Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Total Recall

Lowdown: A remake of 1990’s Total Recall.
I consider 1990’s Total Recall, as made by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, to be one of the best science fiction movies ever produced; as an extension I consider it one of my favorite movies of all time. Later on when I stumbled upon the Phillip K. Dick short story on which that movie was based I learned the movie is nothing like its origins. It is because of this distance that I was automatically assuming the 2012 movie also branded as Total Recall would offer a version more loyal to Dick’s original. Wrong: as I quickly found out, the new Total Recall movie is a remake of the old Total Recall movie.
Things start in a rather promising way. The very first frame announces that this one is an “Original Productions” title. Things deteriorate pretty quickly, though, as it becomes evident some scenes have even been copied one to one from the “original” (cue in a scene with the three breasted woman). The premises are slightly different: instead of Mars being a subdued colony we have Australia being a subdued colony of Britain, but the rest is pretty much the same. The key differences? A much heavier reliance on special effects, which is to no one’s surprise given that digital effects weren’t around in 1990; a much heavier reliance on action scenes, with them being longer; an overall portrayal of a very Blade Runner like world; and, of course, different actors. There is a political message here, about us being led into unjustified wars by our leaders, but that message is drowned by everything else.
Watching Total Recall turned out to be quite an off-putting experience. It’s not that the film is bad, it’s just that instead of focusing on the film at hand I could not avoid running concurrent comparisons between this one and the first. And I have to say, other than the special effects department, the first wins every time. The area where it totally trumps over this new Total Recall is originality: not just by virtue of it being there first, but by it offering snippets of original ideas here and there – a 3D game of tennis, public transport porn scanners – that the new version either blatantly copies or totally misses out on.
And yes, then there is the matter of the actors. Again, comparisons are inevitable, and while Colin Farrell is a hundred times the actor Schwarzenegger was, he lacks that wink Arnie had on him throughout the film. He also fails to convince he can repeatedly terminate a whole army of henchmen, something that was never an issue for the big man. Jessica Biel does Melina well enough, but Kate Beckinsale is an absolute disgrace in the role of the wife turned assassin. I don’t know how to put the vast disappointment that her portrayal of this character is into words, but I will say this – Sharon Stone was SO much better it renders Beckinsale pathetic.
Altogether, the above raises one major question – why? Why did we need a new Total Recall? And why did we need one that subtracts rather than adds to the original? I guess the answer, if it exists, lies in some bean counting department. Yet I have to ask why the actors, director and the rest of the artists here chose to take part in this effort.
Interesting scene: The very end provides us with two clues as to whether our hero is dreaming or really living the story. Again, by sticking with ambiguity, the original was better.
Overall: If you have never seen the original then you will probably enjoy this one. It’s a fair sci-fi action flick that probably comes to around 3.5 out of 5 stars. But if you did, prepare yourself for an experience that is different to the movie watching you’ve done thus far. Prepare yourself for a two hour long disappointing comparison.

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