Ron Shusett talks about writing films “Alien” and “Total Recall”

Ron Shusett is the writer/producer, along with Dan O’Bannon, for the original “Alien” and “Total Recall”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Ron about creating the scripts for these iconic films and also got to chat about recent “Prometheus” and “Total Recall” reboot, which was based on his original stories.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about how you got involved writing the original story for “Alien” with Dan O’Bannon?
Ron Shusett: Yep, I co-wrote that with Dan O’Bannon after he brought me the concept that he has from when he was in film school. We met and shared ideas.  I showed him a script I had done and he liked it.  He said “Your damn good, I think you can help me.  For two years in film school, no one has been able to help me get past the first act”.  I looked at the first 30 pages, which is basically what you see on the screen and he said he needed help finishing it and asked if I wanted to give it a shot.  I told him that I also had the rights to the Phillip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, which turned into “Total Recall”. The short story is only one act and then it ends though. He said “you help me get the second and third act of mine (“Alien”) and I will help you with your second and third act” (“Total Recall”).  And at that moment both movies were born. We worked together on what became “Alien”.  We didn’t an agents or an attorney. We had nothing. The first place we went accepted it, Fox and it was a miracle. And the rest is history.

MG: Where did you get the inspiration for the Aliens?  Did you work a lot H.R. Giger?
RS: Those all came from a Swiss artist that has never worked on a movie, Hans Giger.  Dan found his paintings and thought he was the perfect guy to do these creatures. As we were writing the script, we would send him pages. He wanted to get into Hollywood and be a designer.  So he would design them for us as we were writing the pages. We would think up an idea, send him some pages and he would design them.  Then we reduced them and put them into the script.  They ended up looking exactly like they did in the script, which is very rare. Originally, they didn’t want to go with a first time designer.  But Ridley Scott, the director, looked at Gieger and said that his concepts were so unique that he wouldn’t want to make the movie if they didn’t use him. Ridley said “I can’t do the movie without this guy because I would always know how good it would have been”. Giger ended up winning an Oscar for special effects.

MG: With “Total Recall”, you wrote the screenplay off Phillip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, how was this process different adapting from the short story?
RS: It is a totally different process and I am lucky enough to have done both in my career. It is probably a lot easier to adapt since it gives you a springboard to the start.  It gives you a gigantic creative push forward. If you have a blank page, it is harder to start from scratch even if you have a great idea. So it was hard for both of them but I enjoyed them both.  Phillip K. Dick has seven movies created from his work.  Only two of them were a success at the box office, they were “Total Recall” and “Minority Report”, both of which I worked on the scripted and produced. Not including films like “Blade Runner”, which was not a box office successful when it came out, though later becoming a cult classic. Like I before short stories, only have one or two acts tops.  So if you can’t get a great third act to match him brilliance than it is bound to fail. That was the hardest part.  It took about two/three years, just to get a proper ending for “Total Recall”. The whole “Alien” script was written faster than that. Dan and I got the first two acts of “Total Recall” writing by 1981 but we couldn’t get the third act. Then we got Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger on board shortly after.

MG: Also having worked on “Dead & Buried”, “King Kong Lives” etc; what drew you to the horror genre?
RS: “Dead and Buried” was a complete original.  Obviously “King Kong” was a sequel – the third sequel in the series.  “Dead and Buried” always surprised me because it didn’t make money original but like “Blade Runner” became this cult classic after a few years.  I guess it was ahead of its time.  It was the only zombie movie, where the zombies didn’t look like zombies. I think only one thing really draws me and that is the fact that you have incredible flexibility. Anything you want to say create…you can, even whether it is believable, realistic or not. It just comes down to good craftsmanship. That is why I love the genre.

