We were invited to visit the set while Len Wiseman was filming his version of Philip K. Dick's We Can Remember It for You Wholesale better known as Total Recall in the cinemas. So how does it compare with the classic Paul Verhoeven picture? It's completely different, thankfully. After poking about through the sets and strapping down inside Wiseman's epic set piece, called the "China Fall," we're finding very few similarities between the two pictures — beside the Total Rekall process itself.
Here's a breakdown on the differences between the two, including interviews from leading man Colin Farrell and big bad Bryan Cranston, along with detailed descriptions of the massive sets erected to shoot this remake. Plus a collection of new stills from the movie. Spoilers ahead...
New Asia Vs. Mars
As you probably know, Mars is gone in this Total Recall. There is no Mars instead, the poor people and undesirables of this future world live in a place called "New Asia." This floating city houses the factories where the new Quaid works (his job is housed in a giant police-robot factory that assembles the bots vertically from top to bottom). On the flip side of the planet is the pristine United Federation of Britain — you get there by elevator (more on that later).
Production designer Patrick Tatopoulos explained the look they were channeling was dark, damp and grungy. Citizens of New Asia had to deal with smog, acid rain, and being eternally damp from a smelly mist. They're also bombarded with holographic ads at every corner, think a real life pop up ad at every step. We got to explore a drained, vacant alley of New Asia. A large canal (full of black water) wrapped around brown buildings covered in wires. It looked like the back end of a Brooklyn apartment building where everyone is splicing cable off of any wire that moves, times 100. Lots and lots of cables and dirt.
Meanwhile, Quaid's apartment was pretty far out, which was inspired by the Habitat in Montreal. Tatopoulos said this was where the "blue collars" live.
Patrick Tatopoulos: There was a lot of great work done on the older movie. The vibe and the tone of the movie is quite different in the first place. The worlds are different. Quaid's apartment, for example, is quite different. In a sense, the original film felt more scifi to me. When you arrive at his apartment at the beginning, it's so scifi right there. I think our approach is a little bit more like saying: you almost start the film thinking like you're in the regular world, and then when you open your window it's like, fuck! Everything is different. That kind of vibe. There are going to be a lot of elements that are recognizable.
"Grounded Scifi" was a term thrown out quite a bit on this visit. For example when we asked if the white police robots we've seen in the trailers shot lasers or bullets, the answer was bullets. Tatopoulos added that the studio didn't want this version to go "full blown" scifi. We heard the same thing when we spoke with Wiseman and a few others on set: being "grounded" was exceptionally important to the filmmakers here. So don't expect bugging-out eyeballs and wacky creatures in the background.
Tatopoulos cites Blade Runner as an obvious influence of New Asia.
China Falls Vs. Alien Reactor
The lynchpin of Wiseman's action movie is The China Fall. A massive elevator that takes thousands of people from one side of the Earth to the other. Through the center of the Earth (so much for that whole grounded thing).
Given that the China Fall is the focal point of this whole movie, the production team went to massive lengths to construct a giant elevator that shoots through the Earth. As far as imaginary elevators go, this was impressive. Designed to look something like an amusement ride, with the passengers strapped in, the white beast plummets through the Earth, but in doing so it also rotates around, with the floor becoming the ceiling and the ceiling becoming the floor. The set itself has this insane mirror effect going on, because the floor and ceiling had to be interchangeable. I immediately wanted to watch ridiculously attractive Hollywood types fight on it. And that's what it was built for. Production Designer Tatopoulus explains more:
Patrick Tatopoulos: We make it a trip of about 15 – 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.
They also constructed the roof of one side of the elevator. It looked like the top of a massive steel tomb, and again was perfect for a shoot-out. We assume the big bad Cohaagen has a dastardly plan for it — otherwise, why would they be spending so much time in this massive elevator? No clue, but it's silly and awesome at the same time. An absolutely imperative part of any "fun" action movie. But if Falls fails to deliver, this whole movie could tumble around it.
Colin Farrell Vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Tough call. We didn't get to see too much of Colin in action — we did get to see a lot of Colin kissing and being sweet to Lori, but not so much with the ass-kicking. The two actors really couldn't be more different, and in the streamlined action based movie that Wiseman is gunning for, the more nimble and slender Farrell makes a bit more sense. We asked Farrell how he felt about being in a remake (yet again) and this was his very honest response:
Farrell: I am trusting Len'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!"
I don't know what to do. You are damned if you do and you are damned 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 damned either way. I just hope that this will be an individual cinema experience. I really do... 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?
New Gadgets Vs. Old Gadgets
Wiseman was strangely mum about what gadgets might be coming back from Verhoeven's version. He did say, though, that he wasn't interested in repeating anything Verhoeven has done, out of respect to the original movie. But we did get to witness a collection of new electronics, the strangest of all being the hand phone. It is literally a phone embedded into your hand. So when people get a phone call, they have to put their hand up to their face. We watched Wiseman light up Kate Beckinsale's face a few times while she was chatting with her bossman Vilos Cohaagen (played by Bryan Cranston).
Other little gadgets we spied include the giant hologram billboards and the shrapnel camera (which was shown in the trailer). Oh and we know she's not a gadget but the three-breasted lady is in there. No, we didn't get to see her, but Farrell confirmed it. Sadly, Wiseman is angling for a PG-13 flick so...
