Colin Farrell mustn’t care much about what we geeks think about the remake trend in Hollywood. Within a year of taking on the Jerry Dandridge role in the much-better-than-anticipated remake of 1985’s Fright Night, the bushy-browed Irish actor next set his sights on an even more iconic character – that of Douglas Quaid in Underworld director Len Wiseman’s re-imagining of 1990’s Schwarzenegger/Verhoeven jam, Total Recall; arguably one of the most popular sci-fi/action films ever made.
When they said Total Recall 2012 would be a re-imagining rather than a remake, they weren’t kidding. Save for the names of a few key characters, Quaid’s double identity being revealed by a visit to a “REKAL” facility (here known as Rekall), and an undercurrent of revolution, Wiseman’s film – scripted by Equilibrium’s Kurt Wimmer – bears almost no resemblance to Verhoeven’s film, and almost completely deviates from Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”, upon which both films are loosely based.
In Wiseman’s film, a post-World War 3 Earth is divided into two habitable regions – The UFB (United Federation of Britain), and “The Colony” (Australia). Quaid is a factory worker responsible for building synthetic peace officers on behalf of the UFB, and travels to work in the UFB via a speedy subterranean lift called The Fall that connects the two regions. Haunted by recurring dreams in which he and a beautiful woman (Jessica Biel) are being pursued by UFB agents, Quaid feels something is missing from his life, and, unbeknownst to his loving wife and UFB security officer, Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and best friend/co-worker, Harry (Bokeem Woodbine), decides to pay a visit to Rekall to see if they can spice things up a bit.
Quaid is presented with a few memory options by the Rekall tech (a cameo by John Cho), and settles on the exciting sounding Spy/Espionage memories. While his procedure is readied, however, the Rekall tech suddenly panics and draws a gun, claiming that Quaid is already an actual spy working for the UFB. Before Quaid can even answer, the facility is raided by UFB security forces, and the Rekall employees are massacred, with Quaid being placed under arrest. Quaid reacts, however, and, much to his surprise, singlehandedly takes down ten heavily armed UFB agents, and then returns to his apartment where he tells Lori his tale. At first, Lori thinks he’s having a psychotic break caused by Rekall, but, when footage of Quaid wiping out her fellow security officers airs on television, Lori “breaks character” and reveals that not only is she not his wife, but up until three weeks ago, he wasn’t even Douglas Quaid!
Lori attempts to kill Quaid, but he manages to escape into the Colony, and, aided by fragments of his memory as well as some of his former self’s contacts, he learns his true identity as Douglas Hauser – a former top-level agent of UFB Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) who has since sided with the Resistance, led by Mathias (Bill Nighy).
Quaid works his way back to the UFB where, following a shootout with Lori and her men, he is rescued by Melina (Biel), the woman from his dreams. With her help, he returns to Hauser’s apartment and engages in a “face-to-face” chat with his pre-recorded, pre-surgery self (played by Ethan Hawke). He learns of an invasion plot by Cohaagen in which the chancellor plans to deploy his army of synthetic police into the Colony, taking it over by force, and wiping out the Resistance. Hauser tells Quaid that, prior to his capture, he had the plans to destroy Cohaagen’s army embedded in his memory, and that he must return to Mathias so he could extract said plans to prevent the invasion and bring down Cohaagen once and for all.
I’m going to come right out and say I had a lot of fun with Total Recall, but, at the same time, I had a few serious nitpicks that prevented me from enjoying it as much as I could have had Wiseman put less of an emphasis on whizz-bang visuals and action set pieces. While the purist in me never likes it when a film – especially one that’s a remake of a movie as arguably important to sci-fi fans as Total Recall - deviates so much from the source, I give Wiseman and Wimmer credit for dangling their brass ones out there and putting their own stamp on the material. It’s actually a really good story, and, to be honest, I really didn’t find myself missing the Mars/mutants angle at all. Wimmer’s got a definite gift for Sci-fi, especially the of the post-apocalyptic variety (as evidenced by the cult-fave Equilibrium and the unfairly maligned Ultraviolet), and, here, he really struts his stuff, crafting all manner of nifty tech, from the massive transit device that is The Fall to little touches like LED tattoos, hand-implanted cell phones, and body modifications both cybernetic and organic (the latter of which allows for the inclusion of the iconic three-breasted prostitute bit, which delighted me to no end). I also liked the synthetic troops, although, when seen in large groups, I did get an “I Robot” vibe from them that made them seem less novel.
