Miramax dumped it, critics
hated it, but sci-fi fans are taking a more balanced view of
Equilibrium as writer-director Kurt Wimmer tells dreamwatch
Equilibrium is the directorial
debut of screenwriter Kurt Wimmer, who scripted the underrated remake
of The Thomas Crown Affair and wrote the first (and best) draft of the
overcooked turkey Sphere. Starring Christian Bale (American Psycho),
Emily Watson (Angela's Ashes) and Taye Diggs (Go), Equilibrium is set
in a future society where citizens are kept docile by an emotional
repressant known as 'Prozium', and anyone caught feeling is classified
a 'sense offender' and summarily executed by fascistic cops known as
'Clerics', who are trained in a deadly discipline ('Gun-kata')
combining martial arts and firepower. Part Orwellian 'what-if'
scenario, part kick-ass Hong Kong action-thriller, the film left
Miramax marketing execs scratching their heads and US critics
sharpening their poison pens. Now, as Equilibrium hits the UK, fans of
offbeat movies can make up their own minds...
DW - What was the process of
getting Equilibrium to the screen?
KW - It was an idea that was
haunting me, and eventually I wrote it and put it aside. Then a
producer friend of mine named Lucas Foster, who was working with Jan de
Bont, liked it and said he'd like to make it. Jan de Bont liked another
script of mine, Law Abiding Citizen, and agreed to produce Librium - as
Equilibrium was called at the time - and suddenly I was directing a $20
million picture! I really liked the story, but once I had written it I
felt like I'd told the story, and I needed a compelling reason to
direct it... That's why I invented the 'Gun-kata.' I believe in
smothering everything in entertainment, but I think what ultimately
confused Miramax about how to sell it [to audiences] was that it had
all the martial arts stuff and intellectual depth - it was neither fish
DW - How did you come to shoot
KW - I was trying to create a
world that looked different from other sci-fi films, rather than
another Blade Runner clone. We couldn't afford to digitally create a
world or to build it, so we had to find it existing someplace, and
Berlin seemed pretty unique because it has some fantastic new
architecture and some remnants of 19th Century architecture and the
fascist neo-classical architecture, which we also found in Rome where
we did some shooting.
DW - Although people forget
Christian Bale is English, there are other Brits in the cast: Emily
Watson, Sean Bean, Sean Pertwee, Angus McFadyen... Was that deliberate?
KW - With the exception of Taye
Diggs and William Fichtner, the cast is primarily British, because
they're the best. They're the best trained, and they approach the craft
a different way. The American actors seemed, by and large, to approach
acting from a standpoint of ego, whereas the British actors come to it
as a vocation. I met Emily when she'd just won a BAFTA, and I was
surprised to learn that she loves action and sci-fi movies, but never
gets offered them. Christian I saw in American Psycho, of course, and I
was convinced he was right for my film because I needed somebody who
would have an inherent likeability, so that the audience would continue
to follow them even if they did some pretty heinous things. He brought
not only likeability, but also nobility.
DW - How did you know that he
was up to the physical demands of the role, the amazing choreographed
fight scenes and martial arts-style action?
KW - You know, being the rank
amateur that I was, I didn't even consider that he wasn't up to it! I
thought we'd just choreograph it and do it! I realised quickly that
wasn't going to be the case. But Christian is a gifted athlete, and
he's also a trained dancer, but more importantly he has an uncanny
ability to remember choreography in a short period of time and execute
it under pressure. We often only had one take because if there are
multiple squibs going off, we didn't have time to reset for a second
take. He was able to do it first take and get it right every time. He
has tremendous timing, and he saved my ass. Had it been almost anybody
else, the results would have been really terrible.
DW - Critics thrived on drawing
similarities between your film and Fahrenheit 451,1984 and Brave New
World, which seems to miss the point...
KW - Yeah, they didn't seem to
see that the film had a different message than those stories. 1984 is
about socialism; Fahrenheit 451 is about McCarthyism - subjects which I
don't think have any resonance today - whereas Equilibrium is about
something else: in America right now there's a trend among people or
the government to try and control what we feel. There's a
tongue-in-cheek saying, "Your rights end where my feelings begin," and
in America it's scarily true because we're less and less able to voice
what we feel. Look at so-called 'hate crimes.' Now while I in no way
advocate hate, giving more extreme sentences to those who cause injury
or death or damage to property for reasons of hatred involves a certain
amount of mind-reading and is the beginning of telling us who we can
and cannot love.
DW - Sci-fi fans generally
don't like to be told what to think - so the Internet Movie Database
'user rating' for Equilibrium is virtually neck-and-neck with that of
KW - Yeah, the paying customers
seemed to get it -if you look at the breakdown of the votes, over 50
per cent of the people who voted for Equilibrium gave it 10 out of 10,
which is a bizarrely high number. And the IMDb uses a weighted rating
system which disregards extreme votes, so if all of those people who
gave it 10 gave it a 9, we'd be rating higher than The Matrix!
DW - As one of the writers on
Sphere, Barry Levinson's adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel, can
you explain why the film is so bad?
KW - It wasn't exactly a labour
of love, put it that way. I was the first writer on it - Crichton hired
me - then there were a couple of other writers, and Barry Levinson did
the final draft. He said he wanted to make a movie like Howard Hawks'
The Thing from Another World, where everybody talks really fast, so his
draft came in at 188 pages. But nowadays it's not practical to have
actors talking like they did in the 1950s, so his assembly [of the
film] was Godawfully long, and he was forced to cut out all the
filmmaking just to have the story. In a movie like that, it's about
suspense, and suspense is all about the minutiae and building the
moments, and in a two-hour movie it couldn't be done. So that's why the
movie has absolutely no visceral impact whatsoever. It was critical
mistake on his part, and ruined what could have been a good movie.
• Equilibrium is released in
the UK on 14 March .
Interview by David Hughes