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At this point in 2013 I think we are past asking why a movie needs to be remade. Why Anything!, a frustrated film lover might grunt. These remakes continue to be a mixed bag, and a few even improve on the original (see The Departed). Hell, I even accepted Rob Zombie remaking my favorite film - Halloween - and ended up enjoying his modern interpretation, which is still inferior to Carpenter's classic. The original Total Recall is an entertaining slice of '80s pulp, packed with violence and social commentary by maestro Paul Verhoeven. It also has a larger-than-life star in Arnold Schwarzenegger, who gets to shoot Sharon Stone and say, "Consider that a divorce." The first thing you'll notice about Len Wiseman's recent remake is that it drops the original film's Mars setting entirely, choosing instead to locate the action in two futuristic Earth colonies. The film is still based on Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," and Colin Farrell leads alongside the lovely Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale. But this new Total Recall loses more than its red planet; it misplaces nearly all of its personality and soul, and no amount of flashy effects can fix that.
After a devastating world war, all of Earth is uninhabitable save two territories - The United Federation of Britain and the Colony, formerly Australia - located a straight shot through Earth's core from one another. Residents of the Colony, like factory worker Douglas Quaid (Farrell), use a crazy gravity elevator called "the Fall" to travel to their jobs in the UFB each morning. Quaid is discontent with this routine, and his big dreams with wife Lori (Beckinsale) never seem to become reality. Quaid has recurring nightmares about a shootout, and visits a downtown company called Rekall, which implants memories and experiences directly into the brain, to gain some perspective. The Rekall parlor is ambushed by a SWAT team, which Quaid quickly and instinctively dispatches. Quaid's shock at his sudden tactical abilities is surpassed by unexpectedly tense interactions with Lori and the sudden arrival of Melina (Biel), a woman who appeared in Quaid's dreams.
Working from a screenplay by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, whose combined writing credits sink as low as Sphere and Godsend, Wiseman is left to saddle a far less edgy film than the original. Total Recall is updated with top-notch visual effects and expansive digital landscapes, which are blended nicely with the in-camera elements, but the film is slickly impersonal. The DNA of Dick's short story is again present, and, although Mars is gone, the antagonist in this film and that of the 1990 original share similar motivations. There are haves and have-nots, but Total Recall never really says anything important about the class warfare driving this dystopian society toward its tipping point. The film's focus is limited, so viewers see little of either habitat outside of Quaid's factory, apartment and the seedy downtown streets surrounding Rekall. The Colony is apparently for the working class, but all the jobs are in the UFB, which may explain why some residents want to skip over to the Colony and start blockbusting its neighborhoods.
Wiseman is a competent director; he stages interesting action sequences, has a good grasp on pacing, and lenses some attractive shots (easy on the lens flares next time though). But Total Recall, like Wiseman's other films, lacks soul. The film just feels generic, which shouldn't be the case with a $125-million-plus budget. Schwarzenegger's Austrian charm and Verhoeven's madman directing made the original special. All the flashy effects on the Sony lot don't make this Total Recall memorable, and the attractive, interchangeable cast doesn't either. Farrell is fine, but his typical livewire wit is toned down into the confines of a cardboard character. Beckinsale and Biel look pretty much the same, and while each beautiful lady can kick some ass, they're not really asked to do much here. Bill Nighy stops by as a UFB heavy and, you guessed it, makes no impression whatsoever. There's little tension in Total Recall, and Beckinsale's wicked ways, which border on camp, are not particularly threatening. It's not all bad though. Total Recall is fairly entertaining, thanks in part to the nifty effects and action sequences I mentioned. There are worse ways to kill two hours, but Total Recall again proves filmmakers don't necessarily need fresh ideas to remake a film.
A near-perfect effort by Sony! This 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image looks as shiny and gorgeous as a brand-new, big-budget film ought to. The transfer celebrates its digital source with eye-popping high definition clarity. Facial detail is superb, from the stubble of Farrell's five o'clock shadow to the lines on Nighy's face. Wide shots extend for miles, and the digital landscapes positively sparkle. Giant overhead views of the Colony reveal intimate street-level details, which proves more work went into the visuals and set design than the shooting script. Sharpness is superb, colors explosive and black levels are very impressive. Digital effects are expertly blended with live elements, and the grimy streets of the Colony are awash in neon and grime. Skin tones are accurate throughout, and I can't say I noticed any artifacts, banding or any other digital anomaly.