MG: With “Alien” getting “Prometheus” and “Total Recall” getting rebooting this year; can you reflect on these?
RS: Both of them were not very successful.  I didn’t work on either of them but was still awarded a story credit by the Writer’s Guild. I had no input either.  We had to use humor mixed with action for “Total Recall”, since that was what Arnold was known for. This time around they tried to do it without humor.  I guess what happened was that the audience wanted to see what they loved about the first one. With the humor stripped, even though the stories were similar, they didn’t seem to embrace it.  I did feel honored though that 22 years later, they are still using my ideas and spending over $100 million dollars on them.  “Prometheus” was 30 years after “Alien” and they still uses our ideas, we got credit for original story elements. I was also very disappointed in that film though. Like I said earlier, also touches on “Prometheus”, I think where they lost you on this film was that the first two acts are visually stunning but they couldn’t come up with a good third act. They left too many open answers that they claimed they would answer in the sequel. But you can’t do that if people don’t like the first one there will be no sequel.

Blu-ray Review “Total Recall: Extended Director’s Cut”

Actors: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine
Directors: Len Wiseman
MPAA Rating: PG-13 / Not Rated
Studio: Sony
Release Date: December 18, 2012
Run Time: 118 / 130 minutes

Film: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Extras: 4 out of 5 stars

Alright, we all love Paul Verhoeven’s “Total Recall” from 1990 with Arnold Schwarzenegger. This 2012 reboot there very hard to compare to that film, maybe a little too hard. It picks and chooses aspects of the original film, while trying to stand out on its own. I do have a bit weak spot for science ficiton. This film is very sly and sharp. It is a well-polished, very loud and colorful action/thriller. Colin Farrell is good in the role but does have that comedy angle that Schwarzenegger brought to the role in the original. If the amazing CG and visuals aren’t enough for you, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel are great eye candy to look out. If you can get over the fact that this film is called “Total Recall”, there is a lot of action packed fun to be had here.

Official Synopsis: Prepare for non-stop excitement and pulse-pounding thrills in this “smart, sexy and action-packed” (Scott Mantz, Access Hollywood) action thriller. Colin Farrell stars as Douglas Quaid, a factory worker who visits Rekall, a revolutionary company that can turn his superspy fantasies into real memories. But when the procedure goes horribly wrong, the line between fantasy and reality blurs as Quaid becomes a man on the run and the fate of his world hangs in the balance. Costarring Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston, Total Recall is bursting with mind-blowing action sequences and spectacular visual effects, the ultimate high-energy thrill-ride!

Whether you enjoyed this film or not Sony delivers an amazing three-disc release with with two Blu-rays’s and a DVD. There is also a Ultraviolet digital streaming copy included. There are two cuts of the film including the theatrical release (118 minutes) and the extended director’s cut (130 minutes). The DVD and Ultraviolet copies only packs the theatrical release. The extended director’s cut really improves the film quite a bit, instead of the play-it-safe PG-13 theatrical release. I really enjoyed the new story lines and alternate ending. This is the way the film was meant to been seen and the way that I would recommend watching. “Total Recall” delivers one of the years best high definition 1080p transfers. It is literally perfect and works so well with this very pretty looking film. The audio also delivers a perfectly balanced Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound track.

The special features are nothing short of amazing on this release. On the first Blu-ray, there is a great and very honest commentary track from director Len Wiseman. Highly recommend this track. ““Total Recall Insight Mode” is perfect to check out during a second viewing since it allows the viewers to watch behind-the-scenes clips through the film. On Disc two there is a multitude of featurettes, as well as a 8-minute gag reel. “Science Fiction vs. Science Fact” is a look into the reality behind the future with Michio Kaku, Professor of Theoretical Physics and Author of Physics of the Future. “Designing The Fall” looks into the visuals and set designs but runs way too short. “Total Action” is a seven-part feature focusing on the films actors Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale and the making of key scenes including the film’s climax.

