Len Wiseman Talks Total Recall and the problem with remakes, on Blu-ray and DVD today!
When it was released this past summer, Total Recall withered in the shadow of its predecessor. Fans took an immediate pass on it, not willing to realizing that this remake is one of the best sci-fi films of the year, and also a more truthful adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story upon which it is based. Why were audiences so quick to dismiss director Len Wiseman's take on Total Recall? Because the Paul Verhoeven version starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is still a beloved cult institution that many felt couldn't be mucked with.
It's a hurdle most remakes face in this age of constant cinema regurgitation. It doesn't matter how good a movie is. As soon as it's labeled a reboot of any kind, people turn the other cheek as a reflex. Which is a shame. Total Recall 2012, which stars Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel, is a fun ride of a movie, and definitely worth a second look.
If you missed it in theaters, and you probably did considering its lame duck box office take this past August, you're in luck. The movie arrives on Blu-ray and DVD today. To celebrate its release, we caught up with director Len Wiseman to chat about the film and how it was perceived amongst fans of the original.
Will he ever attempt another remake? Here is our conversation.
Why did you think it was important to replace the comic book superhero that is Arnold Schwarzenegger with the more average Joe type that is Colin Farrell?
Len Wiseman: When I read the original short story in college, it had a very different tone, and affect on me, than when I'd seen the movie, back when I was a teenager. It was a weird way to come into it. Because I'd seen the movie first, and that was as going to see an Arnold movie. That's the way I watched it, as an Arnold film. It wasn't until later, when I was in college, when I read the short story, that I remembered, "Oh, this is that movie that I saw as a kid." But really, the short story had a much different portrayal of Quaid. That always sat with me. It was something I was aware of. It was a different approach than what they'd done in the original movie. And then, later on, when I was reading this script, the tone of it reminded me more of the Quaid that I had read in college. I was very interested in that. It was more of a conscious decision to stick to an everyman that, as it was written, made a little more sense to me. That is what intrigued me. It was totally by design.
You bring up an important detail that a lot of people miss. That first movie is an "Arnold Schwarzenegger" vehicle. This new version is a true adaptation of the short story.
Len Wiseman: A lot of movies with Arnold become "Arnold" movies. He is such a presence. Which is fantastic. We would go to the theater based off of that alone. It was also a different era, as well. I had no interest or intention of doing another version of "Arnold". I did want to do a different version of Quaid, but not a different version of "Arnold".
In terms of this being a remake, I think I'm coming at it from a good place. I saw the original one time, back when it came out. And I haven't thought of it too much since. So I'm able to watch this new version without that at the back of my head. This is a great looking science fiction movie. But there is a major hurtle there, with people trying to get over the remake. A stigma, you might call it...
Len Wiseman: It is! What I wasn't really aware of...This sounds crazy, but I think people view that more as an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, and they don't think about the sci-fi themes that it is about. Its tough, because people will see this movie, and they will say, "We like it. We really love it...But where was Arnold?" They can't get over this Arnold Schwarzenegger thing. I was surprised by that. It was very eye opening to go overseas to promote the film. They don't talk about Arnold in the way that we do here. They were able to see the film more as a sci-fi film, and as a movie. Rather than it being compared to Arnold. I think that shocked me, and Colin Farrell, himself. We'd talked so much about Quaid. And how that Quaid character was in the Philip K. Dick story. Not about how Arnold was portraying him, but how Quaid was. When you get the movie out there, so much of it becomes about Colin Farrell and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Its hard for people to see something new, without thinking about what came before it. How has your feelings about remakes and reboots changed from when you first took on the project, to now, with the way people responded to this movie?
Len Wiseman: In terms of what classifies as a remake and what's not?
No. Just your feeling towards remakes in general...
Len Wiseman: yeah, I guess you have many different attitudes towards a remake, reboot, retelling, whatever that might be...Some people fall into the category of loving the original movie. Therefore, they ban any type of remake. I obviously don't share that view, otherwise I wouldn't be making one. But, I've never really understood that position. Because the original movie is always there. I loved Tim Burton's version of Batman. At the time, when I watched it as a kid, it worked fantastic for me. I absolutely loved it. But the new Batman, in this time, I thought was perfect. I thoroughly enjoyed that. It doesn't diminish my experience of the Tim Burton movie. So that, I don't have a real connection to it. I grew up collecting comic books. I am used to some of our most beloved superheroes being retold, and reimagined, and re-invisioned throughout many different books. When someone does, I guess you could call it a remake, of a classic superhero story, I am more accepting of that. You see it in literature. God, you see it all the way to William Shakespeare. There are plays and things, where it is more acceptable to see different versions of things. I don't know, really. I don't know why, when it comes to films, some people take that stance.
