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HOLLOW MAN: Paul Verhoeven - Part II
The director discusses the importance of the movie's anatomical realism, and the story's philosophical basis
By Craig D. Reid
August 10, 2000
In Part One of my interview with the polemical Paul Verhoeven, we talked about the effect of Elisabeth Shue's injury on the shoot, and the directing difficulties incurred due to the invisibility special effects, how that affected Kevin Bacon's performance, the actors around him and Verhoeven's approach to using excessive camera movement. He explained that Kevin was present for all the invisibility sequences, and was later painted out and replaced with a cyber Kevin with varying levels of visibility. He also touched upon why Phil Tippet came on to the project and discussed the important contributions made by motion control camera work.
What is so cool about the invisibility effects is that even when Kevin's skin is peeled away, or we see his outline created by smoke or water, you can still recognize that it's Kevin and not just some emotionless, faceless face. When Kevin disappears, for example we first watch a three-minute sequence of Kevin writhing in pain as his body undulates with rigamortis tension. He looks like that classic picture you see in all the basic biology books showing a soldier dying of tetanus, with a severely arched back and clenched fists. For purposes of motion capture, his face and body is covered in strategically placed yellow-and-blue dots. We next watch the same sequence with the cyber Kevin disappearing layer by layer until he finally disappears.
In Part Two of this interview, we'll learn more about this part of the film; why Bacon was dressed in blue, black or green suits; the influence of a Greek philosopher and 15th century female sculptor on the film; and get a few words on Basic Instinct 2
YOU SAY THE FILM IS ESSENTIALLY A CLICHE. ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THAT?Verhoeven:
No. I worked a little on the script, but didn't change much. But I analyzed it with Andrew [Marlowe] and went through all the possibilities of invisibility and using them one after the other, and thought how can we make him invisible without making him really invisible. Because if he is invisible all the time, it is really boring. So how can we express him in different ways that you know he is there, or we see that he is there or you feel he is partially there? And again, go back to the specific example: If he walks through a sprinkler, he would be visible because light goes though him but water does not.
So again, this is why he wore those different suits. [The FX people] found that to have a green Kevin was best for the blood scenes, blue for smoke, and black for water and rain corridor shots. I can assure you this isn't based on current scientific research. But if you take into account millions of years of evolution, and if you ever develop a solution to invisibility, it could have something to do with light. Light in this room passes through and around all the molecules, electrons and atoms of his body and then will hit the wall behind him. Light is particles seen as waves, so with the wave theory maybe you can ultimately find the solution. Andrew presented it in a way that we spoke about quantum physics. I'm a mathematician and specialize on the adversity of these kind of things, so I can tell you it's nonsense. But if you accept the premise that invisibility would be possible, and you only need to account for the one impossibility, then the film is realistic.
DID YOU MAKE THIS FILM BECAUSE YOU WANTED TO FIND NEW WAYS TO SCARE AUDIENCES THAT HAVE BECOME MORE SOPHISTICATED?
No, not really. I did this because it's a cleverly written script that used special effects in the most modern way. In the first part, he's a bit arrogant and caught up in hubris. He feels like God because he's so clever and he's not a killer. But in the second part, of course, he becomes very evil. I was fascinated by the fact that you could look inside the human body and could see the human body. If you remove the skin, you can see the muscle. Then if you walk, you can see all the muscles working. That has fascinated me since high school biology class where you have these little drawings in these book, but now I can see it come to life.
We also found in the very beginning that there was a museum in Florence where there was a woman in the 15th century who put all these elements we are using in the movie in wax. I mean this lady captured peoples' expressions without the skin. Actually, my daughter found them and got me a big book of these photographs, and so we went there to study the whole thing. The figures are extremely wonderful and so precisely executed. The only thing she couldn't do at the time was make them move.
It was extremely inspiring to see these photographs. When you see Sebastian lying there without his skin, it's all based on that book. So now we can see much more of the human body than other Invisible Man movies. He just doesn't turn invisible and disappear, it's done in stages; a chemical transformation [in which] you'll see everything. We also used experts in physiology artists, and physiologists who had worked with animation and CGI. Later, Scott Anderson and his group went to UCLA to watch how they snip the skin off of cadavers.
YOU MENTIONED THAT WHEN THE SCRIPT WAS WRITTEN, IT WAS DONE KNOWING THAT CERTAIN SPECIAL EFFECTS TECHNIQUES NEED TO BE CREATED STILL. LIKE WHAT?
Creating digitally the number of elements of a moving body without skin so that you can see the muscles move. It's about 20 times more complex than making dinosaurs move. The amount of parts that are independently moving inside the body [is great]. So all that has to be rendered and shot digitally. With the dinosaur, you just have one layer. On this surface [rubs his arm] you have different layers that are moving over each other. Then you have to be careful about any muscles that move over during movement, like going underneath another muscle, so it's not suddenly in the foreground. You have to reconstruct that in the computer and build all these layers underneath each other, then show everything going inside each other. It's not easy. [There are] many mathematical problems, things that couldn't be done a year ago. Since [director James] Cameron did the water creature in The Abyss
, nothing is new anymore. Everything is based on that, and everything is based on what could be done at that time, so we are all doing that but in a much more complicated form.
