Director John Hyams Talks UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING, Plus the Top 11 Things to Know About Hyams and His Film

     December 6, 2012

universal-soldier-day-of-reckoning-poster-jean-claude-van-dammeCollider: Yeah, inside the chapel there’s this long fight where Adkins is fighting Lundgren and they’re slicing each other with these giant knives. And they don’t feel pain, but because they don’t feel any pain and they’re just slicing and stabbing each other it felt more painful to me as a viewer for some reason.

Hyams: Right. You know, and I think that that was, I think it’s interesting that you bring that up. you know, this movie doesn’t explain a lot of things but hopefully a lot of things are implicit like, you know, how do you kill a universal solider? Well, you’re going to find out when you see the movie. we’re not going to explain it but you will see them kill each other when you see the movie. So really, the big question is always, well, how much pain do they feel? Are they totally impervious to pain? And my feeling was, well, if you have a character who is 100% impervious to pain, that’s almost counterproductive to a dramatic event. You gotta feel something. We thought like, ‘If you’re drilling a hole in his head, does he feel that?’ And the answer is: well, yeah. If you’re drilling a hole in his head, it hurts a little bit. I mean, he doesn’t feel it like if you were drilling a hole in my head, but it doesn’t feel great. It’s probably like getting your tooth pulled without Novocain. So, obviously we had to decide, it take a lot more to hurt these guys than it does to hurt us. So in the process of breaking down these fights they’re obviously going to be doing a lot more. They’re going to be smashing each other with baseball bats and you know, 45 pound weights and they’re going to be stabbing a guy in the back and leaving it there so they can grab it later on in the fight. So it becomes this whole exercise in body destruction and body mutilation. And that’s kind of the direction you’re going to be going in if you’re dealing with essentially a superhero movie. Let’s say, this is a super hero fight where they bleed. You know, this is like if The Hulk and Superman were fighting each other but they were actually crushing each other’s jaws, you know? Their heads are splitting open. What would that look like? 

Collider: It would look really gross. Which it does.

Hyams: Yeah, it would be gross! It would be harsh! (Laughs) 

Collider: I don’t know which cut I saw because they sent me a screener, but is there an NC-17 cut and an R-rated cut? Which one is coming out in theaters in 3D? Which one is going to be on the Blu-Ray?

Hyams: Yeah, there is an NC-17 cut. The one that’s On-Demand and in theaters is R. When they fight in the sporting goods store and he nails him with a bat, what did you see? 

Collider: I think we see his face cave in a little bit. But the thing I remember most is the reaction shot of the girlfriend where she’s looking at the main character and thinking, ‘Oh… this guy might be less safe than anyone else around me.’

dolph-lundgren-universal-soldier-day-of-reckoningHyams: Right. So, you might have seen the R cut. 

Collider: What’s in the NC-17 version there?

Hyams: In the NC-17 version, at least in that scene in particular – and that’s just one moment – you literally like half of his face fly off.

Collider: Yeah, I mostly remember the girl. But I figured you would have gotten the NC-17 for the scene where there’s the naked guy who gets shot and stabbed a bunch of times.

Hyams: Yeah, somehow the guy’s naked frontal didn’t bother them. We had to take out one… that scene in the brothel, there were a bunch of cuts to that. I would say that there were cuts made to every action scene in the movie. Some of them not so drastic, most of them not so drastic. Just little bits here and there, maybe not lingering on something for so long. what [the MPAA] had said to me was that, outside of a few very specific images we had to get rid of, it was mostly just about the accumulation of the violence. 

Collider: Yeah. It’s grueling at a point. But it’s never grueling in a way that made me want to stop watching. I wanted to find out what happened next. But it was an endurance test on some level.

Hyams: Right, right. So the NC-17 version might be a slightly greater endurance test. But it plays pretty much the same. We showed the NC-17 version at Fantastic-Fest. But the Blu-Ray will be the unrated version. 

Collider: I read this crazy fan theory on IMDb where someone was talking about how, in this film you introduce the idea of brain implants and artificial memories. So those two direct-to-TV movies that you ignored and the loose continuity where I can’t tell if this is the third or fourth or six movie, could those be brain implants and false memories that would tie these films together into a tighter continuity?

