This summer the remake to the 1990 movie Total Recall from Paul Verhoeven was released in theaters. Frankly it was a remake nobody was really waiting for as the original starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is just brilliant. So instead of a movie that adopts a Phillip K. Dick story that has not yet appeared on the big screen we get movie based on one that already has left a big legacy. The remake also choose do away with the whole Mars subplot and it’s mysticism and instead it tries something new with a transport tunnel through the center of the earth, which left me scratching my head frankly. This Total Recall remake is simply put unimaginative and very superfluous, the crazy thing is it isn’t even all that bad as it does introduce a lot of subtle new ideas that in my opinion work very well.
In some respects the movie doomed to fail with it’s originality. The script was written by Kurt Wimmer who may made a few good movie some time ago (Equilibrium) they but were based on other franchises. Kurt Wimmer may be best described as a Frankenstein writer who adapts stories to fit new settings, he does it well but his work never surpasses the original it is based on. In this case the script leans more Phillip K. Dick’s short story ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’ than on the 1990 movie. Despite the fact that the short story doesn’t take place on Mars the characters frequently describe it, relating to the characters thus becomes easier. This remake does include some story moments from the 1990 version such as scenes with the villains trying to persuade the antagonist that he is dreaming everything and the scene with the three breasted prostitute (only in the Director’s cut), neither of which were as good as those in the 1990 movie.
The director Len Wiseman put up a valiant effort with the special effects and cinematography, but the movie also feels unnaturally sterile and the settings feel too much like a studio back lot. Because the story works reasonably well in the first half of the movie this flick may have been given the green light prematurely as the story starts to sink very fast in the second half. Removing all the nudity an gore from the 1990 version and leaving out the Mars subplot in order to obtain a favorable PG rating was the thin end of the wedge that made fans stay away from this movie. Recently it has been announced that director Len Wiseman will also tackle the remake of The Mummy franchise. My advice would be, ‘Dare to take risks’ and go for that R-rating.
As for the plot of Total Recall…
At the end of 21st Century, the Earth is divided into two territories — the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and the Colony (Australia) — after World War 3 devastates the remainder of the planet. Many residents of the Colony travel to the UFB to work in their factories via “the Fall”, a gravity elevator, which travels through the Earth. Habitable space is at a minimum in both the UFB and the Colony. A Resistance that operates in the UFB seeks to improve life in the Colony.
A factory worker named Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) decides to visit Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories. Rekall employee McClane (John Cho) convinces Quaid to be implanted with memories of a secret agent. Quaid is tested to avoid having implanted memories conflicting with real memories, and McClane discovers that Quaid has real memories of being a spy. McClane and his co-workers are suddenly gunned down by a SWAT team. Quaid instinctively reacts and kills the officers before escaping. Quaid returns home to his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but Lori attempts to kill Quaid, revealing that she is not his wife of seven years, but an undercover UFB agent who has been monitoring him for the past six weeks. Quaid manages to escape, and Hammond (Dylan Scott Smith), a man claiming to be a former associate, contacts Quaid via a mobile phone embedded in Quaid’s hand, disclosing the location of a nearby safe-deposit box. Quaid cuts the mobile phone out of his hand to avoid being traced. In the safe-deposit box, Quaid discovers a recorded message from his former self, leading him to an apartment in UFB.
On the way, Quaid meets Melina (Jessica Biel), the woman from a recurring dream that turns out to actually be a memory. At the apartment, Quaid plays a piano to trigger a second recorded message which reveals that Quaid was formerly Carl Hauser, a highly skilled agent working for UFB Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). After defecting to the Resistance movement, Hauser was captured by the UFB and implanted with false memories. The recording reveals a plot by Cohaagen to use the synthetic police force to invade the Colony to provide more living space for UFB, but that Hauser had seen a code that could stop the UFB’s robotic forces which can be recovered from his memory with the aid of the Resistance’s leader, Matthias (Bill Nighy). Melina reveals that she was Hauser’s lover, but the two got separated when Hauser was captured. Tracked to the apartment by the police, Quaid and Melina find themselves surrounded. Quaid’s friend and colleague from the Colony, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), arrives and tries to convince Quaid that he is in a Rekall-induced dream and that killing Melina is the only way to wake up. Quaid is conflicted, but decides to not kill Melina and shoots Harry instead.
