Friday 31 August 2012

Total Recall 2012

First Among Recalls

Total Recall 2012 USA 
Directed by Len Wiseman
Playing at UK cinemas now

The year was 1990.

8 years since Blade Runner came out in cinemas.

8 years since I read between 30 to 40 of Philip K. Dick’s second hand novels and short story compilations over the space of a year.

Total Recall, directed by Paul Veerhoven was released into cinemas and I was really looking forward to it because it was alleged to have been based on one of my favourite of Dick’s short stories, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. The title of the new movie bothered me though... after all, with such a great title on the short story, why couldn’t the movie just follow suit (and why call a movie Blade Runner, for that matter, when the original novel’s titles is just so darned cool? Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?).

So there I was, sitting in the cinema in 1990 with my friends and the credits on Total Recall roll and, within about 15 seconds I am absolutely furious! This is ****ing plagiarism right here. This movie is scored by Jerry Goldsmith, one of my all-time favourite composers and I just want to strangle him and never before, or since, have I actually fought this hard to not jump up in front of an audience and knock some sense in to their lack of reaction and lead them in an orderly mob to the projection room with pitchforks and lighted torches.

I look around at my friends and none of them seems particularly worried or as angry as I am and... I just can’t believe it. But I am so enraged I want to spit and stamp my feet. Jerry Goldsmith’s opening title music to Total Recall is, as anybody with half an ear could tell you, a rip off of Basil Poledouris’ opening title music, Anvil Of Crom, from the 1982 Arnold Schwarzenegger adaptation of Conan The Barbarian. I am restless and fidgety in my seat. How am I supposed to enjoy a film when it’s being all copy-cat on Schwarzenneger’s arse.

Of course, what had happened was that the films producers, or possibly director, or anyway... some idiotic suit who wouldn’t know the difference maybe... had wanted to recapture the glory of the earlier Schwarzenneger movie with this one and asked the great Jerry Goldsmith to ape the style of the Conan The Barbarian main titles... probably by way of creating a sound temp track for the movie, a practice Jerry Goldsmith always hated and never really mellowed to (especially after working with Sir Ridley Scott a couple of times, is my understanding), which included Anvil Of Crom over the rough cut.

So I can’t blame Jerry for doing his job and I’ll forgive him... but I won’t forgive the people in charge of this production for doing that to both Jerry and Basil. How awful for them both!

This major felony of artistic taste-crime was further compounded when the film decided it was only going to take the basic kernel of the idea of Dick’s story and, rather than treating it in an intelligent, witty and, frankly downright funny presentation like the writer did, instead turn it into some kind of horrible action movie with a bunch of, frankly, lame special effects (even for the time), and generally destroy all that was good and enjoyable about the original short by cloaking it in a miasma of boring, couldn’t-care-less, chase fests. It was not good and, so far, I’ve never been that tempted to take another look at it and, the few times I’ve tried to get into the score, I’ve always started seeing red and flying off the handle every time I fire up the opening title music. I just can’t get through it when that red mist of angry musical deja vu pours into my ears.

I found out just recently that one of my favourite living directors, David Cronenberg, was developing that original film for a year, attached as the director, before being dropped from the project by the producers. Apparently, he was fired for attempting to make a movie version which was fairly close and respectful to the original PKD source material... when all that the producers wanted was, and I quote, “Indiana Jones on Mars”. I think David Cronenberg’s extremely “Phildickian” inspired movie eXistenZ, which even contains some specific references to Dick’s The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch in it, if I’m remembering it right, is far superior to what the makers of Total Recall ended up with in every way possible and is a testament to Cronenberg’s ingenuity, skill and ultimately, suitability to this kind of project.

Then I heard they were “remaking” Total Recall.

That’s how they put it. Remaking Total Recall.

Not doing an adaptation of PKD’s We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Which rankled me somewhat, as you can imagine.

Furthermore, I then heard that Colin Farrell had been picked up for the movie. Now I’ve never quite been able to stand Colin Farrell for very long. He was in a fairly cool movie by Spielberg, inspired by Dick’s story Minority Report, but he wasn’t in it much and that’s about as long as I can handle him for. Which is why I wasn’t all that keen in ever going to see this new incarnation, which hit the cinemas a couple of days ago over here (why are a handful of films now suddenly coming out on a Wednesday or a Monday over here at the moment?). That was until I saw the trailer for it in front of a couple of movies over the last few weeks and liked what I saw in those trailers enough to go and see this on its opening night (in the UK).

