The word "remake" has developed more of a negative connotation among movie goers lately, with many fans desperately wanting more originality coming from the Hollywood system. Honestly, when I first heard of the Total Recall remake happening, I was quite skeptical (at best), since I loved the innovative original starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a dude who doesn't fully know who he really is. Last August, I was invited up to the Toronto set of this new sci-fi tale, where all of my fears and doubts were promptly put to rest after speaking with all of the key players involved.
First of all, there will be several aspects of the original that remain intact, like Douglas Quaid's (Colin Farrell) identity issues and Rekall, but this remake is set in a completely different world altogether. Earth is now divided into two huge halves, the United Federation of Britain and New Asia, which are both connected via the massive "elevator" dubbed China Fall. This machine literally takes you to the other side of the world through the center of the Earth, and it factors greatly into the plot, with the final fight sequence taking place atop this structure.
"What we had to do was try to create an infrastructure that feels different from what you saw in Minority Report or I, Robot. For example, the way you travel from one side of the world to the other, you actually travel underneath the world system. That, to me, makes sense. We're going to need more space in the future, how do you compress it? Well, you travel with magnets. How do you go from one world system to the other? We created a magnetized elevator as well, it's part of the action scene. We all talked to futurists, just to get a sense of what the world would be tomorrow. So, to a certain extent, we have to listen to this guy, but we're going to have to come up with some ideas. It's a good sign that we all look into the same place; it means that some things will start shaping up for the future. It's close enough to now that you'll see similar things. The China Fall, I have to say, creating a spacecraft elevator thing is very unique. I've never seen that. There we were lucky - because what we're going to do hasn't been seen before. If I had to create a spaceship going between the planets, it would be more challenging to come up with something quite different. We make it a trip of about 15 to 20 minutes. It's very brief. It goes really fast. People use the time to read information, news, things like that. Basically you just go sit in there - the seats are very similar to those you'd find in an amusement park ride. They keep you in place. If you take a steel ball and let it go through the Earth, it'll take about 30 minutes, which is incredibly fast in my mind. Those are scientifically recognized facts. So, the magnetized elevator, all that makes sense."
We were also lead through one of the sets they were currently building, a grungy Red Light District in New Asia. The set was quite amazing, and I liked how they embraced making it a "dirty" set, straying from the pristine look we see on most sci-fi sets. One of the reasons for this is because there is a constant stream of acid rain coming down in New Asia, and we were told the 400 extras they are using for the scene will look just as grimy as the sets they inhabit. We also got to see the massive China Fall set on Stage 4 at Pinewood, the largest sound stage in North America. Just looking at this enormous edifice will make you respect set builders and construction workers even more. We also watched some footage involving the "syths" - robotic cops which look like a hybrid of a Stormtrooper and Cyrax from Mortal Kombat.
After watching a scene where Quaid rescues Melina, we got to sit down with stars who portray them: Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel. Take a look at what they had to say.
Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel - Douglas Quaid and Melina
How challenging is it to do take after take of that scene that we were just watching?
Colin Farrell: You guys aren't recent arrivals, right? You have been here for an hour or two I'm assuming based on that question. That was rather...we flew through that disappointingly quick I must say. It doesn't usually go so swimmingly. It must be the hangover.
Jessica Biel: We talk about it all the time. It's these little pockets of real passion, emotion, and connection in the midst of a big, huge, wild journey where we are running for our lives all of the time. Firing those big weapons are such bits of just deliciousness. It is a pleasure.
Colin Farrell: There are not a lot of them. I mean, the film is...
Jessica Biel: There are only a few. It is pretty nice. I think I just always try to make everything into a love story. That is my problem. [laughs]
Colin Farrell: I think you probably beat us to the punch there. I'm not even signed on for that very last scene you just saw. It is the only reason why I am doing the whole fucking picture. This film is kind of extreme in its portrayal of the chaos of action and the cause and effect of violence. There are only these little pockets and windows, as Jessica was saying, where the emotional truth of each of the characters is allowed to creep in and make itself a home. Generally, in my experience, you treat Total Recall the same way you treat anything. It is the same way you treat a stage play, a piece of Greek theater, In Bruges, or whatever it may be. You approach it all the same regardless of the action. You really do. It is not just a lie. You approach it all from the standpoint of your character and just from a human being with whatever human being you are playing. You are just a human being and why are you there? What has them there? What do they want from the situation? So, with that in mind, it is the most fun part. The violence and the action does get repetitive by its very nature, whereas human emotion and thought never gets repetitive. It is very hard, as a human being I find in my 35 years, to experience the same thought in the same way twice. I've had the exact same thought about the exact same thing, but it is never the exact same. It is in a different container when it comes a second or third time. So, with that in mind, those scenes that we just did; each take is a little bit different and it continues to grow. I don't think I would like to experience it but I understand some directors doing....you can get out of hand as a director and do 60, 70, 80, or 90 takes. People may say that is out of hand, but there will always be something new if the emotion and the intellect are engaged. The action does get repetitive. It is fun at the beginning, but it is fucking huge. You just saw 30% of my dialogue in the film. [laughs] No, it is not that bad. I take it back.
