Friday, September 27, 2013

Film Friday: Total Recall (2012)

Sometimes, I don’t even know where to begin when talking about a film. Colin Farrell’s Total Recall is one of those films. Should I tell you about the pointless and nonsensical plot? How about the fact this is just a long chase scene? The bad science? The bad acting? Ug. This film sucks.

Total Recall is ostensibly a remake of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 1990 Total Recall, but it really isn’t. In essence, they took the key moments from Arnold’s film, stole images liberally from Minority Report, I Robot and Phantom Menace, and then mixed them with a generic chase film about a nondescript right-wing government wanting to kill immigrants for no apparent reason. The result is painful to watch. Arg.
The story involves Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a worker in a dead-end factory job making police robots. Each morning he travels from “the Colony” (Australia) to “the United Federation of Britain” which are the only places on the planet that somehow survived a chemical war. To commute back and forth, Farrell takes a gravity elevator which moves between the two countries.

Bored with his job, Quaid goes to an Oriental Masseuse Chinese Restaurant Rekall, a place-thingy where they implant memories into your head, unless you lie or ask for memories that are like your real life memories because then somethingsomething. As Quaid gets his new memories, a SWAT team bursts into the place and kills everyone but him. Quaid goes all super-spy and kills them and then races home to his wife (Kate Beckinsale), who tries to kill him. It turns out that she’s a spy who was assigned to watch him, but apparently doesn’t know who he really is... for no apparent reason. Who is he really? Why, he’s a terrorist or double agent named Carl Hauser, who may know a kill code for all the police robots. And why is he living as a factory worker with no memory of who he really is? Who knows, who cares?
Anyways, no sooner does Kate try to kill him than Jessica Biel shows up and the chase scene commences. About an hour later, we are told that Quaid led the bad guy, Cohaagen, the Chancellor of Britain, right to the rebels... all five of them. Now that he’s caught the rebels, Cohaagen can finally send an army of killer robots to the Colony to kill everyone... so he does, but Quaid stops him. At that point, the first thing you actually care about in this film happens: the credits start rolling and you can leave.

When Arnold Schwarzenegger did Total Recall in 1990, I found myself quite impressed. Not only was Total Recall a competent action film, but it was also an excellent science fiction film which left you with lots of things to think about. What is memory? And how can you tell hallucination from reality? What would colonizing Mars really be like? Will we find massive machines left by ancient civilizations?

These were all fun questions that you could debate for hours or even days after you left the theater. And debate you did: did you notice that the false memories the Recall guy discusses match what happens in the film exactly? Don’t you remember the Recall guy saying, “Blue sky on Mars? That’s original.” But wait! Why would that guy sweat if it was all a dream? Or was that just Arnold’s mind trying to preserve the illusion? And if they could put him into Arnold’s dream, couldn’t they do something else that Arnold would know for sure is not real? Or would Arnold just assume that anything they do was a trick?

Good times.
None of that is true with this film. This film posits no questions... except “why did they make this?” It leaves nothing to the imagination. Quaid IS a rebel spy. Biel IS his girlfriend and he’s been seeing her in his dreams before he even goes to Rekall. There is zero sense that Rekall put these thoughts into his brain. In fact, when the film has Quaid look at a Rekall sign at the end of the film, it just serves to remind you that they really mishandled the whole idea of confusing reality with fantasy.

But even that could be forgiven if this was a decent film, only, it’s not. This film is one long pointless chase scene that makes little sense and to which there is no sense of a solution except “wait for the chase to end and then the cliché ending to sort everything out.” Indeed, at no point do you feel like anything is happening in this film except time passing as you wait for the ending. Moreover, little about the film makes sense. If the bad guy really wants to invade the Colony, there’s no reason he couldn’t do it with or without first stopping the resistance, so the plot is a pretext. There is no point in making Quaid hide as a factory worker with no knowledge of what he really is either, nor is there any reason Beckinsale wouldn’t know who he really was.

Even worse, to pass the time, this film is jammed with all kinds of political stupidity. Obama’s face on their currency? Give me a break. That’s not even clever if we’re talking about the future USA, and we’re not – this is a future Britain. I wonder if Putin is on their coins or Bobo the Clown. How about the idea that Britain wants to kill their workforce for no apparent reason? Talk about stupid. That only makes sense in the paranoid delusions of leftists.
In any event, this film raises a couple issues that merit mentioning. First, this film continues to make me wonder about Colin Farrell. Farrell showed such promise early in his career that it seemed he would soon be considered one of the best actors of this generation. But after films like this and the remake of Fright Night, the bloom is off the Farrell rose. He’s fast becoming a harbinger of failure.

