08/02/2012 09:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Total Recall Director Len Wiseman Keeps It Real (or Does He?)

Let's get to it up front, shall we? "Total Remake!" Ha-ha. OK, let's go.

That said, it is true that a new cinematic adaptation of Philip K. Dick's 1966 short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" has arrived -- and it's a sleek, radical departure from Paul Verhoeven's gonzo 1990 version. This new movie -- also called Total Recall and directed by Len Wiseman -- stands alone as a rocking futuristic thriller, low on camp and high on explosive action. Set on a staggeringly-advanced Earth (which, after Prometheus, it's safe to say "out-Ridley-Scotts" Ridley Scott), the project races along with Colin Farrell as an assembly-line prole who suddenly discovers that he's probably a stylin' secret agent. Adding plentiful kicks are Kate Beckinsale as his rather assertive better-or-worse half, and Jessica Biel as either his salvation or his suicide. Déjà vu? Proceed.


Farrell, Beckinsale, Wiseman

I interviewed Wiseman, plus asked a few questions of his charming cast. A jolly and astute Colin Farrell, for instance, laughed off any remake issues via a Goonies reference ("Hey you guys!"), then told me that spouses Wiseman and Beckinsale have "a really good, really creative shorthand, and they seem to know what they're doing."

Wiseman's predilection for science fiction over fantasy interests me. "With Underworld," he says of the successful franchise he and Beckinsale launched, "for me to feel like I was connected enough to it, it was important to slant it towards science. I could get myself involved in it and be more grounded if I approached it as an action film with horror characters -- rather than saying it's a horror film."


Len Wiseman meets the press

He discusses the appeal of Total Recall's hard science: "I think it's the 'What if?' scenario. We're tied into that, and we have a connection to the 'What if?' because it's drawing on something from reality -- whether it's in a political form, or has a quality of danger to it. Just the idea of REKAL itself and what it offers," he adds of the artificial mind-enhancing process in the story and movie, "to be able to implant memories, to be able to escape -- you're paying for an escapism. It's a technology I see as not that far off. That is something that really intrigues me: to be able to expand that fear."

Hm. Well the movie certainly delivers a visually intense and eerily plausible future-shock environment. The umbrella-stems don't light up like Blade Runner's, but otherwise it's an outsized evolution thereof: multi-cultis squatting in massive, grotty, sci-fi favelas, express elevators from hell, and omnipresent white-armored police who make Clone Troopers look like nancy boys. Hella fast and loud, too (with a lot of bang-bang), but Harry Gregson-Williams' deft electro-orchestral score -- which Wiseman explains in its slightly-slower tempo "resonates more when it's drawn out just a little bit longer against that action" -- well complements the environment and experience.

Len extends the identity thread: "In my experience, Dungeons & Dragons was something where you could create your own personality. Some people get so obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons that the alter-ego that they build up they're more connected to than their real life. We've got that in videogames that are fully immersive. And you look at Facebook, and you create whoever you want to be. You put a profile together, and what are you doing? You're selecting: "I wanna be this! I wanna be thought of as this!" And this is a profile of 'who I am' out there -- and some people, I think, live as a different person, that they want to be, on Facebook. Which is not that unlike than what's happening in REKAL. It's an ultimate escape -- and it's not always a safe one."

Indeed! Total Recall also features Bill Nighy as a revolutionary, and John Cho as a white-haired Irishman.


Bryan Cranston and Jessica Biel: not quoted here, but happy

Somehow I knew from Underworld's faux-newspaper promo sheets in 2003 that whoever was behind this stuff was pretty hip to film, and I am pleased to confirm my hunch. Ladies first (even if they crack skulls onscreen), Beckinsale reveals, "When we first met, I was a huge fan of the Alien movies, and I was a huge Die Hard fan until it ate my husband for two years. But one of my favourite movies is Dog Day Afternoon. Len loves that movie. And All About Eve." A bit later, Len adds, "I loved The Warriors. I love an indie comedy. A lot of the Christopher Guest stuff I love. But in terms of what I want to build and create, it comes from what I was into as a kid, and I now feel I have the ability, and people from studios are offering the money to support me building out the kind of things that I want to have fun with."


Baby, you can drive my... spinner?

Wiseman cites Star Wars as a major inspiration, Battlestar Galactica, The Terminator -- then gets slightly zanier, referencing the TV series Automan, featuring the hero's trusty sidekick, "Cursor." Oh, and Manimal. (Interviews sometimes. I'm grinning.) He also refers to working on Roland Emmerich's '90s sci-fi spectaculars as his "film school." Fun film school! (Hey man, I was an extra in Independence Day. Small world. Ha.)


Déjà vu!

But the human element -- even amidst all the practical and digital sci-fi grandiosity -- isn't that what it's really all about? How does one find the balance?

"It gets harder, the bigger the movie becomes. But I think the best way to approach it is that it has to come from a passion inside yourself. That's one of the things that fuels me, the story and the emotional content, for why we're actually taking all this time, to spend all this money, and go through all this action." (Incidentally, there will be an extended cut.) "Colin's character is a detective, in a way: he's a detective of his own soul. And it's a very weird situation to be in, when you're trying to find out who you are!" Wiseman then focuses on a standoff scene involving several characters playing emotional tug-of-war with Farrell's in a lobby. It's the crux of the movie, and I won't blow it for you. You'll just have to see it.

Total Recall is now playing in your reality.