One of the best things about director Paul Verhoeven‘s Total Recall is you don’t know what’s real and what’s in Douglas Quaid/Hauser’s head (Arnold Schwarzenegger). And while you can make a great case for both, there is no definite answer, and I think that’s one of the reasons the film holds up today. So last summer, on the set of the remake, I was able to participate in a group interview with director Len Wiseman and we asked him if the ending will be clear, or if it’ll be like the original. He told us:
“There’s going to be a lot of speculation. I would think — I would hope — some people are going to absolutely think one way, and because of certain details that I’m putting in there, [certain people] may think the other. It is something that I love: the continued conversation about it.”
During the rest of the interview, Wiseman and producer Toby Jaffe talked about referencing the original, lens flares, how much influence the original Philip K. Dick story had on the remake, Easter eggs from the original film, sequel possibilities, if they kept any classic one-liners, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview.
Before getting to the interview, here’s the latest trailer:
As usual, I’m offering you two ways to get the interview: you can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. Total Recall opens August 3.
Len Wiseman: For months now yes. Our dream sequence was worth than this. We had this whole dream sequence going on with flashing lights, and strobes, and disco. It was a whole disco moment.
We noticed, actually, on the press laminate, there’s a little bit of—
Wiseman: Lens flare.
Lens flare. On just the press badge. So we were curious. And we did see some flashlights aimed at the camera, a la Star Trek. J. J. Abrams. How are you capturing your futuristic look?
Wiseman: In many ways. Lens flare is a detail… it actually helps, and I’ve seen this now, looking at it now — and I didn’t actually create that — it sometimes can help make a really grungy environment seem slightly futuristic. If you’re in a lot of our New Asia environments, and some of our more of our seedy environments, a little bit of lens flare gives it a bit of a modern feel. And it works well for visual effects. You can hide a lot.
The first movie is very much an Arnold movie. This one seems to be more of an ensemble, all these other characters have much bigger roles. Something attacked from day 1? Make this a bigger project?
Wiseman: Not with a goal of it being a bigger project in terms of the character regard. A lot of characters are there..
Toby Jaffe: I do think it was a conscious choice for the Laurie 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.
The 90s film, there a lot of societal issues they struggled with, even though it’s also an action film. What societal issues in this movie?
Jaffe: 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.
Wiseman: And the propaganda machine, which is always current.
Will we see the rebellion of New Asia?
One of the things about Total Recall is that you can debate what is real and what is just in his head. How much are you playing, ‘is it real? Is it in head? ’ Will ending be clear?
Wiseman: I can only take it from how I would leave a movie like this. There’s going to be a lot of speculation. I would think — I would hope — some people are going to absolutely think one way, and because of certain details that I’m putting in there, [certain people] may think the other. It is something that I love: the continued conversation about it.
Jaffe: I think it’s great fun for the audience to be able to argue about what their version of the movie was when they go home afterwards or go out to dinner, or whatever.
How much influence did the original Philip K. Dick story have in the reimagining?
Wiseman: Huge. For me, that’s where it really started. 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 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.
Do you think there are elements of that story that have carried over that weren’t present in that earlier movie?
In the fight scene we saw, it seemed like there was a little of gun kata from Kurt’s earlier movies. Did you consult with him for fighting styles?
Wiseman: There’s not really any… that wasn’t very specific.
Jaffe: That was really a Len design.
Wiseman: Yeah. He’s shooting guys. I really like what Kurt did with that. But it was more of shooting, and actually using it as a weapon, almost like a punch. But no, this was also something I wanted to put together, just to see if it could actually work as an emotion of going through a whole experience of this guy who has this ability, but we never really take a breath until it’s over. And to accomplish that with all the tools we have.
Why New Asia? Why not New Rhineland, or New Deutschland, or New Africa?
Wiseman: We didn’t have this conversation before. Maybe I would have.
Is there other world building? Will we here about other parts of the world or just two sides of the shaft, so to speak?
Wiseman: It really deals with the two sides, because a lot of the rest of the world is uninhabitable.
Jaffe: There is some reference to what happened and to the rest of the world, but that’s a kind of fun reveal in the movie.
Jaffe: We haven’t really gotten there quite yet.
Wiseman: Too busy shootin’!
How difficult is it handling the exposition?
Wiseman: It’s always tricky, because you want to have it come across naturally, and obviously there’s a lot that has to be told. I think the script does a really good job at that. It’s a combination of script and then, visually, how you sell a lot of those ideas. Hopefully you don’t have to talk through all of them, and you can show them.
Kind of piggybacking off all this talk about building this new world, something that is very unique, and has a lot of information that goes along with it, is this version of Total Recall a succinct adventure story that has a definitive end? Is there possibility for other stories, whereas with the first movie, obviously, that was the end?
