I remember seeing the original Total Recall in theaters way back in 1990 when Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the peak of his action star powers, when he was the king of the world of action movies. Total Recall was up to that point in Schwarzenegger’s career, the biggest film he’d ever been in, the most expensive, the most epic; the most bombastic. And
Arnold was just getting warmed up, a couple
of years later he would amaze the world with Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1992).
There was no doubt in my mind that Verhoeven’s Total Recall was an event film,
people were talking about the special effects and about how over the top it was,
but most of all, the movie was getting tons of heat because of the violence and
the ‘disrespect for human life’ that it displayed. You know what I say to that:
“Wake up people: it’s only a movie!” But then again, this was a time when Hollywood was getting a
lot of criticism because of the violent quotient of it’s films. Yes ladies and
gentlemen, 1990 was a summer/year of violence in theaters. We got such action
packed gore fests as Die Hard 2 (1990), Robocop 2 (1990), Predator 2 (1990), hell,
we even got artsy violence with David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990). Boy did I love going to the movies that summer! But the
king of the violent films that year was the film we will be considering today,
Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990).
Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarznegger
After seeing the remake last night, I can clearly see what makes both of these movies so different; and trust me they are very different. Let’s start things off with the way the action star has changed through out the decades. The 80’s and early 90’s were filled with action stars that were essentially, huge muscle bound tanks of destruction, you messed with them they’d answer with a roundhouse kick, a punch to the jaw or they’d blow you away really good. One look at the top action stars of the 80’s and it is crystal clear, muscles were the thing. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, all of them, muscle bound and unstoppable. These guys were invincible in their films, so one thing that distinguished the action star of those days was the fact that nothing could get through them, they were damn near indestructible. With few exceptions, today’s action stars are not muscle bound freaks, but instead have a leaner figure. They are also more vulnerable, less indestructible. One look at the way James Bond was portrayed in Casino Royale (2006) will tell you this. Where Bond was once the epitome of indestructible, he now takes a beating; yes my friends; today’s action stars have one thing in common and that’s that they are psychologically and physically vulnerable. This is why for this new remake we get a lean Colin Farrell instead of a muscle bound Arnold Schwarzenegger.
And speaking of Arnold Schwarzenegger, he was a big part of what made the original Total Recall what it is.
Arnold has always been a bigger than life
character, both in his movies and in real life and he wanted to make sure that
this film was going to be as big if not bigger than his ego. He’d been trying
to get on board the Total Recall train since the days when Dino De Laurentis
was producing it. When that fell through he convinced Carolco to buy the rights
of the film for 3 million. He negotiated a deal that gave him unparalleled control
over the film. He had veto power over everyone, the producers, the writers, the
director…he even had final say so over promotional material which would explain
why his face is plastered over the entire poster! It was Arnold who chose Paul
Verhoeven as a director because he was impressed with Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987).
And here is where another essential element that made the old Total Recall what
it was, the involvement of director Paul Verhoeven. It’s no secret that Verhoeven’s
loves to cram his films with sex and violence. Veerhoven’s over the top style
is plastered all over his Total Recall. When you see both the remake and the
original, you see just what Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger brought to the
project: sex, violence, cheesy one liners and over the top action. All of these
elements are what is missing from the new film. It’s as if the fun was sucked
right out of the movie. The new film is much more serious in tone, more solemn,
cold. Basically, it’s not as much fun.
When Cronenberg was on board as director for the original Total Recall, he added an important element to the script that went on to become a huge part of Verhoeven's version: it was the element of actually going to Mars, he also added the Mutants and Kuato. Though in Philip K. Dick’s short story ‘We Can Remember it for you Wholesale’ Quaid does want to go to Mars (actually it’s the reason why he goes to Rekal) he never actually does. In Cronenberg’s script, Quaid actually does go to Mars and sides with the mutant rebels. There’d be none of these elements in Veerhoven’s film if it hadn’t been for Cronenberg take on the project. So it’s Cronenberg we have to thank for the whole ‘get your ass to Mars’ twist from the first film; which of course was completely deleted from the remake, apparently this was an effort to keep some amount of faithfulness to Philip K. Dick’s story. This means that on this new remake you won’t get, alien machinery, no mars colony, no mutant whores or clairvoyants, no Kuato, no Benny, no heads about to explode because of lack of air, no Mars with blue sky, no spaceships landing on Mars. Basically, anything that was Mars related was eliminated, which kind of brings the fun level down for me. Instead, we get a post apocalyptic earth in which over population is a huge problem. We get buildings on top of buildings, humans commuting in mass to their jobs, flying cars and a society living under a police state, a society that’s constantly being surveyed by the powers that be. So I guess this is the biggest difference with this new film. Eliminating Mars and keeping the film firmly grounded on Earth. They’ve switched the need to turn on the Alien Atmosphere Producing Machines with the need to stop a dictator from achieving his conquest of the people.
