Total Recall (2012) – Review

There’s  little positive to say about this latest in a long line of remakes of classic sci-fi/horror/action movies from the last few decades that are currently bombarding our cinema screens.  I’m a huge fan of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 version, with its impressive (and sometimes hilarious) practical effects, bucket-loads of blood, three-breasted mutants, ballooning heads and Arnie’s awesome voice.  Perhaps the greatest downfall of Wiseman’s version is that even if I wasn’t a fan of the original, I don’t think I would have enjoyed this any more.

On the surface, Wiseman’s remake is a lot slicker and vivacious than its predecessor, with bursting, fluid camera movements through chase scenes and shiny, glimmering sets, but ironically all that seems to work against it.  As with any film made in the last few decades, much of the charm from the 1990 version comes from the gritty, realistic nature of the sets and the impressive prosthetics and animatronics (for another good example, compare John Carpenter’s The Thing to last year’s remake).  Wiseman sacrifices these in favour of fairly weightless CGI, and in doing so sucks out any level of connection we may have had to the world he’s created.  It’s hard to invest yourself in something when you don’t believe what you’re seeing is real.  Not real in the sense that you think it could actually happen, but real in the sense that it looks and feels genuine.  Len Wiseman’s Total Recall never feels real or genuine, and because of this I frequently found myself lost in thoughts outwith what was happening on the screen.  In every instance – when possible – it’s better to use real props and real stunts, something we can cathect to, rather than a bunch of fake digital stuff thrown in during post-production without any heart.  In the same area, another irritating (some might call pedantic) aspect was the constant glimmer of light across the screen.  I have no problem with the odd lens flare, but Wiseman went seriously overboard with it here, shining multicoloured lights across the screen with practically every shot, even when there wasn’t a light present in the scene.  It’s distracting and needless.

To my initial joy, much of the first act is very reminiscent of Blade Runner, with an enigmatic protagonist stumbling through the rainy, dark streets of a dystopian future.  However, the problem with this soon became apparent.  By evoking such a masterful and iconic film like Blade Runner, you immediately put the audience in a situation where they compare the two – even without meaning to.  I’m sure Wiseman did it intentionally to pay homage to Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, which I respect, but I think it ended up working against him.  I know when I started thinking of Blade Runner I was swiftly reminded of how much better it was than what I was watching.

Another small problem for me was getting rid of the Mars aspect of the story.  Instead of a big lift going between Earth and Mars, we get a big lift that goes through the Earth between the UFB (United Federation of Britain) and The Colony (Australia).  There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea, I just found it far less exciting and more restricting.

I must credit is Colin Farrell.  When I first heard the news that he had been cast in the role of Quaid I was a little apprehensive.  Not because I didn’t like him, but because he isn’t the first name that comes to mind when recasting a Schwarzenegger role (but let’s be honest, who is?).  Fortunately, he pulled it off admirably.  He’s likeable and believable, and if there was one thing in the film that I could connect to, it was his performance.  I do feel for Farrell, though, as he keeps being very good in films that don’t do very well.  Let’s hope Seven Psychopaths will change that curve.

Passably entertaining, but very forgettable.  In twenty years, people will still be talking about the Verhoeven version.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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