Thursday, 30 August 2012

Review: Total Recall (The Long Review)

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Total Recall (2012) poster

Total Recall (2012) (Spoilers)
121 mins / Dir. Len Wiseman

Note: The short review is here.

I mean you wouldn't remake what is already a perfectly serviceable bubblegum action/thriller, obviously, you just wouldn't, but if you had to… I mean absolutely had to, would you get the director of the frankly patchy Underworld films, his wife and star of those films who also put her name on Pearl Harbour, and the Irish actor who played an Irish villain in Daredevil where he couldn't do a convincing Irish accent? Do you think that would get the project a green-light?

The Plot: Factory-worker Doug Quaid commutes every day to the other side of the world, to a dead-end job, and comes home to a dead-end slum. Haunted by a recurring nightmare, he toys with visiting Rekall, a company which can sell you any memory you desire, but his first trip unlocks more than he ever imagined, and soon Doug's boundaries between reality, memory and fantasy become terrifyingly blurred...

The Good: The most difficult thing about it is separating your brain from your own memories of the original. There are too many similarities with the 1990 movie for this to be a reboot, but too many differences for it to be classed as a remake. There's a reference to Mars in this new one, but that's it. This re-imagining of the story will no doubt irk hardcore fans of the Arnie flick and/or the short story it was based on, but let's not lionise the previous incarnation: everything we really loved about 1990's Total Recall was down to Philip K. Dick's story, not Schwarzenegger or Verhoeven.*1 Don't get me wrong, it's good, but y'know.

Anyway, Total Recall looks gorgeous. There's a definite Blade-Runner feel to the slums, albeit without the technology, and there's been a conscious decision to mash a lot of cultures and ethnicities together (as if this really is the arse-end of humanity), and the final result is stunning. The level of detail in the sets (on both sides of the globe) had me constantly searching the screen for Easter-eggs (can anyone tell me what book he's reading on the way to work?).

Farrell is surprisingly likeable as Doug Quaid, Biel is reliably fiesty as his love interest Melina, and Beckinsdale is predictably borderline-unhinged as his wife Lori. Everyone else is a cut-out character, but how much do you need from an action film? Oh, and yes; you get to see the lady with three knockers. Honestly, you lot.

Joking aside, this new version of the film is surprisingly competent on many levels. It deviates nicely from the audience's expectations and delivers new riffs on an old theme until...

The Bad: Mainly, Bill Nighy trying (and largely failing) to pull off an American accent. In all honesty, I think the only time he's ever been anything other than Bill Nighy™ was when he was Davy Jones in PotC. I mean, he doesn't ruin it, or anything, but you never forget you're watching Bill Nighy. Which more or less sums up the man's career to date.

Elsewhere, the film is let down by its third act. Prior to that, we get a layered twisty-turny thriller*2 which is pointing towards a huge psychological meltdown of at least one of the characters… then it turns into an action/chase movie. Pretty much all of the plot and dialogue up to that point has been leading up to a 25-minute chase sequence that we can all guess the end to because we already know the film. It's a damned shame, because Total Recall had been playing with so much more.

The Ugly: Now, I was going to write about the film-makers' twisted sense of geography. In particular, UK geography. The opening pre-amble to the film tells us how, in the late 21st century, chemical warfare renders most of Earth uninhabitable. Only two sections of the planet remain; The United Federation of Britain, and The Colony (ex-Australia). A pipeline runs through the planet-core to bring workers from slummy Oz to oh-so-lovely Britain (more on that later). Now the graphic at the start of the film indicates that both countries are 'inhabitable' (ie, they're the light bits on a darkened global map, with a little bit of France also included).

When Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel pop up in London and crash their hover-car*3, we go from the elevated sky-lanes where everything's all space-age, to the streets of London Town. You can tell that because the Palace of Westminster*4 is in the background. Ground-level London looks suspiciously 'the same as now', but that doesn't bother me. At least it didn't until Colin and Jessica have to leave the safety of the habitable area to go into the 'No-Zone' to see the terrorist Bill Nighy (with Jessica saying 'oh, the baddies can't catch him because he hides further out of London). Firstly, they go on a disused Tube train, so it's not going to be that far out of London. Secondly, when they don their gas masks and get off the train into the smoky ochre wasteland, you can see the BT tower in the background. That's in central fucking London. Westminster and the BT tower are less than three miles apart. How is that 'the wasteland', and what does it say about the rest of Britain?

Anyhow, when Colin Farrell steals a future-helicopter and belts back into London*5, it only takes him a minute or so. So I guess the people who dreamt that scenario up are geographically sound, they just have no fucking clue as to how pointless it would be to inhabit the South East of England when you've got all of Australia to play with.

So. It turns out that wasn't The Ugly, just a minor point. No, what really hacked me off is this through-planet lift system they've got going from London to Australia. Not the concept (I can handle that silliness), more that they've got people commuting on it. The diameter of the earth is just under 8,000 miles. Even assuming that the evil corporation that ferries people from the other side of the globe to work every day*6 would rather spend time/money on transport rather than just housing people in the No-Zone, in order to make a sensible commute, the shuttle would have to be travelling at at least 2,000 miles an hour. Now, I wouldn't have a problem with that if our heroes didn't end up having a jump-about barney on the outside of the shuttle while it's in transit. Even accounting for the fucked-up gravity (which I'm not sure is handled properly), the amount of drag/g-force you'd get at that speed would be ridiculous.

Yes, that really was four paragraphs over 'not much, really'. Apart from a 2,000mph car that doesn't kill its inhabitants with g-force alone.

All in all: I enjoyed it, make of that what you will. On a technical level, it's head and shoulders above its predecessor. And Farrell acts better than Schwarzenegger*1. That said, he doesn't get to say The Quaid Line™, so perhaps we will never know.

Worth £8+? To see it massively on a massive screen? Yes.


Better than it has any right to be.*7

*1 There. I said it.
*2 It's no Inception, but there are certainly visual cues buried underneath the Blade Runner facade.
*3 1) It's the future, see? 2) Yes, Spoilers. I did warn you. No, you shut up.
*4 Y'know. 'Big Ben'. I didn't want to call it Big Ben because of pedants and that, but there you have it. We both know what it is.
*5 Yes, he's already 'in' London, I know. I'm not sure this film was made with me in mind.
*6 Yeah, time/cost-effective. Absolutely.
*7Listen, thank you for putting up with all these footnotes. No, I appreciate it. Really.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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