The new film is completely earthbound
Here’s where the two films walk on common ground. Both films are distinctively subversive. In both films Quaid was the evil corporate douche bag who now wants to be who he is, not who he used to be. He is the evil man who prefers to be the good guy he has turned into. His evil side is like a distant memory that he does not want to be a part of. Also, both films are about stopping the powers that be from abusing the people. On the original, we had Quaid trying to give the people free air, the way it should be. Why charge people for something that should be free? On the remake we have the workforce, battling against a government that wants nothing more then to obliterate the poor while looking like they are doing something good; a government that lies through the media, and uses the police as their own personal militia. This whole element of the working class vs. the higher powers actually reminded me a whole lot of Metropolis (1927), which is also a film about the working class asking for some respect. They after all helped build the futuristic city of
Metropolis, all they want
is to be treated fairly and with respect. Aesthetically, the film also reminded
me of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002),
especially when the film goes into those flying car chases; which by the way are
one of the coolest elements in the film. At the end of the day though, in
between all the special effects and action, both films are about the people
struggling to be heard and treated fairly.
The original cut for Total Recall got Verhoeven an X Rating from the MPAA, it was deemed way too violent and graphic for the masses and so, cuts had to be made in order to get an R rating. Still, I’d say that Verhoeven walked away with an extremely gruesome movie. I still love watching Verhoeven’s film because it’s so over the top and crazy. I mean, it’s as if the film is constantly trying it’s hardest to shock you, I appreciate that about it. Three breasted prostitutes? Awesome! Heads that are about to explode due to lack of oxygen? Cool! Masks that talk and explode? Tre Cool! Sharon Stone top less? Double the Pleasure, Double the Fun! And what about
none stop barrage of one liners? Fun as hell! Unfortunately all these elements
where sucked out of the new one. I knew where the one liners were supposed to
go on the remake…they just didn’t happen. They weren’t there. I was screaming "see you at the party Richter!" in the theater, and a couple of people laughed, they knew what I was talking about. It’s as if this
remake was too self-righteous to have any fun? It’s trying to be so politically
correct with its delivery that it looses its edge, it looses what made the
previous film fun.
To make matters worse, one of the things that made the original so entertaining were Rob Bottin’s imaginative make up effects. These make up effects were so good that they got Rob Bottin and crew Academy Awards for their work. The three breasted girl, Kuato, the mask, the mutants, even Johnny Cab is gone, all of these creations we have Rob Bottin to thank for. Paul Verhoeven basically gave Bottin free reign to come up with as many gags as he could for the film and Bottin was eager to please. He was the one who came up with some of the films most show stopping moments, like the mask scene, that idea about the mask opening up and saying “get ready for a surprise!” was all Bottin! Sadly, the show stopping make up effects were completely ignored on this one. Instead we get tons of CGI environments.
I don’t want to sound like I didn’t enjoy this remake because it has some very good things going for it. I loved the art direction, which mixed elements from Blade Runner, Metropolis and Minority Report. There's no doubts about it, this is one cool looking movie, kudos to director Len Wiseman for achieving this. And whose fantastic idea was it to put both Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale on the same flick? Kudos to that genius, whoever he or she might be. And Colin Farrell did a good job as Quaid. I wouldn’t mind seen him on more action films. I also loved the idea behind these robot cops; they looked awesome and gave me a glimpse at what we might be seeing in the upcoming Robocop remake which is currently in production. Sadly, if that Robocop remake follows the same ‘modus operandi’ of this Total Recall remake, then the new Robocop will be an equally neutered version of the original. So yeah, the point I want to make about this new remake is that even though it had tons of none stop action and great visual effects, when compared to Verhoeven’s film, this new one feels neutered, like the majority of remakes nowadays. They offer us cleaner, “safer”, more politically correct versions of films that had balls. It seems to me like sex and violence are being eliminated from entertainment. Gone are the raunchy comedies, the ultra violent action films and the ultra gory horror films. Society is being neutered, who’s got the balls to bring an edge back to cinema?
(Go to this link for my full review of Total Recall (2012)
(Go to this link for my full review of Total Recall (2012)
Total Recall (1990): 5 out of 5
Total Recall (2012): 4 out of 5
Shooting the flying car chase