Friday, August 3, 2012

Original vs. Remake Comparison: Total Recall (2012) vs. Total Recall (1990)

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 Arnold’s 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) 


Total Recall (1990): 5 out of 5
Total Recall (2012): 4 out of 5  

Shooting the flying car chase 


Manuel Marrero said...

Basically,They should of call it something else either than Total Recall. I dont care about this movie really. I can tell by watching the trailers that its, Minority report meets I robot.No mutants? No three breasted chick? No BENNY!!!? Andd no Mars? Pass.

Franco Macabro said...

Actually, it has a lot of similarities with Verhoevens film, except for the mars stuff, it's pretty much Total Recall. It does have a three breasted chick, but her breasts only appear 1.5 seconds, not like in the original where they just went on and on with the scene..

Franco Macabro said...

Also Manny, you shouldnt judge a movie without having seen it, it is actually a very entertaining action packed sci-fi film, with great themes and good visual effects, I recommend it, give it a chance!

Michael Grover said...

I'd have to disagree with you that the raunchy comedies are gone. In fact, they're more popular than ever nowadays, what with the Judd Apatow flicks and all their imitators. There are still plenty of ultraviolent movies around as well. Hobo with a Shotgun and Machete come to mind as a couple of recent examples, although they're plagued with ridiculous CGI gore effects, which I can't stand. In general, though, I know what you mean. Most movies nowadays, especially remakes of older films, seem to be toned down just enough to get that all-important PG-13 rating. The "anything goes" sensibility of someone like Paul Verhoeven is sorely missed.

Franco Macabro said...

Your right, raunchy comedies are not entirely gone, but they sure aren't as raunchy.

Hobo with a Shotgun wasn't a theatrical release if I'm not mistaken it went straight to dvd, wich is what happens nowadays with films that are too violent for the general population.

Machete was great gory fun, but films like that one aren't really as popular in theaters as they were in the 80's where they were a dime a dozen. Left and right people were getting blown to smithereens in the cinema. Above The Law, Commando, Predator 2, I Come in Peace, Punisher..

Agree, Verhoven hasn't made a film in so long, I wish he'd get up from his ass and made a gloriously violent action packed sci-fi like Robocop or Starship Troopers.

Thanks for commenting Michael!

Manuel Marrero said...

Yeah...Pass anyway.

Franco Macabro said...

Manuel: Your missing out on a pretty entetaining flick! I mean, any sci-fi lover will find enjoyment with this one.

Unknown said...

Great review! Your comments on the new RECALL are basically why I'm not killing myself to go see it. The film looks like a pale imitation of the original. You say:

"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?"

I know! The only ones I can think of are maybe the guys who make the CRANK films. They make pretty wild, balls-out cult films that are raunchy as hell and not afraid to have lots of sex and violence.

To some degree, Robert Rodriguez brings a certain amount of edge to his films. In a totally different way, Lars Von Trier may be the edgiest filmmaker out there. Take ANTICHRIST for example! Holy crap that was a crazy film.

Franco Macabro said...

Agree about the CRANK guys, I love their films for just that, but again, they are in the minority, but hey, at least some folks out there are trying.

Robert Rodriguez too, one of the commenters before you mentioned MACHETE which is a great example...I'm looking to that sequel, sounds like its going to be balls out CRAZY! Looking forward to an injection of fun, the movies really need it. With modern films it feels as if filmmakers are almost afraid to have fun, to be silly, which is what was so great about films from the 80's, even the comedies were zanier, sillier...I miss that about movies.

Thanks for commenting J.D.

Franco Macabro said...

And about Lars Von Trier, I love how unrestrained his films are, he's an American filmmaker with European sensibilities, I love his stuff, it aint easy to watch sometimes, but it sure moves you. Antichrist is one of the most graphic films I've seen...that last half of film, what a grueling watch! The symbolisms behind the gruesome images gave them power too.

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I’m glad you liked the new Total Recall, Francisco.

I can understand how it is nearly impossible to watch this “remake” without comparing it to the 1990 film, but I did just that. It helps that I haven’t watched the original film in many years and that my memory of it is sketchy at best. I think both Total Recall films are product of their times – which you basically concur with in your review – but unlike you, I don’t think the original is better than the remake. I too am a fan of Paul Verhoeven’s style of filmmaking and his profuse use of “sex, violence, cheesy one liners and over the top action”, but that doesn’t mean that the new Total Recall isn’t just as good a film because of its lack of same. Yes, it is definitely lacking a sense of “fun” that the 1990 film had, but it was obviously trying for a different tone from the original.