Secondly, this film shows exactly what’s wrong with modern Hollywood. This film stole the key moments from the 1990 version of Total Recall, which should have been enough to give the film at least some of the same appeal as the original. But they mishandled those by turning them into nothing more than speed bumps in the chase scene... moments that appear, resolve, don’t affect the plot, and then are forgotten as the film races on to the next videogame level. I lay the blame for this firmly on studios who are so out of touch with the public that they don’t realize that in a film about the reliability of memory and the blurring of reality with fantasy, audiences expect the story to have something to say about those things rather than just watching our hero run around blowing up police robots and Froggering his way across an unrealistic elevator system... the Big Shiny. Sadly, this is how studios think now and the result is a film that has better effects, better actors, better sets, a bigger budget, and the benefits of hindsight, but can’t hold an LED candle to the original.
Finally, I need to point out that, once again, we are dealing with a film adaptation of a novel by Philip K. Dick. And once again, we are looking at a film that underwhelms. It continues to surprise me how hard it is to put Dick’s ideas on the big screen in an interesting and watchable way. Fascinating.


shawn said...

My recollection of this is that it was a bland, but pretty movie. Unfortunately, the 1990 film left a far stronger imprint with me and I would need to rewatch this one before I could speak well about the plot.

shawn said...

Some of it is coming back to me.

In the 1990 version- Cohagen wants to kill the head of the resistance to quell the resistance. He needs those people to work the mines so he can't jus kill them all willy-nilly.

In the 2012 version- Cohagen is going to invade the Colony with his robots and wants to kill the leader of the resistance just because. The leader of the resistance doesn't have the kill code for the robots, so why not just invade?

tryanmax said...

I never thought the Ahnold version was particularly well executed, either. All the arrows pointed too strongly to him being a secret agent and overwhelmed the possibility of it being just a dream. Still, the stakes were better than in the new one. The new one wasn't god-awful, just completely forgettable.

Anonymous said...

I agree with tryanmax... not awful, just forgettable.

Truth be told, I liked it more than I expected to (which is to say I didn't expect to like it at all!). There's also a director's cut on Blu-Ray which is 10 minutes longer... I didn't see it so I couldn't say if it makes any difference.

I didn't necessarily get "right-wing" from the government in this film, just a generic Fascist "We're gonna kill everyone that disagrees with us" vibe. And as talented as Bryan Cranston is, he's totally wasted in this movie.

The weirdest thing? There are no mutants in the film but they managed to include the three-breasted woman anyway. If anything, that proves the filmmakers had no vision beyond copying the best of Verhoeven's version.

Mountain Man said...

Exactly how long would it take for this transport to go through the core of the earth, and how cost effective is it to build it, and to transport unskilled labor in this thing every day? And Colin Ferrell was crawling around on the outside of it, which has to be traveling thousands of miles an hour.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, Yep, that's a key difference. In the Arnold version, the bad guy's actions at least make sense. In the new version, they don't. In fact, nothing in the second film makes sense -- not a single action.

Tennessee Jed said...

I wonder if re-makes of popular film, particularly films about the future, and more susceptible to re-making into a leftist message? I also wonder if Colin may be getting to that point in his career where he is content to get a safe paycheck and mail it in

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I don't think the Arnold version was nearly as well executed as it could have been, but I thought it was a good movie. The story made sense. The characters made sense. The scenes worked. And there were enough clues in either direction to make it real or fantasy.

Nothing about the new version worked. Making him a spy was pointless. Not invading was pointless... invading was pointless. The chase scenes made no sense (he should have been killed over and over if they were being honest). The Rekall stuff was a total waste.

Not a good movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, In Hollywood, a government with fascist trappings that is run by a middle age white male who wants to kill poor people is a "right wing" government. Essentially, the government here is another knock on Bush right down to analogies about drones.

