Total Recall (2012)

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*. I (still!) like the original Total Recall, and so my first impression on hearing there was going to be a remake was to ask Why? I know that twenty-first century popular cinema has, thus far, been an age of remakes, but still.
*. Both movies are very much of their time. The first one had Arnie’s muscles and Sharon Stone as the ice queen. The second one is all CGI videogame, and bookends Colin Farrell between Hollywood’s two reigning Queens of Ass (Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel).
*. The spate of remakes in this period is primarily driven by the paucity of decent original ideas. So why not take advantage of a tested concept and script? While it certainly has its shortcomings, for my money this is a much better movie than the other SF/Philip K. Dick/Colin Farrell vehicle that came out around the same time, Minority Report. Of course, not having Tom Cruise in it helps.
*. The premise of the bifurcated planet made no sense to me. Why would the UK and Australia be the sole survivors of a chemical warfare catastrophe? Why does Britain need to import factory workers all the way from Down Under when it’s England that’s overpopulated? Why not have the factories located in Australia?
*. It’s a nice dig at British (and presumably American) worries over immigrant labour, deftly eliding the matter of race by making Australia the Third World feeder of factory workers.
*. Does the Fall make sense? Tunneling straight through the Earth seems like a pretty advanced technology. Even harder than going to Mars, when you think about it.
*. Speaking of the Fall, why are the bad guys surprised by the gravity shift when (a) they should know it’s coming, and (b) an automated voice comes on in advance to tell them that gravity is about to shift?
*. Rekall is no longer a fancy office but an opium den. I guess this makes sense given that the Colony (originally called “New Asia” in the script, before cooler heads prevailed) seems to have been shot on the leftover sets from Blade Runner, complete with constant rain (this is Australia?), neon, and a polyglot native tongue. We have seen the future and it is Shanghai. Or Tokyo.

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*. Speaking of borrowings, those stormtroopers (or “synthetics”) sure look … familiar.
*. For a supposedly shit working-class apartment in the Colony, Doug and Lori have a kitchen the size of my entire first floor and a home entertainment system you might find in a stadium.
*. Is it reassuring, or just silly, that Doug is reading a paperback novel, and finds a safety deposit box full of paper money? I have no confidence in either of these technologies making it to the end of the current century. That cheap paperback edition of The Spy Who Loved Me would have disintegrated long before the time present of this film.
*. If Beckinsale wanted to take Farrell down while she still had the element of surprise in her favour, would the right thing to do be to go for a headlock while facing him? That had to be the one move with the least chance of working.
*. The movie has none of the humour and satire of the original, with Colin Farrell, despite a surprisingly buff appearance, a far cry from the cartoonish Schwarzenegger. I so wanted to hear a recording of him saying “Get your ass to Mars.” But then he never goes to Mars anyway.
*. Beckinsale is a sexy gal, but her “shaggy on top, sleek and hippy down below” look sometimes gives her the appearance of a dancing mushroom. It’s interesting how the iconography of the male action hero has downsized over the years, while the ladies have become even more athletic. The change from Arnie to Colin is greater than the shift from Stone to Bekinsale and Biel. Though that’s perhaps just because Stone’s Lori was ahead of her time.

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*. Bryan Cranston is good at looking pissed, but the character of Cohaagen in this film is much diminished from the original, effectively taking a back seat to Beckinsale’s Lori. I also thought the final fight between Cranston and Farrell to be a terrible mismatch, though Cohaagen is an ex-army man and Quaid/Hauser is injured.
*. Hard put to it, I can’t think of any specific way this movie is better than the first one. The script has only the one decent scene — with Harry as the nervous mediator trying to convince Doug that he’s dreaming everything — but this was just as effective in 1990. The effects are all state-of-the-art, but it seems a shame that so much of the movie (really, almost all of it) consists of chases and fights. The chases and fights are well done, but that’s all there is. It’s yet another movie that seems like a videogame most of the time. Couldn’t they have been smarter?
*. The classic Dick theme of subjective vs. objective reality is even more tilted toward false memory than the original, though I don’t think that was intentional. This is surprising given how over-the-top and comic strip Quaid’s adventures were on Mars. I again found myself thinking it was all an implanted memory. Perhaps it was the effect of all that CGI, which gives everything an artificial tinge.
*. There may be a point here worth further reflection. That despite how “realistic” CGI effects are trumpeted as being, the world they create is somehow inherently more unbelievable than any fantasy created in camera.

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*. The story is based on the screenplay of the 1990 film, which in turn only nodded at Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Nevertheless, it’s hard not to see Dick as in some way the presiding genius. He’s an author who has not gone out of style and indeed seems to have only grown in importance over the years. But he’s a far more cerebral writer than most of his adaptations allow.
*. Some of this movie was actually shot in my hometown. I didn’t know this at the time, and later I didn’t recognize it in the film. Nevertheless, that is, supposedly, my downtown standing in for the “no zone” urban wasteland at the end. Though they could have just used a painting for all the resemblance.
*. For what it’s worth, I watched the theatrical version of this movie. An extended director’s cut also exists that is said to be somewhat better. I don’t care. This one is expensive, loud, fast, and pointless enough.

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