Total Recall

This remake over 20 years after the original Arnie film has a hard act to follow, and it is no surprise that the filmmakers decided to change things. As a result this film can be viewed as a mixture of a remake of the original and a new interpretation of Philip K Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”.

The opening sequence was a strobe heavy flashback dream sequence featuring strong lines of light possibly intended to mirror the line graphics of the original film’s title sequence. There are numerous ‘nods’ such as this to the original film, most of them less subtle – the appearance of the three-boobed prostitute, the ‘two weeks’ fat lady disguise while the new holographic collar disguise hangs back in the queue, a tear rather than a drip of sweat betraying the realness of his supposed post-Rekall delusion and body parts being severed by elevators to name but a few. Chunks of the original script / short story dialogue also seem to have made it through. ‘If I’m not me then who the hell am I?’, ‘Don’t ask me I just work here…’ etc. But sadly no ‘get your ass to Mars,’ and this is the source of my first disappointment – Douglas Quaid does not travel to Mars.

I have to admit that I have not read the short story – a shameful fact given what a massive Philip K Dick fan I am. I have read the book based on the screenplay written by Piers Anthony, which is excellent and I would highly recommend as it fleshes out Quaid’s story even more and gives more insight into the alien technology featured in the grand finale. I have learnt that in the short story although Quaid wants an implanted memory of having been to Mars, he also does not travel to Mars. So we can forgive the remake for not using the red planet, but in my opinion this made the original film.

My second disappointment is that the plot’s main premise that the future equivalent of Boris Johnson wants to kill all inhabitants of Australia (refered to as the Colony) to make way for synthetics (i.e. robots) is quite simply rubbish.

However, you have to weigh the bad stuff against the good stuff, and thankfully there was a little good stuff.

This film has gloriously well designed sets with excellent attention to detail, great special effects, and interesting future predicting technology such as phones embedded in your palm and reactive glass which can provide instant interfacing with communications devices. Its look and feel is reminiscent of other Dick inspired offerings such as Minority Report (the film script of which was purportedly a reworking of a canned Total Recall 2 script in which the pre-cogs were Martians and Quaid is Tom Cruise’s character) and of course the classic Bladerunner. Where the original film had an 18 certificate and some great animatronics (who can forget the belly-bound mutant Kuato telling Quaid to ‘open your mind’?), this film has really nice CG effects and far less blood and guts with a measly 12A rating.

Kate Beckinsale is basically playing a bad version of her heroine from Underworld (coincidentally? also directed by Len Wiseman who also did Stargate, Independence Day, Men in Black, and more recently the lame Die Hard 4.0). Beckinsale looks suitably foxy and has a bigger role than Sharon Stone in the original (she gets killed by Arnie with the classic line ‘consider it a divorce’ about halfway through), but for all that the character is still pretty two-dimensional. Colin Farrell has a few moments of terribly ham-fisted acting but generally plays the action-man role well. The love interest character (Jessica Biel) is also not at all fleshed out and in fact there is only the character of Quaid that actually feels three-dimensional. Another Wiseman pal from Underworld, Bill Nighy, plays the leader of the resistance and again in comparison to the equivalent character in the original (Kuato and his co-joined brother) is sadly lacking any depth.

The stunts are great, although I am getting a little tired of the Bourne-style ‘running across rooftops’ sequences, and Farrell’s stunt-double looked nothing like him and Wiseman should have checked his dailies more closely given that the audience was going to see it on a huge screen where it’s obvious it is not Farrell doing his own stunts. Digital face replacement anyone? Also there is a plop cartoon-like digital double that reminded me of the first Spider-man film for the equivalent of the ‘big jump through window’ from Bourne. However pretty much everything else in terms of digital effects was tip-top.

There is a nice bit of zero-g stuff (when the giant gravity elevator ‘The Fall’ joining the two land masses that survived global chemical warfare gets halfway along its journey through the earth) but this just reminded me of Inception and the ‘getting the case from the bank safe deposit box’ scene was way to similar to the Bourne Identity and was somewhat clichéd.

In fact I spent quite some time thinking that nothing I was seeing was original. Even some of the technology stuff was stuff I had read about or thought of myself while writing ‘Muta’ – animated tattoos and the touch screen interface on the fridge for instance. I can’t think of anything in the film that hadn’t already been done and this wasn’t just because it was a remake. However, just because it has all been done before doesn’t mean that they did it again badly and I would suggest that in terms of portraying a coherent future cityscape and street-level sets it is just as good as Bladerunner.

The biggest problem was the script/plot which was at the opposite end of the spectrum from Bladerunner, and not even close to the plot of the original Total Recall with its mind-reading mutants, Mars colonists and ancient alien technology. This I feel was a glorious opportunity to create a film to live on in the memories of a new generation of filmgoers and while it gives people a good dollop of Dick’s vision of the future it will sadly fall by the wayside in people’s memories to be eclipsed by comic book films like the Avengers and suchlike.

A seriously disappointed (6/10) – a score buoyed up by the excellent eye-candy.

On a final note – a detail which made me smile was that Quaid while riding ‘The Fall’ is reading the penguin edition of Ian Fleming’s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ a book I read very recently myself.

Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

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