In terms of the movie, I think it's worse than forgettable for the simple reason that its stolen better material and turned it into crap. This and the remake Fright Night really have a lot in common in that regard -- they take a good concept which has been executed well in the past, steal liberally and then turn out an utterly pointless chase scene with it. This is the kind of film that has you reaching for your laptop halfway through.

AndrewPrice said...

Mountain Man, That elevator was utter nonsense. Not only would it be physically impossible because the Earth isn't solid all the way through (and the pressure would kill them), but building something like that would cost so much that it would never be worth it.

And yeah, he would be dead. He would slide right off because of the speed, there would be no oxygen for him to breathe, and the pressure would crush him like a tin can.

And that's just one of the many stupid bits. Here's another example: How are only these two countries left after a chemical war? The earth's atmosphere will eventually cover everything... Britain and Australia aren't somehow outside the jet stream. Also, who builds a building that leaves miles and miles of room for elevators that move in all four directions? It's nonsense.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Inserting a leftist message is an easy way for a bad film to appear to be "relevant." Director: "Yeah, it's not just a crappy film, it's an artistic expression that makes a statement about the evil ___ that is going on today!"

On Colin, I think that's exactly what it is. I think he's just looking for a paycheck.

Koshcat said...

I watched this movie over the weekend and was thinking about trying my hand at another guest review, but you beat me to it.

I agree completely with your rant. Good actors were wasted on crappy writing and Colin didn't seem like he was even enjoying it. He looked constipated most of the time. This may sound funny but the original seemed more realistic. It was fun, a little thought provoking, and definitely re-watchable. Michael Ironside makes the movie; a character missing in the new one.

There were sooooooooo many science problems. For example:

The Fall is about 7900 miles. Just with simple math, you would have to go about 27,900 MPH to make that in 17 minutes; that's about 39,500 feet/sec. A bullet travels about 1500 feet/sec. The "Fall" Ship would disintergate. Here is more intense science on it:

The idea that they have to build cities on top of cities floating in the air is just stupid.
What is keeping the bad air from mixing with the good?
Wouldn't it be cheaper to develop a means to counteract poisonous gas than to drill a tunnel through the center of the earth?
How are these people being fed? Hydroponics? I suspect many would die off and thus little over crowding.
If Colin can turn off the magnet to fall off the highway why couldn't the cops? Why isn't anyone suspicious that Cohaagen didn't just kill or imprison Hauser if he was a rebel?
If the United Federation of Britain is so awful, why do Colony workers voluntarily endure the Fall to go to work?
Wouldn't be more economic to keep the factories in the colony and ship the products back to Britain by sea?
Wouldn't it be cheaper to put "colonists" in the bad air zone with air purifiers then to ship them through the center of the earth?
Wouldn't it be more militarily advantages to send the drones by ship to the colony? Yes it may take longer but you wouldn't have a single entry point that could be destroyed.
Speaking of that, since the colonists knew that the invasion was coming, why didn't they blow up the port?
Since when did Britain become a "federalist society" without the checks and balances?
The Obama money was stupid and interesting because it shows a complete flaw in thinking. For another country to put his face on their money, he would have had to do something great. We haven't had any kind of war they talked about so he hasn't led us and the world through it. Therefore, he must have caused the war, became a brutal dictator and demanded his own money.
Why did Quaid have so much paper money? It is hardly used in the modern world today. Wouldn't a credit card be easier to carry?

Anonymous said...

P.S. Speaking of originality in Hollywood, the BBC did a story about film music today and some composers (especially James Horner) have their horror stories and it all goes back to the same thing: filmmaking by committee, with studio money wonks being given too much say over a process they know nothing about. Plus the use of temp tracks where one movie sounds just like another.

Listen here.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I agree complete! All of your points are excellent. And that's the problem, nobody thought out anything in this film -- they just tossed in some ideas and started shooting. It's utter nonsense throughout, and that filters down to every level and makes the film completely uninteresting.

And you're right, Colin looks like he hates being in this movie. He looks angry and grumpy and depressed, like he knows this whole thing stinks but he has no way out.

Agreed too on Michael Ironside. His character really helped ground the original and make the whole thing believable. There's no one like that in this film.

Koshcat said...

Your statement about transferring Phillip Dick stories into movies is interesting. I don't have a complete answer for you. His stories are fairly shot without tremendous character building but overall the stories are pure science fiction. Completely understanding the character is not as important as the situation he is in. Pure sci fi may come across as a bit flat so it seems that they mix a little different genre in there to liven it up. Blade Runner is scifi but also a mystery/detective/cop movie. Total Recall (Arnie) was a scifi/action movie. Screamers was a scifi/war/mystery/horror movie.