The last feature on disc two is a collection of Pre-Visualization Sequences called “Stepping Into Recall”. It shows various scenes in different animated states includingt “Apartment Waterfront Chase”, “The Fall Fight”, “Flight and Tripping Den”, “Elevator Chase” and “Car Chase”. The DVD of the film contains the gag reel, “Total Recall Insight Mode,” and the “Science Fiction vs. Science Fact” and “Designing the Fall” featurettes. Also not sure how this is related to “Total Recall” but there is a playable game demo of “”God of War™: Ascension”” for Playstation 3, which is in advance of its March 12, 2013 release. But it is a nice treat for fans of the game’s franchise!

Ronny Cox revisits “Deliverance” and playing the villain in “Robocop” & “Total Recall”

Ronny Cox is best known for playing the villain in film’s like “Robocop” & “Total Recall”.  You may also know his from the Dueling Banjos scene in “Deliverance”, which was his first feature film.  Ronny took out some time to chat with Media Mikes about his new book which revisits his work on Deliverance” and also playing the villain.

Mike Gencarelli: What was it like revisiting the film” Deliverance” in your book “Dueling Banjos”?
Ronny Cox: It meant the world to me. That was my first time in front of a camera and it opened a lot of things for me. In lots of ways that film meant more to me than any other.

MG: What was the idea behind putting the book together?
RC: I didn’t want the book to be a literary work. I wanted it to read like we were sitting down and telling a bunch of stories. I think we were successful with that and a lot of people have said that they felt like the book let them on the inside. Oddly enough people have started saying they want to go back and look at the film again. The book kind of gives you some insight on a number
of the scenes in the film like we actually did all the canoeing.

MG: What was the most challenging part of the writing process?
RC: I did everything orally for this book. I was going on a long trip and got a recorder to take with me. I had someone with me that I was telling the stories to and we recorded those conversations. This was how I always envisioned the book being done where it was just two people sitting down and talking. It was very daunting trying to make sure we didn’t lose any of that feel. I often would tell the same stories over but in a different direction as repetitions like that I feel are important. We had to make sure we got the story told the way I wanted it told without making it incomprehensible.

MG: What do you enjoy most about playing bad guy roles?
RC: They are about 10 million times more fun to play than the good guy roles. Playing the good guy is pretty easy and predictable. The bad guy is the one making the interestingchoices. Those are the guys I love to play. I try to be a good person every day of my life and playing those roles allows me to step out of that. (Laughs)

MG: What are your thoughts on the recent “Total Recall” remake and the upcoming “Robocop” remake?
RC: Personally I am not a fan of remakes. I thought both of those original movies were pretty damn good! I was given a description of remakes and sequels once and I have really subscribed to that thought. Remakes are like putting on a wet bathing suit.

MG: What do you enjoy most about touring and performing live?
RC: I love playing music. I almost love music more than acting. With any type of acting there has to be that imaginary fourth wall between you and the audience. You can’t step through the camera. When I’m up performing music and telling stories I get to use all of the arrows in my quiver. It is almost a one on one sharing experience that you can have with the audience.

Film Review “Total Recall”

Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Bryan Cranston
Directed by: Len Wiseman
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 1 hr 58 mins

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Remember the Arnold Schwarzenegger film “Total Recall?” Remember Mars, three breasted women, little Kuato and Arnie’s hilarious one-liners (“consider that a divorce!”)? Well, if you’re looking for a walk down memory lane (ooh, a “Total Recall” pun), unless you like the occasional extra boob you’re going to be sadly disappointed.

