This week I watched Total Recall (2012) and Total Recall (1990). I had spotted the newer one on Netflix and it was stuck in my head for a few days so I gave it a go. It’s not good. Afterwards, I had to go back and rewatch the original to see what had made them think it was a good idea. I can definitely see the appeal of the old one but they didn’t seem to capture any of that in the remake.
Total Recall (1990) is mad goofy. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a maniac and a terrible actor. His screams in this film are a work of art. That’s kinda the charm of the film though. It’s fun, it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s got a hectic energy. I think everybody in it is good at what they’re doing. Arnie has some top notch nonsense one liners. Michael Ironside is great as Richter. I saw Arnie talking about how good Sharon Stone was and I think she does a solid job of facilitating Arnie as a phenomenon. Also, I liked the world creation on Mars. The planet is cartoonish. There always seems to be drilling machinery appearing out of nowhere. The mutants remind me of the sewer people in Futurama.
I’m not sure how a person could have watched the first version and then wanted to make the 2012 remake. The whole thing is confused. The Wikipedia entry for the film makes the production look like a mess. Apparently, Jessica Biel told people it wasn’t a remake of the film but an adaptation of the short story by Philip K. Dick that Total Recall (1990) was based on. That doesn’t really make sense though because her character doesn’t exist in the short story. I’m also not that sure why they would keep the name Total Recall if it’s not supposed to be a remake.
The fun goofiness is gone. It’s all very serious. Colin Farrell is phoning it in. His accent’s all over the place. He seems to have moved away from doing this type of thing. He doesn’t seem to want to be a leading man in big blockbusters. He seems like a likeable guy but he has a lot of shitty films under his belt. Jessica Biel is pretty forgettable. Pretty much the only person who comes out of this looking ok is John Cho as the Rekall rep. The dialogue is pretty weak and clunky. For a film that’s supposed to be all action, it’s pretty boring. I started to fall asleep so I had to watch it over 2 nights. In his review of the remake for Time, Richard Corliss wrote about the idea of subtraction. It only varies from the original by taking away from it. The charm is gone, the fun is gone, Mars is gone, the mad drilling is gone. The only addition is a stupid tunnel through the centre of the earth.
I feel like remaking a film should be an ambitious undertaking. You should be looking at an existing film and hoping to improve, modernise or translate it in a new time or setting. The minimum requirement needs to be to be at least as good a film as the original, because you’ve already lost any hint of originality. Total Recall (1990) was silly and entertaining. Total Recall (2012) seemed to have no ambition to do anything interesting and, ultimately, it’s zero craic.