Blade Runner and Screamers are the best, followed closely by Total Recall (Arnie). Total Rekall (crappy) is so far away from true scifi I don't think we can blame Dick for it. Minority Report isn't bad but it feels like it is missing something. Still I liked the movie overall. I've read A Scanner Darkly but haven't seen the movie.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks for the link. I wouldn't have thought movie sound would suffer from the same problems, but I guess I'm not that surprised. And yeah, a ton of films all sound alike these days.

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I can't explain it either. I wonder if the problem isn't "length," as in his ideas really would work best in short films, yet they keep being made into full-length films? I'm not sure.

I do agree that the stories themselves are basically pure science fiction with little character building, so they end up needing to be puffed up by adding other genres. And I think it's the choice of what they are mixed with that makes or breaks the films. As you note, Blade Runner is a cop movie and a good one and that really made it work. Minority Report also is a cop movie, but not as good of one, so it doesn't quite work. Imposter is cop film too, but not nearly as good as the other two, and it feels really flat. Scanners is a war movie of sorts and I enjoy it -- I also rank it second after Blade Runner. Total Recall is really an Arnold action movie, so it works well in that context. Total Recall reboot is an Arnold-less action movie and it doesn't work at all. There's a movie called Paycheck with some big names including Ben Affleck and director John Woo, but it ends up being just a chase film and it feels really flat. A Scanner Darkly stunk. It was basically a combination of a slacker film and a Tarantino-knock-off drug dealer film. The Adjustment Bureau was a Matt Damon love story/chase film that just bored me.

I know there are more, but I haven't seen them.

Koshcat said...

Too bad about A Scanner Darkly. The book was interesting. The whole idea of spying on people with a partner but you are also spying on the partner and he is spying on you and you don't even know who your partner is. Couple that with finding out that your mission is to spy on yourself which nobody knew it was you because they have never seen your face. Very convoluted.

AndrewPrice said...

I haven't read that one. I've only read three or four of his books and then gave up because I didn't like his writing style at all. I'm frankly amazed that they got Blade Runner out of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

On the film A Scanner Darkly, I'm not even sure what was going on. It was rather a mess.

T-Rav said...

Exhibit 201C in the "Hollywood Is Out Of Ideas" Department. Honestly, the only reason I could think of for this movie's creation was they wanted to show two hot girls fighting, and....that's about it.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Bingo. LOL! As twisted as it may seem, I can see that being one of the selling points when they talked about making this film.

Koshcat said...

T-Rav - they even screwed that up. The first movie did a better job showing off the hot girls especially while fighting. Love those tight pants!

Anonymous said...

One wonders how Blade Runner would be received now. Of course, if it were made today, it'd be a completely different movie and not nearly as original as it was (we've had plenty of rip-offs and dystopias, after all!).

If you haven't seen it already, check out the Dangerous Days documentary on the Blade Runner Blu-Ray. Like Star Wars, it'd be a completely different movie if their original ideas had gone ahead. (Casting Dustin Hoffman in a small movie that took place in rooms. Ridley Scott, naturally, wanted to know what was outside the rooms.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It's funny that most movies would have been horrible if they had done what they originally planned. How many times have we heard that story that the studio or a budget or simple impossibility saved something like Star Wars from becoming a joke?

Loyal Goatherd said...

AP, way to take one for the team, still saving my first 2013 movie dollar for the first 2013 movie worth seeing in a theater. Netflix take me away from here, At least if it's crap there I can click that it was crap and they can steer me away from more crap just like it.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks LG! I do my best. :)

Mycroft said...

Andrew, watching the movie Paycheck made me angry.
The movie failed, not because of Ben Affleck, but because John Woo loves chase scenes to the detriment of any drama he's trying to build. Paycheck could have been an excellent movie if:
1. put back the deleted scenes that explain why Affleck is willing to have his memory tampered with.
2. cut the motorcycle chase scene by 2/3's.
3. reshoot the ending so that we don't spend 10 minutes waiting for the ammunition to cook off. This didn't build tension - it was annoying.

El Gordo said...

