I recently wanted to see a film that would not stretch my brain. I wanted to shut off and simply enjoy some explosions and fights and the like. So, I went to the recent remake of Total Recall – and kind of liked it. I know that the popular view is to hate it, and to hate the fact that Hollywood seems to be only remaking old ideas and not coming up with something new, so I guess I just ain’t so popular.
Rather than just assuming that the remake had to be worse than the original, I had to re-watch the original which I recall kind of liking a fair bit, and wanted to see how the two compared. Of course, once I got started, my interest was awakened, so I found the short story that it was based on. Here’s what I reckon about all three.
***MAJOR SPOILER ALERTS*** I’m not even going to try to hide the spoilers here.
Here are the plots of each:
Total Recall 2012
Earth in the future. It’s dark, overcrowded and filthy, and most of the world has been destroyed by nuclear war. Only two parts remain – the United Federation of Britain (UFB) and the Colony (that’s us, Australia). There is massive overcrowding, and people in the Colony are forced to travel through the world on a giant (and I’m talking the size of a city block of skyscrapers) elevator called ‘The Fall’ to work in factories. The world is run by a dictator, Chancellor Vilos Cohaagen (played by the wonderful Bryan Cranston) who is planning to wage war on the colony with an army of robots, kill the whole population of the Colony, replace them at their manual jobs with robots and repopulate the Colony with people from Greater Britain. There is an underground movement, led by Matthias (Bill Nighy) and his unidentified second-in-command, Carl Hauser.
Dennis Quaid(Colin Farrell) is dissatisfied with his life and so, despite warning from his workmate, Harry, visits a company called Rekall. Rekall manipulate the chemicals in his mind so that he will have the memories of an adventure where he is a double agent spy. Only, the process reveals that he is actually in real life a double agent who has had his memory erased and placed in a false marriage. He then spends the film trying to figure out what is real and what is false. His wife (Kate Bekinsale) is chasing and trying to kill him, and Harry turns up to try to convince him that he is having a delusion.
An old colleague calls him on a phone implant in his hand (which he needs to remove in a gory manner as it is also a tracking device) and directs him to a bank security deposit box. He then makes it to his apartment where he plays the piano that reveals a recording of himself explaining that he is Carl Hauser and was a double agent. He then goes with Jessica Biel, the girl he remembers from his dream, to defeat the evil dictator and free the Colony and nearly fails but eventually manages to destroy The Fall in a spectacular fashion.
Total Recall 1990
I remember this being a great film loved by many of my generation. I hate to say it, but it really didn’t hold up for me. But, before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s go the rundown.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who dreams of visiting Mars. His wife, Sharon Stone, tries to convince him that Earth is best, or they can go and visit Saturn, but he is adamant that he wants to go to Mars. Despite warning from his workmate, Harry, he goes to Rekall to get the memories of a trip to Mars implanted, and has the add-on of being a spy. But, when he is put under, he freaks out and rants about his cover being blown. Rekall cover this memory up and release him back into the world with a full refund, but on the way home he is attacked by and has to fight off (and kill) Harry and a gang. At home, he tells his wife, who then tries to kill him. Quaid is contacted by a mysterious man who leaves him a suitcase with a recorded message from himself in the past telling him he needs to get to Mars to meet Kuato. Mars is run by dictators Cohaagen who controls the planet by controlling the supply of air and the domes in which the population live, protected from the Mars atmosphere.
Quaid sneaks himself into Mars, with a few spectacular fights involving lots of celery sound effects and very, very red blood. A note in a safety deposit box at the hotel directs him to a bar in a sleazy neighbourhood full of mutants (who have been made mutant by poor quality domes) and to Melina who rejects him, but turns up at the hotel in time to save his life shortly after he kills his wife. She and the quirky African-American taxi driver Quaid has befriended along the way, Benny, get into the secret hiding place to meet Kuato, who is a mutant man living in the chest of another.
One thing leads to another, and Quaid discovers that he is actually a triple crosser, an agent of Cohaagen who claims to be on the side of the mutant rebels, but he is actually still working for Cohaagen. Quaid cannot accept this, and changes sides, killing Cohaagen and Benny (who is a traitor) and starting the ancient alien machinery that produces oxygen, rendering the planet livable to humans and the domes unnecessary.
