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Total Recall Movie Review - -

Total Recall

    Reviewed by Damien Straker on August 24th, 2012
presents a film directed by Len Wiseman
    Screenplay by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback
Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan
    Cranston and Bill Nighy

    Running Time:
118 mins
    Rating: M
    Released: August 23rd, 2012


In the future, a war has left Earth divided into the United Federation of Britain and 'The Colony' (formerly Australia). Both the UFB and the Colony are overpopulated and people travel between the areas through an elevator called 'The Fall', which transports through the core of the Earth. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is a factory worker who is having nightmares and finds little comfort from his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale). He decides to visit a company called Rekall, where false adventures and memories can be implanted into his brain. Yet when Rekall scans Quaid to see if he is holding any secrets, he is accused of being a spy. Quaid manages to escape, but only after killing several cops. Lori turns out not to be his real wife but an agent for the UFB who is monitoring him. Escaping from her, Quaid is told that his name is Hauser and that he has a code that could stop the evil Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) but it must be shown to the resistance leader Matthais (Bill Nighy) first. Aiding him in finding Matthais is Melina (Jessica Biel), a woman from his dreams. Meanwhile, Cohaagen is blaming a terrorist attack on rebel fighters so that he has an excuse to use his army of robots to wipe out people on 'The Colony'.

Total Recall is excruciatingly dull and visually derivative, more intent on being a video game instead of a film, but unlikely to have the faintest impact on the most seasoned gamer. It is also an unnecessary remake of the 1990 Arnold Schwarznegger film, and another loose and problematic adaptation of Philip K. Dick's short story 'We Can Remember it For You Wholesale' (1966). The original film, which I rewatched recently, had the framework of a Schwarznegger vehicle, combining humour, ultra violence and technology. But the director Paul Verhoeven was also skilful in the way that he planted ideas in the audience's head about what is real and imaginary. What was also interesting about the original was that it predated the golden age of video games, but still played like an advanced version of Donkey Kong at times. Now that Total Recall is over twenty years old it has been succeeded by more lavish films about memory and dreams, like The Matrix (1999) and Inception (2010). On the back of the success of Christopher Nolan's film, someone thought it would be a good idea to remake Total Recall for the Call of Duty generation. That job has been given to director Len Wiseman, whose equally tedious Underworld (2003) series is every bit a computer game, minus the controller. Incidentally, he has a background in developing commercials for companies such as Sony and Activision. And the stylistic choices he has made for this film show how much he is willing to pander monotonously to the video game demographic.

Wiseman has stated that he wanted a more grounded approach to the film. The sterile look of the original is replaced by grittier, dirtier tones of a highly industrial and mechanical landscape. This is fine until you realise that the film's iconography is simply derivative of much better games and movies. The flying cars and cityscapes owe all too much to Blade Runner (1982) and Minority Report (2002), while the frequent long shots seem employed only to show off the design, echoing the likes of open world games such as Grand Theft Auto. The amount of detail in the city feels wasted since it holds no greater stylistic meaning. Notably, there's no Mars and only a single mutant in this supposedly grounded take too. Instead, there are robots to be destroyed because they're bloodless targets (no one bleeds in movies like this anymore do they?) and it allows the film to steal from the recent Star Wars prequels. But why is there such a disjunction between games and films when they look to imitate each other? Heated debate surrounds whether games can be art and whether they are becoming as sophisticated a medium as films themselves. The technology surrounding games continues to grow and gamers are also now encouraged to make moral choices that can shape the outcome of a narrative. However, part of the reason why Hollywood has continually failed to bridge films and games together, through some awful adaptations, is because games are a medium defined by interaction. Games place a higher emphasis on action rather than narrative because the player has physical input, rather than merely watching the story unfold, like a film. By their nature, video games are rarely allowed the time and space to develop narratives of thematic sophistication. They are fun and often visually imaginative but not art. The two mediums are simply divorced by their purpose and design, as much as their audience.

Total Recall epitomises this problematic relationship. The intricate themes of Dick's short story, how we acquire knowledge and process information and the misuse of technology, are dissolved by the director's insistence on action and designing a video game that you can't actually play. The humourless cast, which includes Bill Nighy limited ridiculously to a single scene, are treated like tokens of a board game, moved from one set piece to another. The action sequences they're thrown into, which involve dodging flying cars, escaping from an exploding lift and jumping over rooftops, are long and boring to watch. Most frustrating is that there is less ambiguity here because I wasn't convinced that Quaid was dreaming this time. There's a scene in the original where a man in a bowtie provides scientific reasoning as to why Quaid is dreaming. It puts doubt in your mind. In this version, Quaid is told to shoot Melina and he'll wake up. Anyone who can believe that really is dreaming. Exit game.


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