Monday, August 06, 2012

Total Recall Doesn't Recall Totally

CAUTION: POSSIBLE SPOILERS (you've been warned)

Over the weekend I went to see the Colin Farrell-starring remake/reboot of the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi hit, Total Recall. It was fun but I prefer the original - Cheezy as Ah-nold might be.

Really, the opening scene kinda lost it for me. It takes place at some point before they insert the "memory cap" and Melina is part of the scene. You quickly find out it's a "dream" but now we've been introduced to the female protagonist. For me, this spoiled the potential for any sort of "what is reality?" scenario. It also ruined any possibility of discovery as the character discovers.

The 1990 movie was an action movie with guns blazing and exploding fake heads but it also had a lot of character development. The resistance went beyond Melina and Kuato. You met and cared about, at least superficially, their friends, mutated by sub-standard habitat domes on Mars and forced to pay, literally, for the right to breathe. You understood what they were fighting for.

The update focuses only on four major and one minor character. You have Quaid/Hauser, Melina, Cohaagen, and Lori (the "wife"). Then you throw in the co-worker(/agent?), Harry. Everybody else is pretty much a plot device or NPC. Heck, about half the cast are security robots. I cared about Quaid, being the protagonist, could have easily dealt with Melina biting it and kept waiting for Ferrell to shoot Lori in the head and say, "consider that a divorce."

As for plot, the two stories diverge widely there. The 1990 version is set on Mars, same as the short story it's based on, and Quaid/Hauser has been convinced to fight against a tyrannical CEO of the company stripping Mars of its minerals. Conditions are reminiscent of how the coal companies used to run mines in the 1930's. Workers were purposely kept impoverished, lived in sub-standard living conditions, received almost no health care, and depended on the company for almost everything. Cohaagen runs Mars in much the same way but, as I stated before, the people literally count on him for the air they breathe.

The remake is more of a political struggle and takes place exclusively on Earth. Chemical warfare has made all but the United Federation of Brittain (the U.K.) and The Colony (Australia) uninhabitable. The two are connected by a tunnel bored through the earth. Travel is accomplished via "The Fall" and takes less than 20 minutes from station to station. Think of it like a giant bank vacuum tube.

The basic scenario is that the people of the UFB are relatively well off - clean streets, shiny buildings, etc. - and The Colony is impoverished and oppressed, comprised mostly of unskilled labor for the UFB. I never did quite figure out exactly what the resistance was resisting but Matthias, leader of the resistance, was being blamed by Cohaagen for various "terrorist attacks" in the UFB.

As the movie goes on the audience is informed that Colony residents are seen as a lower class but it's not really touched on as to why. Were they allied with the losing side in the war? Are they just poor and "dirty"? Is it a matter of national pride for the UFB to hate them? We don't know.

As it turns out, Cohaagen is carrying out the "terrorist" attacks himself in order to justify creating a larger army of his "synthetic" police force. In reality, Cohaagen despises The Colony and wants to invade it, wipe it off the face of the earth and replace the unskilled workforce with robots. We're not really told why. I mean, Cohaagen is an asshole, obviously, but we don't really get the full effect of his assholity (I can make up words if I want!) thus making the entire crux of the plot fall totally flat.

The action sequences were great - especially the car chase and the elevator jumping. The problem was that the movie relies on them to carry it. It's like the plot is a device to get to the next action sequence rather than the action sequences helping to advance the plot.

My recommendation: Wait for it to come out on cable or use a freebie sms code from Redbox.

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