Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Total Recall

"You were dreaming. Doug? Was it about Mars?"

It’s 2084 and bored construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) wakes from yet another dream featuring him and a mysterious woman on Mars. Quaid is bored and dislikes his surroundings and tries to get his wife Lori (Sharon Stone) to agree to a holiday on the red planet. She declines. On his way to work Quaid sees an advert for Rekall, a company that implants memories for a fee. He visits them and agrees to a two week implanted holiday on Mars where he’ll also take on the role of a secret agent. While he is being put to sleep but before the memories can be implanted Quaid has a violent reaction, claiming that they have blown his cover. He escapes the facility and after being attacked heads for Mars to uncover who’s trying to kill him and indeed who he is.

I first saw Total Recall about twelve years ago and certain things had stuck in my memory but I couldn’t remember the ending. What I did discover is that my memory of the film was much better than I now think it is.

I usually try to avoid spoilers but I will say now that the following review will contain them, so if you haven’t seen the film and/or are looking forward to the remake then leave the page. Gone? Good. I really enjoyed the plot and personally believe that all of the action takes place within Rekall. The fact that this is left to the viewer’s imagination though only enhances the enjoyment. You can view it as a straight out Who Am I? Sci-Fi/Action or see it as something a little more complex. Either way you’ll have fun. There is quite a lot of blood and violence here as with much of Director Paul Verhoeven’s work. I actually think this is a good thing as far too many modern films go for the 12A/PG-13 certificate in order to make more money. I believe the remake is heading for that certificate. I’d love to see more 18 certificate films hit our screens, at least ones which aren’t from the Saw franchise. For a lot of the film you aren’t really sure who Arnie is and my opinion actually changed several times. The pill scene for instance had me change my mind about three times. The futuristic satire side of the story was also very appealing to me.

One of the highlights was the fantastic special effects. The film uses a mixture of models, computer graphics and most notably Rob Bottin’s terrific and freaky animatronics. The film arrived on the cusp of the CGI revolution and was in fact one of the last Hollywood blockbusters to use miniatures and puppets before CGI took over. Much like Sunrise and City Lights which were at the pinnacle of cinema before the advent of sound, Total Recall was at the pinnacle of special effects before the onset of CGI. The film went on to win an Academy Award for special effects. The effects are responsible for some of the stand out moments in the film including Arnie’s no oxygen Mars dream, the Johnny Cabs, three boob lady and Kuato the mutant. These were all things that I’d remembered from my first viewing about twelve years ago.

Unfortunately I became a bit bored towards the end when it became obvious how the plot was going to tie together, although as I said the ending itself is ambiguous. I was much more interested in the “who am I” stuff than the “I must save the day” stuff and it was the latter that takes over in the final act. Other problems include the obvious 80s technology but as I always say with Sci-Fi, they are of their time. I’m sure someone will be reviewing The Avengers in twenty years time saying how old all the technology looks. A film would have to be pretty special to contain computers which still look futuristic after twenty-two years. Moving on, some of the acting was a bit flat. Schwarzenegger is a better actor here than in many of his films but he’s still no De Niro. I thought that Sharon Stone was quite wooden, as was Rachel Ticotin. Michael Ironside wasn’t great either but I thought that Ronny Cox and Mel Johnson Jr gave good performances. This isn’t really an actor’s film though, it is much more about ideas and spectacle and on those levels it is successful.               


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