come back, and I would love to be a part of that coming back, where it’s okay to have a vulnerable side of the toughness. And for a while there I think we just went into the toughness arena.”
Yes, with quippy one-liners.
“Yeah. So I don’t know, it’s a weird time. At the same time, I think that people are really excited to see ‘The Expendables’ types of action hero back. You know, as I am.”
Sure. I mean, it’s fun. For you, I mean, we’ve kind of been talking about the tone, but you also have this really distinctive aesthetic, and I wanted to know—and we can see some of it in the trailers—but I wanted to know what you wanted to bring forth in Recall that’s distinctive from Underworld and that franchise. I know that you did a lot of practical effects work. What do you think that gives to the audience?
“I think practical is immensely important. I try to do as much as I possibly can, and with my production team, I think I exhaust them to just try everything they possibly can on a practical level. On a movie like this, it’s so massive and obviously there’s a lot of CG to create the scale, because there are things you simply can’t build. But if there’s anything that could even be considered being done practically, then I’m going to go for it. And I think it just has a different connection with the audience. It’s very hard for me to get completely engaged in a movie that’s entirely in a CG world and universe, in terms of say even just an action. Because I’m not very—I’m not very afraid that if you’re in a car chase and it all feels like it’s in the computer, I think you may look at it and go ‘well, that’s pretty cool,’ and you’re watching it and going those are really cool effects, but you’re not ‘oh my god, look at what they just did, oh my god look at what that guy just did!’ And I think it’s a different experience of an ‘oh my god’ versus ‘that’s cool.’ It’s just a different experience of being kind of gripped by the action.
“So, I try to do everything I possibly can. And it’s funny because a lot of the stuff that’s shown up – like I did this one fight sequence with Colin that was one shot. I really wanted to portray what the character was feeling in that moment when I read it, when he just all of a sudden snaps and this ability comes out. He goes through and takes out ten, twelve men before he even takes a breath. And it really stuck with me about it being something like that, that he was able to do that without taking a breath. How do I do that visually? To let the audience get through that, to where they really don’t have a release? You can do that in one shot.”
One shot? How did you accomplish that?
“I use these things, they’re called super sliders, which are these rails and they’re automated. They’re automatic cameras that go thirty five miles an hour. And so we put them together. So I stitched seven of these things together and made it look like one shot. But it’s all practical, it’s entirely, 100 percent practical, there’s not a CG element in it, but people look at it, I think because they, whether they don’t realize how that can be done, they immediately go ‘oh, it’s CG.’ Which is a shame, because you know, I go to such great lengths to keep the practical.”
Well, we’ll get it out there then.
If you were going to think about – I know you can’t do this yet, technically – but if you were going to think about the possibility, is there more story there for a sequel?
“I really think there is. There’s no plan of one, I don’t write or create [a movie], you know, trying to leave stuff for a sequel. I just want to make the best movie possible. But it’s such a rich idea. Recall itself, just right down to the source material itself. Just being able to manipulate your mind and – it’s such a fun, screwed up mystery to deal with. I think there’s plenty there.”
Total Recall opens in theaters this weekend.
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