PG Cooper: Total Recall Review

Posted: August 5, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Release date: August 3rd, 2012

Running time: 2 hours and 1 minutes

Written by: Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback

Based on: The film Total Recall, written by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Gary Goldman, and Jon Povill, and the short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick

Directed by: Len Wiseman

Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel

Like many people, I hated the idea of a remake to Total Recall. The original film, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Paul Verhoeven, is an immensely fun and exciting science fiction film. It may not be the Holy Grail of cinema, but it’s still a great film that holds up very well today. But nothing is sacred to Hollywood, so Total Recall has received a remake. The only thing that made me moderately interested in the remake is the fact that the original film apparently strays heavily from the source material, Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale”. The remake was said to stick closer to said story, which, in theory, meant the remake could cover different ground than the original. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

In the future, a war has devastated Earth. The only habitable places left are England and Australia, now called the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and The Colony, respectively. The UFB is for the rich folks, while The Colony is made of mostly work grunts. Living in The Colony is Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell). He and his wife (Kate Beckinsale) live in a crap home and Quaid works a crap job he hates. Bored with life, Quaid visits Rekall, a company which specializes in giving artificial memories. Quaid requests for a spy fantasy, but it is revealed he already does have real memories as a spy. Quaid is soon found being chased by UFB soldiers and hunted by his wife, though he does not know why. Quaid then discovers that he is a member of The Colony based resistance against UFB, and that he has a romantic relationship with Melina (Jessica Biel). Quaid rejoins the resistance in an effort to take out the UFB’s evil leader Coohagen (Bryan Cranston).

Story wise, this Total Recall is more or less the same as the original film. Some of the details are different, but most of the changes are so small that they don’t really change anything. Even the big changes, such as the omissions of Mars and the mutants, don’t actually do much to change the story. The film still hits all the same beats as the original. In fact, the changes that have been made feel futile attempts to justify a remake. Sorry guys, just because Quaid pulls the tracker out of his hand instead of his nose does not make the remake completely different. It also does not help that the film is full of distracting references to the original.

As far as tone goes, the remake is pretty different. What made the original Total Recall so special was how it balanced being both an intelligent science fiction film with a twisty plot as well as an exciting and fun Arnold Schwarzenegger adventure. In this remake any sense of fun is dropped. The film takes itself extremely seriously with little to no humour. In theory, I like the idea of taking the material more seriously since it’s unlikely director Len Wiseman would have been able to capture the same sense of fun the original had. Of course, by stripping the remake of fun it makes for a pretty lifeless adventure. It doesn’t help that the unpredictable plot from the original seems to have been simplified here. Admittedly, it is hard for me to judge the plot in the remake since I knew exactly how everything would happen, having seen the original. Still, I stand by that the plot has been simplified and isn’t nearly as clever as the original.

It could be argued that I’m being unnecessarily harsh to the remake and that constant comparisons to the original are unfair. Personally, I say comparisons to the original are the nature of the beast when remaking a film and that these criticisms are valid. Still, there is a good point that those who haven’t seen the original might enjoy the remake more than those who have. This is probably true, but only to a certain extent. While I was consistently bothered by comparisons to the original, the remake has other problems which have nothing do with these comparisons. Mainly that the characters are all very bland and one dimensional. Despite having a fairly talented cast, most of the actors are given nothing to work with. Given the lack of personality, it becomes hard to really get into the film and I found myself detached throughout.

I will give the film some credit as there are good things to be found. For one, I really enjoyed the art direction and the depiction of the world. First off, the world of the film did not resemble the original Total Recall at all, and I really liked that. Granted, The Colony is reminiscent to the world of Blade Runner and the UFB is reminiscent to the world of Minority Report (also Philip K. Dick adaptations), but I still feel these places looked cool and the effects used to create them were good. I also really enjoyed a lot of the action scenes. The film is packed with action throughout most of the runtime. Only a few of the action scenes really stood out, but all of them were pretty entertaining at least.

Perhaps Total Recall’s biggest flaw is just how blatant of a soulless cash grab it is. It’s very apparent the filmmakers had no passion or love for what they were making. The film’s only purpose is to make a profit for the studio. I realize that films are a business and all blockbuster’s primary purpose is to make money, but at least with films like The Avengers it feels like the people involved genuinely cared about the material and did their best to make something special. I will give this film some credit for its effects and enjoyable action scenes, but apart from those, there’s nothing here. Do yourself a favour and check out the original Total Recall instead. And if you want more Philip K. Dick adaptations, check out the aforementioned Minority Report and Blade Runner.

Rating: D

  1. r361n4 says:

    Great review, I could agree with you more (even though I was a bit more generous with my score). If this had been just any other generic action movie I would have been fairly impressed, but its not and I wasn’t. To be fair though Len Wiseman (UNderworld, Live Free Die Hard) isn’t know for his intelligent film making so I expected action to be the focus and not story or characters.

    In any case the funny thing to me about “Cash Grabs” like this is that there are plenty of cases where they actualy end up losing money. With an opening weekend of about 26 Million it doesn’t even look like the film will come close to recouping its 125 Million Budget, so even from a financial viewpoint the movie was pointless

  2. reel411 says:

    well, first, the original is not above a remake. but it is an exceptional B movie at best. the remake offers a few nods to the original, but i didn’t find that distracting. however, the remake is very floppy and could have used a MUCH tighter script, and a different lead actor altogether. i did like the cinematography, although it was not as good as the original. it actually looked like it belonged in another movie. beckinsale was also great.

  3. ckckred says:

    I just can’t find the reason why they had to remake Total Recall. The original was a fun film that actually rose above most action films. I haven’t seen the new one, but I don’t plan on going. I hope the remake of RoboCop doesn’t turn out like this. Good review.

  4. Heh. Didnt care for this huh? Yeah… I didn’t either. I think I see some elements of value in it more than you seem to, but even then, I can’t elevate it about averageness, unfortunately.

    And I wasn’t even opposed to the idea of remaking it! I had thought that a serious take with updated special effects could have been awesome… but it wasn’t. :(

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      I’m down for another adaptation of “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale”, but doing a straight remake of Total Recall is a mistake, proven by this film.

  5. CMrok93 says:

    Good review PG. I had a fun time with this flick but to be honest, there was no surprises whatsoever. All of the twists and turns with this story, we knew were coming and just because you may be able to word them differently, doesn’t make them different at all really. Still, a fun late-Summer flick.

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