The director of Starship ﬁoopers, Total Recall and RoboCop is back with Hollow Man, another slice of cerebral sci-fi. PAUL VERHOEVEN comes to
the Film Festival to show audiences how he does it. Words: Miles Fielder
THINK OF PAUL VERHOEVEN'S FILMS AND visceral images force their way into your mind: giant intergalactic bugs snipping off space marines’ limbs in Starship Troopers; heads exploding on airless Mars in Total Recall; criminals performing shotgun amputations in RoboCop.
‘I take the elements of life as I see them and put them into movies; things I love and things I hate,’ says Verhoeven. Monsters. Martians and metal men: is that what he thinks of as ‘life’? ‘When I went to the United States to work, I knew that I did not know enough about the nuances of American culture to reﬂect it in film,’ continues the Dutch émigré. ‘I didn’t want to have to worry about breaking the rules of American society or making mistakes because I was not aware of certain expressions or social behaviour. I felt more secure working in science fiction.’
Of course, that genre has a long and respectable tradition of reflecting the real through the fantastic. His three sci-fi blockbusters share sub-texts dealing with fascism, xenophobia
and corporate greed. Unsurprising, then. that the only thing transparent about
Verhoeven’s latest science fiction outing, Hollow Man, are the experiments with invisibility undertaken by Kevin Bacon’s wayward scientist. Indeed, the film’s themes are derived not merely from HG. Wells’ novel, The Invisible Man, but also from Christopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History Of Doctor Faustus and Plato’s The Republic.
‘The plot contains smart developments on the invisibility theme,’ says Verhoeven. ‘It gave me a strange feeling that I cannot express better than to say it is a very precise study in evil. It is a science fiction suspense thriller that ultimately turns into a horror story as it deteriorates. It becomes cold, contained, claustrophobic; what I would call modern Gothic.’
The Platonic influence? ‘Thousands of
18 THE LIST FESTIVAL GUIDE 24 Aug—2 Sep 2000
'Layers of flesh seem to liquefy. Then the muscular system dissolves, leaving a struggling skeleton wrapped with blood vessels and stuffed with the major organs. Then the organs go. . .'
years ago, Plato wrote of invisibility, saying that morality isn’t inside us; it is defined by what others know and expect of us,’ he explains. ‘He said an invisible person would become intoxicated with power, and abuse it simply because he could get away with it. He would steal, and he would enter homes and rape and kill at will. Plato suggested there is no universal moral code inside us that leads us to being good and just. We behave because we don‘t want to go to jail. Who am I to argue with Plato?’
Verhoeven’s a Hollywood maverick with money. that’s who. Having directed some of his home country’s most successful films (Business Is Business, Turkish Delight, Cathy Tippel, Soldier Of Orange, The Fourth Man), he secured Hollywood financing to shoot the bawdy and brutal medieval epic Flesh And Blood in Europe with Rutger Hauer and Jennifer Jason Leigh. and finally hit the big time in America in 1985 with the provocative comic book violence of RoboCop. Verhoeven’s ventures outside of the science fiction genre — Basic Instinct and Showgirls — have been. with their erotic thrills, even more notorious. With Hollow Man, Verhoeven’s back in his favoured genre which, in this case, demands cutting edge special effects.
‘When Andrew [W. Marlowe] wrote the script, he included special effects that were not yet possible.’ says Verhoeven. ‘He wrote it anticipating that in one year we could do these effects. I compare the work on Starship Troopers and Hollow Man to marching an army and building a Swiss watch. There are just as many moving parts, but in a more compacted space. Hollow Man disappears and appears in intricate layers. As the radiated fluid enters his system, layers of flesh seem to
Clockwise from top left: three shots of Hollow Man, The Fourth Man. Total
Recall, Showgirls, Basic Instinct, Robocop and Starship Troopers
liquefy. Then the muscular system dissolves, leaving a struggling skeleton wrapped with blood vessels and stuffed with the major organs. Then the organs go. The blood vessels go, leaving only a skeleton. Then the skeleton evaporates into nothingness.’
Verhoeven’s grisly descriptions might be what you’d expect, but his research methods certainly aren’t. ‘Through my daughter, who is an art student, we found a museum in Florence that is amazing. It houses anatomical wax sculptures with skin peeled off so you can see veins, muscles, tendons, fat, bones or whatever lies beneath. They were done by a woman in the 16th and 17th century, and they are anatomically perfect. So one of our technical advisors was three or four hundred years old.’
‘We built a perfect digital body,’ says Verhoeven. ‘where all the tendons and muscles are perfectly attached so that when an arm moves, you see all the rotating inside. There are hundreds and hundreds of connected elements inside the human body. One tiny movement can affect almost everything. It involves incredible mechanical rules and mathematical formulas. Never before have we been able to look so precisely inside the body. I’ve never seen anything so beautifully digitised.’
If you want to learn more check out Verhoeven’s Reel Life masterclass at the Film Festival, where Hollow Man is also being screened prior to its UK release in late September.
Hollow Man (Film) ABC 1, 25 Aug, 11pm. £7 (£4.50).
Paul Verhoevon Reel Llfo (Film) ABC 1, 25 Aug, 6pm, £10 (£4.50).