Thursday, 30 August 2012

Total Recall

Based on the short story by Philip K. Dick which was the inspiration for the 1990 film of the same name, Total Recall takes place after a chemical war at the end of the twenty-first century. Following the fallout, only two areas are left habitable on Earth; The United Federation of Britain (UFB) and The Colony (the landmass of Australia) which is where the workers are forced to live. Each day they must take “the fall”, a kind of superfast lift which takes them through the centre of the Earth and joins up the two habitable areas. One of these workers is Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) who wakes up from a reoccurring dream about trying to save a woman from synthetic cops. Upon waking he is comforted by his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) but feels as though he is meant for something more. Quaid discovers Rekall, a company which can implant false memories and decides to check it out. This decision creates a ripple effect and leaves Quaid unsure of whom he is and why people, including some of those closest to him want him dead.

I saw Paul Verhoeven’s original 1990 film again recently and having now seen both cannot make up my mind as to which one is better. Although they have a similar plot and share themes they are two very different films, made for different times.

The first thing that struck me about the film and the first thing I need to mention is the lens flare. I like a bit of lens flare here and there but in Total Recall it is in almost every shot and drove me mad. I found it really distracting and instead of looking at the actors or well produced action sequences, my focus was drawn to the flare across the screen. I’ve never seen it used to frequently and it ends up being quite a major problem. When I could see through the flare though the design of the film on the whole is visually appealing. The Colony is a place which reminded me of Blade Runner in a lot of ways including architecture, the Chinese influence and the climate. It was so apparent that I couldn’t help imagine Harrison Ford running through the streets. The UFB has echoes of modern day Britain but is also heavily influenced by modern America and the interior shots reminded me of the video game Portal 2. Sometimes I was also reminded of Star Wars interior sets, especially with all of the synthetic cops milling about. I really liked the technology in the film and thought that the special effects and CGI were generally very good if slightly overused.

The plot is similar to the original film but differs in a lot of ways. Out of the window are Mars, mutants and unfortunately Johnny Cabs. The film still has a political feel to it though with the subjugation of the masses at the forefront. The resistance was underplayed here which left some of the background a bit vague. There are differences in some of the characters between the two films but I won’t go into too much detail about that. One change I did appreciate was the change of Lori from a blonde to brunette. Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel have a very similar look which aided the plot. Overall I’d have to say I preferred the plot in the 1990 film but wonder if the Mars and mutants story would work with modern blockbuster audiences.

One thing that I felt this film definitely lacked was the comedic elements of the Paul Verhoeven/Arnold Schwarzenegger film. Arnie’s quips, the Johnny Cabs, three boob lady, giant exploding lady and the often funny animatronics made the original film for me and while there are odd funny moments, they aren’t of the quality or quantity as in the original. From the film makers perspective though again you have to wonder if adding those elements would work with a modern audience. The film makes several nods to the original with a brief mention of Mars and an even briefer look at three boob woman. Her appearance was a little odd though as there are no mutants in the film but it was good to have her in. As the film is a 12A, compared to the original 18, she only makes the briefest of appearances and there is no mention of prostitution and little if any gore. These decisions were again obviously made with audience numbers in mind. There were a couple of touches I did like though including a blink and you’ll miss it look at who is on bank notes in the twenty-second century.

I thought all of the lead actors did fine jobs. Colin Farrell was convincing as the confused man with no memory but special skills, a role which made me think of The Bourne Identity. He is convincing throughout but lets his accent slip on numerous occasions. Jessica Biel is good but doesn’t have an awful lot to do emotionally. She is excellent in the physical scenes though. The same can be said for Kate Beckinsale who is the star of the film for me. She really goes for it in the fight scenes, not holding back in the slightest. Her manipulation is also top notch. Bill Nighy has a brief cameo and although his American accent is ok, it just sounds odd as he has such a distinct accent and vocal style. Bryan Cranston plays his role as well as can be expected but is a little miscast. The character really needed someone with a little more menace or presence.

Overall Total Recall is a visually impressive film set in a world full of interesting ideas and believable events. It lacks depth of character and a feeling of peril though and ended a bit too tidily for my liking while also giving a rather big wink to other possible conclusions. It also wasn’t funny or gory enough but perhaps I just want the best of both films? There was also too much product placement and made me feel nostalgic for a film that I was never that into in the first place. I think it will rest alongside the likes of iRobot and Minority Report as the sort of films that a lot of people will own on DVD and only watch once.


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