Total Recall (2012)

ATLtotalrecallBnrTotal 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.

Above the Line: Practical movie reviews with Rory DeanDirector 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.

ATLtotalrecallposeThere 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.

ATLtotalrecallBookMvieIf 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.

ATLtotalrecallKateThe 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.

ATLtotalrecallMaximOnce 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.


About rorydean

Rory Dean is a multi-medium artist, writer and new media strategist with a background as a creative consultant and technology liaison in the San Francisco Bay Area. His broad experiences and specialties include print-to-web publicity, promotions and design marketing using traditional and social media networks. As a motion pictures and television professional, his short films, productions and commercials have screened to domestic and international audiences. His connections to a diverse client base include artists, entertainers, corporations, non-profits and everyday people.. Dean is co-owner and founder of Dissave Pictures, a boutique production company focusing on audio, video, photography and multi-media designs. Dean's personal and professional background includes dreaming and avid notebook journaling, creative and copy writing, promotions and marketing, audio/video production, photography, videography, editing, web design and new media. He’s also a fan of collaboration and knows when to turn the reigns over, offer feedback, lead the team and step aside. His portfolio includes print, online, film, video, photography, graphic design and promotions. He’ll show you. He has a book and everything. "When not juggling various online worlds, I do a pretty good mime – but that’s another story."
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23 Responses to Total Recall (2012)

  1. Joe Huber says:

    I watched this recently. Honestly I was a big fan of Schwarzengger’s with T3 being the last full movie I liked well Expendables too if you want to get technical even though he’s in it for only a couple minutes at most. Having said that I wasn’t one of those die-hard fans of the original. I could take it or leave it. Maybe it was the subject matter being too ahead of it’s time. I liked the film, I just didn’t love it like the Terminator movies or Predator, for example.

    This version of Total Recall had some really nice things going for it. I’m a big fan of Colin Farrell. His acting is just superb in my opinion. Films like The Recruit (with Pacino), Tigerland, Hart’s War, Phone Booth, Alexander etc were all enjoyable thanks to him. He was the scene-stealer in Daredevil and arguably the best thing about it beside the underrated Michael Clarke Duncan as Kingpin. He had a role in a similar film and as you said originally written by Phillip K Dick in Minority Report. The other reasons I looked forward to this movie was the leading ladies. Kate Beckinsale and the very underrated Jessica Biel. Both model-beautiful but both can act when given the proper roles and they do a spectacular job here. My final reason was I’ve been wanting to see a Sci-Fi movie that I can enjoy and it’s been awhile. Maybe the Star Trek remake or Predators and even those left me wanting more or feeling something’s missing.

    I know the arguement most people make is this movie is a CGI-crapfest, but it’s only that if you don’t give the 3 main actors and supporting cast a chance. Even then the CGI is very well done. Wiseman knows what he is doing in that department, you only need to watch the Underworld movies to know that. If you’re stuck on Schwarzengger and can’t get past that he’s not in this film then you’re not going to enjoy it plain and simple. The complexities of the characters involved and the interactions between Farrell and Biel creates the emotional “heart” of the story. I only wish Biel’s backstory and the relationship between her and Farrell’s character was more fully developed. The movie could have used a few scenes more flashback scenes of their relationship. It’s a two hour movie but if someone like James Cameron had did the movie it would have had another half hour or hour to develop the romantic side of things. No knock on Len Wiseman. Cameron and Christopher Nolan are two of the few directors along with Spielberg who can get away with making longer movies and even they have to fight the studios for the time because most film companies prefer the movies to be within 90 minutes to 2 hours max so they can profit more from repeat viewings. For what it’s worth Wiseman did a great job with the time he had and there was so much action, mystery and story to tell so as it is that unfortunately in today’s world the background of the characters gets cut to “keep the movie moving” as Hollywood loves to say.