Wiseman: I’ve always thought, from the original story, there definitely is because of the nature of what this is. The movie Total Recall, or Recall itself, it’s offering an experience, a journey. Whether it be Mars, or whatever the location is. I think the nature of what the overall cool concept is does allow for that kind of that kind of thing. We haven’t actually given it thought.
Wiseman: Not overtly.
Right. It’s not like, ‘Here’s Number Two!’
Wiseman: Yeah. It’s not a like we end with a tee-up. Really, we just want to make a good movie. We’re hoping that it ends with a feeling of great satisfaction, and posing a question to you as an audience member: What do you want to believe that this movie is? Did it really happen, or didn’t it really happen? And that’s what we want to get to, because I think that’s what’s fun for the audience. Give them a really satisfying experience, something to talk about. Hopefully it works, and then we can sort of figure out where to from here.
Of everything we’ve seen today, this is definitely its own beast. But with a beloved film like this, there are diehard fans. Do you feel obligated to include an Easter egg for people who love the original will get? Or are you worried that will take people out of the movie?
Wiseman: It’s on my mind, but it’s on my mind in a way that I don’t think you can stress about it too much. Some people will always be disappointed. It’s inherent with any kind of new adaptation, or a remake, there are going to be people who love the original. There’s always going to be an element to that. Because I’m a fan of the original, I really just go from my own perspective in terms of that. There are things in there that, coming from a 16 year-old experience of it that I wanted to carry through. But I really just approach it from being a fan myself. You just do the best you can do.
Wiseman: There is so much great stuff. There’s a lot of new technologies, and advancements, and toys. Just like you saw in the little bit of what we showed with the shrapnel cameras, I’m always trying to think up new stuff that you haven’t seen in other places. Because, it’s the future, you’re expecting to see some really fun, cool gadgets and things.
Jaffe: There’s the whole transportation system. And just the whole concept of in the future, in a lot of futuristic movies, you see a completely re-imagined world that doesn’t look anything like our world today. I think one of the great takes that Len brought to it is, as the world changes, there’s still a baseline of our reality today. Just like if you go to an old city, you see buildings that have been there for hundreds and hundreds of years next to a modern skyscraper. So the idea that you can see the 20th Century world on one level, and the 23rd Century world or the 24th Century world above it and above it, and you can see history as you travel down in a city that’s built upon a city upon a city is a cool concept.
Wiseman: And it’s something that has never really made sense to me. If you go a hundred years in the future, they don’t just get rid of everything we have and put it in a big, large world storage. It’s going to exist, like Toby’s saying, in layers.
Jaffe: There are still cobblestone streets in every city you go into, only now we have freeways.
Did you guys come up with the final year that this movie takes place?
Wiseman: We don’t have a year.
Jaffe: We’ve never really pinned it down.
In the future!
Both: IN THE FUTURE!
Wiseman: You always hear talk about ‘a hundred years in the future. ’ When you think about… for me, it’s really driven by the elevator through the core of the Earth. That’s not something that’s going to happen in fifty years. Maybe something that happens in a hundred years, in my own head.
Jaffe: And in how built out the world is, and how long it actually takes. It’s no longer a world where it has to expand. It expanded already. It’s about building on top, and above, and stacked and stacked. And how long that would actually take. That kind of forms a general sense of how far in the future we are. But there’s no number tagged on it.
Jaffe: To me, grounded and real doesn’t mean no humor. In real life, there’s humor. So, I think grounded does not mean no fun. It just means it’s not played for tongue in cheek.
Wiseman: I think one of the big draws for us to have Colin Farrell in the movie, he is a very grounded, real actor, who brings his own kind of energy. If you’ve seen some of his movies, he can be a very funny guy, but he’s always doing it from a real place of character, and honesty for that character. So he’s bringing humor to it, but in a way that I think feels more real than zingers and one-liners.
Is this PG-13?
Wiseman: There are spins on some of the ones that I remember when I first saw it. We have our different twists on stuff.
Jaffe: I didn’t want to repeat anything that [Peter] Verhoeven has done.
Wiseman: When you were asking the question about keeping things from the original: as fans, there are little references here and there that if you’ve seen a movie, you’ll say, ‘Oh, I know where that comes from. ’ The way you turn a line around into a new version around, or that sort of thing.
Jonny Cab is in the movie?
Wiseman: Jonny Cab? Jonny Cab. No Jonny Cab. We’ve gotta save some of it, I feel I’ve said to much already.
For more on Total Recall, here’s my on set interviews:
- 20 Things to Know About the Total Recall Remake from Our Set Visit; Plus Video Blog Recap and New Images
- Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel Talk Action, Epic Chase Sequences, Remaking A Beloved Sci-Fi Film and More on the Set of Total Recall
- Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos Talks Car Designs, Constructing New Cities, Product Placement and More on the Set of Total Recall
- Bryan Cranston Talks His Version of Cohaagen, Turning Down X-Men: First Class, the End of Breaking Bad and More on the Set of Total Recall