The director of this year's most brutal car chase thriller talks about the director's cut DVD
Death Race was one of the funnest, goriest, and most thrilling car chase pictures to hit the silver screen in some time. Paul W.S. Anderson took Roger Corman's cult classic Death Race 2000 and revamped it for today's street-smart audiences. On December 21st, the film will hit stores in an all-new unrated version that promises to be even bloodier than the first. In honor of this upcoming release, we chatted it up with Mr. Anderson to find out what new scenes fans can expect. Here is our conversation:
How does it feel to see your film on Stephen King's top twenty list for the year?
Paul W.S. Anderson: Hey, it was on the top ten list, if you don't mind! (Laughs) I am a huge fan of Stephen King's, so I was extremely happy to see that my movie made it onto his top ten. I was very pleased.
He represents the people's audience. He isn't some uptight critic. I was happy that you made it on the list.
Paul W.S. Anderson: He likes the books that I read, and he likes the movies that I see. So, when a guy like that loves your movie, it means a lot more than someone dissing it who might not be as involved in this particular genre as he is.
I've watched Death Race twice now, and I really quite enjoyed it. Was there a methodical method to the gore you so lovingly drench across the screen? I wasn't initially expecting such a hardcore experience.
Paul W.S. Anderson: Well, it was always intended to be a very hard R rated film. It is quite a violent picture. Everything was planned. Nothing was spur of the moment. All of the death scenes were quite methodically planned out. There are a lot of visual effects in the movie, but we were also doing a lot of practical effects as well. We had a half-ton of tumbling metal interacting with people. You have to be pretty careful with that stuff, or you are really going to hurt someone. I was planning the practical side of the film before we shot a single frame. Where Grimm gets sideswiped by Machine Gun Joe's car and he explodes? That was something that was very specifically written into the script. And we had to go through it blow by blow with the storyboards and the animatics.
Most of the car chases that we see in the film are practical, right?
Paul W.S. Anderson: Yeah. It's all real cars. We tried to do as much practical as possible. My favorite kind of visual effect is an invisible effect. The kind that you don't realize is there. Death Race has plenty of visual effects in it. But the cars crashing and rolling is all done practically. You have to have it all being done in real time to get the physical nature of it. It never would have looked right with a CGI car. I wanted a real, visceral impact that you can only get by having these cars crunching into one another. But we did it with the assistance of visual effects. When you see those cars tumbling, they tend to be wrapped in wires. They are pulled on cranes. Otherwise the cars would be ripping themselves apart. You have to use as many cameras as possible. So, sometimes a crewmember would get in a shot. A lot of the visual effects included erasing them from the scene. That also goes for the wires.
I'm wondering if you can reveal one of the great mysteries of the film. What is Ian McShane reading in that little book of his?
Paul W.S. Anderson: (Laughs) He's reading Hamlet.
Really? Because it seemed to be a joke that he kept all of his technical jargon for the dialogue scenes inside that little book.
Paul W.S. Anderson: McShane's eyesight is not that good that he could read all of that dialogue from that little book. Ian is a fantastic actor. He always brings his own spin to the characters that he plays. When he came to Montreal, he brought this little book of Hamlet that he found in a shop. He thought it would be an interesting thing for his character to be immersed in. That's what he is reading. It really is Hamlet. Ian is a very accomplished stage and screen actor. Learning lines is no big deal for him. No. When you do TV, you have to shoot six or seven pages of dialogue a day. Or when you are up on stage, you have to memorize an entire play. He is one of those actors that could have recited the entire movie to you verbatim. He is not the kind of man that needs the assistance of having his lines written down for him.
Well, that's what Jason Statham told me about the book. But I'm sure he was just joking.
Paul W.S. Anderson: Yes, there was a great camaraderie on the film. Jason was just taking the piss out of him, its safe to say.
How tough was it to get Joan Allen to say some of the hilariously coarse lines she delivers in this film?
