BREAKDOWN Interview: Director Jonathan Mostow Revisits The Thriller Ahead Of Its Blu-ray Release (Exclusive)
Breakdown director Jonathan Mostow revisits his classic action-thriller in time for its Blu-ray release, opening up on making the movie, what fans can expect from this limited edition, and much more...
In Breakdown, Kurt Russell (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) is Jeff Taylor, headed toward a new life in California with his wife Amy (Kathleen Quinlan). When their car dies on a remote highway, a seemingly helpful trucker (J.T. Walsh) offers Amy a ride to the local diner while Jeff waits with the car. Jeff soon discovers that his vehicle was deliberately tampered with, and by the time he gets to the next town, his worst fears are about to come true.
The movie arrives on Blu-ray as part of the Paramount Presents line on September 21, 2021 from Paramount Home Entertainment, and features a director-approved remaster from a new 4K film scan. It's also presented in collectable packaging, and comes with a wealth of new bonus content, including a never-before-seen alternate opening commentary by director Jonathan Mostow and Russell, a featurette with actress Kathleen Quinlan, and much more.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Jonathan about revisiting Breakdown nearly 25 years later, and got some insight into what fans can expect from this new Blu-ray set, the importance of practical effects in a movie like this one, and where the idea for the project first came from.
The filmmaker also opens up on that alternate opening and his time working on another huge action franchise as the director of 2003's Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
Breakdown is released on limited edition Blu-ray on September 21, 2021.
Nearly 25 years on after making this thing, what has it been like for you, as a filmmaker, to revisit Breakdown?
It’s been fun and interesting. I don’t typically go back and look at my films after I’ve completed them. This was a walk down memory lane and it was particularly fun to sit there and watch the movie with Kurt Russell when we did the commentary track together because it was the first time we were watching it projected on a big screen. We met in a large theater at Paramount Studios, but neither one of us had seen, let alone the whole film, but not even part of the film projected like that. It was a really great experience.
There’s something so enjoyable and timeless about a thriller like this one, following a protagonist as he fights to overcome the odds; where did the inspiration to tell this story come from for you as a filmmaker making your feature debut?
Well, the idea for this film came from two different directions. I had been developing a different film that was set in the desert and had nothing to do with the story of Breakdown. It had suddenly fallen apart, and I was trying to salvage the situation so I thought, ‘Maybe if I come up with a different story set out in the desert, I can come back to these producers with the idea of a different movie and we can move forward with something.’ That was the impetus for it, but creatively, the idea just sprung from my subconscious. I lived in Los Angeles at the time and still do, but sometimes I would drive to Las Vegas which is a six-hour drive and when you’re out in the middle of nowhere in the desert, you see some sort of ramshackle cabin off the road. You start to think, ‘Who lives there? What’s going on?’ Perhaps the paranoid part of my brain took over and I started to spin out the narratives in my head! I think this idea just occurred to me one day and I wrote the script very quickly, so that’s how it came together.
There’s some phenomenal practical stunt work in this movie, particularly with vehicles; what did you enjoy most about that and do you feel it’s something missing from many of today’s blockbusters?
My influence as a filmmaker is still very much the great thrillers and action-thrillers of the 1970s. There’s something very realistic and grounded about those films, so when it came to making Breakdown, my own personal taste has always meant I’ve done things in a way that they feel very real. With the stunt work, that meant filming with real cars and trucks, doing the stunts practically as opposed to digitally. When you do something for real, it looks real and it’s visceral. When you do it in a computer, and even if you’ve got the very best VFX artists in the world working on it, there’s always going to be something in the frame that isn’t totally realistic, even if it’s dust particles floating through the frame or the way light is reflecting off something. The average audience member doesn’t have to be an expert to understand that because we all have these supercomputers in our brain and our brains are very good at just seeing something and intuitively understanding, ‘That feels real’ or ‘That feels fake.’
What’s happened I think with a lot of the stunt work in today’s films is that a lot of it is done digitally, and a lot of it is overproduced. It goes over the top and is very exciting, beautiful work, but on some level, it just lacks some of that visceral quality of what happens when you actually film a stunt in real-time that’s actually happening. As a filmmaker, it’s particularly fun to do that stuff. You’ve very much in control of it compared to when it’s delegated out to people sitting at computer workstations. It’s also a bit of a feeling as a kid getting an electric train set, opening it up and getting to play with it. If you scratch beneath the surface of any filmmaker doing this stunt stuff, you’re probably gonna find that little kid who is 9 years old and playing with a brand new electric train set.
I’m curious what you can tease about the alternate opening and how it feels for that to be seen by people for the first time ever?
It’s an interesting thing as I sort of wrestled with whether to include it in the Blu-ray and Paramount ultimately convinced me by saying, ‘Fans of the film will find it interesting.’ There was a period, and I think it happens with all films, where you think a film isn’t going to happen. I left Breakdown to go and do something else and then I came back a few months later. While I was gone, the producers had commissioned another writer to come up with an alternate opening. There were ten pages of stuff and they said to me, ‘Look, we’ve made the script better!’ I read it and thought to myself, ‘We don’t need this. This is unnecessary.’ The idea was to provide more backstory for the characters because there was an anxiety that if we simply started the movie with a couple driving in the middle of the road in the desert, we wouldn’t know enough about them to care.
I disagreed with that and felt we would pull the audience into the story. I reluctantly agreed to shoot this opening that I did not write and did not like, and I thought, ‘Okay, surely the studio will realise we don’t need this.’ To my dismay, when the studio saw the film, they liked the beginning! It wasn’t until later in the post-production process when we were doing some test screenings that I asked the studio if they would kindly allow me to do a test screening without that opening and start my movie as it was in the original screenplay. We had this screening and I literally took out the first 10 minutes and started the movie with Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan’s characters driving in the road. I was very happy that the producers, the studios, and Kurt, who happened to be at that screening, all instantly recognised that it was a better version of the film.
All these years later, we’re showing the audience what that opening was. It’s also a bit of a lesson to people that, you know, you don’t need to explain things to audiences as much as you think you do. Audiences are really smart and can intuit so much through a character just through the visual details and their behaviour. That’s what happened with Breakdown. Kurt Russell...you got the idea of who he was just in the first couple of minutes with how he was behaving and just doing normal everyday things. Hopefully, people find that interesting.
On another note, I’m a big Terminator fan and Rise of the Machines was the first of those movies I saw on the big screen; how do you look back at that movie now and where the franchise has gone since as it does appear to be in limbo yet again?
I very much enjoyed making Terminator 3. What’s so interesting about that franchise is that it has historically always been made by independent film companies and distributed by studios. Many of the companies that have made Terminator films subsequently, not because of Terminator as all those films were generally successful, went bankrupt. The rights would end up in bankruptcy court and be sold to someone else, so the challenge creatively - it’s understandable why it’s taken so long between each of the films and why sometimes the property has fallen into limbo due to business and legal reasons - is that Terminator 2 was such a groundbreaking, seminal film. It was the first time audiences had truly seen digital effects and rendered in a way that left their jaws on the floor. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing. You can only really dazzle people like that once. It was very hard, whether it be Terminator or any other film for that matter, to come up with the visual effects that could equal the dazzling spectacle of Terminator 2.
When I made mine, I made it as a fan of the first two films trying to make the film I would have wanted to see. It’s been interesting to see subsequently different filmmakers, different producers, and even different casts coming along and reincarnating the film and extending the franchise. I haven't really been involved with the subsequent films. I was involved in developing the screenplay for Terminator 4, but elected to do something else and directed a different film instead. I have sat back like the rest of the world and just watched the franchise continue.