After having watched the original Total Recall (1990) I was a little skeptical when it came to watching the remake as, with many films where the original is good, the remakes tend to fall flat by comparison. With Total Recall (2012) I think I was both right and wrong to be skeptical; in many ways the remake has really not lived up to the original but at the same time, if taken totally away from the original, it provides a good watch in its own right, as long as you don’t judge it comparatively.
There is very little commonality between the two films when it comes to style. The original provided lots of zany, over the top action typical of our friend Arnie and didn’t take itself too seriously. The remake however has tried to make a serious, gritty, sci-fi thriller which, minus the actual plot, has more in common with the Bourne films or Minority Report (2002) than with the original.
My trouble with the remake is that it has tried to follow the plot of the original quite closely, while changing some of the bits that make the original plot make sense in the first place, if the original plot DID actually make sense – I’m still not sure. The characters go by the same names and the general plot is the same, with the same plot twists and turns (which I am a little disappointed about as there were no surprises from the original film). However they have also screwed with the plot in many ways. In the original, Arnie is a construction worker who has had his memory erased so he does not remember his past as a rebel, fighting against earth influence on Mars. Sadly there is no Mars in the remake, which is set entirely on earth. The earth has only two remaining habitable zones – The Colony (Australia) and the United Federation of Britain (Europe) with a massive tunnel running right through the centre of the earth connecting the two civilizations (that bit is admittedly very cool!) The Colony is filled with terrorists who are fighting the control of the UFB and the UFB are amassing a force of robot police to keep the peace.
Unfortunately, with the change in scenario and the change in technology there are a few bugs in the film that leave the plot feeling a bit tenuous. With the old version the technology is still poorly advanced enough that you could imagine Arnie being able to run around the place and kick ass. However – with the technology that is clearly present in the new film, the idea that Farrell could run around ANYWHERE without being immediately caught seems a little foolish. Some of the bits just make no sense what-so-ever, like how he finds things out, how he got captured, how people find him and so on and so forth and whereas the original can pull it off, the remake – what with it trying to appear realistic, technologically badass and all spy-thrillerish – doesn’t really manage it. Too many plot holes I say.
The film has also lost a lot of what made the original so good. There is a serious lack of mutants in the remake* as well as far less camaraderie than the original. The remake has made it far more about romance between Farrell and Biel, whereas the original really did show the loyalty and bond between members of the rebel fighters, with them sacrificing their lives for each other and kicking some serious butt.
That said, there are some very cool bits in the remake. As previously mentioned, the idea of a giant tunnel/transportation system running all the way through the core of the earth is pretty epic. Citizens commute all the way from The Colony to the UFB every day, and there is a fantastic bit where the shuttle system reaches the core and there is a moment of weightlessness before the gravity reverses – epic concept. I also really like the way the cities are designed. The Colony has turned into a sort of bastardized New York – China mega city, with lots of Asian influence and appears as almost a futuristic shanty town. I would not have been at all surprised to have spotted Mal Reynolds from Firefly running past in the other direction** during any of the city scenes – The Colony could be straight out of firefly with the anglo-asian amalgamation and environment. I also think some of the technology is rather cool – like a phone implanted into your hand that when placed onto a glass surface creates a video screen and computer – where do I get one?
If I’m honest I think my real quibble with the remake is that it’s not different enough to disassociate itself from the awesome original, but it is also not similar enough to do the original justice***. I think that the film should either have made itself closer to the original or distanced itself much further from it, whereas it has found itself in the limbo where there are too many similarities but also too many differences. Does that make sense? Either disassociate yourself entirely from your predecessor or try better to copy what made the original good! It’s kind of like bad Michael Jackson tribute acts – they are not quite Michael Jackson but also not NOT Michael Jackson, they are just not quite Jacko but also not a singer in their own right. I’m going to stop trying to explain… Put bluntly – I like the original better.
*except for the one three breasted hooker, I guess that is one thing they thought essential they keep from the original, even though it makes NO SENSE WHAT SO EVER when there are no other mutants about…
** Man, they should totally have just made this film with Mal Reynolds and River Tam. Honestly though, if you merged Serenity and Total Recall together – with River Tam having had her head messed with, fighting her way out and being rescued by Mal and the crew and bringing down the UFB (totally the Alliance!)– whoowee! Now THAT would be a film I would see!
***Actually, I think my REAL quibble is that it does not star River Tam… just saying!