Directed by Len Wiseman. Written by Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback, Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon and Jon Povill. Starring Colin Farrell (Douglas Quaid/Hauser), Bokeem Woodbine (Lori Quaid) and Bryan Cranston (Cohaagen), Jessica Biel (Melina).
Bottom line: It’s as if it tried to eclipse the massive plot holes, stupid dialogue with fancy special effects but, by failing to do so, Total Recall misses the potential for the great concept of questioning the significance of memory and reality.
It is the near-future; the world only has two groups of people, the British Empire and the Colony (Australia). The colony is filled with the working class who do construction for the upper class empire. There is some animosity in the class disparity which is illustrated by a group of rebels. We meet Douglas Quaid (Farrell), a factory worker who has a recurring nightmare of robots, a brunette and lens-flare. He is dreaming, as he explains, of doing something that is important instead doing the “same shitty job to come home to the same shitty bar and drink the same shitty beer”. To escape reality for a little while, Quaid goes to the red light district to find Rekall, a place where memories are implanted into a person. The advertisement asks, what do you get when you go on a trip? Memories. With a memory implant, you could remember a trip without actually having to go anywhere. This is a really groovy idea when you think about it. But, before I get into talking about it too much, let me give my impressions of this movie.
Instead of being a fun, cheesy, action movie, Total Recall was a film that just made me angry. It makes me angry when people take a beautiful, powerful medium and use to make a cheap flashy buck. I don’t use the word ‘hate’ very often but I hated this movie. The first red flag is the obscene use of lens flare; at a few points, the visuals were nigh incomprehensible. You know that feeling where you are watching a lame movie and you can tell where the money went? Usually, the money goes to CGI at the expense of dialog *cough* Transformers *cough*. Here, I’d bet a large chunk went to the artist director, Patrick Tatopoulos. He directed of Underworld: Rise of the Likens and you can see the resemblance but the movie seems fixated with the style. It’s like Wiseman said, “We got Patrick and, darn it, we are going to feature him!” There is such an emphasis on props and sets. I’m fine with elaborate sets but I’d prefer it if the immersion factor didn’t depend on them. Why, for example, do we have to have a lengthy scene of Quaid unwrapping things in an apartment (where the emphasis is one unwrapping)?
With all this money spent on props, style and (of course) CGI, what is shortchanged to compensate? You guessed it, everything else. Plot? It is a painfully, watered down shell of the original. Dialogue? I wish couldn’t recall any of it.
Now, the fun part about Total Recall (both the original and remake) is the significance of memories. There are books and academic articles which feature the Total Recall, which I find sort of funny: who would have thought a Schwarzenegger would be a focal point for academic discussion? In this remake, the philosophical implications of memories are, for the most part, dismissed. That’s the most tragic things about the movie. By the way, mind yourself for spoilers (just skip to the next paragraph). The idea behind the technology is, again, to give the user the perception that they have done something. So an individual’s sense of reality can be fabricated. What happens to an individual if his or her entire memory is constructed? The original was more successful in going to a deeper level. At first, we know that Quaid is not a construction worker nor is he married but he is working for the rebels. We learn of his role in the rebellion from a recording he left of himself, to himself. Fast forward, Quaid was actually working for the Empire. He voluntarily replaced his memories to infiltrate the rebellion. What could be a better spy than one who genuinely doesn’t know he is a spy? Who, then, is the real Quaid? Is he this ruthless spy or a sympathetic rebel? His perception of himself is based on his memories which can no longer be trusted.
You might argue, ‘this is a remake of a groundbreaking movie. What could I expect?’ I would like some variation though, not at the expense of story. I think it would have been really interesting if they moved to a direction of control and memories. Let’s say the Rekall facility is a relatively legitimate business. The evil government comes in and constructs memories which are then distributed to the working class. The memories could be geared towards establishing the legitimacy of the government. The rebels would be individuals who somehow resisted the memory transplant. The conspiracy would have to go up far in the bureaucracy so the government officials would themselves have their memories reformatted so they couldn’t be held accountable: they honestly couldn’t ever remember committing some sort of crime. This is all just a quick thought about a new direction the movie could’ve taken. Here, variation means fancy robots.
If you have seen neither this nor the original Arnold Schwarzenegger Total Recall: watch the original. If you have seen this one but not the original, watch the original and think of the remake as a painful fabricated memory.