Doug Quaid (Farrell) lives on what’s left of a futuristic Earth on the former continent of Australia, now referred to as “The Colony.” The Colony is where the dregs of society seem to dwell. The only other inhabited part of the planet is a majority of Europe, know known as the United Federation of Britain (UFB). The main form of transportation is referred to as the Falls. Basically you get inside and travel the 17 minutes it takes to get from one place to another. Through the center of the Earth. Hold onto that coffee! Doug spends his days working at a factory where synthetic policemen (imagine the Storm Troopers in “Star Wars” starring in “Robocop”) and his nights waking up after having the same reoccurring dream. Looking to get out of his funk he decides to stop at a business known as REKALL. There you can have your brain fitted with fond memories of things that never happened. Want to be a pro basketball player? A singer. A secret agent? REKALL can make it seem like you’ve already been one. The only catch is that if you, say, want to have an affair behind your wife’s back, the only way REKALL can plant the memory is if you’ve never really had an affair behind your wife’s back, otherwise things can go really bad. Doug decides that he’d like the adventure of being a secret agent. How bad could that be?

Full of almost non-stop action the drawback to the new “Total Recall,” sadly, is that it’s full of almost non-stop action! Lots of gunfire and running across rooftops with an occasional line of dialogue does not a great movie make. As staged by director Wiseman, who did such a great job with the last “Die Hard” film, the action and stunts are over the top and sometimes breathtaking. However, when the cast stops to catch its breath, the film slows to a crawl. On the bright side, it appears that Wiseman is a fan of “Blade Runner” which, like “Total Recall,” is a film based on a Philip K. Dick story. His vision of the future is very similar to Ridley Scott’s; an overcrowded world with people literally living on top of one another. Apparently it’s also a future where cars now fly yet also use the side streets and giant elevators shuffle people here and there yet you have to run up a seven story staircase to catch the bad guy. Technology my butt!

At least the cast is up for the adventure. It’s been so long since I’ve seen Colin Farrell on screen (in a horrible comb-over in “Horrible Bosses”) that if this had been the early 1980s I would have thought I was watching Treat Williams. As Quaid’s “wife” Lori, Beckinsale is both cunning and bad ass. Former/future love interest Melina (Jessica Biel) matches Beckinsale in both brawn and brains. And both look good in black.

Blu-ray Review “Total Recall: Mind-Bending Edition”

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside
MPAA Rating: R
Distributed by: Lions Gate
Release Date: July 31, 2012
Running Time: 113 minutes

Film: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 4 out of 5 stars

With the remake of “Total Recall” on the way, Lionsgate is re-releasing this classic sci-fi film in a new Mind-Bending Edition. The Blu-ray boasts a new, director-supervised and approved transfer, which was taken from the original negative. After the last go-round for “Total Recall” on Blu-ray it left a lot of fans highly disappointed. This release will not disappoint and is available for an extremely “mind-bending” price as well. Fans of Schwarzenegger who want to see him head to Mars in high definition, I highly recommend picking up this release.

The film takes place in 2084, a time when we have colonized the planet Mars. Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Quaid, a construction worker who dreams of visiting Mars. Since his wife (Sharon Stone) has no plans to move to Mars, Quaid find a company called Rekall which will implants artificial memories of a trip to the red planet. However things go array during the memory implant, Quaid realizes that his actually memories have been covered up and he is secret agent from Mars, or is he?

If you recall, the last go on Blu-ray for this film back in 2006, the video and audio presentation were very disappointing. This release definitely brings a much better looking 1080p video transfer. It was even approved by Verhoeven himself as the way he intended the film to look. This DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio track is also an improvement over the previous Blu-ray releases DTS 5.1 ES Matrix and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX. 6 years have delivered new wonders to Blu-ray and this release definitely needed an upgrade.

If the Blu-ray presentation wasn’t enough this Mind-Bending Edition also included some new kick ass features. There is an all-new interview with Director Paul Verhoeven, running over 30 minutes reminiscing about the film. There is also a super cool “Restoration Comparison” looking into how the film was transferred to high-def from original film’s negative. There is decent but not amazing commentary with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven. There are two Behind-the-scenes featurettes included. “Models and Skeletons: The Special Effects of Total Recall” runs about 30 minutes and is presented in HD. “Imagining Total Recall” is in SD but still very cool. Lastly there is a photo gallery and theatrical trailer included.