That's what is kind of interesting about this particular movie. It is based on a short story. And not a very long short story. So it is open to interpretation in terms of it becoming a two-hour screenplay. You have an opportunity here to recreate a lot of what happens around that core, initial concept originally thought up by Philip K. Dick. People who don't want to see this because it is a remake are missing the fact that it's a unique vision held within the constructs of itself...
Len Wiseman: It is interesting. I don't think people realize that the Paul Verhoeven version is already an adaptation of a novel, which they have taken creative license to adapt that story in their own direction. Which is already very far away from the original Philip K. Dick short story. So, a lot of people don't know that story. Our film doesn't travel to Mars. It has nothing to do with Mars. Many people were upset about that. "If there is no Mars, then I'm not seeing it! If there is no Mars, then this isn't Total Recall." The original short story never travels to Mars. It all gets wound up, doesn't?
That's what bothers me, I guess. It's a great looking movie, it's a lot of fun, and people just won't give it the time of day, because it's a remake of a so-called classic. I honestly didn't know that many people liked the first one that much. It's weird...
Len Wiseman: To be very honest, there is a director's cut as well, that has twenty minutes more. It has more story, and it has more about the characters. I went into that sci-fi themed idea that is inspired by Philip K. Dick's original story. The themes and the questions that come out of his short story, and we expanded on it. Unfortunatly, that didn't make the theatrical cut. That is a demon I battled with, too. I wanted to present something that was very new. But you get some kickback from that as well. With a remake, that is difficult. You want to make it different enough, to where hopefully people like myself want to see something that is different...But if it's too different, people get upset. (Laughs) You know?
Its not just this movie. I see it with every single remake that comes out nowadays.
Len Wiseman: Yeah. Some people get so upset, and they don't even realize that some of their favorite movies are already remakes. The amount of movies that people have adored, and they get really upset about. Like, when people were saying, "How dare they remake The Thing! John Carpenter's The Thing is the bomb! How dare they remake that!" That was a remake even then. That stuff...It's like people get upset because we didn't go to Mars. That is ridiculous to me.
People were upset about the PG-13 rating, too...
Len Wiseman: Yeah. I don't remember the short story, on the back of the book, having a rating on it. People say, "Well, we miss the blood, and the excessive violence!" All of that. The tone of it. People ask why I didn't emulate that. As a director, why would you want to? That's not inherent to the Philip K. Dick story. That is inherent to Paul Verhoeven's work. He brings the same kind of inherent violence to Robocop. And to Starship Troopers. That was not Philip K. Dick's translation, that was Paul Verhoeven's style of filmmaking. I don't want to replicate someone else's style of filmmaking.
The Director's Cut is available now, on Blu-ray and DVD? I didn't realize there was a Director's Cut out there...
Len Wiseman: I'm not sure about that. I think both versions of the movie are available on the Blu-ray.
How much longer, and how in-depth does the Director's Cut go? Is this something I need to run out right now and get?
Len Wiseman: Its what fascinated me about the story. It is very indulgent in the fantasy versus reality side of the story. Its twenty minutes of added story. Rarely do you put out a Director's Cut where they are like, "There is twenty minutes of action back in!" You know? Its usually expanding on a lot of the themes, ideas, and characters that unfortunatly, with a movie like this, have to get trimmed for timing, and all that. For people who really love the themes found in science fiction, it is definitely one for them to check out.
You have another "sort-of" remake on your plate with The Mummy. How has your perception of taking on a franchise title changed, having just come off the remake of Total Recall?
Len Wiseman: There was skepticism. The difference between the two, if The Mummy is to be the next movie for me, is that The Mummy is a completely different film. It is a modern day take. It doesn't have anything to do with the Brendan Fraser films, and it is not a remake of any kind.
Again, The Mummy has been around forever. Yet people are shocked that you are "remaking" the Brendan Fraser movies.
Which is just a Raiders of the Lost Ark rip-off in my eyes...
Len Wiseman: Yeah...This is such a different thing. What was attractive to me...There is still a script to be written, and all of that....But the pitch was to go with a much different tone. It was a Mummy like I'd never heard of before. Its nothing like what you would expect, at all. Oddly. I was picturing Egypt, and the sand swept settings. The Mummy wrappings. When I heard what they were wanting to actually do with it, it was shocking...
Would you say that it is much more horror oriented?
Len Wiseman: It's horror. Its epic. It is more of a modern day version of what would happen if we came across a mummy in our world today. It was pretty fascinating.