The 1990 film version of Total Recall, based on Philip K. Dick’s short story ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’, is one of my cinematic guilty pleasures. So it was with a mixture of optimism and trepidation that I sat down to watch the 2012 remake with Colin Farrell taking on the role of Doug Quaid, a factory worker suffering from violent dreams, whose erased past is exposed during a visit to Rekall, a company which implants artificial memories into customers’ minds.
The basic premise of the film is similar to the original and also the short story on which it is based, but there are major differences between the two. Where the original film and short story involve travel to Mars, the 2012 version instead keeps the action on an Earth with only two habitable areas; the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and the Colony (formerly Australia). These are connected directly through the centre of the Earth via a gravity elevator called “the Fall”. Many of the residents, including Quaid, live in squalor and have mundane lives, but travel from the Colony daily to work in the UFB.
There are nods to the original film, such as the three breasted prostitute and someone who looks suspiciously like the fat lady Schwarzenegger was disguised as while trying to sneak past passport control, but on the whole I found the Arnie version far more watchable and enjoyable.
While the special effects are superb, there are some breathtaking action sequences and the vision of a future Earth is stunning rainy rehash of the ‘Blade Runner’ set (another film version of a Dick short story), the whole movie seems rather soulless. There is no doubt that Farrell is better at playing an ‘ordinary guy’ than Schwarzenegger, but part of the appeal of the original is the fact he looks so extraordinary and other worldly at times.
In the original, there was an artefact which would provide Mars with a habitable atmosphere if activated, while here we have a kill switch that could deactivate the government’s robotic police force which feels far less dramatic. There is also an overuse of lens flares, a futuristic film technique used to great effect in the recent ‘Star Trek’ reboot but irritating here. Also, the reason for wiping Quaid’s memories and placing a senior security operative as his wife seems a bit extreme when they could simply have disabled the kill switch which he carries the details of in his subconscious.
Terrorist/freedom fighter leader Bill Nighy is criminally underused and for some reason chooses to speak in an American accent which is odd considering the two existing habitable areas are Britain and Australia. Maybe it was supposed to be a hybrid of the two but it just didn’t seem right to me when speaking in his normal voice would have fit perfectly.
As the closing titles rolled, I found myself wondering why they had bothered trying to remake this film. By making it Earth based, this made the story more realistic but also more mundane, which I found detrimental to my enjoyment of the movie. In my opinion, they would have been better either sticking closer to the high action thrills of the original or stick more rigidly to the source text which concludes with the main character having multiple wiped memories, complete with a Twilight Zone style ending. As it was, the whole thing feels rather flat, but if special effects, shoot outs, high speed chases and explosions are your thing, then it’s worth checking out. But if you’re expecting a remake of a much loved classic, it might be best to give it a miss.