Sunday, 9 September 2012

Total Recall Review

Total Recall
Dir. Len Wiseman

I couldn't help but sigh and shake my head when I heard they were remaking Total Recall. I was once a student, and typically, we enjoyed watching Arnie movies and Total Recall was and is one of my favourites. It blends a bonkers plot, high concept sci-fi ideas, silly violence and Arnie's knack for deep characterisation amidst corny one liners.

For better and for worse, Arnie OWNS any role he plays and the thought, not of someone else acting that part, but trying to fill that space on screen is tricky to accept. But in reality, Total Recall is far from a perfect film and given the pedigree of other films adapted from Philip K Dick's work (TR comes from a short story called We Can Remember It For You Wholesale) there was a chance to create a better, more serious film around its themes of identity, memory and reality.

My hopes for a trippy, A Scanner Darkly type telling have not been met but this new version has much to recommend it. The opening, pre action captions instantly reveal the major change in the plot; we will not be getting our asses to Mars. I'll say no more, as one of the main enjoyments is seeing which elements of the original remain and which are twisted into new shapes. There are call backs to the memorable moments from the original (Arnie skipping customs disguised as a fat, middle aged woman, the 'this isnt real' convincer, the lift-chase arm loss) each obviously intended to raise a wry smile, but each altered in subtle ways. However, the surprising thing overall is how well the film stands up on its own terms.

Let's be clear; we are still in B-movie esqe territory. It can't escape the lack of character depth, the plot holes or ludicrous central premise. But the world we are invited into is vivid and the action inventive. The two cities we see are packed with detail. The Colony is clearly indebted to Bladerunner with its neon signs, perpetual rain and its representation of future society being a hyper multi-cultural mixing pot. Funnily enough, it's opposite, The United Federation Of Britain appears to be modelled on that other Philip K Dick adaptation, Minority Report; shiny, and clean, full of glass and clean surfaces but with something sinister lying beneath. Stylistically, the film feels like a mish-mash of ideas from all corners of Sci-fi cinema and computer gaming, but it pulls it off.

The action packs a satisfying punch, in its flashy, gaudy manner. An interesting take on a lift shaft encounter, a chase over the bizarre architecture of the crowded Colony towerblocks and a gravity shift gun battle stand out and whilst some, like a hover car chase rely too much on slightly questionable CGI, generally these are mildly innovative takes on well trodden ground. The final third does become a little weary. Once the truth of Doug Quaid’s (Colin Farrell) various personality swaps has been cleared up we are left with a typical race against time / save the world turn of events that is less satisfying than the earlier stuff.

In the end, the fact this is a remake does have a detrimental effect to the film. The combination of knowing the first films (if you have seen it) means the plots twists here are of no surprise and it lacks a reveal like that of the camera pull to reveal Arnie and Cohaagen laughing like best buddies. Another aspect is that, unlike the first, there is never any real doubt that the world we are seeing is the 'real' one. The Martian landscape of bio-domes, embittered mutants and subterranean tunnels suggested something unreal, something fantastical. Could he still be in the chair? This new version doesn't try to compete with that, instead filling its real world with tiny details and flourishes, but losing some of the essence of the original film or story in the process. It sparks with a love of action films but doesn’t really expand this into something approaching the pondering complexity of Philip K Dick’s source material, yet the fact it the film stands up on its own merits makes the decision to remake worthwhile.

Dean Freeman

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