Review: Total Recall

Total Recall



Director: Len Wiseman.

Cast: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy.

LET'S ignore the fact (for the moment) that this is a remake of an awesome Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that's only 22 years old and get to the bit that matters - is the movie any good?

The answer is no, not really. It's difficult to review this film without comparing it to the 1990 original because it highlights what specifically is so wrong with this version, but let's set that aside for now.

Colin Farrell plays Doug Quaid, a man who feels that something is lacking in his life, despite having a hot and loving wife, a job, and a decent home in a world that we're told is short on liveable space.

Quaid lives in the not-too-distant where the only inhabitable areas are the United Federation of Britain and The Colony (Australia) due to chemical warfare. These two areas are linked by The Fall - a massive turbo-charged elevator through the centre of the earth - with The Colony serving as a slum compared to the well-off UFB.

One day Quaid decides to visit Rekall - a memory implant centre - to get some new, more exciting recollections, but this sets off a chain of events that will change his life and the world forever. There are some cool effects sequences in Total Recall, but mostly the film just whizzes by you. Even the extraordinary plot feels wasted because the pacing of the film is off - everything's just waiting for the next big non-descript computer-generated sequence.

As a result, and through no fault of Farrell's, we don't care much for Quaid and never get much of a chance to empathise with him. The story loses a lot of intimacy because of this. Instead of an empathetic and confusing story about a man struggling to discover himself, Quaid's journey gets lost in a mess of unneccessary technology, huge CG sets, and poorly edited action sequences.

Now to the remake vs original stuff, because it is here that the new versions flaws really come to life.

Interviews during the making of the film suggested it was based more on the original source, Phillip K Dick's short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, rather than being a remake of Paul Verhoeven's film. This turned out to be a lie. All mentions of Mars - so prominent in the short story - are gone completely from the new film and instead we get a weird world where Great Britain and Australia are the only places to live and everywhere else is a biohazardous dead zone (how the biohazard doesn't spread into the "liveable" zones is never explained). 

Beat for beat, scene for scene, the new version follows the original film remarkably closely - even whole lines of dialogue appear to have been replicated verbatim, but without the wit and spark that flowed through Verhoeven's film. 

It's as if they took the script from the first film, replaced all the action scenes with big budget CG special effects sequences, and then director Len Wiseman merged Michael Ironside and Sharon Stone's characters together so his wife Kate Beckinsale would have more screen time. And that was all the work that was done, aside from a bit of backstory brainstorming involving an elevator through the middle of the earth and robotic cops. And working how to get the three-breasted woman in there.

Strangely, and I never thought I'd say this about an Arnie film, but the new Total Recall lacks the subtlety of the Schwarzenegger version. It's not totally terrible, just flat and ultimately pointless. The original is great, and while its effects have aged, the 1990 version goes to show that there's no substitute for good scriptwriting, intelligent pacing, and proper film-making skills.

Colin Farrell as Doug Quaid in Total Recall.

Colin Farrell as Doug Quaid in Total Recall.


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