Total Recall is a hell of a ride. Carotid arteries fat with blood and adrenaline pulse to and from your dazed, spinning head, the red-hot mercury thermometer dot poised to burst, ready to pop-excitement non-stop. The atmosphere is choked smoke-haze industrial compartment apartment complex, post now mean-green detritus, future housing shortages of packing crate arrangements stacked for as far as the eye can see. We live like them only they’re more orderly, neighborly by proximity; city streets run all directions, side to side and up and down. There are no parking signs because parking is a matter of convenience not a right to destination. Rats would have it so nice, billboard directionals on floating dirigibles pointing to the final frontier – between your ears, the real and the recalled, the imagined and the only-thought-it-was. This is Total Recall the movie. Yeah, it’s a remake but so much better it’s like two films about the same thing where one makes you want to watch it again and the other is lost in nostalgia and camp, a film you can watch while you’re doing other things, forget it’s on, start late and leave early. Arnold’s not back, he was never invited and for good reason.
Director Len Wiseman takes a sort of blended whiskey approach to his remake, drawing from the best of the best sci-fi, action and thriller films to come up with symphony of flavors that slams the viewer head first into one of the most exciting and adventuresome films in recent memory. Never mind the naysayers and nincompoops, the bemused and the blasé clutching kitschy and camp for the sake of it – you must see this film and give it a chance – you won’t regret it. With an updated script and a dazzling CGI overhaul, the perfect cast delivers a smart, well adapted redo that not only improves on the source material but elevates it to a level that is finally just rewards to Phillip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. Some have invariably made comparisons, like the shotgun wedding of Blade Runner and Inception, but that’s hardly more than a sketch, a knee jerk response boiled up from the aggregators and sideline television. What works is a measured sampling of artful inspiration that feels right in all the right places – like the fight choreography of Jackie Chan /slash/ John Woo, the adept use of physics and three-dimensional martial arts inspired fisticuffs from the ground breaking Wachowski brothers (Matrix) and I’d add director Len Wiseman – no slouch to the forward thinking of futurist filmmaking (Underworld, Underworld Evolution) – was at least remotely after the articulate physicality of Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr in the Sherlock Holmes franchise. Perhaps after all it is the true genre aficionado that most respects and gets this picture, only the viewer interested in more than typecast and exposition laden beached behemoths and tired comic book franchises. Either way you owe it to yourself to give it a chance because Total Recall really is one of the best action thrillers to come along in a long, long time.
There is no real way of knowing why Total Recall failed at the box office or why people got so hung up in transition, stuck in the first film, set on comparing instead of allowing the remake to stand on its own. Most critics acknowledged the considerable improvements, everything from revamped technologies to a far more interesting and even rewarding story line It seems people just couldn’t divorce Schwarzenegger from the part, unable or unwilling to let Colin Farrell fill the big man’s shoes no matter how approachable. It’s so very refreshing to find a filmmaker willing to spend the time with the material and find inventive ways of enlivening, leaving things alone and changing them outright. It all comes down to the scripts and the acting, the improvements to the now painfully dated CGI and singularly interesting one-liners of the first film that play out in the remake with style and humor. Comparing the films is like comparing originals and remakes like War of the Worlds, John Carpenters The Thing, Clooney and Soderbergh’s Solaris, etc., etc. Playing Total Recalls back to back, one right after the other makes for a fun and at times hilarious romp, especially when staggering through Schwarzenegger’s thick expressions and heavy-handed ham-bone theatrics. It was great for what it was then but it just doesn’t hold up. Playing them back to back proves only one thing – well, maybe two: each film has its own personality and flair but for modern audiences this is the film that rewards the most and then some the second and third time through.
If you don’t know writer, futurist and speculative soothsayer Phillip K. Dick, you know the films based on his writings. If you don’t know the late great metaphysicist, the maharishi of monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments and altered states of transcendental experiences, it is easy to see his far-reaching influences. His novel The Man in the High Castle spliced genres of alternate history and science fiction, earning him a Hugo in 1963 and paving the way for what would become one of the greatest sources for the Science fiction films of the past half century. It is safe to say his work will continue to inform Hollywood for years to come and based on the smashing successes of films like A Scanner Darkly, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Screamers and The Adjustment Bureau, we are sure to see more. According to Wikipedia and elsewhere, Time magazine named Ubik one of the one hundred greatest English-language novels published since 1923 and in 2007 Dick became the first science fiction writer to be included in The Library of America series. It is perhaps Dick’s quintessential ode to A.I (artificial intelligence) existentialism “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” that will immortalize him as the father of deus ex ma·chi·na and the source for Ridley Scott’s master work Blade Runner.
The basic plot layout and character work is essentially unchanged. Farrell replaces Schwarzenegger as the construction worker with memory problems, the role of his wife re-imagined with sleek, high-kicking paroquets and believable badass bravado by Kate Beckinsale and a very respectful supporting cast includes Bill Nighy, Ethan Hawke, Jessica Biel and John Cho. Once we’re introduced to Quaid’s 9to5 and his mysterious, troubling dreams the story gets off with a bang and never really slows down. The scenes are tight and lavishly designed with a sense of place, world and history that never even gets scratched in the first film. Unlike the original, the remake effortlessly blends familiar landscapes in what we’d expect from a not-so-distant future with plenty of nods to the aforementioned films (Blade Runner being the most prevalent). Against everyone’s advice, Quaid visits the Recall corporation where dreams are bought and sold, both introducing the corrupt government officials and law enforcement and all the key characters that will move in and out of the storyline as Quaid gets closer and closer to Total Recall.
Once again another really well made and thoroughly enjoyable film burned up in the flames of misguided popular opinion. There has been no short supply of discouraging reviews, individuals and audiences from all walks continue to heap wood on the flames. Some critics have gone to great lengths to pick it apart for all the things that it is not, usually compared to the first, while missing entirely the merits of a film that needs no such distinction. Finding your way to the aggregators (you know how I feel about them) you’ll find more gnashed teeth and claws, dismal scores and a considerable amount of confusion. What it says to me is everything that is wrong when we sit down with our expectations and get way off the beaten path. Total Recall is everything a good sci-fi action thriller should be and perhaps it will do better in time, after the nuclear fallout has settled. Inventive and action packed, incredible sequences and physicality lend to a total immersion and a welcome escape from the sameness flooding Hollywood blockbusters and boorish comic properties. Total Recall does a much better job using technology to support story and character development rather than the shock and awe technique fueling Inception and Batman. Strip away the CGI and what’s left? Exposition and blunt force traumatic dialogue from overpaid matinée idols in perfect plywood poise blabbing exposition until we’re blue in the face. Total Recall returns to the tradition of big screen storytelling and we’re better off for it – whether we know it (now or later) or not.
- Five Reasons Why You Should See Total Recall (binsidetv.net)
- Total Recall (2012) (canadiancinephile.com)
- A Guide To The Total Recall You Didn’t See (cinemablend.com)
- If Quaid doesn’t get his ass to mars – I won’t get mine to the cinema. (prometheusforum.net)
- Total Recall fuels delusion about who we are (guardian.co.uk/film/filmblog)