Total Recall – Review
August 30, 2012 7 Comments
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.