You are correct in observing that “the biggest difference with this new film [is] eliminating Mars and keeping the film firmly grounded on Earth.” I think that both films represent the different decades in which they are made. Even in the 90’s there was still an interest in space and the universe beyond the boundaries of Earth’s atmosphere. The early 2000’s, as represented by popular culture, have definitely been more internal and earthbound, so the new Total Recall reflects that. While I would love to see more movies that take place in space (e.g.: Prometheus), I also appreciate science fiction films that explore the future of society on Earth and I think Total Recall did a good job with that. For me, what makes the new Total Recall a good film – and more importantly to me – a good science fiction film, is its detailed futuristic environment and how that affects the people living in it. The new Total Recall is an interesting combination of a thematic sociological science fiction film with an espionage/political plot.

You feel that the Total Recall remake “was too self-righteous to have any fun” and that “It’s trying to be so politically correct with its delivery that it loses its edge [and] it loses what made the previous film fun”. I don’t think the new Total Recall was trying to be “politically correct”, but was trying for a more realistic tone. You may feel that this makes it less fun, but I feel it makes it more believable and therefor a more immersive film. That doesn’t make it a better film, but for me it made it a more interesting and better science fiction film. That isn’t to say that Total Recall (2012) is without flaws in regards to its science [if you want my detailed rant of that subject, you’ll just have to read my review of the film on GotG!], but for the most part it does a good job incorporating the science fiction into the story and making it integral to the plot.

While I disagree with your main point that “this new [film] feels neutered”, I agree with your assertion that “it has some very good things going for it.” I think there is room for both viscerally exaggerated films like Total Recall 1990 and intellectually tempered films like Total Recall 2012. I’m pleased that despite your obvious preference for the original film, you were still open-minded enough to appreciate the new film’s different take on the same story.

Franco Macabro said...

Yes, I enjoyed this new Total Recall a lot actually, I gave it a 4 out of 5 which is a pretty high rating, almost a masterpiece. Agree that this film is a product of it's time, films are more restrained nowadays so thats why we get this ligther version, but that's not to say that the film doesn't have its share of awesome action, which it does.

Like the best sci-fi, this new Total Recall comments on society, and the world we are living in NOW, this did not elude me. The whole thing with the giant elevator and "The Fall" and the morning commute with everyone going to sheep in a herd, these were the elements that I found were most similar to METROPOLIS, if you remember, on that film workers also go to work collectively on a giant elevator, only the one in Total Recall (the remake) was much much cooler of course. This giant elevator was one of my favorite concepts in the film.

I think this remake was a great science fiction film, actually! But this article was trying to compare both films, I am considering writing a review for the film alone, without any comparisons to the 1989 film. I really did dig it lot's, thematically speaking. It really is a whole different animal, but I missed that edgy, coked up, high speed Verhoeven style film, you know, that nihilistic feel, the extremist sensibilities...thats what I missed, but this new one is trying something different, and as such deserves to be seen on its own terms, again, I will be writing a review solely for the remake, it deserves that much.

My comparisons between both films was centered a lot on the current status quo of cinema, more precisely action films. It is quite obvious that action films of the 80's and action films of today are simply not the same creatures and putting aside the relevance of this new Total Recall (which rocked in my book) we cannot deny that the action films of today are neutered when compared to the action films of the 80's, which were a whole lot more visceral then anything being made today.

Thanks for commenting Fritz! I will be checking out your review for Total Recall soon!

Cannonball Perkins said...

I saw both versions and I gave the new one a passing grade because it is really well done and quite entertaining.

I agree with the article in that the fun was sucked out of it. There were a couple of throwbacks to the old film but for the most part they tried to make it new, and more raw.

I like what they did with Kate Beckinsale's role and Jessica Biel is gorgeous of course, but regrettably far less slutty than the original Melina.

Overall I'd say it was a stripped down version of the Total Recall storyline in a blend of equal parts Bourne Identity meets I Robot, a dash of Minority Report and with more face time with the beauties!

I officially give it 7 repressed memories out of 10.

Franco Macabro said...

