Okay, let’s clear one thing up. I’m going to go on the assumption that you’ve all seen the original Total Recall. Loosely based on the Philip K.Dick novel “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” and directed by Paul Verhoeven, the mad Dutchman that brought us the likes of Robocop and Starship Troopers and, of course, starring the mighty Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I’m not going to remind you of its excessive violence and body count. Nor will I remind you of its cheesy one liners, it’s massive scale, its unforgettable cast and its unique, preposterous vision of the future. Baby mutants on Mars gasping for air, big Arnie’s eyes and tongue bulging out his nut and other such delights. Why? Because this remake has decided not to include any of these elements.
The story does tell the tale of everyman Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) hitting, what appears to be, a mid-life crisis. Unable to shake that feeling that something is missing in his life and that he was destined for better things. He dreams time and time again of another life, running from an army with an unnamed/unknown beautiful female companion by his side. A life of danger, excitement and adventure.
We are in the not-too-distant future here. A war, or some form of nuclear fallout, has almost decimated the Earth leaving only two continents intact – The Colonies (Australia) and The Great United Bastards Of Britain (or something similar). Both are connected by a mode of transport called “The Fall”, a massive elevator/train ride that shoots directly through the core of the Earth from one continent to the other. What’s it like? Imagine the boffins at Alton Towers are now designing through-the-Earth transport. A big vertigo ride with a zero gravity centre. Yeah. Sounds awesome, d’int it?
There are now cars that fly around big sky motorways. A bit like Minority Report. In fact, a LOT like Minority Report (Spielberg film based on another Philip K. Dick novel, starring Tom Cruise and, er, Colin Farrell. Remember? Keep up!). There are robot police enforcement units that are very similar looking to a combination of Star Wars‘ Stormtroopers (Have you really not seen Star Wars? George Lucas ring any bells? No? Really?) and the servants from iRobot (director Alex Proyas major 2004 hit starring Will Smith). In fact it’s almost an uncanny resemblance. Then there are the streets which have a destinctive Asian/Cyberpunk influence, seen time and time again ever since Ridley Scott brought them to the big screen with Blade Runner (based on another Philip K. Dick novel, AS IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW).
I will say this – I can to some extent understand the design choices. Director Len Wiseman has tried to steer away from the excesses of the Verhoeven original and instead tie this up with the classier K. Dick novel adaptations such as the ones I mentioned above. But that wasn’t very wise, Len, man. It just looks like you have no ideas of your own. It’s a place we’ve inhabited before.
And Doug agrees. He’s a little bored of this life in this very generic looking future landscape. I can understand why. You are kinda expecting Will Smith to run by chasing a robot purse snatcher at any point or the Millennium Falcon to land outside your pub on a regular basis and…nothing. Just a crappy job in a factory, building the latest robots and waking up to an Aphrodite-like wife such as Kate Beckinsale every day. Without make up on, that must be like waking up after a stinking night on the tiles with Jimmy Krankie. And his husband.
This is the future, yes. And in this future, where real estate is the new gold, holidays are almost obsolete. Instead a company called Rekall can implant memories directly into your brain. And not just nice holidays. Wild adventures that make you feel you have actually lived those moments.
Doug decides he wants to try this for himself against the advice of his best friend and work colleague. He warns Doug not to mess with his mind, that doing so is a very dangerous thing.
Doug thinks about this for two seconds and decides to pure heavy blank his friend and head to Rekall for an adventure as a super-spy-intelligence-agent. The only problem is, the engineers discover that Quaid IS a super-spy-intelligence-agent who has been mind-jacked already, just as he is getting the Rekall implant and before you can say “I have to hand it to you, this is the best mindfuck yet”, a big gang of Stormtroopers burst in and try to arrest Quaid after killing everyone else in the room.
This is where Total Recall, past and present, excels. From here on in you ask yourself “Is he REALLY a spy or is he now living the fantasy he paid for?” and the film’s refusal to give you a concrete answer one way or the other will have you looking for clues either way and help you make your own mind up. Let’s for argument’s sake say Quaid is still in Rekall, enjoying his fantasy storyline.
Where Arnie’s Doug Quaid’s fantasy included mutants, Mars, terrorism of the highest scale, alien artifacts and sheer bloody, over the top, frantic violence; Farrell’s fantasies are a little more grounded, with a body count of tens of robots. The terrorism story line is now an invasion storyline, with one continent trying to conquer the other for complete dominance of the Earth, armed to the teeth with iRobot/Stormtrooper armies. The spiritial/alien elements of the original have been sacraficed for a much more technology driven narrative, losing much of the original’s appeals.
It’s kinda like what Chris Nolan did with the Batman mythos. Stripped it all down to the bare bones of the basic story and characters, adding a slightly larger than life approach rather than going full-on fantasy boom-boom.
That doesn’t mean to say there aren’t some great over the top action set pieces in here, because there are. From the iRobot-inspired car chase to the Minority Report/Tron styled elevators-from-the-future, on foot, chase scene. The first set-piece, a Matrix/Bullet time-inspired one, is quick but nice. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music helps things along well. The story darts along at a nice pace during the film’s rather short seeming run time. It’s almost two hours but they do seem to fly in and it’s mainly because the story is more taut this time around but also lacks depth, which given the source material, is rather unforgivable.
I’m on the side of the fence that Colin Farrell is a good leading man but he doesn’t have much to do here to showcase his qualities. His Quaid could have been a little more quirky, maybe even have had that cheeky Irish grin or Farrell’s real life charm with the ladies to make him shine a little more but this Quaid is a confused, doe-eyed lost boy that Alex Pettyfer or a younger Mathew Modine could have played. A Disney-rated cartoon remake of the character. Though Farrell does make it his own and he is perfectly watchable (am I right, ladies? Yeah). Jessica Biel does her turning up and gets through the script without much of a fanfare.
Kate Beckinsale on the other hand is excellent. And hot. And bad. And physical. And mean. And callous. And hot. And physical. And dreamy. And a delight. Did I say she was hot? With the lack of depth to the many characters, she has an oportunity to shine as Doug’s ex-wife-now-hunter bad girl with a grin. She does so. Booting guys in the mush, shooting big guns, driving a car like a Terminatrix…and all without leather/spandex body suits…I could watch her all day… Her in the film that is…I don’t have a satelite link to her house on my home PC or anything.
I don’t. Not yet…
She’s one of the only improvements in an otherwise toned down, less ambitious, less original remake of a film which, in my mind, never needed a remake. Not yet anyway. The original is only 22 years old and some of the special effects still stand up well today. But “they” decided that a more “teen friendly”, cleaner, more generic remake was what would be a successful film right now and they’re probably right. This will make money.
It’s actually a decent sci-fi flick. It just doesn’t have its own voice, a voice that a truly exceptional director could have infused it with. As it is, it’s a perfectly executed family friendly matinee show. It’s just nowhere near as good the original. Perfectly watchable though.
Total Recall is released nationwide in cinemas 24th August