Movie Review: Total Recall (2012, Dir. Len Wiseman)

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Remake? Reboot?
Which term do you prefer?

I personally prefer ‘remake.’ Computers get ‘rebooted,’ not movies. Then again seeing as to how common place CGI technology is used these days by Hollywood, ‘reboot’ seems more appropriate, doesn’t it? Whichever word you prefer, utter either one to someone, especially a die hard movie fan/collector in their forties, and nine times out of ten you’ll get a response that suggests you just called that person’s mother a whore.

Rightly so, ‘remake/reboot’ should, as a general rule, be officially categorized a four-letter word. I cast the net wide and deem the very practice pointless; consciously though, I like to think I judge each one on a case-by-case basis. In light of the former, that’s very hard to do sometimes and becomes even more so when it’s happening to a movie I’m a big fan of.

This past summer there were two movies I am a very big fan of that got remade: Fright Night (1985) and Total Recall (1990). In the case of Total Recall, despite my knee-jerk reaction, the visuals in the trailer intrigued me. Fright Night (2012) had some interesting moments along with a surprisingly creepy performance from Colin Farrell, but ultimately did not reach the cinematic level that would make it worthy of my collection. I want to assert before I make my next statement (which may sound utterly incredulous to some) that Schwarzenegger/Verhoeven’s 1990 movie will always be my favorite.  But Len Wiseman’s take on Recall did what Fright Night didn’t, and I have now added it to my extensive library of movies.

For those who don’t know, Wiseman decided to take out the Mars subplot with his version and keep it all based on earth. Douglas Quaid/Hauser is now played by one to two actors, depending on which version you watch. In the unrated cut, it’s Colin Farrell and Ethan Hawke—more on that later. Lori Quaid, who was played by on-the-cusp-of-getting-famous Sharon Stone is now played by Wiseman’s wife, Kate Beckinsale. Quaid/Hauser’s true love, Melina, who was played by Rachel Ticotin, is now played by Jessica Biel. Ronny Cox’s memorable portrayal of oily corporate psycho, Cohaagen, is now Malcolm In The Middle’s dad, Bryan Cranston (and if Cranston had just a little more screen time, he would be just as memorable). Unfortunately, Micheal Ironside’s character, Richter, was not carried over and from the looks of it may have been combined into the new version of Lori, since now she’s the one who is in constant, murderous pursuit of the new Quaid.

The moment the movie starts, the groundwork is set. Ninety-nine percent of the earth has been made unlivable by chemical warfare and the only places inhabitable by humans are Australia and Britain. Since there is no air travel, people come and go between these two land masses via an immense underground transportation device dubbed ‘The Fall’ that goes right past the heated core of the earth. If you familiar with the travel tubes from the TV show Space: 1999, that’s pretty what The Fall is: a high tech travel tube the size of a skyscraper.

Both versions—the ’90 and ’12—are inspired by Philip K. Dick’s short story, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” I have never read the tale, but it appears Verhoeven’s version adheres more closely to it. This is only because he included the Mars subplot. In the commentary, Wiseman claims he’s a fan of the story, so why did he take out the whole Mars subplot? He never once broaches the subject, neither in the commentary nor in any of the featurettes.

Most of all the memorable beats of Verhoeven’s version are hit by Wiseman, but altered with a new spin. Take, for instance, the scene where ’90’s Quaid must pull a tracking device out of his nose. In Wiseman’s movie it’s a high tech cell phone embedded in his palm which he extracts with a shard of glass. The new film also retained the infamous three-boobed chick. Her origin makes more sense in the 1990 movie. With the Mars angle, I always assumed she was a mutant, in this version there is no obvious “origin story” when she approaches Quaid in the Red Light District and flashes her goods. It’s later on, in the Unrated version, when a crucial piece of dialogue is replaced that you put the pieces together and presume plastic surgery in the future is now a highly evolved medical art form.

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The futuristic tech in this movie is quite impressive, especially Wiseman’s take on what cell phones may look like in the future. They’re not common place, at least not the ones the agents use , and in the commentary he states they’re more akin to the communication devices agents nowadays put in their ears. These nifty “palm phones” glow when they ring, so your whole palm lights up with a display, and you can either put your palm up to your ear to talk or find a piece of glass, place your palm against it, and get a holographic view screen.

The ReKall device has changed as well. The “office” Quaid goes to is now in the Red Light district of his city and the room looks to be constructed in décor of an Asian temple influence. It has a very low-tech/high-tech vibe, if that makes any sense. Speaking of vibes, the restored nighttime cityscape scenes in the first half of the movie are very reminiscent of Blade Runner. I found this off-putting initially, until I remembered whose story this movie was based on and the connection it has to the classic Ridley Scott film.

