Friday, August 17, 2012


The critics have not been kind to Len Wiseman’s remake of the classic SF film TOTAL RECALL.

You can’t blame them, really. Though the original, made in 1990, did star Arnold Schwarzeneggar (and Sharon Stone—who remembers that?), it was a smart, snappy thriller, smoothly directed by Paul Verhoeven. That film, which has achieved something of a cult status among SF fans, was yet another clever adaptation of a short story by writer Phillip K. Dick (“We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”). Its hero, Douglas Quaid, who starts out as a disaffected factory worker on a future Earth, stays confused about his past and his identity for much of the film, so the audience is never quite certain whether he’s living a dream or reality. That was the beauty of the film, at least as I remember it.

In Wiseman’s version of the story, that illusion is shattered very early on and never regained. The story is told as a straightforward action thriller, losing much of its elegance and mystery. Our factory worker, unhappy with his dull life, goes to ReKall to have some new, exciting “memories” implanted, but before the drugs can be administered, the ReKall computers discover Quaid has actually lived the life he’s chosen before. He actually is a “secret agent” and he was undercover, spying on rebels in The Colony where he now works, until he fell in love with one of the rebels and became sympathetic to their cause. He was then captured by his government handlers and reprogrammed with this “new” life.

The problem is that we learn all of this right at the beginning of the film. Since the drugs were never administered, there’s never much question that what happens subsequently—the troops showing up to attack him at the ReKall facility, the revelation of his wife and his friend as government agents, the chases, the plots and all the rest of it—is real. The film is just a (pretty good) shoot-‘em-up with an interesting beginning.

The biggest reason this is too bad is that the heart of the story—the whole “what is reality” question--is missing. Phillip K. Dick didn’t just write thrillers; his stories had a point. John Cho’s ReKall manager character states that point in a nice little monologue, but most people are likely to miss it: What is reality but a mental construct? Or, put another way, if we remember it, is it the same as if it actually happened to us? That was a strong element of the original film that is completely lost from this one.

It’s also too bad that some cool technological ideas are wasted in service to a lesser story. The original story’s rebels were on Mars. The bad guy, the dictatorial governor of Mars, had a plan to keep control by preventing the use of reactors that would have created a breathable atmosphere for the Red Planet. Um, okay. Not sure if that’s any less likely than a tunnel that allows transportation all the way through the Earth’s core from England to Australia. But the Fall is way cooler in both concept and onscreen execution.

Then there are the maglev highways in the air of the city that allow multilevel car chases, and the phone wiring implanted in Quaid’s palm that lights up when he gets a call. You do wonder why folks would stop at the palm when they could go directly to the brain, though. It would make removable more difficult, I suppose.

So should I even talk about the acting? We’re comparing Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Colin Farrell. Neither one is well known for his range of facial expression. Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel have a great fight scene in an elevator (in fact, the fight scenes overall are stellar). Bryan Cranston is not nearly as menacing as he should be, but then Kate has all the good scenes, there. Bill Nighy and John Cho are pleasant surprises. And Bokeem Woodbine, as Quaid’s treacherous friend Harry, does his usual fine job.

Well, there we are. The summer is almost gone, and we haven’t had a real SF film to rave about. Time to hit up Netflix or your own collection and watch something made five, ten or even twenty or thirty years ago. Like the original TOTAL RECALL, maybe.

Cheers, Donna


  1. I'm just disheartened by the constant remake or re-release of 'classics' and the general poor storyline of any of the new stuff. I'm hoping to see Lock Out but with no expectation that it will be anything more than Die Hard in space with lots of tech and explosions. It almost seems that with the advent of super special effects, the storylines have suffered, or film makers are playing it safe with remakes. sigh.

  2. I'm not much of a fan of remakes, either. I'd really love to see some NEW SF movies come out.

    How about a (well done) version of The Outback Stars. How awesome would that be? Or Grimspace and the rest of the Sirantha Jax series? Why not Dragonriders of Pern? Linnea Sinclair's The Down Jome Zombie Blues is being made into a movie (The Down Home Alien Blues) so at least we have that to look forward to.

    If they're going to do remakes why don't they do one of Dune that's spiffier and slicker than than the previous not-so-great renditions? (Would love to see Peter Jackson or James Cameron sink their teeth into another true classic.)

    Oh, and BTW, I think both GHOST PLANET and KEIR would make excellent films!

  3. Laurie - they are/were supposed to be filming one of the Pern books, but I've not seen/heard anything about it for a while. A Dune remake might be good, but after seeing The Hobbit being made into a trilogy I wonder if Dune might end up the same.
    And agreed, KEIR and GHOST PLANET would be excellent films! Anyone know Cameron or Jackson's number?

  4. I had to run off and research that, Pippa. Here's what I found courtesy of Wikipedia:

    In 2002, Warner Brothers Network and writer Ronald D. Moore had completed sets and casting for a pilot episode, and were within a few days of filming. Moore had sent the pilot episode to Warners for final approval. It was returned with so many changes to the basic structure of Pern – making it more like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer – that it no longer much resembled the world created by Anne McCaffrey.

    As a fan of the Dragonriders of Pern series, Moore refused to continue. Filming was canceled, and rights ownership remained with Zyntopo Teoranta's assign, Kua Media Corporation (Canada).

    In May 2006, it was announced that rights to the entire Dragonriders of Pern series were optioned by Oscar-winning production company Copperheart Entertainment. Copperheart announced their intention to bring Pern to the big screen.

    On 12 April 2011, Copperheart announced signing David Hayter as screenwriter and Don Murphy as executive producer for a film version of Dragonflight, with production expected to begin in 2012.

    Sounds like it might be a live project. Exciting prospect!

    This is also interesting. Someone took at shot at casting the movie in a IMDB thread from October 2011. Nathan Fillion as F'lar? Now THAT could be an amazing choice. (This thread has obviously been around for awhile because one of the earlier suggestions for female casting was Farrah Faucett. The commenter suggested an alternative.)

  5. I think it must have been the shout out in 2011 that I saw. The problem is these things go very quiet for a while, and you never know if it's because they're busy working on them or if they've died a quiet death!
    Fillion would be a good choice. I could see him as F'lar (although it's been a good few years since I read it). I also saw him listed to play another scifi character for something, but typically now can't find the post. I think it was a 2014 project.


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