Paul W.S. Anderson: She couldn't wait to say some of these lines. In fact, when we were shooting, the weather was freezing. She caught a bit of a cold. On the night we were due to film the "take a shit on the sidewalk" scene, she came to me and asked if we could shoot something else. She said, "When I do this, I want to be able to give it full voice. I want to give it a hundred percent. And I feel like my voice is a little strained right now. I am not going to be able to swear good enough." So we delayed the shooting of that scene by a week. So that she could have her full voice when she did it. She gave it her all. It was one of the things she loved most about the script. She had never done anything like this before. She was thrilled to be doing it. In fact, when she showed up on set, her agent sent her flowers. Instead of the little card inside saying, "Good Luck!" He wrote, "Okay, cock sucker! Let's see who shits on the sidewalk!" We had a lot of fun shooting that scene. The first take of her swearing like that was completely unusable. Not because there was anything wrong with her performance. She is one of those actors that can do just one take. But when she started swearing, you could see it in the dailies. The scene went out of focus. The camera crew was so shocked that these words were coming out of Joan Allen's mouth, they lost focus of what they were doing. Joan is very polite in person. This was like hearing your sweet mother swear like a sailor. It was very shocking.
For the people that are going to see this for the first time on DVD, can you talk about how video games influenced the way you chose to shoot a lot of the car chases?
Paul W.S. Anderson: The idea of the metal plates in the racetrack is directly inspired by power-ups in certain video games. I love all of those car chase video games, and almost everyone has that power-up concept. Our film is set in the near future. The Death Race is going to be designed by the people that have grown up playing these video games. The race needs to be immersive and as exciting as possible. It is a gladiatorial like battle. The designer would incorporate these ideas that they have grown up with. Just as I have incorporated these ideas that I grew up with. I've watched just about every car chase movie ever made. I was very aware that having cars just race around the track could become very mundane and boring. And we had four different major race scenes. I wanted each one to build and become more exciting. Having these power-ups added certain tactics in how you had to run the race.
For the fans that saw the film in the theater and loved it, what can they expect out of this new unrated edition of the DVD?
Paul W.S. Anderson: There's quite a lot of violence that we have cut back into the film. It is quite a violent movie. The second race, which is the first race that Jason Statham is involved in, originally ran for about twelve minutes. That is very long, and it's hard to keep the excitement going. A twelve-minute action sequence is a long stretch. It originally ran for fifteen minutes, but I thought that was a little too long. I didn't think we could hold the audience's attention for that long. When we shot it, I was very pleased with it. There is nothing wrong with it. It is all very exciting. But ultimately something had to give. The whole action scene where the machine guns on Statham's car jam up? There is a shell jammed in one of the guns, and Natalie Martinez literally has to climb out of the car and start hammering on the gun with a wrench. As she is doing that, there are other cars shooting at her. They are doing 70 mph and doing power slides around corners. There is another car that is running parallel with them, and another woman appears. The hatch on the top of her car swings around to reveal a huge machine gun, and this chick starts shooting at Martinez. It was very exciting, and it had a very Russ Meyer feel. There were all of these sexy women leaning out of cars shooting machine guns. That's what you will see in this new DVD. You will see a lot of that sexy deleted action. We also had to trim the film to get an R rating, so there is a little bit more blood that will be in it. Also on the Blu-Ray, one of the features that I am really proud of is this whole segment that focuses on the third race in the movie. It allows you to recut the race. We give you a lot of additional angles that were never included in the film. We shot them specifically for the Blu-Ray. We probably spent three quarters of a million dollars on extra helicopter and racing scenes. Just so you can recut that sequence. Instead of cutting to Ian McShane in the pit, you can stay with the action. You can choose to watch it from ground level, or you can watch it from the helicopter. Or, if you want, you can spend more time with McShane in the pit, or with Joan Allen in her bullpen. That is a really exciting feature that I have never seen done on Blu-Ray before. The Blu-Ray for this is fully loaded. I am really pleased with it.
Death Race [Blu-ray] [2 Discs] [Unrated] hits stores just in time for Christmas on December 21st, 2008.