‘Total Recall’ is the second film adaptation of a short story by one of Science Fiction’s most oft-adapted writers, Philip K. Dick. The most recent incarnation of ‘Total Recall’ stars Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, and Jessica Biel and was directed by Len Wiseman (the Underworld series of films.)
‘Total Recall’, is based on a short story entitled, ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’ written by Philip K. Dick. His stories have been used for numerous sci-fi movies, including ‘Minority Report’, ‘Paycheck’, ‘Impostor’, ‘The Adjustment Bureau’, and ‘Blade Runner’.
‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’ was originally filmed as ‘Total Recall’ in 1990 with Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Paul Verhoeven. The earlier version capitalized on Arnold’s movie stardom and audiences that expected fists flying and so-so one liners from its star. That version did not disappoint, as it went on to become a huge hit and grossed over $260,000,000 worldwide. ‘Total Recall-1990’ was loud, colorful, entertaining, and contained director Verhoeven’s satiric bite along with all of the explosions and mayhem.
The story concerns Douglas Quaid (Quail in Dick’s original story), a man who feels as if something is missing from his life. Set in the future, the technology exists to have memories implanted in a persons mind…kind of a memory vacation package. Quaid’s life is mundane, so to liven things up he sets out to have memories implanted of being a secret agent with whom the very fate of mankind rests in his hands.
The procedure accidentally unlocks Quaid’s real identity as a secret agent, and the chase is on. Quaid must survive long enough to learn who he really is and what his mission objective was while avoiding being killed by intelligence agents.
The 2012 version presents Colin Farrell as Quaid, and the storyline is basically identical otherwise to the earlier film. Whereas the Schwarzenegger version opted for action set pieces that include a visit to the planet Mars, the 2012 version remains Earth-bound. More emphasis has been placed on Quaid’s internal struggle and conflict versus the planet-hopping adventure of the first movie.
That’s not to imply that ‘Total Recall’ isn’t filled with action, as it definitely is. A scene where Quaid’s wife discovers his identity and the ensuing rooftop chase is well executed. A hover car chase early in the movie is fun. There is also an energetic foot pursuit incorporating a futuristic elevator shaft that keeps things moving along.
The set and production designs evoke a certain fondness for the look of ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. For the most part, these elements compliment the story well. This also is indicative of some of the films other flaws. It is neither original nor a vast improvement on either the source material or the original film version. This ‘Total Recall’ seems to be more in the vein of movies that are trying to cash in on the success of director Christopher Nolan’s darker re imagining of Batman.
The issues with this vision of ‘Total Recall’ are that it is derivative and improved all at once. The special effects are done very well. The technical aspects are impressive. That director Len Wiseman would use them to try to cover up some large plot holes and lack of connective heroes is unfortunate.
With Schwarzenegger’s ‘Recall’, he had already established himself as a wise-cracking action hero badass from other films. Arnold’s persona was simply renamed after the character from the story. Colin Farrell’s ‘Doug Quaid’ is obviously a more realistic interpretation of what Quaid is going through.
However, if the lead actor is playing it straight, while many logic defying situations confront him, then the silly red herrings and overacting of his costars actually encourage a sense of disbelief in the viewer. The end result is that it’s hard to credibly care about our hero.
If you’re going to remake a ‘darker, edgier’ version of a hugely successful film…it would follow that some effort would be invested to make it a smarter film as well.
At the end of the day, ‘Total Recall-2012’ isn’t as entertaining as the original, nor as thoughtful and philosophical as the ‘Blade Runner’ knockoff it tries to be, either. It fills the screen with pretty people dodging prettily rendered CGI explosions amongst pretty CGI landscapes. I would much rather re-watch Arnold doing his action star schtick than to sit through this film again. At least the original movie version of the story knew what it was…popcorn entertainment. And that version succeeded brilliantly.
For those of you interested in reading the original short story by Philip K. Dick, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” it is available for free on iTunes for iBooks right now. Just click on the title to be redirected to the iBooks page. Enjoy!