The film's 5.1 Dolby True HD soundtrack is equally impressive, and provides an aggressive, totally immersive listening experience for viewers. The entire sound stage is active throughout the film, and viewers with home theater surround setups will certainly appreciate this mix. Dialogue is crystal clear, benefitting from the track's excellent clarity and range, whether it's directional or front and center chatter. Ambient effects like traffic, street sounds and the gravity-shifting symphony of the Fall make good use of the surround speakers, and action effects are even more explosive. Gunfire, flying cars and drones rip through the rear surround speakers, and the subwoofer provides quick, aggressive backup. The film's score is layered in nicely, and sounds full and deep. French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are also available, as are English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
The film isn't exactly earth shattering, but Sony pulls out all the stops for Total Recall's Blu-ray release. This review is for the three-disc "combo pack" of Total Recall, which includes the Blu-ray, a second Blu-ray of bonus features, a DVD copy of the film and an UltraViolet digital copy. The discs are housed in a thick, hinged Blu-ray case (oddly, the Blu-rays are not labeled Disc 1 and Disc 2), and the artwork is double sided. The case is wrapped in a shiny, embossed slipcover that replicates the main artwork. A big selling point for Sony is that the Blu-ray includes both an Extended Director's Cut with alternate ending (2:10:16) and the theatrical cut (1:58:18). Bonus features are plentiful, too:
- Extended Director's Cut Commentary with Director Len Wiseman - Wiseman has a lot to say about his expensive sci-fi remake, and the director proves an enjoyable commentator. The director discusses both cuts of the film and reveals that edits were done for pacing and PG-13 rating reasons, among others. Wiseman better explains some of the themes that feel underexplored in the film, and I wish his vision had been more thoroughly translated to the screen. As expected, Wiseman hits the hot topics like casting, effects and updating the original during this track.
- Total Recall Insight Mode (2:17:07/HD) - This is a great expanded presentation that presents viewers with a ton of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, pre-viz images and concept art. During the film, clips appear via split screen and full-screen cutaways. This is one of the better designed Blu-ray 2.0 presentations I've seen thus far.
- Gag Reel (8:00/HD) - Beckinsale keeps apologizing for kicking and punching people in this gag reel.
- Science Fiction vs. Science Fact (9:28/HD) - A professor of theoretical physics discusses the future technology of Total Recall, including the plausibility of flying cars, a giant gravity elevator and memory implants.
- Designing the Fall (2:55/HD) - I wish this piece, about the massive transportation system in the film, had been more in depth, but the filmmakers do admit the system is not necessarily based in fact.
- Total Action (20:00/HD) - This seven-part featurette examines the film's many action sequences, including the Rekall parlor shootout and highway car chase with Farrell and Biel.
- Stepping Into Recall: Pre-Visualization Sequences (25:30/HD) - Several animated storyboards are included in this reel.
- There's also an iPod App that can be synced with the film, and Disc 2 includes a PS3 demo of "God of War: Ascension.".
The 2012 remake of Total Recall is certainly inferior to the over-the-top Schwarzenegger/Verhoeven original despite its flashy visual effects and attractive cast. Director Len Wiseman again struggles to infuse his film with personality, and Total Recall consistently feels like a generic action film despite its top-notch technical attributes. Both Mars and most of the social commentary are gone from this remake, and Farrell is a competent if unexciting choice for the role of Douglas Quaid, who finds himself at the heart of a futuristic conspiracy. Nevertheless, Total Recall is entertaining, and will certainly do for a slow Saturday night. The film is best rented first, but fans will certainly be pleased with this Blu-ray set, which includes an extended cut of the film, stellar picture and sound, and loads of bonus features. On the strength of the entire package I'm going to say Total Recall is Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.