Can you talk about the level of physicality that you both go through? You look kind of beat up here and I believe this is towards the end. Can you talk about the physical things that you are both doing on the set?
Colin Farrell: I get a few slaps around the head and on various parts of the body throughout the film. I inflict a bit more damage than I receive. Otherwise, it would be a short film. They are doing a good job of taking care of business and making sure that I am suitably battered. There is...from the get go. I mean, the opening section of the film starts in a kind of pacifistic place. It is just going to work, the business of living, being on the treadmill, and something of a decent marriage, which isn't dealt into too deeply. Then I'm assuming 20 minutes in, as soon as I get into the chair, the proverbial hits the fan. Then there is a lot of violence in the film. There is a lot and it goes from one chase to another. Violence is...I think people are propelled towards violence, and what propels them is much more interesting than the actual act of violence itself. With regards to your question about how to differentiate between this scene and that scene so that it doesn't all become one blind chase and one blind need to escape or one kind of nebulous pacing; hopefully the ante picks up and up and it gets more and more desperate as it reaches the end of the film and as you get closer to some inevitable truth that needs to be experienced, which is kind of the saving of the world I suppose. The world is in a bit of a bad place and Cohaagen is not the autonomous leader that he claims to be. But the violence is fun and it really is a part of it.
Jessica Biel: What we have been doing a lot lately is that we are in our harnesses doing wire work, but we are lifted on this big elevator that moves in all of these different directions and we are dropping onto it. I roll off by accident, he grabs me, I am dangling, lifting, and climbing back on to this box that is floating in space. Are we 30 feet up or so?
Colin Farrell: Yeah, about 30 or 40 feet up.
Jessica Biel: It is that kind of physical stuff as well. There is a lot of hand to hand combat. Kate [Beckinsale] and I have a cool fight where we do that. Colin does a lot of that. Then we fire a lot of weapons and do a lot of running.
Colin Farrell: She has a great fight with Kate. It's actually a really cool fight. I was a bit jealous and had a bit of envy.
Jessica Biel: It is really cool because it is not a girly fight at all. It's just like two warriors fighting. We are about to get into some really interesting wire work, which is all of our anti-gravity stuff when we are trying the China fall, which is this amazing transporting system. So it will be lots of floating physical stuff, which I have never done before. I don't know if you have ever done it before.
Colin Farrell: Me neither. Not even in my dreams.
What is it like dealing with the weight of working on a film that is a science fiction staple? Is there anything from the original film where you were like, 'I demand we include this!' Is there anything that you were excited that they included?
Colin Farrell: No. Not really. I really came to this as a fan of film and as a fan of the original as well. I really engaged with this script and with the concept of the whole story - the idea of the world that is created. As a film fan I was just like, 'Wow!"' When I saw that artwork I was like, 'Fucking hell! I can really be in that frame?!' When I sat with Len I didn't say it to him because I was really having a nerd moment where I was like, 'Oh my god. I can be in that? That is really good and interesting.' I am trusting (director) Len (Wiseman)'s vision and I am trusting that there is enough. You know, the frame work of the story is the same. If anyone has read the short story....the original is not so much like the short story, and this is not so much like the short story. The short story is really fucking dark and fucking genius. What he achieves in 18 or 19 pages is so astonishing in how he can bend my cerebrum and have me guessing what is real and what is not. But that is a different film. That is Kafka and this is not that. I just trust and hope that there will be enough because it is a weird thing with remakes. I am having a bit of an experience now with remakes because of Fright Night and then this. Part of me wants to apologize, part of me wants to win over all of the old fans, and part of me wants to go "Fuck everyone!" [laughter] I don't know what to do. You are dammed if you do and you are dammed if you don't. There seems to be this thing where it is like "Why do a remake if it is just going to be the same exact thing?" So then you do a remake, reimagining, or a reinvestment in a story and it is different enough. Then they are like "They didn't even put that thing in!" So you are dammed either way. I just hope that this will be an individual cinema experience. I really do. I hope that, like how I do with Fright Night, that fans of the original, like myself, will go watch it and say "Oh, we fucked up." I am not beyond criticizing myself and my own work. But I hope the fans of the original enjoy it and I hope it finds a new audience. Maybe some people will go back and watch the original. Who knows?
The original Total Recall had a couple of these really big 'Oh shit!' moments like with the lady and the mask. Is there something in this movie that you can compare to the original in that sense where people are going to take away from it? Is there something that is really going to stick out?
Colin Farrell: Conceptually there are some really cool things that we are filling in and there is the human aspect too, but that will be put in later. As far as a character stuff goes, there are a couple of really interesting. I wouldn't even know what the fuck to talk about. It is so weird because we are right in the middle of it with 5 weeks left. I mean, the three breasted lady is in there. I know you wanted to... she was on the tip of your tongue. I could see. [laughter] I know where you were like. "The lady with the mask and the three..." [laughter] But you have to at the same time I think consciously have a nod of the head when you can have a bit of fun based on something that was offered up from the original and take that in. But as far as new stuff goes...I don't know. There might be a little less extremeisms. There is not the scene where the eyes are exploding. There are no Martians and there are not...
