Comic-Con: Ten Things We Learned At The Sony Panel

By Ryan Gowland

It was sci-fi day at the Sony panel, with the studio revealing footage for the upcoming “Total Recall” remake along with “Looper” and “Elysium.” It was a busy day for Hall H with plenty of unhappy attendees waiting in line for hours and hours and still missing out on seeing the latest from “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones.” Still, the house was still packed for Sony’s presentation, and everyone got a taste of some footage from three beautiful-looking sci-fi films.

Here’s what we learned.

1. The biggest difference between the Total Recall remake and the original is tone.

The other two films in the panel are both derived from original ideas, leaving “Total Recall” as the sole remake. Inevitably, talk about the original 1990 film arose, as the only footage shown was an extended version of the trailer that revealed more of Kate Beckinsale trying to attack Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel in a precariously high elevator and other action snippets. With the question of how director Len Wiseman plans to make his “Total Recall” different, the fundamental reason seemed to be tone.

“I think one of the biggest differences between this incarnation and Arnie’s film, [director Paul] Verhoeven’s film is the tonal shift,” said Farrell. “The original has such a wonderful, kind of absurd sense of humor to it, even the violence kind of had an air of comedy to it and this one is played a little straighter. What I’m saying is that I don’t have one-liners – thank God. Most of that responsibility falls on Kate’s very able shoulders.”

Beckinsale also felt that the tone was different, particularly for her character as Farrell’s wife, played by Sharon Stone in the original. Beckinsale revealed that her character would be “sort of a mix of a couple of characters from the original movie” and said that her role and Stone’s were further differentiated because “our tone is very different.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be nods to the original, according to Wiseman “The first script that I read… the fact that the film doesn’t go to Mars was such a departure already that I went in – there were certain things that I wanted to bring to life in this one that I thought really, just as myself if I wasn’t involved in it, that I would want to see,” said the director.

“I always wondered who that person was that saw ’Ondine,'” Farrell quipped. “You know what, I hadn’t done a big action film in six or seven years. I had, for the last few years, done things that felt personal and felt more intimate and I really enjoyed the work. There’s a lot of fun to be had in a film like this – apart from the obvious stuff like the money’s better – but genuinely, besides all that there’s loads of fun to be had.”

2. Len Wiseman convinced the cast to join by sleeping with them

While its true that director Len Wiseman usually casts his wife in his projects, apparently Beckinsale isn’t the only one of the cast that was seduced by Wiseman’s charms. Farrell got the ball rolling by discussing how he came on board the project. “When I met Len the first time, I read the script and I was a bit dubious as to the idea of my second remake – I was like ’Oh God, could I get any less original?'” said Farrell. “But I read the script and I really liked and I sat with Len and then he showed me artist renderings of the world he was going to create for the movie…”

“That’s how he reels you in,” Beckinsale interjected.

“That’s how he reeled me in,” Farrell responded. “I can’t imagine what he showed you a picture of back in the day.”

Biel admitted that she too was drawn to the project because of “the ’Len spell’ that he apparently cast on everybody including myself” to which Bryan Cranston asked: “Wait, everybody here slept with him?”

“The casting couch is not dead,” Biel said.

3. Colin Farrell did think about using an Austrian accent

During the Q&A, Farrell was asked if he thought about keeping his Irish accent for the role. “I suppose I could of,” said Farrell before looking over at Wiseman. “Can we do it again?” Then Farrell admitted that he had thought about “messing around with an Austrian accent for about seven minutes” before deciding against it.

“I thought you were Austrian,” joked Cranston.

The audience’s request for Farrell to attempt the accent went unfounded.

4. At least one person didn’t have to stand in line for hours

During the Q&A session, one attendee stepped to the microphone and explained that, unlike hundreds that sat outside Hall H in a line that stretched all the way down the nearby marina, that he had only spent two minutes in line to get inside the Sony panel.

“Thanks for your patience, man,” responded Farrell.

5. Like Total Recall, Looper was influenced by Phillip K. Dick (But also Terminator)

While not a literal adaptation, writer/director Rian Johnson admitted that his upcoming “Looper” was initially conceived “about ten years ago” when he was “kind of steeped” in Dick’s books. From there, Johnson created a story about a mafia in the future hiring hitmen in the past to kill off their needed targets when they are sent back in time. Johnson said he was also influenced by the first “Terminator” when it came to utilizing time travel in the story.

“It’s a very different film than the first ’Terminator’ but time travel sets up this situation with these character and then gets out of the way,” Johnson explained. “It’s really about this situation and these people dealing with it.”