    I do agree that Total Recall beats out a ton of action movies and Christopher Nolan ones at that specifically Batman Begins, The Dark Knight (overrated due to the death of Heath Ledger) and Inception. I do have to say I loved The Dark Knight Rises as that really developed characters specifically Bruce Wayne beyond just Batman and showed a human side to him overall. I think Total Recall will be appreciated over time. It will become a cult hit as more of the audience is exposed to it on Netflix or Blockbuster. Even though critics smashed it once enough people see it and think for themselves they should be able to enjoy it. Too many are hung up on Schwarzegger but once they see it for themselves and judge for themselves, and leave the original for what it is and accept this for what it is, I think many fans will be won over as apparently both of us were. I know a huge portion of the audience are worn out from remakes, prequels and such but this is one of the few cases in which the remake is superior to the original…

    • rorydean says:

      Yeah, I’ve been a big fan of Schwarz way, way back when he was body building. He was actually a hero of mine back then as I had been doing the whole gym thing 4-5 times a week and spending way too much money on pills and powders, catching his out right stunning performances as it was so much more than perfecting the moves, sculpting his body in ways that seems darn near super human, but the sheer performances with those million dollar smiles and when he won, when he had bested all the best competition he just gave this look like he was on the mountain top with the sun shining down on him and a crowd of people clapping and cheering until their hands hurt. He was magnetic, magnaminous and I’ve followed his career ever since. Even when he went into politics and I didn’t agree with most of what he did/said/thought, enacted. I knew he would return to the big screen, his soul needs the adoration.

      That being said, first thanks for the long talk. It’s very much appreciated. I sometimes go on and on and I just never hook people into committing to a lengthy discussion.

      On the remake, I completely agree with you about Colin and the ladies. I mean anyone who doesn’t like Kate in Underworld is living on another planet. What she does in that role, the physicality and the performances – she’s definitely the Bruce Willis of Die Hard days, the JCV and/or Jackie Chan of action, the Mila J. of Resident Evil only different and better and maybe she just beguiles me.

      Solid points as well about the structure, Biel’s backstory, the run-time and other directors, the studio crunch. All great observations.

      I think you are right, the film will find a place for itself if not soon than perhaps the din of the remake monsters and reboots cluttering the streets of Hollywood, tripping the viewer, discouraging audiences fades, we’ll see the film get the just marks it deserves. I also think Colin desperately needs a film like Crazy Heart or Pulp Fiction the way those properties resurrected Travolta and Bridges, the Wrestler for Rourke – not necessarily the “broke old wanderer or hitman with a heart of gold” but something that gives him a chance to live and breathe in the role, to set aside his good looks and concentrated reactions, to put aside his physique and presence and inhabit the character completely. Maybe he has to gain weight and mess up his hair, maybe he needs some makeup to dispell people like Levitt in Looper, like Rourke in Sin City – a disconnect. He needs to be completely vulnerable and left for the wild animals of popular opinion to give him a chance and see that he has something very real to offer. People are sometimes frustrated by beautiful actors and sometimes it consumes them, sometimes they build a career on it (Pitt, Cruise) and deservedly so excel and sometimes they sputter and crash land and don’t know how to get back to civilization (Hallie Berry, Mira Sorvino) and they just need the right writer/director/producer to take them under their wing and let them heal, take flight, shine.


  2. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Rory. This film was a whole bunch of fun and even though it was very predictable, I still turned my brain off for a good 2 hours and enjoyed myself. Also, can’t go wrong with a cast like Biel, Beckinsale, Farrell, and Cranston, just to name a few.

    • rorydean says:

      Thanks Dan..I had missed it in theaters which was a big mistake, would have been grand on the big screen. Great cast, as you point out, and the way they blended other films and technologies gave it a kind of global feeling, or maybe just made things feel more realistic because we’ve seen the stuff elsewhere. I’ve been a big fan of Kate and Colin for a long, long time. They deserve much more celebrity then they have and the way they made the action/stunts/emotions seem so natural. I see how people got hung up without Arnold but to be honest, he wasn’t missed. TR2 stands all by itself as a knock-your=socks off action thriller. Cheers0()()

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    • rorydean says:

      Well hay bails and broom sticks, thanks for the kind words. I’m always kinda on the fence about such uncertainties, about the amazing thing that happens when this works (that is blogging) and when it doesn’t (that is when I receive the mostest of random remarks that reek of havoc and suspect) so I do what I do when I am able and that is to respond thusly. I suppose Total Recall is none the worse for wear.

      I stand by my review. Go See This Movie!

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  12. Pingback: » Movie Review – Total Recall: Director’s Cut (2012) Fernby Films

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