Jessica Biel: I don't know. I think the weapons, the hover crafts, and the other ways of transportation. It feels to me more intellectually mind blowing than it is like 'Whoa! We have never seen this particular kind of effect before!' It is not necessarily that anymore. That was such a specific time where it was really still a challenge to do those types of things. Now we have such an opportunity and possibility to create those kinds of things. So it is more about weapons and things. Some of the weapons that we shoot...my gun is a 9mm Beretta, but it is automatic. It doesn't exist. It actually would explode if we shot real bullets out of it.
Colin Farrell: She is like fucking RoboCop on set. It is ridiculous.
Jessica Biel: It is amazing. It is a incredibly sexy and beautiful 9mm that shoots like a machine gun. It is kind of intense.
Colin Farrell: Then there is this futuristic Bolo weapon that shoots a Bolo web that wraps around the body. As soon as it makes impact it lights up in a white flair and it wraps around like an octopus taking a body.
After the interview, we watched the footage presented at last year's San Diego Comic-Con, which features an awesome fight scene captured by an innovative camera system dubbed "super sliders." Visual effects supervisor Adrian de Wet told us more about this groundbreaking new system.
"It was basically a whole set of aluminum trusses, which link together. It's just a camera mount, basically, which means you can shoot the camera down it at something like 15 feet per second, which is a very high-speed move. You can mount a lever head on top of it, this type of head where you can do pan, tilt, and rotate moves on top as well. The reason why we used this is so that we could basically have the action in the middle of the floor, and have, what looks like, a continuous camera move going around all the action. In reality, it's up to six separate sliders with the camera mounted on it, and three separate cameras, which basically cross over at a common point, and, at the crossover point, the lenses are converged so it's like one continuous move. We wanted to do something that was quite special, for that fight. We didn't want to just have a regular camera move or handheld. We wanted it to feel quite exciting, like you were really in the action. It's quite disorientating as well, do be in the audience when this happens, because you get twisted and turned around as you watch it. It's quite disorienting, and we thought that was pretty cool."
We also got to sit down with Bryan Cranston, one of the coolest, most generous, and busiest guy in this business, about playing the villainous Cohaagen, who he compares to his Breaking Bad character, Walter White.
"You know it's funny, because it's kind of what I'm learning as a character on Breaking Bad now, that when a person is poor there is no sensibility of greed or averous that comes to the surface because it's never going to happen for them. But when a person is exposed to power and money and riches and fame and that sort of thing. That's when you see the true character of a person come up. When they have control and they have choices, and they choose to do the right thing, that's what we all call character building. Right? There's a lot of people who get a taste of that and it's like a drug. That's the way that I see Cohaagen, he doesn't want to kill millions of people, but he will if he has to. He honestly feels that, and this is part of the ego of him, that his way is the best way. And these people, 'believe me, trust me I'm doing this for all of you, yes you're the proletariat but I will take care of you as long as you stay in line. And you'll all have jobs. Our unemployment rate is almost next to nothing, what empire can say that?'"
While we didn't get a chance to speak with her, sadly, we did watch a few scenes with Kate Beckinsale, who plays Lori, a character portrayed by Sharon Stone in the original. This Lori is much, much different though. She is actually a hybrid of the original Lori and Michael Ironside's Richter. She is still Quaid's fake wife, but she is also Cohaagen's most trusted associate, i.e. the one who does his dirty work. Here's what producer Toby Jaffe said about the new version of Lori.
"I just think it was a conscious choice for the Lori character to kind of incorporate the real estate that the Richter character occupied in the original film, so that we can have a more central character who really goes through the whole movie from the beginning to end as a villain."
Towards the end of our day on the set, we got to sit down with director Len Wiseman, who revealed he wanted to make this film more grounded than its predecessor, and how he wanted to stay true to the original short story by Philip K. Dick.
"I think it's similar, but more grounded. We don't go to Mars in this film. So we're dealing with a more relatable class issue of haves and have nots, workers and the wealthy class. And that's the kind of dynamic that we're into. Classic working class people against the wealthy who control the real estate, and want to control the real estate of the planet. The impetus to do it was based on picking up the short story, reading it, and saying, 'Wow, it would be great to do this.' And that started a chain of events of trying to figure out who had the rights and how do we get them. When we started with (screenwriter) Kurt Wimmer, it was really about the story. And, actually, we sort of came to the movie secondarily, because there is a great structure to that screenplay. But as you can see, from what you've seen today, the world creation and the tone is really completely different from that earlier film."
That about wraps it up from my day on the set of Total Recall, arriving in theaters nationwide August 3. Despite what you may think about remakes in general, this is surely one you should go into with an open mind, because it will probably surprise you, and I can't wait to see the finished product for myself.