Interview: Rekall Fantasies With ‘Total Recall’ Director Len Wiseman

If you want to know what roped director Len Wiseman into heading up a remake of “Total Recall,” look no further than the script by writers Kurt Wimmer (“Equilibrium,” “Ultraviolet”) and Mark Bomback (“Live Free or Die Hard”). “I had the same questions many do,” he told me by phone recently, “’why now,’ and ’how would you approach it,’ and should I do it.” He credits the script with striking a tone of Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” and going in a different direction than Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 film.

Keeping the character names but tossing out Mars, mutants, and much the bloody satire of the earlier film, Wiseman’s is a more of a straightforward thriller starring Colin Farrell in the role of Douglas Quaid, an everyman who learns that the life he’s been living may have been the result of implanted memories. “Total Recall” 2012 is out this week on home video, and Wiseman told us a bit about its productions, inspirations, and what he’d want if he were plugged into one of Rekall’s machines.

The realization that another cinematic “Total Recall” could work clicked with Wiseman when it became clear that the new script wouldn’t be taking Quaid to Mars. “I was shocked by it, and then from that point on I was completely unaware of where it was headed.” The new film, while squarely set on Earth (like the source material), places the action on a war-ravaged Earth where the only surviving domed cities are in England and Australia.

The relationships are retooled here–Quaid’s “wife” Lori (Kate Beckinsale) hunts him like a high-kicking, murderous Javert, for instance, while the person who tries to talk our hero out of his “illusion” is his best friend Harry (Bokeem Woodbine) in one of Wiseman’s favorite scenes from the script. He talked above loving how the scene–which has echoes of the Quaid-and-wife scene from the earlier film–was handled here and the questions it left open for the character.

Central to every version of the story is the reliability of our hero’s memories. “Are you a product of your past or is it the action that you take in the future that defines you,” Wiseman says of the central themes in the film. Taking time out to talk with his lead, Farrell, he says he told the actor his character would live with one set of memories telling him he’s a good person who’s lived one way while the people around him offer objective proof that he’s a bad person. “What if those memories,” he asked, “don’t add up to the person that you feel like inside.”

Keeping the action on Earth devastated by war required a visual re-think for Wiseman and his team. He says he wanted to create a world broken into two zones, over-built, cramped, and constructed in layers–a world where Wiseman says the only way the inhabitants can survive is by going up. “It’s not just about cities being tall, but you have streets and freeways at three different levels,” he offers, describing the film’s environments based around squat, boxy residences stacked on top of one another and ant-gravity cars zooming bay on multi-level highways at breakneck speeds.

When I ask how he would spend his virtual vacation in the Rekall chair, Wiseman is quick to say that the kid in him would want to chase down the same kind of James Bond-style spy adventure that Quaid initially orders for his own trip. But when he thinks about it for a moment, Wiseman comes back with a surprising answer: he’d want to be a comic creator. “I got into this business through illustration and at one point was focused on becoming a comic book artist. I loved drawing–I would just kind of escape into it.” His regret is that he isn’t able to pursue that passion full-time any longer.

“Total Recall” is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD now from Sony Home Pictures Entertainment.