The weapons are impressive as well. From the commentary I learned that only slight augmentation to existing weapons was needed to have them appear futuristic. Speaking of weapons, I should now address the violence. For fans of the 1990 version, we’re all used to the extreme Verhoeven touch when the action scenes kick in, and I was hoping the unrated version also meant Wiseman may have gone that route as well, but he didn’t. Despite his director’s cut being unrated, the violence still remains in the PG-13 realm. He states in the commentary that he was told he could only show someone being shot if it was done in a cut-away. He couldn’t have the person shooting and the victim being hit in the same scene. As a result, in all the action scenes there’s someone doing the shooting, and then a cut to the person being bloodlessly hit. He says he still doesn’t understand the logic behind that requirement and frankly, neither do I.

The unrated version includes a whopping twenty-minutes of restored footage, and aside from a subplot and some character development being edited back in, there are a lot more visual FX, namely those nighttime cityscape scenes I previously mentioned. They were removed because CGI blown up for IMAX screens looks terrible. That’s the sole reason they were taken out. But the PG-13 version is also quite something, although not better, just different. In lieu of the excised footage, there are a few alternate scenes and a significant change in the plot, namely where Quaid’s personality switch is concerned. In the PG-13 version, during a crucial scene where, like in the 1990 version, Quaid watches a video playback of himself explaining what has happened to him, Colin Farrell’s goateed Hauser visage is there to catch him up on events. In the unrated version, it’s Ethan Hawke’s visage that does the explaining, showing you that not only is Quaid’s “change” a psychological one but it was also done on a physical level. Before this scene ever takes place, there’s another scene in which a line of dialogue was restored that blatantly hints at the plastic surgery as well.

This whole angle was taken out because Wiseman thought it might confuse the audience. It didn’t confuse me, and I thought it was genius to have every single thing, including his face, altered during the whole ordeal. The last significant change from the PG-13 version was the ending. In the theatrical cut, it feels very obvious that what was happening to Quaid was real, whilst in the director’s cut the ending changed slightly, leaving doors open to the idea that the events of the film may be nothing more than the enactment of his new memories installed at ReKall, mirroring the uncertainty of the original film. Wiseman says in his commentary that he knows which it is and that he’s not telling. He also goes on to say if you pay close attention to details in the movie, he’s already shown you which way he’s leaning.

In my opinion, the additional twenty minutes in the director’s cut makes this remake a much better film, and it may not have been such a box office bomb had that version been released instead.

I never paid much attention to Len Wiseman’s movies until now, and in the commentary he states he prefers practical FX to CGI, which means despite the CGI contained within this movie there are also a lot of practical FX woven into them, and in such a way that gives me hope that the new Mummy remake he’ll be directing might actually be good.

For those who hated the PG-13 version because it lacked buildup and character, I recommend taking in the unrated cut, and for those who just hate it on general principle I recommend pretending this movies doesn’t exist at all. It’s a method that has helped me on many remakes and sequels myself.

The 1080p 2.40:1 transfer is gorgeous and I had no complaints with the TrueHD5.1 audio. This movie comes in three versions: The standard DVD with Ultraviolet Digital Copy, the 2-Disc Extended Cut blu-ray with Ultraviolet Digital Copy and the deluxe 3-Disc Set (2 blues, and the PG-13 standard DVD). This review is of the 3-Disc set. The UNRATED version restores 20 minutes of footage is only available in blu-ray form, which is kind of a shame, it’s the better version and should be made available to standard DVD player owners, too.

Disc #1 (blu-ray) houses both versions, a commentary with director, Len Wiseman, and a feature called, ‘Total Recall Insight Mode.’ The commentary is only available on the Extended Cut, while the Insight Mode is only available on the Theatrical Cut. This Inside Mode, once enabled, and as the movie plays, featurettes corresponding to select scenes will pop up and tell you how they were created. There’s also an Audio Description Track for he blind, audio tracks for French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and subtitles in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.

Disc #2 (blu-ray) houses the bulk of the special features. And they are as follows: ‘Gag Reel’ (8:00); ‘Science Fiction Vs. Science Fact’ (9:28), where Physicist, Michio Kaku breaks down the science fiction elements of the movie and tells you how possible or impossible they are. Astonishingly a good chunk of them are feasible. ‘Designing The Fall’ (2:55) is a quick discussion on how they created the immense travel tube dubbed, “The Fall”. ‘Stepping Into Recall’ (25:30) is basically the pre-visualizations (rough compute renderings of certain scenes) compiled for all to see to show you how they were initially envisioned. You can play them individually or all at once. And finally ‘Total Action’ (20:00) which is 7 mini-featuettes that can either be played separately or all at once. Each is a behind-the-scenes look at certain scenes and interviews with the actors and filmmakers.

Disc #3 is the standard DVD of the PG-13 version only, accompanied by the Gag Reel, Total Recall Insight Mode, and the two featurettes: ‘Science Fiction Vs. Science Fact’ (9:28) and ‘Designing The Fall’ (2:55).

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