One of the beauties of DVD is the opportunity to revisit a film months after its original release, just to see if your original feelings are still valid.

Take Prometheus for example, a flick that I really had a problem with at the cinema, only to temper considerably when it came to checking it out again at home.

As for Total Recall though, well my thoughts pretty much remain the same – I found it exhausting first time round and still do now.

That is not to say it is a particularly bad film – far from it – it is just that director Len Wiseman’s ‘Shootout. Chase. Fight. More Chasing. Repeat’ mantra wears thin well before the end of the film.

Naturally, this take on the Philip K Dick short story was always going to get a rough ride, considering how so many people (myself included) revere the Arnie original from back in the day.

So Wiseman is at least to be congratulated for straying from the 1990 classic to bring his own slant on the story – sticking much closer to Dick’s original themes in fact.total-recall-poster

Out go Mars, mutants, battles for oxygen and the like and in come the United Federation of Britain and The Colony (basically Australia), the only two areas on Earth deemed habitable after a series of global conflicts.

UFB is very much the place to be, ruled by Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) and to all intents and purposes pretty affluent.

The Colony on the other hand is all industrial grime and smog – connected to UFB only via ‘The Fall’ – a transport system that travels between the two via the Earth’s core.

With those differences out of the way, huge chunks of Total Recall play identically to the original – we are still introduced to Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), who is still seemingly happily married to Lori (Kate Beckinsale) but still hankers for more excitement in his life.

This leads him to Rekall, the memory implant company, where Quaid requests a secret agent package, only to realise he may actually be one already – one who just happens to have had his memory erased.

Before long Quaid is on the run, joining forces with the resistance (including Jessica Biel and Bill Nighy), as he attempts to find answers just to who he really is.

As stated earlier, huge chunks of the film are lifted directly from the Arnie version, to the extent that fans of the film will often be able to recite lines before they actually happen.

But there are also a number of nice touches, nods and pieces of misdirection from Wiseman that pay homage without exactly ripping off – most notably an immigration desk sequence and a pivotal scene that involves a tear rather than a bead of sweat.

The big difference though, and where I feel the 2012 edit falls down, is the whole thing is far too serious.

Whereas the Arnie version was certainly big on action and intrigue, it was also high on humour, which helped the whole thing become supremely entertaining.

Now I wasn’t expecting Farrell to start spewing the likes of ‘Consider that a divorce’, but it would certainly have helped, as the few attempts at gags appear pretty forced.

The whole thing is also pretty dank and dark – gone are the over-the-top, garish colour schemes and in comes Blade Runner-esque oppressive neon and incessant rain.

The audience is also told pitifully little about The Colony itself or its inhabitants – whereas the Paul Verhoeven movie took time to stick Arnie on Mars, introduce the mutants and their cause and give a solid grounding for Quaid switching allegiance – here there is none of it.

It seems a desperate race to get to the next action sequence or get Farrell running again, with the end result being the movie straying dangerously close to becoming boring.

That it doesn’t is probably down to a decent enough ‘confused’ performance from Farrell, along with admittedly excellent effects work.

It is also pretty hard to rubbish a film that stars both Biel and Beckinsale in ass-kicking roles – well, for me it is anyway.

The bottom line for Total Recall is that anyone coming in to it cold will probably have a good time, but for anyone who cherishes the original – well, you won’t be infuriated, but you almost certainly will be disappointed.

 

Extras: Gag Reel, an interesting featurette on how close Rekall is to becoming reality, and a design featurette on ‘The Fall’

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.