Total Recall – Review

Total Recall – Review

Review by FilmFellaHenry – 5/10

I think it’s fair to say that there’s a notable cynicism surrounding our current remake culture. The most scathing of cinema goers see it as a shameless cash-in on an existing fanbase, signifying the studio death knell to creative originality. And while more forgiving cinephiles believe it to simply be a fad that occasionally throws out a success story (Alien for example, which was a remake of It! The Terror From Beyond Space), there’s always a Planet Of The Apes (2001)to dampen their struggling optimism.

Personally, I don’t hold much truck with remakes as I believe that 99.9% of retellings never live up to the original film. However, when said original is an adaptation of something else, like a book or play, then I think there is scope for alternate adaptations to be successful.

With that in mind, I found myself defending the potential of Len Wiseman’s remake of Total Recall (2012) pre-release. Being a firm fan of the Arnie classic, this naturally went against my instincts: but with the trailer showing a clear deviation from Paul Verhoeven’s wacky action thriller, I felt that perhaps there could be room for two alternative takes on Philip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.

Backdrop deviation from the original is clear from the outset: Mars is scrapped, in favour of a post-apocalyptic Earth where the only two populated countries left are The United Federation of Britain and Australia (now named the Colony). The former is a rich, prosperous civilisation while the latter exists as a run down production colony serving their rich masters. Bored through the centre of the Earth is ‘The Fall’: a mammoth tunnel that connects the two nations.

Narratively, it is fundamentally the same story, with a few superficial changes: factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) takes a trip to memory implant specialists Rekall, where he plans to have the memory of a secret agent installed. But before the procedure can be completed, Rekall realise he already is a secret agent, prompting chaos as an armed squad arrive and Quaid reveals his hidden combat finesse. Confused and hunted, Quaid attempts seeks solace in his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale), who then turns out to be evil political overlord Vilos Cohaagen’s (Bryan Cranston) lackey. So begins the fast paced pursuit of a man seeking both identity and allies in a world where Cohaagen is on the brink of absolute power.

So is Total Recall (2012) any good? Sadly not. Crucially, it falls into the trap of appearing to reinterpret Philip K. Dick’s work, yet really only modifies superficial elements of the story. While Verhoeven’s version is by no means flawless, it was first in presenting the concept and that counts for a lot. Essentially this results in Total Recall (2012) feeling like a bad copy lacking all the stylistic elements that made Total Recall (1990) so interesting. For example, choosing a grim washed-out future Earth over the vibrant colour-laden Martian colony is simply a dullard’s option. Why would you possibly want to ditch the fantastical for a psuedo-realistic vision of a grey future? This is science fiction, not science fact and as such I want to see an imagined future brimming with creativity, not simply the next logical visual interpretation of our present.

There is certainly an attempt by Wiseman to provide Total Recall (2012) with individuality and (at least in the director’s mind) an upgrade form the original. Ditching the tongue-in-cheek element that Arnie’s capers provided may initially seem like a smart move, until you realise that all you’re left with is a concept fleshed out no better than the original and a string of tepid, bog standard action sequences. And ultimately, the film still feels an obligation to hark back to the original, with regurgitated lines, facsimiled scenes and even the brief addition of the girl with three boobs (who appears for seemingly no other reason than for a knowing nod to the fanbase).

I still stand by my statement that there is a place for another film based on We Can Remember It For You Wholesale; only it would have to be done much much better. And I don’t just mean upping the set pieces: I’m talking about a complete overhaul or narrative, pacing, characters and structure. Cleary Columbia Pictures didn’t want to take that much of a risk and this is the underwhelming, unnecessary result.

Avoid and watch the original instead: it still holds up.


About filmfellahenry
Film reviewer, script writer and occasional painter. Fan of Lumet, Aronofsky and Kubrick, with a good measure of early John Carpenter thrown in. Particularly like post-apocalyptic sci-fi, horror and fantasy film genres.

7 Responses to Total Recall – Review

  1. Mark Walker says:

    Bummer! I really had hopes for this but now I’m just going to avoid it altogether. I watched the Arnie version on tv last night and it still stands up. Some effects are a bit lame but the story is still tighter than a duck’s arse. Good review Henry.

    • filmfellajames says:

      Agreed Mark, I too WAS lookin forward to this. Now I’m doubtful. Nice reviewings Browneye. Yo

      • filmfellahenry says:

        Yeah, another vain hope dashed. Never mind Jim. There’s always Dredd **cough cough**

    • filmfellahenry says:

      I too saw the original again last week and I was impressed by how it still entertained me. And while some of the comedy elements didn’t work quite as well as they used to I still appreciated how good the underlying story was: so much so that it prompted a two hour debate with a couple of mates over whether the whole thing was in his head or not. For the record I said it was.

  2. Yeah, this one was a let down. But I didn’t really expect that much from it. Nice review.

  3. Filmfella Darren says:

    So you could say that this fails because it isn’t a partial recall of the original… it fails because it is a total recall! I was part of that two hour debate Henry talks about; I too think that whole film was in the original character’s head. Well actually I think he was plugged into a main frame computer and all the other characters are also plugged into a mainframe computer – Matrix style. I think the other characters in the original are living their own fantasies. The tyrant that Arnie’ takes on in the original is probably just an ordinary guy living out his tyrant fantasy. It’s interesting that in the scene Arnie chooses to be a secret agent, the next option down is tyrant. The three-boobed hooker is probably some flat chested women living out her fantasy for a more ample bosom. These are some of the things I argued on my end of the debate. Shame it wasn’t a podcast. In other cinema related news, Henry, what do you think about this article about the U.S box office hitting a ten-year low? Personally, I am not surprised as there aren’t any decent films out at the moment.

    • filmfellahenry says:

      To be honest i think box office figures are down predominantly due to the rise in piracy. Without getting into a debate over the merits/flaws of copying films, i think its fair to say that watching a film in the comfort of your own home is now a far more attractive offer than it was say ten years ago. Tv’s are bigger, sound systems better for lower prices and there is a huge range of online content, not to mention dvd and bluray that can be enjoyed at home. I think the slump isn’t really down to reduced film quality – people are still watching films – but more to do with viable alternatives to the cinema that a lot more people are now choosing

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