It’s certainly no surpise that we are not often on board with the whole remake thing these days. They so seldom make any improvement on the original. And as we have entered the Age of the Reboot, this can only get more disheartening and annoying as the next few years pass. Interestingly, however, I happen to think the original Total Recall was actually a film that could use a fresh look. The technology has advanced leaps and bounds since 1990 and I think the original shows its’ age. Ultimately, the film director Len Wiseman has made does does nothing injurious to the idea of remakes, and maybe even makes a mild case FOR them.
The premise is basically the same; a factory worker, Douglas Quaid, is feeling somehow disenchanted with his life. He goes to Rekall, a company that can implant memories of any kind of life you wish. After the visit to Rekall goes awry, he begins to suspect he may be some kind of spy. Unfortunately, other people seem to think so, too, and he must run for his life.
So, the reason I think the original could use an update is that I think it looked dated. It’s very much a product of 1990. Sure, it was on the forefront of visual effects at the time, but it’s been 22 years; there are certainly ways of improving on the effects now. And they did. This Total Recall looks great. The production design is wonderful and they really put a lot of detail into a world that has been ravaged by chemical warfare and has now only two areas that can sustain life outdoors. One area is centered on the British Isles – the United Federation – where the more elite class of people live. the urban landscape is produced in great detail., with great building towering skyward and multi-levels of walkways and roadways. From here, the federation rules over the other area located on Australia – The Colony – where many of its’ inhabitants travel to the Isles to work in the factories building the ever-growing army of robotic law enforcement. Travel between the two areas is via a huge tunnel through the center of the Earth.
Despite that seeming like a whole lot of work just to get factory workers, it makes for a really cool sci-fi element. Who cares how absurd that seems when you’re watching this massive building-sized elevator thing travel from one side of the planet to the other? And they are careful to write in things like the reversal of gravitational pull and weightlessness. I found details like that to be something most writers might overlook. So, points for that.
There are some great action sequences in Total Recall – chase scenes in particular that are pretty cool – in both the Colony and the Federation. Colin Farrell is well-suited to this action stuff as Quaid and does a good job. He spends a fair amount of time sparring with Kate Beckinsale, perhaps the hottest woman in the world. She plays his wife, Lori Quaid. She kicks a lot of ass. Then there’s Jessica Biel as Melina. She kicks ass, too. Bryan Cranston plays Cohaagen, the leader of the Federation who wants to “clean up” The Colony. It’s not a particularly rich role, but it’s kinda fun to see Cranston throwing punches. Bill Nighy is Matthias, and he’s always cool, but isn’t in this much. Nighy being who he is, he has some screen weight, but I could have used more. But we get a lot of Kate Beckinsale, so it evens out.
And as far as the differences go, the Total Recall has nothing to do with Mars. The other difference is that Matthias doesn’t have a weird, partial conjoined twin, which is kinda just fine with me. it was a vaguely cheesy practical effect, but at least it was practical. And they didn’t make a CG version in this. This remake is missing those wildly science fiction elements. Oh, it’s still sci-fi for sure, but they’ve kept it more an action film grounded on Earth rather than other pure hard sci-fi elements. Oh, and it still has the hooker with three boobs. You know it wouldn’t be the same without her, admit it.
This Total Recall is definitely more about the action, the visual aesthetics, and style. The overall story is different; focusing on the Federations plans to invade The Colony rather than the Mars stuuff. That being the case, it’s a plot with less dimension than the original, therefore less interesting. And the one thing I might say about Colin Farrell is that he doesn’t necessarily evoke as much emotional concern from the viewer. Though Shcwarzenegger was very, well….”Ah-nold”, he still seemed to bring more desperation to Quaid’s predicament.
But all in all, this results in a bit of a wash. So, Total Recall is not really better or worse than the original, it’s just different. But I suppose it is a bit more like action films today: lots of gloss, and less on substance. It isn’t aggregious, though, and this film still has a fair amount of entertainment value. It’s a good summer popcorn action movie. I’m guessing audiences will be divided, but I’ll give it three and a half kittenhands. I enjoyed it on the big screen.
~ Neil T. Weakley, your average movie-goer, getting pretty much what I expected out of this, which isn’t such a bad thing.