Hyams: I read that on one of those message boards. I liked that. It was a good comment. I think it’s a good way to start looking at these. Because let’s be honest, Regeneration didn’t even stay true to the mythology that was created in (Universal Soldier: The Return). Like, in The Return Luke Devereux had like a daughter and stuff. So we really, when we did Regeneration, all we really did was take what was set up in the first one. We ignored any real story or plot elements. I mean, there were story and plot elements… When I first received the script for Regeneration there were huge portions of the script that involved them remembering things and we were supposed to use stock footage of the first Universal Soldier. Like in one scene, they have a fight and they’re kind of remembering an old fight that they had and we’d be intercutting those two movies. And I personally wanted no part of that because the movies were aesthetically very different from one another and I just didn’t think we should be beholden to any story ideas because, as much as these movies are for people who have seen the last movies, it’s been a while and you want to bring new people in. 

universal-soldier-posterCollider: I mean, I had never seen any of the first ones. Regeneration was the first one I had seen. I was aware of the movies, but I think I was kind of confusing them with the Kurt Russell film, Soldier a little bit in my head. and I actually think if you saw this one first, before you saw the other ones it would be a really cool introduction because it’s from the perspective of one of the soldiers and he’s figuring things out that the audience might know if you’ve seen the other films.

Hyams: It actually would be a really interesting way to come into it because it would be kind of like The Bourne Identity. This would be like The Bourne Identity version where he’s discovering all of this stuff for the first time. But, yeah. I do like that idea that maybe you could interpret some of the other movies as memories we can’t trust. 

Collider: In Regeneration Dolph as this running, I don’t want to call it a joke, but… he keeps going, “There’s this thing I wanted to tell you, what was it? What was it?” And right before he finally remembers right before he gets a pole through the head. And he told me that his character was going to tell Van Damme’s that they knew each other. Was that the last remnant of the flashback scenes?

Hyams: The whole point of it is that Dolph is a clone who somehow has memories and that was kind of the idea of Andrew Scott as a character anyway in the first Universal Soldier. He was a guy who doesn’t quite work. He retains some of his memories from his former life on earth, human self. And some of his malevolent qualities creep into him. And that was what went wrong with their experiment, that you can’t completely bottle up what makes these guys human. So, the idea here was that, again, Scott represents the defective part of the technology. If the whole idea is that you are effectively breeding and creating humans exactly the way you want it to be, and one of them doesn’t quite work right, the result of that would be he would be kind of living in this sort of existential crisis where he is a fully grown human, but he has no history and he has no memories so his brain is in this perpetual state of near recognition déjà vu. And of course we also create this situation in Regeneration here Luke Devereux comes upon Scott and we tried to create that scene as if it was sort of a déjà vu memory of the first scene in the whole franchise. So, we were intentionally creating that scenario. So the whole thing is, he is a guy who was just born, but somehow he’s having this familiarity with another individual. 

Collider: Looking at the two films that you’ve made, they’re very different in tone. So, where does it go? It seems like the next one needs to be like The Manchurian Candidate. Do you have a plan for any future films in this series? Do you want to do more of them?

Hyams: I really do. It’s interesting that you say Manchurian Candidate. It’s very interesting that you say that because I have one plan that is quite similar to that in the sense that… and I haven’t really said in when I’ve been talking about this but, basically what I was gonna do, my idea of where to take the series would be more of paranoid thriller, kind of spy movie genre. Because, there is this whole, and by the conclusion of this one you realize that it’s kind of this Manchurian Candidate meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers type of theme that you could play on. Normally, when I finished Regeneration I didn’t have any ideas for another one, but after finishing this one there are some ideas that are really obvious places where you could go to make a pretty good movie. 

universal-soldier-regeneration-dolph-lundgrenCollider: I would agree with… I was turned on to Regeneration a couple of years ago by this website called outlawvern and, have you been getting any offers from studios? Because these are some of the best shot action movies I have seen in a very long time from America.

Hyams: I appreciate that, that’s great. But after the last one I got almost no offers like that. You know, I think that it’s sort of picking up a little bit more with this one because the last one was quite underground. There was like… let’s put it this way; after Regeneration, before I got that great review from Vern and people like him… my agency dropped me because of that movie. 

Collider: Why?!

Hyams: Because it was direct-to-video. They didn’t want direct-to-video guys. 

Collider: Didn’t they know that was what it was going to be before you made it?

