Total Recall, like the upcoming Highlander, is a remake we did not need or ask for. The 1990 Paul Verhoeven version has reached scifi classic status over the last twenty-two years, and after suffering through two hours of Len Wiseman’s idiotic remake; my belief that it should be a crime to remake any Arnie movie is reinforced.
There is literally nothing in this remake that makes it worth sitting through, and as it’s so bad and pisses all over the original so much; any spoilers in this review are a benefit to you so you can know to avoid this movie at all costs. Nothing that made the Verhoeven movie so great is present here. It follows the major story beats of the original, but without the story, humor, or characters that made the Arnold version so enduring. It’s a mindless action movie with good effects set in the future, with just enough familiar Total Recall elements to be able to call itself Total Recall. But it misses the mark in so many major parts that it boarders on insulting to anyone who enjoyed the original.
Unlike the Verhoeven version, this one is set sometime in the far future after a war at the end of the 21st century has made the entire Earth uninhabitable due to chemical warfare. The only place where people can live is in the United Federation of Britain (most of Europe) and the Colony (Australia). The two megacities are connected by an underground tunnel that cuts through the Earth’s core where the poor people in the Colony take a big train/elevator called the Fall every day to work in factories for the rich people in Britain. There is no Mars here, but there’s a reference to it spoken when they talk about the guy who was lobotomized by Recall.
What made the story of the original so great is that it messed with your mind as something based on a Philip K. Dick story should. You’re never really clear if the whole thing is real or a dream, and Verhoeven was really smart in keeping your guessing. For example, when Quaid goes to Recall they show him leaning back in the chair and then they cut to the salesman talking to someone else about a vacation when he’s interrupted by the techs. You never really see what happened in that room, so you don’t now for sure if they implanted anything or not; despite what the techs say.
In the remake, they never cut away from Quaid in the Recall chair. You see everything that happens in there, and there are never any hints dropped in the movie that it could be a dream. The original has the techs talking about a blue sky on Mars, for example, but there’s nothing like that here and by the end of the movie it’s almost very clear that it wasn’t a dream. It’s extremely lazy and because of that it lacks one of the best things about the original story.
But it gets worse.
The big finale that everything leads to is pedestrian and boring compared to terraforming Mars with a giant alien machine. When Quaid learns about what he needs to do, just past the halfway point of the movie, I nearly walked out because it just wasn’t worth it to sit through more of this crap just to see that ending. Quaid’s goal is to stop Cohaagan and an army of robot cops that were taken right out of iRobot from invading the Colony and killing all the poor people. Compared to going inside a Martian pyramid and turning on an ancient machine to give the planet a breathable atmosphere, that’s stupid.
The character of Kuato in the original is replaced with Matthias in this one, but he really serves no purpose. When Quaid met Kuato in the original, the little tumor opened his mind and unlocked the big secret that was hidden in it. In the remake, when Quaid meets Matthias he serves absolutely no purpose other than to finally bring Cohaagan face to face with Quaid so he could kick off his invasion of the Colony.
A lack of characters in the Colony is another problem. In Verhoeven’s version, Quaid goes to Venusville to find Milena and in the process is introduced to some memorable characters in the bar, which the movie cuts back to many times as their doom starts to be sealed. The remake features nothing like that, so when the movie cuts to massive crowds of faceless people in the Colony reacting to the news of an invasion, it’s hard to really care.
Things don’t improve much with the soundtrack. Harry Gregson-Williams’ score is flat and uninspired, lacking even a memorable opening theme. Sure, it’s a little unfair to compare it to the original where the legendary Jerry Goldsmith composed one of his best scores ever, but he could have at least put a little effort into it.
Instead of wasting $10 to see Total Recall this weekend, take that money and buy the Blu-Ray of the original.
A rebuttal to this review can be seen here.