A new version of Total Recall, based on the short story We Can Remember it For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick, arrives in theaters on August 3rd. While the film does not feature action on Mars like the original the protagonists and antagonists carry the same names – Colin Farrell is Doug Quaid, Jessica Biel as Melina, Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen, and others – suggesting it is more of a 21st century remake of the 1990 version instead of a reimagining of Dick’s original story. Here is the trailer:
I cannot deny that the film looks entertaining, but derivative of all the other action films of the last ten years with Matrix-like action sequences and heavy CGI. It is also helmed by Len Wiseman (the man responsible for those boring Underworld films) and penned by the writers responsible for Salt and Live Free or Die Hard – not a confidence-inspiring combination. Rumored to have a budget of $200 million (the original Total Recall cost $65 million) I have severe reservations as to whether this new Total Recall will contain the spirit of the original or be just another stupid action/sci-fi film masquerading as intelligent by riding Philip Dick’s brilliant but speed-addled coattails.
One of the big dealbreakers is Mars’ absence. Dick’s original short story is about a man who dreams of visiting Mars; Verhoeven’s protagonist (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is the same. Farrell’s Quaid, from what I can tell so far, just wants a vacation from the ordinary doldrums of living in a two-government, wartime society. Naturally the new film constantly questions who Quaid really is, preserving the existential questions at the heart of Dick’s story, but it is hinted that he is either a spy for the North American-European Union block or its Asian nemesis. I am not sure if this is merely pro-American propaganda or an attempt to contemporarize the politics of the original. Considering Cohaagen is listed as the primary villain, it is possible that 2012’s Total Recall, like Verhoeven’s, is more about internal political struggle and espionage, which is one of the great things about the original. That and the excessive amounts of violence.
Following Alfonso Cuarón’s 2006 film Children of Men, creating a futuristic dystopia that is believable has become difficult. Cuarón crafted the most chilling and honest future ever depicted in film, reflecting the politics of the time better than most, if not all, of science fiction cinema. Since Total Recall does not take the audience to a futuristic Mars, the society in the film relies heavily on representations of a dilapidated earth. Considering the filmmakers’ previous credits, I expect political commentary of a very juvenile nature. The first Total Recall did contain two warring world powers (the Northern and Southern blocks), but their existence only fueled the demand for natural resources at the heart of the movie’s action. In essence, Verhoeven’s Total Recall revolves around an oppressed group’s struggle against a behemoth corporate power. Like the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Martian mutants were the 99%. It is questionable whether Wiseman’s rendition will contain the anti-establishment fervor that permeates all of Verhoeven’s American films.
So far Columbia Pictures has released only one brief trailer. Coming in at a little over two minutes, it hardly presents enough footage to base one’s solid analysis of the film’s subtext. Instead, the trailer demonstrates how this film, like all other large- budget action flicks of the 21st century, will contain large amounts of battle. Not that the 1990 version was missing any action (I counted 84 kills while watching Total Recall once), but the overly stylized action sequences of the last 10-15 years have begun to wear thin, showing that a paradigm change is needed lest films like this become stale and tired. Then again, maybe I am just jaded and Total Recall will be a spectacular film complementing Verhoeven’s version and Dick’s story. It is just difficult believing that the writer of Salt and the director of the Underworld series can make anything substantial.
Plus, will the new Total Recall feature a three breasted mutant prostitute? Probably not. Most likely the film will be PG-13