Thoughts on Films #5 – Total Recall

Spoiler Alert – This Post May Give Things Away

The Set Up

It is the far future and Earth is a post-apolocalyptic landscape, apart from two remaining zones in Europe and Australia containing the rest of humanity crammed together in massive cities all living on top of one another. So far, so Dredd.

Our protaganist is bored with life so he decides to visit one the latest fad, a company called Rekall offering to implant fake memories and experiences of any life you choose, which you will remember as if it were your own. Alas something goes wrong, he finds himself with training a factory worker really shouldn’t have, and he’s on the run from the authorities. Is he living the implanted memory.. or is this for real?

Thoughts

I am sure most of you are familiar with the 1990 Total Recall film with Arnold Schwarzeneggar which set the action on Mars.

If you’ve never seen the Arnie film you’re probably thinking, “this sounds like Bourne meets Inception”. And you’d mostly be right, I have to imagine their popularity is why this was made. It isn’t a bad idea, I mean it sounds pretty cool right?

For those who have seen the Arnie film, be warned, much like the Dredd reboot this film is not like like the first go around in the 1990s except in this case there are barely any similarities! For starters it isn’t played for laughs at all. Arnie had all these one-liners and corny jokes and the whole thing was a bit of a silly, tongue-in-cheek romp around Mars.
This film is nothing like that, it very much plays it seriously. I can see what they were doing  – distance yourself from the other film and get closer to the original short story both were based upon. Laudable aim but they don’t quite pull it off. Like every action film it does need a bit of humour here and there and this doesn’t really have any. The original had video clips of news and commercials with biting satirical comment.. this one had video clips but they were just video clips of general news reports.

And one other thing – it isn’t on Mars.

This is fairly important because in the original film Mars was a crucial part of the story, here they’re on opposite sides of the Earth but with a transportation system which rendered the fact virtually irrelevant. To them, crossing the planet every day was just as mundane as taking the London Underground from Waterloo to Bank, even if it was a ludicrous tunnel through the centre of the Earth. Did they miss the film ‘The Core’ and how it was mocked mercilessly for being completely ridiculous? You can’t just tunnel through the core! Being on Mars was far more believable.

I suppose that was a laugh in itself but once it had established it was playing it straight it had to maintain that and not invent a crazy tunnel. Mind you, the crazy gravity inversion was done fairly well in the effects department. It just felt as if that whole tunnel thing was invented purely for the later scene where they have a fight on the tube. Anyone who’s seen any Bond film could tell you how that ends so it wasn’t really worth it.

Yes, it takes itself seriously but you can’t take the film seriously. Maybe that’s what was intended!

If you remove the link to the old film and concentrate on the actual film itself it is quite enjoyable. There wasn’t much that we haven’t seen before in Bourne films or Bond films or others in the action genre, and the memory twists we’ve also seen before. What we hadn’t seen was this combination and this excecution and it was done fairly well, with the modern filming style adding a lot to it.

It’s also half an hour longer than it needed to be, funnily enough it is about half an hour longer than Dredd. It seems to be a trend among films today to be longer than needed, maybe to justify increased ticket fees.

Cast

Much of the cast were like robots. I’m unsure if this was the fault of the actors as the film lacked character development for practically everybody but the main character. Of course with nobody worth talking to it meant Colin Farrell had nothing to work with either, which leads to the impression he wasn’t on song for this one. Now maybe that really is down to him as people have said that about his other films, but based on the other characters here I’ve got to blame the writing.

You cared about Kate Beckinsale’s character at the beginning, until the twist when she turned into a caricature of Victoria Beckham stalking around in a music video. We were supposed to root for Jessica Biel’s character as Farrell’s old friend, but there was no development at all apart from flashbacks we see right from the early scenes, which are repeated later, so we weren’t really given a reason to care.

It was just a waste of a cast really.

Effects etc

The hover-car chase was pretty cool even if was a bit ‘Fifth Element’. That and the gravity efffect in the weird tunnel thing. The cityscape was interesting especially in the Colony which was much more believable than supposed future-London.

London.. It felt half-assed, as if a late decision to decide it was London. (For starters almost everyone in both London and Australia had an American accent.) The old-fashioned abandoned subway train was a classic New York City subway train with a London Underground sticker on it, not a classic London train. Maybe that’s how things will be in a few hundred years, I don’t know.

The really annoying thing, knowing London geography, is Parliament and Big Ben being shown surrounded by new buildings reaching up to the sky for miles around. Later they cut to the gas-ridden part of the city, abandoned for miles around.. yet I am sure is set near the Bank of England barely 3-4 miles away. Maybe they built a replica Parliament somewhere else.

Recommendation?

I don’t do ratings as I prefer summing-up.

As a future-sci-fi action movie with some cool effects with future tech and memory tricks and a crazy tunnel, it should’ve been better than a run-of-the-mill action movie, but it isn’t. To be fair the 1990 film was a run-of-the-mill action movie of its day, it is Arnie’s corny lines and the weird humour which makes it a classic for people of my generation. This new film lacks anything like that.

Sometimes all you want is a generic future action movie and like the ’90 film it does work well on that level, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. However if you’re looking for a fun reboot of the original film, this isn’t it.

Tough one. Let me know what you think.

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