You may have noticed that recently, we've seen new movies from the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis. Things like this are usually coincidental, but after seeing the 2012 remake of Total Recall, I'm convinced that it was a result of all three of these iconic action stars also seeing that movie, getting fed up over the catatonic state of action movies today, and taking to the big screen once again to show today's pseudo-philosophical, overtly serious, shell-shocked action stars how it's done.
The 2012 version of Total Recall gave me a sense of two things I didn't ask for and never particularly wanted. The first was a sense of my own age. When I first started enlisting for consumer websites to write reviews, I was a 19-year-old recent high school grad who had only just picked up on the fact that he could turn a few clever phrases with a pen. Now I'm a 31-year-old student-to-be with a ton of real world experience under my belt who became a victim of the economy a couple of years ago. When I got serious about my writing, the first Total Recall was around for a decade and everyone thought they got it right that time. The second thing was a sense of just how bad action movies had gotten since Arnold Schwarzenegger - who starred in the original version - decided to go politicking in California. Since then, The Matrix introduced the most annoying and overused directorial fallback since the secret twist ending. Michael Bay became MICHAEL BAY. Movies became either too serious or too juvenile, and the stars too stoic or unbelievable.
Total Recall is a remake of the 1990 sci-fi classic with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is NOT a revisioning of the old Philip K. Dick story. Neither of the movies were based on the Philip K. Dick story. They were merely inspired by it - a subtle idea on the outside, but it becomes supremely important when you really think about the difference between inspiration and homage. The original short story, called "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale," revolved only around the initial setoff sequence - that is to say, it went up to the scene where the main character went to get his mind hacked and was discovered by the spies. After escaping, he spent the rest of the story - only a handful of pages more - bargaining with them, successfully, for his life. There's your first clue that Total Recall 2012 had nothing to do with Philip K. Dick and everything to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger and original director Paul Verhoeven. Even so much as acknowledging the difference in the main character's name - in the short story, it was Quail as opposed to Quaid in both movies - would have given it some distance!
Total Recall 2012 the kind of crap we see when people who are obviously bereft of ideas want to make a point-by-point remake of the original while also trying to soften it for the audiences of today. It replaces much of the excitement of the original movie with slogging intensity while wimping out at all the worst possible times. Right from the very start, Total Recall gives itself away. Now, I'll grant that Colin Farrell, who plays Quaid, gives off a better everyman persona in the start than Arnold Schwarzenegger ever did. That's important, because Farrell is believable in the start when he learns what he is. Unfortunately, he never allows himself grow out of it, and he always seems to be carrying a look of shock even after performing all his superhuman stunts. I have to figure that after a shock, most people would continue to surprise themselves but generally just go with it. We really needed Arnold back. Sure he can't play an everyman, but that's so little of the movie that we don't even think about it, and when the action stuff begins, Arnold jumps right in as you would expect a secret agent to. Anyway, like the original, there's a dream sequence in the beginning. The dream features Jessica Biel, playing Melina. Then Quaid snaps awake and the girl in his bed clearly isn't Melina, but Kate Beckinsale as Lori. Although the original movie also featured a woman in the dream sequence, her character wasn't being clearly defined in it as it was in this one.
Every change writers Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback make to the original is for the worse. They apparently had a need to keep Lori around right up to the last scene in the movie, and for my life I can't figure out what that need is. This apparent mandate against killing Kate Beckinsale wasn't present in the first movie. Even though Lori was played by Sharon Stone, she was still knocked off when her usefulness wore out. She had a collective total of 15 minutes of screen time, which was more than enough. Beckinsale quits playing her part long before the movie ends, but since nobody has the guts to kill her off, she hangs around to be one of those stupid final menace killings in the end which try - and ALWAYS fail - to bring an extra element of danger into the main character's life. The "wake up" scene in the middle was given the worst alteration possible. In the original movie, it took place between only Quaid and a doctor who had shown up out of nowhere. He played an act, and he played it well to a character - and an audience - that had no idea whether he was being honest or trying to pull one over. In this version, the scene plays out in front of a Police brigade. Melina is with him the whole time, and the person doing the fast talking is Quaid's friend Harry. The scene is horrid because the suspense is now from two people screaming at each other, with the absurd reluctance of Melina to end it by shooting Harry - or vice versa, because Harry takes Melina's gun at one point, and instead of finishing, he GIVES IT BACK.
The setting change removes any sense of urgency. The original involved a corporate honcho on Mars actually cutting off the peoples' air supply to punish them. This Total Recall is set between the United Federation of Britain and The Colony (Australia). The rest of the planet is uninhabitable. Wimmer and Bomback could have easily made the original go into this vision, but instead they chose to stage it around an invasion. The original also fleshed out a lot of its minor characters to such an extent that we worried about their fate once the air ducts were closed and we saw them start suffocating. None of that here - not just because the invasion and prevalent air don't warrant it, but because the people in the cities just appear as faceless blobs. Although director Len Wiseman pays homage to the infamous three-breasted prostitute, she makes an appearance and disappears and, unlike the original, we never think of her again.
The action sequences are done pretty well, and are largely thought out well to boot. Even devoid of any humor, they serve to give Total Recall the precious little bit of life that exists in it. Unfortunately, the way the non-action scenes are done does this movie in. Wiseman tries to streamline the entire movie with a kind of intensity which didn't do much except remind me of how good the original was. In nearly every scene, Wiseman can't get around playing the bad parts of Alfred Hitchcock, and he directs every scene apparently trying to give off the impression that anything could happen at any second. It got to be tiresome after awhile, and the endless stoicism of the actors made it unbearable sometimes.
I'm glad Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to the theaters. If any kids of today want to know why we think action movies lost their way, take them to see The Last Stand, then take them to see the 2012 version of Total Recall. Then explain that Arnold Schwarzenegger was the star of Total Recall 22 years ago. Then if they're old enough, show that version to them, and they'll hopefully understand - that is, if Sam Worthington isn't yet their idea of a proper action star and they haven't completely warped into that way of thinking.
When I first heard of a “Total Recall” remake, I have to admit I was a little put off. I mean, how can someone remake one of Schwarzenegger’s action classics? I thought it would be an unnecessary remake, but then I watch anything with Kate Beckinsale and my curiosity had been aroused after I saw the trailers. Remakes are surely meant to apply the premise to a more modern audience, to expand on its premise and perhaps improve on the original. There are a … more
Do you know that moment when you're trying somethingDo you know that moment when you're trying something you loved as a kid and it leaves you a bitter feeling but still "forcing" yourself to like it just because it was the thing you grew up with? That's the same thing with this Total Recall and I might add that it's a bit weird that I say this since I'm not really one of the people who consider the original film a classic. Sure I loved it as a kid, sure it has an interesting … more
Star Rating: I could turn this review of Total Recall into a debate over which version of the film is better, but unless there are obvious gaps in idea, execution, and quality, I refrain from approaching remakes on that level. Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 film of the same name had particular traits that made it entertaining, and the same can be said for the 2012 reboot. I’m most appreciative of the one element common to both films, namely the concept of … more