IT'S A STEP INTO CREATING VIRTUAL ACTORS.
Yes, it's a step in that direction. We can do the skin, but now you have to create the expressions. We took all the expressions and acting and movements, like with the eyes and making them blink, express violence or sadness, or the ways the mouth does it, the smile. All that was taken verbatim from Kevin. So we didn't create a person. We created Kevin again.
MOST OF THE AUDIENCE WON'T KNOW ABOUT THE DETAILS OF HUMAN ANATOMY, SO WHY ARE YOU SPENDING SO MUCH TIME AND MONEY ON BEING SO PRECISE AND DETAILED WITH IT?
Because it really looks good. [Laughs
] But seriously, I feel that if I made it really realistic, they have to accept it. That's the main reason. If I did it, like for example the dinosaur effects in the Disney movie, which are very less detailed that the good dinosaurs in Spielberg's [Jurassic Park
] films, it would be even more impossible and ridiculous to accept invisibility. But I thought if I made the transitions as good as possible, as real and as detailed as possible, and you can really see all the veins that are there, then I can sell the bluff better. But it's just really about wanting to do real reality as best as possible.
SEBASTIAN BECOMES LESS AND LESS SYMPATHETIC AS THE MOVIES PROGRESSES. DID YOU VISUALLY GUIDE THE AUDIENCE INTO DISLIKING HIM OR DO HIS ACTIONS SPEAK FOR HIMSELF?
Yes, I did. The questions are: Where do you put the boundaries, and just how far do we follow Sebastian in his adventure into evil? It's addictive. It really uses a seductive thread, because somehow you are basically identifying with Sebastian, although he is arrogant, but also clever and charismatic. Then you say some of the things he is doing are probably not so nice, but that you could understand why he does that stuff; it's not so bad yet. Then the next step is worse, then more worse. So how far do you go before you abandon him?
WHAT DOES HE DO WHEN HE BECOMES MORE EVIL?
He kills. That's pretty evil.
IS THERE ANYTHING AT THE FILM'S BEGINNING THAT HINTS ABOUT WHAT HE BECOMES LATER ON IN THE FILM?
I think so. It's not like he takes the wings off flies or something like that, but he basically behaves and formulates things. Sometimes he'll take things back by pretending or believing that it was a joke. But there are elements in his behavior that show, lets say, the possibility of a dark side. So I tried to do the film in a way that it would at least be erotic. So yes, there's a sexual component there. He can't hold himself anymore, and because he now knows he can get away with anything and everything, he does things. And that's the beginning of his evilness, and that develops into slashing and murdering.
The whole story is based on Plato. In fact, it's really verbatim Plato. One of the lawyers here, when they were looking for rights, said, 'Do you realize that this story is Plato and we don't have to pay Plato?' So I read the passage in the Republic
in the second book where he describes what a person would do if he were invisible. First he describes a man who finds a ring that make him invisible. He first enters the courts, seduces and sleeps with the Queen, which basically kills the King and then becomes King himself, behaves like a King.
Then he puts it into more philosophical terms saying, 'If you become invisible, you would steal whatever you can get, enter every house, rape every woman, kill every man and behave like a God.' In fact, he means that man is only decent because of the restraints of society, and if you were left alone and could get away with anything you wanted, you would rape and steal and kill and that would make you an evil person. That is his position as a philosopher and that's our story.
IS THERE A POINT IN THE STORY WHERE, IF YOU WERE INVISIBLE, YOU WOULDN'T GO THAT FAR?
To me it seems so completely boring to be invisible. Why would you want to do that? I hear many people as kids have dreamt about being invisible, I don't remember those dreams. Maybe some would like to be this way and that it could happen to them, and they would disagree with Plato. But over the last century, with all the killing we've been doing, I think if we were invisible we'd probably do a lot more. I guess Plato is pretty right, and only society restraints make us righteous and decent.
MANY ACTION FILMS ARE DONE BY FOREIGN DIRECTORS--JOHN WOO, YOU, ROLAND EMMERICH--IS THERE JUST A NICHE IN HOLLYWOOD FOR THEM?
Just means [they] probably can't find decent American directors to direct the action.
DO YOU HAVE AN INTEREST IN RETURNING TO MAKE A DUTCH FILM?
Yes, absolutely, but there are more toys to play with here. You know, people here see me as a man that craves to do science fiction. This is a mistake. I prefer to do normal stuff. But it has been difficult for me here to find good normal, reality stuff scripts compared to the good science fiction scripts I get like Robocop
, Total Recall
, Starship Troopers
and this one.
I hope to do the post Civil War story, Victoria Woodshall
HOW ABOUT BASIC INSTINCT 2
Oh, that. It goes up and down. Sharon Stone seems to be the key. First they ask me with Sharon, then they ask me with Michael [Douglas]. Ultimately I have said, 'Yes, get me a good script, get me Michael or Sharon or both.' They haven't been able to do that and they don't want to pay Sharon's price. She wants a lot of money.