6. Bruce Willis is a real sweetheart

Too busy shooting “A Good Day to Die Hard” overseas, Willis was not on hand for the panel, but was still a large part of the conversation. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who revealed that his role was written for him by Johnson and who looks and talks eerily like Willis in the movie, got to know the iconic actor pretty well in order to portray him in the film. When asked about working together, Gordon-Levitt revealed that Willis is actually a “soft-spoken” man. “You know why? He doesn’t want other people listening to him, and also he doesn’t have to speak up,” said Gordon-Levitt. “And I think it goes to show a lot of guys -big, macho guys – that like to have a big presence in the room, they’re sort of scared that they don’t have a presence in the room. And a guy like Bruce, who’s not scared of anything I imagine, he doesn’t have to raise his voice, he doesn’t have to make sure people know he’s there.”

Blunt had similar impression. “I remember I sent my dad his favorite picture ever from me working on a movie where Bruce was covered in blood, and I was sitting at that time between takes in the sun and I think he had concerns for my pale British skin and he came over with literally a flowery parasol – I don’t know where he found it, this flowery umbrella – and he came and sat next to me and we talked about such nice things. We talked about love and all kids of stuff – and family – and the photographer took a picture and it’s him covered in blood holding a parasol. Saving me. That’s him. He’s a doll.”

7. Emily Blunt’s character is still a mystery

While panel attendees were again shown an extended trailer that went deeper into the role of the loopers in the movie, mob boss Jeff Daniels received more screen time than Blunt. Turns out that Blunt couldn’t say much about her character, but could call out Gordon-Levitt’s.

“I can’t say too much about my character Sarah,” explained Blunt. “She and her family get embroiled in all of this mess when Joe is a pussy and let’s Bruce go on the run. She’s a very, very tough…she’s a bad-ass.”

Later, Blunt did elaborate slightly about her character. “It was definitely a challenge and a departure for me,” said Blunt. “Play someone who isn’t from where I’m from, is nothing like me, looks not like me. The hardest thing really was learning how to chop wood properly.”

8. Elysium looks terrific

The most footage arrived when writer/director Neill Blomkamp took the stage for the final portion of the Sony panel. While Blomkamp was quick to point out that the footage was not finished and would, in fact, contain many shots still in pre-visualization, the footage still looked incredible. While it would be impossible to recount it all here, the footage did fill in much of the movie’s story that the recently leaked synopsis did not. Like Blomkamp’s “District 9,” “Elysium” mixes action with social commentary, revealing a desolate Earth where the poor struggle to survive while the rich enjoy the beauty and splendor of a space station called Elysium. Matt Damon’s bald, working-class character is inadvertently exposed to radiation while on the job and is only given 5 days to live. Getting to Elysium becomes his primary goal, but to do so he must get outfitted with a metal exoskeleton (that allows him to pull the heads off of robots), kidnap a bureaucrat (William Fichtner) and fight through a similarly outfitted Sharlto Copley, who is tasked with stopping Damon before he can reach Elysium.

9. Sharlto Copley isn’t a movie star yet

During the Q&A, Copley was asked what it was like to become a “full-fledged star,” a tag the actor is clearly uncomfortable with. “Well, I don’t know about the ’full-fledged stardom’ thing, but certainly, my life is – I move around a lot,” said Copley. “People say where do you live and I don’t know right now. Right now I’m living in London trying work out how to play Angelina Jolie’s true love [in “Maleficient”] – I still can’t believe that’s happening. My friends from school are like, ’No way! You play nerds!’ I’m like, ’Apparently not!'”

“Elysium” could offer Copley another shot at “full-fledged” stardom, and the actor clearly was pleased to play a villain, even choosing the role himself. “When I read the first draft that Neill showed me,” said Copley. “I said to him, ’this villain seems to be something that I resonate with.’ You don’t a chance to do entertaining, original villains very often, and so he’s definitely allowed me to do that and I think, hopefully, I’ve done something a little bit different from what you’d expect from a movie villain.”

10. Damon and Copley breathed in lots of fecal matter during the shoot

Shot partly in Mexico City, a large garbage dump was used as a location for a large action scene in the movie, which required Copley and Damon to breathe in air from a duststorm (created by hovering helicopters) made up almost entirely of fecal matter. “They told us that the dust was comprised mostly of fecal matter,” Damon explained. “So at the end of these scenes where Sharlto and I are just sweating, because we’re running around, we have all this armor and it’s hot. So at the end of these scenes, the helicopter would come through and we would be black with dust. And we’d look at each other and go: ’This is fecal matter.’ And Neill would come up with his respirator on and he’d pull it down and he’d go: ’I promise you the photography looks great.'”

Damon wasn’t complaining, however. “I just tried not to think about it,” he said.