Total Recall

There is a big bit of me that breaks out in a painful rash at the ‘reboot’ of much beloved films. Admittedly, I’m doing all right so far because they haven’t taken on Fifth Element. But, this month, I have been dealing with the reality of Total Recall redone. I might not have bothered with the Len Wiseman reworking at all if it hadn’t been for a certain weakness for a certain Colin Farrell.

I should point out that this review will contain spoilers for the original and the reboot because it’s impossible to rave about one without lamenting the other.

The fundamental problem with the reboot is that they’ve tried to do something different from the hugely loved and respected original, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Paul Verhoeven. Total Recall as we know and love it tells the future tale of Douglas Quaid who, bored by his life, seeks to fill it with exotic but fake memories from Rekall, Unfortunately, during the procedure it becomes clear that Doug has hidden memories of his own which, on coming into contact with these false memories, causes a cataclysmic event in Doug’s mind – Quaid is confronted with his real but deeply hidden identity as a powerful freedom fighter. All hell breaks loose. Nothing in his life is real but everything in it wants to kill him.

The original film sees the newly enlightened Quaid pursued by the single-minded assassin who once pretended to be his wife (Sharon Stone). His original rediscovered mission, he learns, is to save the mutants of Mars from the oppression of earth which would see them choke to death, deprived of air. In this reboot, the wife (Kate Beckinsale) still wants to kill him but now it’s a question of controlling living space in the United Federation of Britain by destroying the poor of its colony in Australia. No small step by man is taken. Travel between the two states is done by means of The Fall – a great lift that falls through the centre of the earth and shifts in gravity half way through its descent/climb.

It’s unfortunate to compare the new Total Recall with the original but it is inevitable. By seeking to do something different from the 1990 film, the makers have instead produced a broken copy which throughout throws into the spotlight the numerous ways in which the original excelled. Instead of Mars, we are now focused on the colony of Australia. Instead of mutants, we have… oppressed citizens. Instead of brilliantly horrifying and charismatic rebel leader Kuato we have blink and you miss him Matthias (Bill Nighy). Instead of believable fake wife Sharon Stone we have robotic zombie Kate Beckinsale. Don’t expect any humour either.

There is a Minority Report feel to the reboot. This isn’t surprising really considering that the stories behind Total Recall and Minority Report were by the same author, Philip K Dick. Farrell was, of course, in Minority Report but here the similarity is in the escape for Quaid, the deceit of the pursuers and the glamour of the technology.

The reboot does succeed on certain levels. Both Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel – Quaid’s resistance rescuer – are strong and enthusiastic. The special effects are as wonderful as you’d expect, especially the scenes of the Colony’s densely squeezed living areas. This is a film that knows well how good it looks. There are very few and far between nods to the original, such as the three-breasted street walker, but this has nothing to do with mutants, just adventurous cosmetic surgery.

Throughout I found myself pondering how wonderful it would have been if the original Total Recall had featured Farrell and Biel instead of Schwarzenegger and Rachel Ticotin. Instead of an unnecessary and serious reworking let’s have the original reborn.

Above all, though, way beyond anything else, let’s have a fight for Mars, not a fight for an Australian colony! Science Fiction is about enabling the imagination and mind to soar, not tethering both to ropes bound to earth. All I want to do now is watch the original.

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