Quaid/Hauser and Melina travel to meet with Mathias. While Mathias searches the memories of Quaid/Hauser, SWAT teams led by Lori and Cohaagen burst in. Quaid/Hauser, Melina and Mathias are captured. Cohaagen informs Mathias that Hauser was secretly working for him without even knowing it (owing to the alteration of his memories) and that the code was a fake to lure Mathias out of hiding. Cohaagen guns down Mathias and orders Hauser’s mind be restored as he leaves with Lori and Melina (as a prisoner) for the Fall to launch his invasion of the Colony. Posing as a SWAT team member, the mysterious Hammond helps Quaid escape, but Hammond is killed in the process.
Quaid arrives at the Fall and manages to sneak aboard. He installs timed explosives within the Fall as he searches for Melina. After finding and freeing her, Quaid and Melina manage to exit the Fall as it arrives at the Colony. As Quaid and Melina fight with the soldiers and Cohaagen himself atop the Fall, Quaid’s explosives detonate, and Quaid and Melina escape the Fall as it plummets beneath the surface with Cohaagen and his army still on board.
Waking up in an ambulance, Quaid is greeted by Melina. However, he notices the absence of a scar on her hand and realizes it is Lori in disguise. They fight, and Quaid kills Lori. Quaid and Melina are reunited and embrace while an advertisement for Rekall plays in the background.
1. The visuals are really great, most of time anyway. until lens-flares start to distract.
2. The first half of the movie has loads of small touches which show care of the subject material, the second half distracts however.
3. The future world is impressively shown pretty much all the time. It’s a shame that some elements seem implausible while others are borrowed from other movies such as Minority Report. the future London is established.
4. The lengthened director’s cut is much better (can anyway say three-breasted chick), though running time is a little long.
1. The use of lens-flares is very distracting, despite the best efforts of the director to create a good cinematography it simply does not work as well as it did for Star Trek.
2. The doubt about whether the antagonist Quaid is imagining everything isn’t as strong as with the 1990 original. The original included many subtle references that made you doubt everything you had seen when you left the theater, this time you left the theater in order to get a hamburger because that is what you were thinking about in the second half of the flick.
3. Ultimately the many plot devices the borrowed from the 1990 movie make this movie unoriginal, everybody knows that Quaid’s wife is an agent for Cohaagen and that she has been planted with him to see if he remembers anything. Both in this movie and in the 1990 original they try to kill Quaid when he does remember but this time around it is not clear why, in the original it was because the villain Richter thought he was a security threat but there is only a few hints of that in this movie.
4. Some of the shootouts don’t work for me, I think the antagonist should have been shot something like half a dozen times, it’s as though bullets magically evade him. The shootouts also involve less gore than the 1990 movie and thus the level of intensity is less (no escalator massacre!).
5. The science behind the earth tunnel doesn’t work for me, though it does make for an original setting. It is simply not as good as the Mars setting. In fact, the entire back ground story seems very unlikely despite that fact a lot of effort has gone into fleshing it out.
Ultimately it is fair to say that Total Recall didn’t live up to the promise, this was pretty much clear from the day the remake was announced. 2012 has had a number of disappointing sci-fi flicks and this year will probably not be well-remembered, except for Looper of course. How can anyone forget that scene with Emily Blunt and her imaginary cigarette. Director’s seldom take the effort to implement such small touches these days.
Score; 6.5 / 10. The movie isn’t original in any sense of the word and it tanks in the second half.
A word to the wise, it is probably not a good idea to pick up the DVD or Blu-ray for the holiday season, choose either Looper, Prometheus or The Avengers instead. Packaging Total Recall with Kurt Wimmer’s disaster Ultraviolet is the most cynical decision in the movie business since George Lucas sold his company to the Disney Land people.