Total Recall on Blu-ray
The good news is that this unnecessary remake of the Paul Verhoeven sci-fi mind game is better than we expected. The bad news is that it could have been so much better.
More good news: it's an excellent Blu-ray.
Len Wiseman takes the reins from Verhoeven this time around. He's made some decent films in the past – including Live Free or Die Hard and a couple of the Underworld flicks – but his touch is one of the problems with this Total Recall remake: too much shaky cam stuff and ultra quick cuts. And lens flares.
But there's more to it than that. And there are some interesting twists and turns – for example, the woman from the first movie who's staying on Mars for "two weeks" (and turns out to be Arnold in disguise) is this time a red herring – but she's there.
Yet there's no Mars, there are no cheap domes that lead to a race of mutants – even though the three breasted prostitute is on hand in this version too. It doesn't make sense.
It isn't just the change of locale (this Total Recall is set entirely on Earth), it's also the lack of an opportunity for us to suspend our disbelief. The biggest problem in this regard is "The Lift," the plot device that gets the rabble in the colony to work on the other side of the world. It's a kind of sci-fi train that goes right though the center of the earth in about 17 minutes, despite current theories that the earth's core is nothing but pressure and molten, well, Earth.
Perhaps a Star Trek-type transporter would have made more sense (at least it's believable), but then there'd be no opportunity for the big, climactic battle that takes place in and on The Lift.
The story itself is pretty good, but the mind games from the first movie are pretty well repeated nearly verbatim here, so we know what's coming if we've seen the first movie. Even one twist, the scene where Quaid/Hauser is confronted with the "fact" that he's still under the Rekall spell and the powers that be try to "talk him down" is such a minor twist that it doesn't really matter that Quaid's clue comes from a different source.
It's a pretty complex story, and still plays some decent mind games on those who may not have seen the original, but it all seems "so what?" There was nothing about the 1990 original that cried out for a remake (not, we suppose, that there usually is with remakes) and yet here we are.
All that said, there's still quite a bit of fun to be had here. The movie looks fantastic, a kind of "Blade Runner-esque" future setting that is really very cool. And other than The Lift, the technology seems believable.
Set at the end of the 21st century, after chemical warfare has destroyed most of the planet's livable areas, there are now only two territories capable of sustaining life: The United Federation of Britain and The Colony (Australia). The proletariat of the Colony travel to the UFB via the previously mentioned "The Fall," where they build synthetic police robots that you just know are going to be used to create a police state. So in effect, the workers are building the source of their own enslavement. Kind of neat, but not really explored.
Our hero, once again, is Douglas Quaid (Collin Farrell this time, who's very good), a typical worker who's married to the smoking hot Lori (Kate Beckinsale). He's been having weird dreams – the same dream recurring, actually – in which he and a woman who isn't Lori are trying desperately to escape something.
Quaid decides to visit Rekall, a dumpy little memory parlor ("We can remember it for you") where you can rent memories in lieu of actually taking a vacation. But it's more than that: you can not only visit a far off place, you can live an adventure. In this case, Quaid decides to take the secret agent memories, for a little fun. Quaid gets injected with the liquid formula for his memory (which makes us wonder why they need the whiz bang lights behind his chair), but then it turns out that – apparently – he's already had his memory messed with.
Just then, the authorities break in and Quaid is forced to defend himself. In a display of outstanding derring do, he kills something like 20 well-armed law enforcement officers (or whoever it is) singlehandedly. This display of previously unknown (to him) talents for violence means there'll be even more baddies coming for him, and sends him running for his life (a "Running Man," perhaps?) and sets up the rest of the story.
We'll spare you the twists and turns in case you're still hoping to see the movie (and haven't seen the original). Suffice it to say, many people in Total Recall aren't who you (or Quaid) thinks they are and before all is said and done Quaid ends up being basically the father of a new nation.
The cast is pretty good, but the original's was better. Well, except for Farrell, who's much better than Arnold Schwarzenegger was in his take as Quaid. Farrell's a better "everyman" than the bulked up, Austrian-accented Arnold was, but as lovely and talented as Beckinsale is she just isn't as nasty as Sharon Stone was in the original. And while Jessica Biel is fine as Melina, Bryan Cranston pales in comparison to the outright evil that Ronny Cox brought to the role of Cohaagen, the main villain.
Overall, the action is good – and without the really over the top violence of the original – and so is the design, special effects, etc. If you haven't seen the original, you might enjoy this version quite a bit.
There's also a lot of other sci fi movies here, from the "Blade Runner" look to the robot police that look like a cross between Imperial Storm Troopers and the robots from I, Robot. And what's with all the lens flares? Geez, the over use of these gimmicks makes J. J. Abrams look restrained!
As a Blu-ray, there's little to complain about here. Total Recall comes with a fantastic 1080p image that really does the film justice – probably more than it deserves! But Sony's transfer is dazzling, with superb detail, deep blacks, and rich colors. Such a great picture can sometimes mean you can see where the set ends and the effects begin, but not here; everything works just fine.
The audio is also completely up to snuff. It's presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (which is unusual these days, since most BD's we've reviewed lately come with DTS HD Master Audio) and it makes use of all the home theater's channels very well indeed.
And that's what you want. This is a movie full of sound, whether it be dialogue, The Lift in action, oodles of gunfire, punches, kicks, you get the drill. And it's all delivered very dynamically and positively surrounds you with the action. Just as it should.
Then there are the extras – and there are plenty of them, over 90 minutes worth, according to the package.
You even get two versions of the film: the theatrical cut and the special extended edition. Take your pick for which one you think is better, but we didn't find the extra 20 minutes or so made for a better movie, just a longer one.
Oh, yeah, you also get a DVD version of the film and a UV Digital Copy voucher so you can download the movie.
Disc one also includes a commentary by director Wiseman, who gives some interesting insight into both versions of the film.
There's also "Insight Mode", which delivers "scene specific behind the scenes video" throughout the movie. You'll probably want to watch the movie without this activated first, but it could be pretty cool to look at all the behind-the-scenes stuff (in split-screen windows and/or full-screen cutaways) afterward. They talk about and show the equipment used in the shoot, the musical score, costumes, and the like, including making-of features, art sketches, set design, and more. It's pretty neat.
There are also some trailers.
Disc two includes a gag reel, "Science Fiction vs. Science Fact," in which media scientist Michio Kaku (who's a Professor of Theoretical Physics and Author), looks backward for context and then extrapolates forward, to such stuff as robotics, holograms, flying cars, and "The Fall."
There's a very short feature on designing The Fall which, while the idea didn't make much sense, was certainly very cool, indeed. And "Total Action" is a seven part feature that looks quickly at such topics as: Colin Farrell, The Tripping Den, Destroying Rekall, Kate Beckinsale, Lobby Escape, Jessica Biel, and Quaid vs. Cohaagen.
And there's more, including some pre-visualization sequences and a video game demo for PS3, of "God or War: Ascension."
Total Recall is worth seeing, especially if you haven't seen the original. It's a terrific Blu-ray of a flawed but fun movie – a true popcorn film.
Total Recall, from Columbia Pictures
Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.