I caught those throwbacks, like the fat lady at the airport, she was dressed exactly like the fat lady in the original one..and she starts saying "two weeks"...that was a good one. Also, the moment in which they cut off the robots hands with the elevator was a nudge at that scene in the first one where Richter looses his hands, I shouted the line "see you at the party richter!"he he..

Both Melina and Lori were portrayed much less sexier, I guess so they can fall under the PG-13 rating.

Agreed, stripped down of the nudity, the gore and the violence, I guess this allows for a film that can focus much more on the story and the action.

Thanks for commenting!

Joseph Garcia said...

Considering that I love A Scanner Darkly and Blade Runner, this film finally does service to the original creator of both the aforementioned films as well as this one, namingly, Phillip K. Dick. The first rendition of Total Recall was, in my opinion, a Hollywood bastardization of yet another serious authors original vision and intentions. Phillip K. Dick was a genius novelist, a science fiction guru whose works are actually a representation of his views on governmental invasion of privacy and the drug war, as well as many other things. He was by far one of the most celebrated dystopian novelists of his generation, not only because of his creativity, but also because of his technical knowledge and the predictive nature of his writings. I love the over-the-top stylings of the 80s and 90s action genre, but the first Total Recall was nothing more then a money whore that threw away the original story for the sake of Hollywood. Creative? Yes. Thought provoking? Not in the least. Entertaining? Yes, but in much the same way that people stare at terrible car accidents or watch their neighbors thoughtlessly (or intentinally) having sex in front of a picture window...the kind of entertainment that appeals to teenagers (those that probably don't know better) and the lowest common denominator (those that do). I do admit to liking the first when I was younger, but having seen this and knowing the origins of both, I walk away from the film feeling as though justice has been done for Mr. Dicks original vision. RIP Phillip K. Dick

fa said...

2012 version is boring, nothing but CGI, fights and persecution that we have being seen since this CGI stuff has been the main character of Hollywood movies.

Your conclusion says it all: "Society is being neutered, who’s got the balls to bring an edge back to cinema?"

Franco Macabro said...

Joseph: I haven't read K. Dick's book, but I'm looking forward to it. I have no idea how it measures up against the films, but from what I hear, the new one is more faithful. Still as films, Veerhoven's is light years away from the new one in terms of pure entertainment value.

Thanks for your comment, sorry I took so long to answer!

fa: Yeah, sadly CGI is here to stay...if they only used it less...I mean, I'm not a CGI hater, I think it works wonders for backgrounds and vehicles...but when it takes over everything? Ugh...

Anonymous said...

I prefer the 2012 version. I'm not really a fan of Arnold's one-liners because they've always destroyed any sense of belief for me that what is happening could be real. I'm more for whatever keeps a movie realistic, even if it IS science fiction. I found Colin Farrell more believable, and his vulnerable qualities made me want to root for him.

I also loved the two female leads in the 2012 version.

My two-cents: If you want more realism from human actors, the remake is better, if you want silly one-liners Arnold is your guy.

Franco Macabro said...

Anonymous: I think the remake is enjoyable as well, I enjoyed a lot of the effects work and the action, but if I had to choose, I go with Veerhoven's film, simply because its crazier and more fun. The remake looses that zany 80's fun factor.

Unknown said...

The 2012 version is a pale comparison. There are so many differences in this film to the 1990 version that you can get lost trying to compare the two.

Unknown said...

To be honest i did not much like the 1990 Total Recall. I saw it when i was about 10 and i thought it had really cool things in there that in a good way horrified me such as pulling the tracking device of his head through his nose. Really cool. But as the movie went on i lost interest. Even today when i watch it i get bored towards the end. I think the action scenes were not not very imaginative which brings me onto the 2012 version. I really enjoyed this version better because it was more imaginative. Unlike the original i enjoyed watching it from start to finish. The new one is better.

Franco Macabro said...

Hey Kevin, to tell you the truth, I've never gotten bored of the original Total Recall, its so crazy and over the top, I recently screened it in a venue and the crowd went wild with it. The thrills you get, the jolts, you just don't get from today's politically correct cinema. Long live the zany, crazy cinema of the eighties.

Unknown said...

Well, everyone has been focused on plot details, earthbound, lack of masks etc. The real difference has not been mentioned---Jerry Goldsmith's soundtrack. It made the first a classic, engaging imaginative film stimulating repeat viewings. While the second does not even get to distinguish itself from the pack.


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