Piker Press Banner
June 10, 2024

Total Recall: Not As Bad As You Thought It Would Be

By Bernie and Sand Pilarski

Bernie said:

"I'm looking forward to the new Total Recall even though the original is one of my favorite movies. I don't think they will improve the story or the story telling, but special effects are light years past where they were twenty-two years ago when the original was made."

I said that several weeks ago in a review that I did of the newest Spiderman movie.

Indeed the special effects are light years past where they were back twenty years ago, and this Total Recall definitely employs a full measure of the new stuff, certainly enough to satisfy my particular taste for glitzy CGI driven movies. And the effects are well done to boot. There is a sequence early on where the Quaid /Hauser character is being chased through the crowded neighborhoods of The Colony that is particularly satisfying for us effects-geeks.

HOWEVER ... when I said that I didn't think that they would improve on the story or story telling, I did not anticipate that they would take a good story and gut it.

In the original film, the main character is an ordinary Joe who thinks that he was meant for more. More, however, seems to be beyond his reach. He succumbs to the advertising hype of ReKall, Inc, a company that will implant memories in his mind for at least a vicarious attainment of more. This character, Douglas Quaid, chooses to have implanted a scenario in which he is a secret agent who goes to Mars to saves the world. Something goes wrong in the procedure, and Quaid finds himself instead a key player in a real life elaborate plot to crush the political unrest on Mars. In this plot, a man named Hauser, a key agent to the brutally repressive Martian administrator, agrees to undergo a ReKall type procedure in order to have his identity repressed and replaced with that of a fictitious Douglas Quaid in order to infiltrate the rebel organization and uncover its mysterious leader, the mutant Quatto. Quaid/Hauser tries to sort out who he really is and what is real and what is ReKall, and in so doing is inevitably drawn to Mars and into the rebel organization. There he meets Quatto, and learns that he, Quaid/Hauser, holds the secret to the success of the rebel cause.

Director Paul Verhoeven was able to present a visual shell game in which the audience is asked to guess under which shell lies the truth, and the game is played relentlessly until the very last scene in the movie where Quaid, having saved the world, wonders out loud if he is perhaps simply living in a ReKall memory. The question is left unanswered.

In this year's remake, the shell game is much more that of guessing what director Len Wiseman was trying to accomplish. As is the case with most remakes, the story has been altered a bit. The conflict on Mars between the powers-that-be and the repressed population of mutants has been replaced by a conflict on the poisoned and largely uninhabitable Earth between the two isolated population centers -- the British Isles on one side of the earth (the United Federation of Britain) and Australia (The Colony). A huge transportation device called the Fall, a kind of pneumatic tube delivery system that goes through the Earth's core, connects the two areas and ties their economies together. Quaid lives in the Colony, but is really the undercover operative of the evil leader of the UFB who wants to claim The Colony for UFB. Quaid of course is unhappy with his lot in the less-advantaged Colony, goes to ReKall for a little excitement, and boom, we're off to the races.

I don't mind tweaking the details of a story, but if you do such a major tweaking, give me some reason to care about it. All the information about this "new" setting -- the UFB, The Colony, the polluted Earth, the political tensions -- was all presented in a little infomercial at the beginning of the movie that lasted maybe two minutes, and that's the last of its relevance.

It was inevitable that this movie would look different from the original, and certainly Wiseman would want to put his stamp on it, but I thought that the visual style of this film owed more to Blade Runner than it did to Verhoeven's Total Recall. It was darker, grittier, and more exotic.

I would not object to all this tinkering except that in other ways, Wiseman extracted items from the first film and reproduced them with perhaps too much detail. The three-breasted mutant woman, gratuitous in the first film, makes her appearance in this new film with even less relevance. Bits and pieces of dialogue were torn from the original script and clued to the new script with school paste. Even the fat lady disguise that Quaid used in the original movie to try to sneak through Mars' Customs makes a cameo appearance, but this time has a real fat lady in it. Quaid cleverly uses an older man disguise instead.