I have to be honest... it’s not so much a straight remake of the original movie, thank goodness, but it still significantly “deviates from the brief” so to speak, if that brief was indeed to make a version of We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. You still don’t get the humour of the wild, weird and varied scenarios as the company in the story tries to give the central protagonist a new memory... opening like a set of Russian dolls to reveal that the character has had many lives, all of which match the wildest inventions of the scenarios they are trying to create for him (secret agent, superhero etc., it’s been a while since I read this, obviously). However, having said that, I did rather enjoy this movie on a purely “this is a piece of modern action cinema which works quite well” kinda level and I think a lot of people would like this if they gave it half a chance...I understand lots of people in the US stayed away in droves for this. I think it will make some cash when it gets a DVD release, however.

So... there’s a couple of references to the 1990 version, at least a couple I could pick up on given my relative inexperience of the original and this will probably bring a smile to the faces of fans of the first. But, unlike both Dick’s original work and also the Schwarzenneger vehicle, this particular film is taking itself very seriously most of the way through and it lacks any real humour.

Colin Farrell’s performance is quite good and I was able to suspend my disbelief and allergic reaction to him for, just about, the full duration of the film. Can’t really fault him as an actor... just one of those personalities on screen who I personally have trouble with. He’s excellent in this, as are most people in it, and that should be good enough for me.

Jessica Biel, who is another old hand from a Philip K. Dick movie (Next, inspired by PKD’s The Golden Man) is also on hand and she does a great job here but unfortunately she’s kind of overshadowed a bit by the absolute powerhouse villainess performance put in by Kate Beckinsale in this one as Colin Farrel’s wife/baby sitter. I usually find her a bit hit and miss, although I loved her in Van Helsing and Whiteout, but in this one she really outdoes herself. It’s a real “action woman with confidence” tour-de-force and she seems to have inherited that great ability to really look like she actually could do it all in real life (Nobody could but, hey, she looks like she could, okay?).

The editing in this one is fast and furious and the emphasis really is on action. There’s not a heck of a lot of screen time with people standing around talking... it’s pretty much one big long action chase lasting roughly two hours. There’s also not a lot of let-up to the pacing but that’s just the kind of movie it is. Fortunately, although the editing is pushing through the images at a frantic rate, it’s quite competent on this one (they’re pulling back and getting better again in Hollywoodland with this kind of stuff, I think) and it’s pretty clear throughout the stacked-in-a-row action set pieces just what is going on and when. It’s very easy to comprehend the choreography of the crash, the bang and the wallop.

Harry Gregson-Williams, another composer who I find a bit hit and miss, pulls off a techno augmented score which perfectly complements the thrills on screen and hits all the right notes... all the right notes, that is, if the movie was going to be called The Total Bourne Recollection. It has to be said, the score is excellent, but one of the problems with the movie is that it does seem, in a fair few places, to be trying to capture the zeitgeist of the Jason Bourne franchise and there will be a fair few scenes in this one which might take viewers back to The Bourne Identity... which seems to be the mind echoes that this movie is trying to hit quite often. Consequently, although the score doesn’t have that strongly defined set of bass lines and melodies that the Bourne series has, the orchestration and general style of it is definitely, I suspect, trying to remind you of those films on a sub-conscious level. That being said, though, I loved this score and wish the company had chosen to release a CD of it instead of letting it wallow in some “unreleased” list.

The visual aspect of it, though, is very glossy and, for the most part, sterile in it’s big budget portrayal of a bona fide ”sci-fi thriller”. That is to say, it’s grey and white and has the feel of something like the Will Smith vehicle I, Robot or, indeed, the aforementioned Minority Report. I’m not saying this is a bad thing though... I liked it well enough and I think other people might get a kick out of it if only they’d go to the cinema and give it a try.

In summing up I’d say, don’t go expecting a faithful adaptation of either the original movie bearing this name, or indeed, Phil Dick’s original work... it’s dumbed down significantly, for sure. However, if you like futuristic action movies with lots of punching things in it and lots of bad guys who seem to be incapable of accurately aiming their weapons at the main protagonists, then you could do a lot worse than give this one a watch. Give it a gander if you’ve got nothing better to do.


  1. Love the review! In turn hilarious (although I feel your pain for hearing the music you know and love and no one else gives damn) and thoughtful, as usual, in its parsing of stars, storyline, camerawork. Thanks for this!

  2. Hey there Bucko!

    How are you?

    Yeah, I still hate the musical... um... "homage" on the first movie.

    Thanks for the kind words.