Hyams: They didn’t… I had basically been using that agency because I was doing TV and then I tried to get someone in the theatrical department. And that movie hadn’t come out but I had a copy of it and I showed it to them and they were like, ‘Actually, we’re not interested in you anymore.’ It wasn’t until people saw it and started really liking it that agencies came back and started wanting to get involved with me. So Hollywood in that sense, certainly with the executives, it’s really human nature I think, they’re not coming at it the same way that you guys are coming at it. In the sense that you’re looking to discover things and know that quality could come from any place. Their general way of operating is that they like something if it has been vouched for. And the number one way of being vouched for is making a lot of money.

Collider: Of course.

Hyams: And that makes sense. And the number two way is through getting a lot of press or having other important people vouch for you. So the last one generated a little bit of press, at least enough for Sony to want to make another one. But I wasn’t really getting any offers after that. But now that this one’s coming out and its’ got a theatrical release – even though it’s a limited theatrical – just having a theatrical and Magnolia’s publicity department behind it, we’re able to do more interviews and get more reviews. So, that’s certainly helps a lot. I feel like this one already… Yeah, the phone’s ringing a lot more on this one than the last one. 

Collider: That’s good to hear because I want to see what you could do with, I don’t know what these movies were made for, but it couldn’t have been much. But they look like big, expensive studio films that are just more edgy in some ways.

universal-soldier-regeneration-jean-claude-van-dammeHyams: Yeah, cool. I appreciate that. But, Regeneration, again, you read all kinds of things but the budget as I understand it was around nine [million] and we did that in Bulgaria so we got more shooting days and whatnot. This one was done in the states and we shot it in 3D and it was in the eight [million] range. But again, you have to take that into account that this is a movie in a franchise, there are a lot of rights holders and the actors get a certain amount. So, when you’re talking about your shooting budget, the budget that is paying for the number of days and your crew and your post; it was like three-point-six. 

Collider: I wanted to know… Your only acting credit is a cameo in A Sound of Thunder, a movie I saw in theaters and bought on DVD.

Hyams: Yeah, I remember that… 

Collider: Well, what I wanted to know was, with Franchise Pictures, they were a company that was embezzling from the films and cheating other studios out of money. When your father (Peter Hyams) was making the film… at what point did he find out that the $80 million he was supposed to have for the film had evaporated and that the film just wasn’t going to get finished?

Hyams: I think he learned that during shooting. That was a very, what’s the word? A very volatile shoot. There were all sorts of problems with that shoot. I mean, obviously he didn’t know that going into it, but once they started going. there were all sorts of problems they were running into, not to mention they were in Prague and Prague was flooded at the time. they lost a bunch of their sets and then, well, they ended up making it through production more-or-less getting what they expected. But a movie like that depends literally, 95% on the quality of post. A movie like that is all about creature design and that whole thing was a big postproduction movie. And suddenly, I think once he was in post he realized there was just no money. I mean, they were farming out shots all over the place not getting, they didn’t have any A-people working on it. Any money to take care of it. I think it was definitely, I have to believe, I can’t speak for my dad, but I have to believe it was one of the hardest experiences of his career. You know, it’s got to be a real sinking feeling going into something shooting all of it against green screen with all this trust that you’re relying on this whole element, this whole technology that ultimately you’re not going to be able to afford and you have to do it anyway. And I know I’ve learned so much from him. and I remember when I was doing Regeneration, I took the lessons learned on that very seriously. Again, it wasn’t a franchise, but this was one of those kinds of movies where there is foreign financing and the budgets at a certain level. And I said, ‘I’m going to rely almost solely on practical effects because I don’t have an effects house that I’m working with. I don’t have artists that I can trust that can do this for a price. So I’m going to basically do everything practically.’ So on Regeneration we had a few visual effects, maybe 10 shots maybe. And people ultimately give the movie credit saying, ‘It’s refreshing to see a movie that uses practical effects.’ But the truth is, I just did it because I had complete mistrust in the fact that I was gonna get the right people to do it. But I mean, if you have the right artist you can do incredible things. Guys like Neill Blomkamp are pushing the technology in beautiful ways. But I’m in no way kind of waving the flag for practical effects but I know from experiences like what he had to suffer that unless you know what you’re getting, it can really sink a movie. 


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