As far as performances go, well, this one’s a no-brainer. Save for Cranston, who isn’t really given enough screen time to top the mercurial Ronny Cox as Cohaagen, everyone else here tops their 1990 counterparts, and then some. I love me some Ahnuld, but, let’s face it; the guy doesn’t exactly scream “covert op” as there’s remotely nothing covert about Schwarzenegger. Farrell just “fits” the role of a double-agent, with his lithe physicality, charm, and charisma. Just as he did with Jerry Dandridge, Farrell makes Quaid his own, and, as a result, the character is all the better and more believable for it. As for the two lovely ladies in the Quaid Love/Hate triangle, I mean, could you ask for two hotter specimens of femininity than Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel? Yeah, Beckinsale sort of oversells the evil, and Biel’s Melina isn’t quite as accomplished an ass-kicker as Rachel Ticotin was in Verhoeven’s film, but I’m more than willing to overlook these things as I’d be happy to watch either actress paint a fence for two hours, let alone walk around in skin tight pants and (in Beckinsale’s case) straddle their enemies necks with their thighs.
Sadly, all of the good is slightly undone by Wiseman’s seeming inability to properly pace a film. Just as he did with Live Free or Die Hard and Underworld, here he strives for style over substance, except, in this case, Wimmer’s script gave him a lot of substance to squander. Instead of what could have been a very smart sci-fi/action flick, we’re given one massive chase scene after another. Yes, these scenes look good, but they come at such a rapid fire pace, with hardly a moment to catch one’s breath in between them. Rather than spread them out, and, perhaps, fill the gaps with deeper characterizations of the likes of Cohaagen or Melina or Mathias, Wiseman relentlessly drags us through these incredibly complex and wonderfully choreographed bits, ultimately lessening their effect. By the film’s conclusion, I was exhausted, but not in a good way!
In the end, however, I still enjoyed myself, and felt the good outweighed the bad. I was also pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of the extended cut of the film, as its closer in spirit to the R-rated original, with more violence, profanity, and an extra-long glimpse at those three amazing boobies.
Sony’s Blu-ray presentation is, as always, well above par. This three-disc set boasts both the theatrical and unrated versions on disc 1, a huge collection of supplemental goodies on disc 2, and a DVD/Ultraviolet copy of the film on the third disc.
The film is presented in an absolutely flawless 2.40:1 1080p transfer that really shows off the medium’s capabilities. The level of detail throughout is astonishing, and the image is as crisp and clean as they come. Being an FX heavy flick, Total Recall’s eye candy is elevated to new levels, here, and this will surely become the reference disc of choice for many a Blu enthusiast. The disc’s Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is equally impressive, with a wonderfully nuanced mix, exceptional clarity and distinct separation, and booming bass. Once again, this is a disc that will surely please the A/V folk!
Supplements are spread out over two discs, and include an audio commentary on disc 1 with Wiseman that will probably help win over viewers who were on the fence about the film as the director’s enthusiasm and intelligent arguments as to why he and his team chose to deviate from the source prove quite compelling. It’s a great listen, even if I don’t entirely agree with him.
Disc 1 also includes “Insight Mode”, which offers pop-up and split screen behind-the-scenes footage that runs in tandem with the film proper. This feature isn’t available on the extended cut, however.
Disc 2 features a collection of shorter featurettes, including a very funny (and quite long at 8 minutes) gag reel (HD).
We also get an interesting short entitled Science Fiction vs. Science Fact (HD), in which author/physicist Michio Kaku discusses some of the tech in the film and the potential for its existence in the future.
Designing the Fall (HD) is a very short look at the creation of the subterranean transit system that plays a critical role in the film, making its brevity sort of curious, but, to be fair, Wiseman covers the subject pretty well in the commentary.
Total Action (HD) is a collection of seven short featurettes that breakdown a few of the film’s key sequences, while Stepping Into Recall: Pre-Visualization Sequences (HD) offers up motion storyboards of five of the larger action set pieces.
Rounding out the extras is a playable demo for God of War: Ascension. Why is this here? Who knows, but it’s a free game, and it’s actually really cool!
Total Recall won’t make anyone forget about the 1990 original, but it’s really a lot better than I expected thanks to Farrell’s engaging performance and Wimmer’s knack for speculative fiction. I’m not a huge fan of Len Wiseman’s direction, here, and really felt that the film’s breakneck, all-action-all-the-time pacing ultimately hurts it, but, visually, the film is quite the stunner, and Sony’s Blu-ray presentation makes it all the more appealing for home viewing.