Comic-Con 2011: TOTAL RECALL Panel Recap

     July 22, 2011


As I said with the Fright Night panel, remakes are tricky but at least the original Fright Night a pretty straight film.  Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall is insane.  Not only does it have a twisty plot which it then drops half-way through, but there’s exploding fat lady heads, tri-breasted women, and the magnificence that is Kuato.  Even though the film only came out twenty years ago, it’s tough to imagine a big summer blockbuster being so strange.  I need to be convinced that this remake is necessary or brings something new to the table.  Sitting in Hall H for the panel, I want to be convinced.

Hit the jump for the recap of the Total Recall panel.

Director Len Wiseman comes on stage followed by stars Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, Kate Beckinsale, and Colin Farrell.  Farrell quips, “Long time, no see.”  Wiseman says they’re not ready to show anything (they’re halfway through shooting) but they’re going to show something anyway.  The visual effects aren’t done, it’s cut together with pre-viz, but Wiseman wanted to bring something so we’re gonna see some footage.

We see Quaid (Farrell) going into Recall to have fun memories implanted.  Rather than a sleek futuristic setting, Recall looks like an opium den.  McClane (John Cho) sets up Quaid into the Recall seat (and the framing resembles the shot of Schwarzenegger from the original).  The Recall goes haywire, McClane realizes that Quaid is a spy but Quaid doesn’t understand.  He hits the alarm but suddenly a bunch of military guys storm the room, kill everyone except for Quaid and hold him at gun point.  A switch flips in Quaid’s brain and in one long shot he takes down every soldier in the room.  It looks a lot like a video game and that runs throughout the rest of the footage.  It’s not just because we saw some of the scene as pre-viz (and Farrell’s pre-viz figure has stubble because that was key).  Running from jets (is that going to be Wiseman’s signature from now on?), gun fights, and none of what could make Total Recall interesting.

I understand that action can help sell the movie, but in the original, when Quaid goes to Recall and it goes wrong, it’s not that he snaps.  It’s that reality snaps and that’s what keeps the movie interesting in the first half (and then when Quaid gets to Mars it goes campy and insane).  Here, it’s an intro to an action scene and I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to care about.  Maybe they haven’t shot any character stuff or emotional moments and again, action sells, but I’m not really feeling any thoughtful or inventive sci-fi from what we saw.

Cranston says he’s the benevolent leader of the world and even though he’s the villain, he wanted to shade the character with sympathy, compassion, and earnestness.  However, in an action film, it’s a struggle to keep that character in mind and not have them lost in the set pieces.  Cranston said he was seduced by the strength of the script and had a good meeting with Wiseman and they were off.  He adds that unless you have good characters and a good story, then you can have as many explosions as you want and it won’t matter.  Someone asks if we get to see a Walter White badass in Total Recall and Cranston replies, “Oh yes.”  He says just as Walt went from good to bad in Breaking Bad, in this film he gets to relish in the badassness.

Cranston gets a lot of questions because this crowd loves him and he’s got a sharp wit.  When asked about how playing a villain is different than just playing a badass, he says he wants to go deeper than just the moustache-twirling bad guy, you want to have a reason for it.  For example, his character kills a lot of people but he believes he’s right to do it.  He adds that he wasn’t quite sure what the tone was and he talked with Wiseman about making sure his performance was on the same page as the rest of the movie.kate-beckinsale-image

Beckinsale says she plays Quaid’s “lovely and understanding wife (or not)” and works for Cranston’s character.

Farrell says he plays an Austrian bodybuilder who becomes a big movie star who eventually gets into the politics where he’s far less successful.  In seriousness, he plays Quaid who thinks he’s living one life until he gets a wake-up call 15 minutes in from his trip to Recall.  Like with Fright Night he reiterates his respect for his original but appreciates how it differs.  He then pokes fun at how it kinds of sounds like bullshit when you’re giving the same tagline for two different remakes.

Wiseman says they drew from the original Philip K. Dick story to color the movie (yeah, right), but he moves more to saying that he was fascinated by the reality vs. fantasy element (again, having trouble buying that based on the footage we saw).  He says the fantasy or reality question is “very much alive” in the remake.  He says he will “keep it present” in the remake, whatever that means.

When Beckinsale is asked if she felt any pressure to take on the Sharon Stone role from the original she jokingly replies, “I do now…” and then she cracks a Basic Instinct joke.  Or rather the Basic Instinct joke.  There’s only one.

I know I’m being tough on Total Recall but it’s because I think it has such potential to be more than a generic action sci-fi flick especially when you’ve got great actors like Colin Farrell and Bryan Cranston on board.  I’m still waiting to be convinced but the film is still over a year away and so there’s plenty of time to gain a new appreciation of Total Recall.

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