Scott, that´s what keeps me awake at night: Fear of a Blade Runner remake.

Chances are, it´s won´t be a small guy in a couple of rooms. It´ll be a spinner chase that flattens 18 blocks. Remember the airship with the "Off World" ad? We need a fight on top of it and you know it´s going to crash. The new Deckard? Chris Hemsworth. The new Rachel? Zooey Deschanel (this one´s for you, Andrew). No, seriously: Ellen Page. The new Pris? Olivia Wilde. The new Beatty? Jamie Foxx.

And we´ll get a scene introducing Beatty doing the combat model thing. "Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion"? Right. He did that. All those moments will no longer be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to rock´n roll!

AndrewPrice said...

Mycroft, I agree. Paycheck started well enough and it had its moments, but it got mired down in pointless chase scenes.

AndrewPrice said...

El Gordo, That's a disgusting thought, but you are absolutely right. If they remade it, they would pack it with stars and then turn it into one giant chase scene with martial arts-style fights and gun fights at every plot point... with the climax taking place atop the airship.

Individualist said...


The reason the invasion of the colony does not make sense to you is that you are worrying about the plot of the story, character development and whether it tells a compelling tale. These things to the liberal that wrote this are merely the unimportant vehicle used as a metaphor to make a political statement.

The Colony being in Australia where convicts and Aborigines come from represents the oppressed third world conquered by Britain. A world struggling to find its place.

Britain represents the mercantile system of capitalism (never mind the mercantilism was a system of trade controlled by governments and Capitalism as defined by Adam Smith promoted Free Trade and was a criticism of the current Monarchies' economic system). The British thus must express their dominance over this third world and cannot let them have their place in the world or they will lose their place as it's rulers.

The chemical war represents the environmental destruction that is wrought by these capitalistic (who act like the mercantile government types capitalists were against in the 1600's but hey we'd have to read a history book to understand that.) who don't know any better.

The Fall represents the link to the upper echelon of British society to the third world and it allows the British to have control over the Colony which is why it must be destroyed at the end of the film.

The attack is necessary to stop the third world from being the equals of the first world because it is all about who is in charge.

So the moral of this film is that big bad old western capitalism destroys the environment and seeks to enslave the third world but the third world can stop this by just breaking off contact. In short Western Society can go to H E double hockey sticks.

I am fairly certain these were the rationalizations of the leftists that wrote this plot.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, An excellent analysis, though I think you are perhaps giving too much credit. How about this: the UFB represents Britain/America, the twin evils of the world. Australia represents the third world. Colin Farrell is the usual white protagonist who must save the poor dark people... as only white people can (liberal films always do this). Cohagen is Bush. The world was destroyed because we hate chemical weapons and because it's cool to blow up the world. The fall came from the book, so we better use that to show we can read. The rest is just poor people being oppressed by evil capitalists and things blowing up which is totally cool.

Individualist said...

Works for me .... so long as we understand that political metaphor trumps story line in thee 21st century Hollywood....

I have noticed a trend in modern science fiction that the writers are using the genre to mask political statements that matter for today over the true purpose which is to show the effects of future technology on humanity. Science fiction writes are more political pundit than they are futurists.

Even well done movies like District 9 center more around trying to make a statement about apartheid than they do trying to show how Aliens with alien thought processes will assimilate into our culture.

Compare that to Alien Nation where the focus was not on the affirmative action metaphor but rather how the Aliens differed from us and how we dealt with it.

There are dozens of examples. Phillip K Dick dealt with the potential technology and how it would effect human nature. This remake addressed none of those subjects. I think this might be why fantasy literature seems to overtake science fiction in the bookstore. Mindless fight scenes work better with Orcs than robots. Robots by their nature are too cerebral.

Anonymous said...

I didn't mind this movie that much mostly because I expected it to be really, really bad, so bad that I didn't even want to watch it. I only ended up seeing it at a friends house and with my total lack of any positive expectations I ended up liking it some. I could see the obvious flaws in the movie but it didn't totally suck, light praise I know.


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, To me, the movie's biggest sin was that I honestly couldn't care about anything that happened.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, I think that's been the case with science fiction for a long time now. What I think has changed though is that they are slapping a sci-fi veneer over "the liberal film" rather than inserting a liberal idea into a science fiction story.

Individualist said...

Amen to that

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