Total Recall: More like the original than the original
Let's get a show of hands here. How many of you out there read Dick?
By which I clearly mean Philip K Dick. Obviously.
Of course, even if you've never picked up a book of any kind before, I'm certain you will have at least heard of some of the movies that have been based (to varying degrees) on his works. For instance:
1982 - Blade Runner (based on "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?")
1990 - Total Recall (based on "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale")
1995 - Screamers (based on "Second Variety")
2002 - Minority Report
2003 - Paycheck
2006 - A Scanner Darkly
2007 - Next (based on "The Golden Man")
2011 - The Adjustment Bureau (based on "Adjustment Team")
That's an interesting list and quite a variety of styles. And the late Philip K Dick (who passed away in 1982) has so many more stories available.
But why should you care about all this? It's simple. With the release today of Total Recall with Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, this is the first time we've seen a second cinematic attempt at one of Dick's stories.
And if you're a fan of the 1990 version staring the Governator, there will be a lot in this version that you recognize. But in many many ways, this one is more like the original short story than Paul Verhoeven's rather violent outing.
But first, the story:
In the future, apparently we've made most of the world uninhabitable. There are, in fact, only two places left for civilization to hold onto. And obviously, they're antipodes to each other.
The well-to-do live in The United Federation of Britain, centered around modern day Great Britain, while the workers of the world live in "The Colony" in modern day Australia. These workers commute to work each day through a giant shaft—dubbed The Fall — that runs through the Earth and apparently only takes fifteen minutes. Yeah, let's go with that.
Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) has a lovely and loving wife, Lori (Kate Beckinsale), but is not satisfied with his work-a-day job. He decides to try out a place called Rekall that promises fully realistic and satisfying memory implantation. While there, it all hits the fan and Quaid ends up on the run from an unknown military force.
Along the way, he encounters Melina (Jessica Biel), a member of the resistance that is fighting against the leadership of Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).
Try out some other Philip K Dick stories
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Now, seriously, in this kind of movie, the plot itself is not nearly so important as the character of Douglas Quaid and the confusion and persecution that he goes through. And that's fine, because the story here is actually quite different from the 1990 version staring Schwarzenegger. So if you felt the idea of redoing that movie was complete heresy (I totally don't) you can still hold on to that version and simply look at this one as a movie with many similar elements and the same name.
In many ways, this movie is so much more like the original short story than the movie of the same name. They even sneak in the phrase "We can remember it for you". And visually you should be getting a considerable Blade Runner vibe, which is appropriate as that was also based on a Dick story.
One of the big differences in the story is the use—or non-use as the case may be—of Mars. In the short story, everything revolved around a past assassination on Mars, though the whole story remains on Earth. In 1990, the movie actually went to Mars in an elaborate attempt to infiltrate and assassinate. Here, I don't think I'm ruining anything to say that the entire movie remains Earth-bound, and the word Mars is only said once.
But there are other elements that are placed here only because they were in the 1990 movie. For instance, even though we're never given any indication of genetic manipulation or mutation, we're still given a quick scene with a woman who has ... *ahem* 50% more woman parts than normal. And by way of warning, we see just as much this time as we did in the R rated version. Not as long a shot, but I felt it was definitely too much for the PG-13 rating.
Other parts of the story come across more as fun Easter eggs for fans of the first movie to pick out. And it's kinda fun to watch for them.
However, by intentionally drawing comparison, the movie will automatically suffer. Audiences have a tendency to cling to what has gone before and become classic lore. I think the film makers would have done better to use a different title since it's clearly not the same story as either Total Recall or "We Can Remember it For You Wholesale." Simply state that the new movie was heavily inspired by both those previous works and allow the audience to approach it with no expectations at all.
But that may be just me.
So far as the performances, there's really little room for nuance in this movie. Farrell and Biel work well enough together. And Beckinsale's character is very much a combination of Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside from 1990—though, thankfully much much prettier than that combination would likely be. We don't get to see much of Brian Cranston's Cohaagen, but he definitely seems to be channeling Ronny Cox.
No Kuato, however. Sorry.
Plenty of action, though. However some of the action sequences (the first one, for instance) could prove problematic for any of you who might be prone to motion sickness. The action is well choreographed, but at times the camera just needs to slow down and watch from a single vantage point for a while.
Oh, and apparently the lens flare store was running a sale for this one.
The movie comes together fairly well, and even though they do a few gags to play with those familiar with the 1990 version, it is not necessary to have seen it at all to enjoy this one.
However, if you're looking for an update of the Schwarzenegger version, look elsewhere. In many ways, this one kind of falls back on some more generic action and plotting in comparison to the rather more radical directions that the previous movie took.
But what do you think?
For me, this movie gets a weak 7 / 10 almost 6. It's still enjoyable and approachable, but it may let down those who were looking for something much more like the 1990 version.
Total Recall is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity (Seriously! Three of 'em!) and language (which includes a usage of the big F).