Back in 1990, director Paul Verhoeven and his screenwriters gave us an incredible adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” entitled Total Recall that was a highly-entertaining experience with a good balance of story and action. 22 years later, we are faced with another telling of the story (it’s hard to call it a remake as, while there are several similar elements, it has a different plot running through it) with a different cast, a different crew, and modern effects, so now we not only get to see how it measures up to the original, but also how it measures up as a film of its own.
Taking place in the future where there are only two inhabitable areas (Australia and part of Europe) on the Earth thanks to global warfare, the film tells the story of Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a factory worker who is looking to escape the monotony of his life. He hears of a service called “Rekall” that gives you artificially implanted memories of anything you want, so, despite warnings from his co-worker, Harry (Bookeem Woodbine), Doug goes to have the procedure done, opting to get memories of being a secret agent implanted.
However, something goes terribly wrong. The memories don’t take because there are already similar memories existing in his head. This is where Doug’s life begins to spiral out of control as the police begin to chase him, his wife (Kate Beckinsale) tries to kill him, and he discovers that he might not be who he thought he was. Now on the run, he must find out his true identity and discover his link to The Resistance, a group fighting against the rule of Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), the man who is desperate to capture Doug before he can expose anything he might remember from his past.
Right off the bat, I have to say that this does not stand up to the original 1990 film that starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the main reason for that is that it wasn’t able to accomplish what the original had done so well, that is, finding a good balance between the story and action. With 22 years in between films, technology has obviously advanced in the field of special effects, and the filmmakers behind this new version wanted to make sure we knew that.
The whole reason this version seems to have been made was as a showcase for the special effects, which the filmmakers unfortunately decided to let rule over the story. As I mentioned, the story has several similar elements when it comes to the character of Doug Quaid, so there aren’t really any surprises to be had there if you’ve already seen the original film. However, the new elements added to it show that they really didn’t want to put much effort into coming up with an engaging plot, and this is despite having such sci-fi talent as Kurt Wimmer, Dan O’Bannon, and Ronald Shusett working on it (the latter two had even worked on the original).
The seemingly endless action sequences are what really end up dragging it down. They go on for such a long time, and are so frequent, that they merely end up making the film monotonous and rather dull to sit through. When they do decide to take a break from the action, it’s to give us speedy updates on the plot before plunging ahead into the next action sequence.
You may recall that the original had had an interesting plot involving Doug going to Mars, finding out about his role in the resistance, and trying to break Cohaagen’s hold over the people. This update merely changes Cohaagen into someone trying to take over the only other inhabitable area in the world, making him no more interesting than a real estate tycoon. In certainly doesn’t help that he isn’t seen in person until the last 30 minutes of the film, leading one to wonder why they would bother getting someone as great as Bryan Cranston (from TV’s Breaking Bad) to play him. It’s a great casting choice, he’s just extremely underutilized.
The film comes to us from director Len Wiseman, who is mainly known for the “Underworld” films, which have been going straight downhill lately. However, he was also responsible for Live Free or Die Hard, which was a decent action film. It’s unfortunate that he allowed this thing to go so overboard with its chase sequences, fights, and explosions. An update in the effects department should have complimented the story, not taken it over. What we end up with is a forgettable, monotonous reimagining that was wholly unnecessary.
Taking a look at the Blu-Ray specs, the film is presented in a 1080p, 2.40:1 high definition transfer that is really dark in several places. Granted, this is a rather dark film, but it becomes a bit of an issue when it makes it hard to notice details in the picture. The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio, on the other hand, is of excellent quality. A science-fiction film like this depends on sound effects quite a lot, so it’s good to see that it got the proper treatment in this area.
The Blu-Ray comes with the following special features:
- Both Theatrical and Extended Director’s Cut of the Film with 20 minutes of new footage including an alternate ending
- Director’s Commentary
- Total Recall with Insight
- Science Fiction vs. Science Fact
- Designing the Fall
- Total Action – Key action sequences and stunt breakdowns
- Stepping into Recall – Pre-visualization of the intense fight and chase sequences
- Gag Reel
The main extras to pay attention to here are the Director’s commentary and “Total Recall with Insight.” The commentary is played over the Director’s Cut of the film and has Wiseman discussing the characters and the changes that occurred between the two different cuts of the film. The Insight featurette is a kind of “Making of” that plays during the film. Every now and again, a box will pop up during the movie that features the cast and crew discussing how certain aspects of the film were put together. It would have worked a lot better if it were separated from the film, but at least it’s there in some form.
There is indeed a Director’s Cut of the film that is about 20 minutes longer, but quite frankly, even after having seen the film in theaters a few months ago, I couldn’t begin to tell you what was new and what had already been there. As for the “alternate ending,” even after looking at both endings, I don’t see much that is “alternate” about it besides a few extra shots that don’t change anything.
The other special features are decent and include looks at the special effects and pre-vis sequences, as well as a short featurette about the possibilities of developing the technology seen in the film. All in all, this is a pretty good set of extras that teach you a lot about how the film got made, which, in this critic’s opinion, are the best kind of extras.
While the special features are indeed of good quality, unfortunately they can’t make up for the film. This reimagining of Total Recall was an interest opportunity to update the original and possibly even improve upon it, but it merely becomes a wasted chance to do so. The filmmakers have completely missed what made the first film work, opting to make a special effects extravaganza that largely ignores the story instead. This was clearly the wrong way to go.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.