Of course the original movie was an "Arnold movie," and back then before he became a lying, cheating scum bucket, we would go see Arnold movies for Arnold. This time around, Colin Farrel, Kate Beckensale and Jessica Biel carry the load, and I won't fault them for not doing a better job. The story here is weak enough that all the parts could have been played by appropriately costumed Gumby characters, except for Farrel's role as Quaid which would have required the more refined acting talents of SNL's Mister Bill. Once again, I really can't fault the actors; there was just really nothing written for them to do.

And one last quibble. I can watch the original movie over and over again, and I always watch to see if I've missed any clues that would indicate whether Quaid has a real life adventure or just a ReKall fantasy, and the story is well enough structured that you just can't tell. In this movie ... you know, it just doesn't seem to be an issue. And it should be an issue. I can watch the original again and again because Verhoeven deftly shuffles the shells so that it's always a guessing game. In Wiseman's game, the truth is always under the blue shell in the middle. It's not as much fun.

That said, this is a slickly-made, big budget, CGI-driven, summertime romp with handsome guys and hot women, and it makes a worthy accompaniment to a bucket of popcorn. I might even have enjoyed it quite a bit if I had never seen the original.

If I were you, I would wait to get the video. In the meantime, you can use my synopsis of the film as an implanted memory and tell your friends that you really did see Total Recall.

Sand said:

I was adamantly opposed to seeing this movie at all when it was first envisioned. (Note that when I am opposed to anything, it is adamantly. That Bernie frequently convinces me to change my mind is a tribute to the romance of our marriage.)

However, the long-term flagrant and deceitful infidelity of Arnold Schwarzenegger to his marriage made me open my mind to the possibility of a re-make of his iconic Mars/memory film.

While the original Total Recall is not my favorite of films, it does bear re-visiting on hot summer nights when there is nothing on TV, or when one listens to enough news about the Mars landers to speculate on the viability of life on Mars. I never thought that there was any reason to do a re-make of the story.

In spite of my annoyance at Arnold, I still don't see that there was any reason to do a re-make.

Total Recall (2012) is a fun adventure story with forgettable faces and lots of action. If you had never seen the original, or if you have been a Colin Farrell fan, you would probably enjoy it tremendously.

In fact, I would not know Colin Farrell if he ran into me with his shopping cart at the supermarket (in spite of having seen the film), and I did see the original, and I did enjoy this film. Popcorn in gross quantities probably helped.

The film was fast-paced, and devoid of the awful musical soundtrack the original sported. Instead of another planet, we were treated to an oppressive regime based in the British Isles, who controlled a sweatshop economy with workers exploited from Australia, who were shipped to and from their factories by a tunnel through the Earth called "The Fall."

Uhh, okay.

There were at least two pointless nods to the original film: A triple-breasted whore bares herself to the hero -- and who doesn't want to see a tribute to a triple-breasted whore who had no impact on the story either in the original film or this one -- and a fat lady at customs who proclaims that she's visiting for "Two weeks." Why nod to the original film at all? Makes no sense.

It wasn't a crappy movie; we've seen worse this year in Dark Shadows and Battleship, and even Snow White and the Huntsman.

But it was, nevertheless, unnecessary as a remake, and unsatisfactory as a twist on the previous title.

I can imagine someone saying, "Total Recall was nothing like it could have been, and we can take that theme and run with it!" Maybe they could have revisited ReKall and had someone else have a problem with the interface. It didn't need to be the same entities in the original movie. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

As I said, it wasn't a bad film. Pretending I'd never seen the original, I could even say it was fun.

I wouldn't, and didn't avoid it in the theater, but I wouldn't buy it on DVD. Or even rent it on Netflix.

Arnold's movie, scumbag that he is, still is the better definition of Total Recall.

Article © Bernie and Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-08-13
0 Reader Comments
Your Comments

The Piker Press moderates all comments.
Click here for the commenting policy.