Cranston Vs. Cox
We'll just let Bryan Cranston himself explain exactly how these two characters differ:
Bryan Cranston: [Villains are] always the best written roles, I'm telling you it's so much fun. But there is that trap that you can get into, with that mustache twisting bad guy. You don't want to do that. I don't want to do that desk pounding "GET HIM!" that type of thing "Rarrrh!" My approach to this is that Quaid/Hauser was a dear friend of mine, and I looked upon him almost like a son. So I desperately tried to do anything within my power, to reign him in. And the way I'm playing it, and hopefully it will come off this way, is that he's like a rebellious teenager. He just has to have a little tough love, be disciplined and he'll come around. And when he comes around we'll be back together again and I'm looking forward to that. And he doesn't, and he doesn't, and we have to punish him further...
[The difference between me and] Ronny Cox? ... I didn't want to be that guy. That mustache twisting guy. So my message was, I want wavy hair (this is a little sprayed right now). I want light hair and have it kind of wavy. I said, "John Edwards," I want a John Edwards softness to him, so it's not "here comes the bad guy!" I wanted to change that up and approach it that way. Because what he's doing is already dastardly. I don't think you want to present that. Ronny Cox wore dark clothing, dark suits, and that sort of thing. I wanted to go more natty and dress in these Tom Ford suits that I'm wearing. All nice and tailored. All of my suits and shirts everything is by Tom Ford. And it feels so good, it feels crisp when you wear it. It does change you when you wear something like that. It makes me feel, I don't know, stronger in a way. Not in a demonic sort of way, just more powerful. If I remember correctly I think Ronny had his hair kind of slicked back, I just wanted to take this approach. Otherwise you're just doing something that's derivative.
Cranston came on set in a slick-as-hell suit, looking all kinds of devilishly handsome and up to no good. Later on in the visit, we heard him barking yelling orders at his muscle, Kate Beckinsale/Lori. It was delightful. We're really excited to see someone like Cranston take on such a traditional villain type character. It's a clever play on a tired trope, plus we're happy to see Cranston in a suit any day. And evil John Edwards, FTW.
As far as his evil deeds, Cranston would only hint as to what this villain was up to:
Bryan Cranston: Even 20 years ago when Total Recall was first made, life was a little different. It will be 22 years, by the time our film comes out. And life was different. And now, look what happened the other day, Standard and Poors reduced the [U.S. debt] rating and it affected every market basically. We're so interconnected, I think it feels familiar for an audience to accept that as a future life. I think that's the key to doing science fiction, is to not go to the implausible. You want to surprise people with the "Oh my God, wouldn't that be weird and oh that's cool!" but also with a sensibility that is somewhat relatable. Especially from the humanoid position. You want to have people go, "I get it I see where he's going, I see what his motivation is, and I see why that's happening."
As with the talk about "grounded science fiction," Cranston's emphasis was all on keeping it familiar and real.
Kate Beckinsale Vs. Sharon Stone
Think Patrick Bateman vs. Darth Vader. While we didn't get to speak with Beckinsale, we did watch her clomp around in black pleather ensemble inside a very Star Wars-esque hallway of China Falls, flanked by a ton of stormtrooper-looking minions in plastic white suits. It was impossible to think of anything other than Darth Vader. From the little that we saw, the original lady McCrazy pants, Sharon Stone, played the "lunatic seductress" card a lot harder. Wiseman's Lori has absorbed Michael Ironside's character from the older work, and is now Cohaagen's muscle. We didn't get to see the much-hyped fight between Beckinsale and Biel (who plays Melina) but we're pretty excited to watch these two just beat the ever-loving shit out of each other.
Jessica Biel Vs. Rachel Ticotin
Melina! The difference between the two Melinas lies in the chemistry. Not to knock Arnold, but we never really bought into the whole Quaid/Melina relationship in the first flick — we were in it more for Mars and the hard knocks. After watching Biel cry a single tear on command in 23 separate takes, we might be a little biased... but there's chemistry here. And it's hot. Then again, it's probably not too hard to find chemistry with the insanely charming Farrell, but they had it. Also new, Melina's backstory has been fleshed out considerably. In our interview with Biel, she revealed that her character has family ties to the resistance, but didn't go on too much farther from there.
Matthias Vs. Kuato
No one would really talk about the new Kuato. Which is fine, we like to remain fairly spoiler-free when we can, but we were very surprised by how downplayed this role appeared to be on set. The only thing we learned was Kuato's name has been changed to Matthias. And he's probably not living in someone's stomach. The constant emphasis on "keep it grounded" scifi, and the total lack of mutants on set and in the concept art or anywhere else has us believing that the mutant world has been all but scrapped.
The dismissal of the mutants is all part of the tone that Wiseman is channeling. It feels entirely more action-based than the original. Wiseman's world building is grounded in the slick high-tech future, such as hover cars, robotic police officers and giant elevators that crash through the Earth (which still makes us laugh). Meanwhile, Verhoeven's work was planted in the red dirt of the revolution on Mars. One film is peddling a good time, the other wanted to freak you the fuck out.
Bottom line: As long as Wiseman's movie keeps moving at a rapid action pace, it looks like there's a fun film in there. Plus you can usually bank on Cranston and Farrell bringing the charm and excitement. Just don't stop moving, ever.