We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Phillip K. Dick
Sometime in the future, Douglas Quail (not sure why this was changed to Quaid in both films. Bit confusing) dreams of going to Mars, but his wife tries to convince him to take a deep sea holiday instead. Against her wishes, he goes to Rekall to have the memory of a trip to Mars implanted, along with the spy add-on. But when they put him under, he recalls an actual trip to Mars. Rekall attempt to cover it up and shove him in a cab, and return half his fee. Coming to, Quaid’s memories are confused, and he thinks that Rekall have ripped him off and implanted the Mars memory, but with none of the physical souvenirs promised. He directs the cab back to Rekall, and they refund the remaining amount of the fee. Back at his house, he discovers some relics from Mars that make him realise that his memory is real, not false. He tells his wife who leaves him.
It transpires that he was an agent for a mysterious agency, who then chase him to kill him, and he gets away but is being traced by a device in his brain. Through the device, the agency can read his mind and respond to him telepathically. Quail
Requests them to erase his memory again and place a new, grander memory in his head so he doesn’t become restless again. Reluctantly, they agree to try this, and if it doesn’t work, they will kill him. The agency remove his memory and discover a fantasy from when he was a child – a tiny alien race arrived on Earth to take over the planet, and because Quaid showed such humanity to them and didn’t kill them, they agreed to stay away as long as Quaid is alive. Laughing at how arrogant the fantasy of saving the entire human race is, the scientists are surprised to discover that this too is a truth from Quaid’s past, and that they cannot kill him or the world will end.
Heaps different, eh? What’s more, I was really disappointed with it. I found it really poorly written with lots of redundant sentences yet not enough detail. I have heard for so long that Phillip K. Dick is an amazing sci fi author, and I was just so, so disappointed with the quality. However, reading the other stories in the collection Minority Report, I can see why he is so popular. I may not appreciate his style so much, but I got totally and utterly caught up in the action that it didn’t mater. Not that it mattered much for We Can Remember it for you Wholesale – even re-reading it, it didn’t grab me. But to provide the seed for two pretty cool action films, well, it obviously had something.
That’s an awful lot of viewing and reading, isn’t it?
Yup. I had to let my thoughts simmer for a while to let everything sink in and figure out what worked and what didn’t. Here goes!
What I really liked about the 1990 version is the ambiguity of the end- there was a real sense that perhaps the entire thing was just the memory from Rekall and that Quaid was stuck in a psychotic coma of some kind. There was the slightest hint of this in the remake, but really not very well done at all. And throughout the remake, I kept thinking ‘ah, it’s all part of the package from Rekall’ but it just wasn’t balanced out.
The fight sequences in both films were cool in their own way. In the original there was the cheesy 80s schmaltziness, the litres of red paint and the crazy sound effects- never has breaking bones sounded so much like celery crunching. In the remake, the fighting was fast, hard and involved lots of battle barriers which were heaps of fun.
The acting in the remake was a lot better than in the original – seriously, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It took a long time for him to get to the level of True Lies (which I loved), and especially when he smiles and enjoys himself – well, he is seriously scary looking. It wasn’t just Arnie, though. I get the feeling that the director was a lot more concerned with the special effects and fights than with the performances. Or perhaps it was the era. Or maybe people just couldn’t act with that much hair product? Even the swearing in the original sounded forced, as though people didn’t really swear. It can’t have been just the era – Demolition Man is from around the same time and the acting was a lot better in that. And that’s saying a lot given it was Stallone.
A major flaw in both films is that Quaid is so unhappy in his life that he wants a fake life, yet neither film sets that up well. There really seemed to be little reason for Quaid to go to Rekall, yet he does. There are a lot of really major differences between the two films, and that was when I decided to read the short story that it was based on, to see which was closer to the original. Neither, as it happens.
I preferred the new. I think it may essentially come down to expectations. When I went to see the new version, I wanted a good, face paced action film and that’s exactly what I got. When I watched the old film, I wanted to relive what I remembered as, and had been repeatedly told, was a classic. What I got was a good story wrapped up with poor acting and direction, and nowhere near the excitement or action that I wanted. I’m going to watch it again with other people around and see if that changes my opinion at all, but I suspect that I’m just not a fan.
Oh, but yes, the three-breasted prostitute is in both! Phew!
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In the 1990 movie, the main character is named Douglas Quaid, not Dennis.
Thanks for the correction! I’ll update my post.