Thursday, November 15, 2012

Total Recall

The best part of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster, ‘Total Recall’ was the trip to Mars, and its inhabitants, including the mutant-mastermind-prophet-figure, who resided on an another man’s belly (really!), as imagined by the very talented Paul Verhoeven.

Now, Colin Farrell replaces ‘Shivajinagar’ (as we call him here in Pune!), and the director, Len Wiseman, decides to skip the trip to Mars entirely. Not a wise decision! Wiseman did the wonderful ‘Underworld’ with his wife Kate Bekinsale, and the fourth ‘Die Hard’ film with Bruce Willis, both were technology-heavy, both in terms of the plot and in treatment; so a techo-thriller is not a new thing for Wiseman, but why ignore Mars? We’d have loved to see what Mars looks like in 2012.

Writes Roger Ebert about the new ‘Total Recall: The two biggest differences between this new "Total Recall" and the 1990 original are that no scenes are set on Mars, and it stars Colin Farrell instead of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Mars we can do without, I suppose, although I loved the special effects creating the human outpost there. This movie has its own reason you can't go outside and breathe the air.

But Schwarzenegger, now, is another matter. He's replaced as the hero Quaid by Colin Farrell, who in point of fact is probably the better actor. But Schwarzenegger is more of a movie presence and better suited for the role of a wounded bull stumbling around in the china shop of his memories. The story involves a man who is involved without his knowledge (or recollection) in a conflict between a totalitarian regime and a resistance movement. Both films open with him happy and cluelessly married (to Sharon Stone in the first, Kate Beckinsale in this one). In both, he is discontented with his life. In both, he discovers that everything he thinks he knows about himself is fictitious, and all of his memories have been implanted.

The enormity of this discovery is better reflected by Schwarzenegger, who seems more wounded, more baffled, more betrayed — and therefore more desperate. In the Farrell performance, there's more of a sense that the character is being swept along with the events.

The ingenuity of the plot, inspired by a Philip K. Dick story, is handled well in this version, directed by Len Wiseman, and in Paul Verhoeven's 1990 version. In both, there are passages in which Quaid has no idea what to believe and must decide which of various characters can be trusted. Both films are top-heavy with non-stop action, but there's more humanity in the earlier one, and I think we care more about the hero. A film that really took this premise seriously would probably play more like Chris Nolan's "Memento," following a man adrift in his own timeline.
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Writes Roger Ebert about the "old" ‘Total Recall: The movie is wall-to-wall with violence, much of it augmented by special effects. Even in this future world, people haven't been able to improve on the machine gun as a weapon of murder, even though you'd imagine that firearms of all kinds would be outlawed inside an airtight dome. There are indeed several sequences in which characters are sucked outside when the air seal if broken, but that doesn't stop the movie's villains from demonstrating the one inevitable fact of movie marksmanship: Bad guys never hit their target, and good guys never miss.

Not that it makes the slightest difference, but the science in this movie is laughable throughout. Much is made, for example, of a scene where characters finds themselves outside on Mars, and immediately begin to expand, their eyes popping and their faces swelling. As Arthur C. Clarke has written in an essay about his 2001, a man would not explode even in the total vacuum of deep space.

(What's even more unlikely is that after the alien reactors are started and quickly provide Mars with an atmosphere, the endangered characters are spared from explosion.) Such quibbles - and pages could be filled with them - are largely irrelevant to "Total Recall," which is a marriage between swashbuckling space opera and the ideas of the original Phillip Dick story. The movie was directed by Paul Verhoeven, whose credits range from "The Fourth Man" to "RoboCop," and he is skilled at creating sympathy for characters even within the overwhelming hardware of a story like this. That's where Schwarzenegger is such a help. He could have stalked and glowered through this movie and become a figure of fun, but instead, by allowing himself to seem confused and vulnerable, he provides a sympathetic center for all of the high-tech spectacle.
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Total Recall is a 2012 American dystopian science fiction action film remake of the 1990 film of the same name, in turn loosely based on the 1966 short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick. Unlike the original film and short story, the plot does not include a trip to Mars and exhibits more political overtones. The film blends Western and Eastern influences, most notably in the settings and dominant populations of the two nation states in the story: the United Federation of Britain, and the Colony. Total Recall was directed by Len Wiseman, written by Mark Bomback, James Vanderbilt, and Kurt Wimmer, and stars Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, John Cho, and Bill Nighy. It was first announced in 2009 and was released in North America on August 3, 2012. The film was released to mixed to negative critical reception but yet received praise for certain aspects. The film underperformed at the box office, grossing $196 million against a budget of $125 million
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