Sunday, August 5, 2012


“While Total Recall isn’t the deepest or most complex of science fiction films, it is full of enough exciting action and captivating characters to hold your interest until its spectacular climax!”
Science Fiction, Action and Espionage
Starring - Colin Farrell/Douglas Quaid & Hauser, Kate Beckinsale/Lori Quaid, Jessica Biel/Melina, Bryan Cranston/Cohaagen, Bokeem Woodbine/Harry and Bill Nighy/Matthias
Director – Len Wiseman
Writer(s) - Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback screenplay based on the Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale"
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity and language.
Runtime - 118 min
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Total Recall - despite the title – is not a remake of the 1990 film of the same name. If you were a fan of the original film, also very loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale", than nothing I can say will convince you that this new movie is worth spending your time and money to see at the theater. Conversely, if you disliked the 1990 film, there is a chance you will like this film, but still be confused as to why they bothered to make another film with the same title, but with a completely different setting and plot. I don’t have an answer to the later question, but I will attempt to explain why I think Total Recall is a good, if somewhat flawed, science fiction film.
The setting for Total Recall is 2084 in which most of the surface of Earth has been made uninhabitable by a global nuclear war. Two areas are left inhabitable: The former British Isles now run by the United Federation of Britain and the continent of Australia, now dubbed The Colony. Workers commute daily between the two nations via a massive underground gravity elevator which travels through the Earth’s core.
Douglas Quaid is one of those commuters. He travels from his small apartment in the crowded capital of the UFB to a manufacturing complex in The Colony, to work on an assembly line manufacturing armored police robots. Tiring of this life and his recurring nightmares, Quaid visits Rekall, a company that promises to implant memories to help him escape his mundane existence. Instead, before the Rekall procedure even begins, they discover Quaid has already been implanted with memories and accuse him of being a UFB spy. This sets off a series of alarms and Quaid is surrounded by security officers before he can escape. Quaid kills all the officers with unknown skill and escapes home to his wife Lori. When Quaid confesses to Lori what has happened, she reveals the truth about their relationship and Quaid finds himself on the run from his past life that he knows little about.
Total Recall is essentially a futuristic spy story. The memory implantation technology devise is used only to set up the true narrative of Quaid’s previous life [SPOILER] as an agent for the USB and how he was used to infiltrate a resistance movement that is attempting to free The Colony from the USB’s influence. I am not adverse to using futuristic technology as a devise to hang a more conventional plot on and Total Recall does make use of one very important piece of future tech to implement an important plot point on. Unfortunately for me, this bit of technology did not seem plausible to me. The idea that you could boar a hole large enough to fit a “gravity elevator” large enough to transport hundreds of people doesn’t seem feasible to me. The Earth’s core is theorized to be made up of solid iron–nickel alloy under millions of pounds of pressure and has an estimated temperature of 9,800 ° Fahrenheit! Let’s say materials could be made to withstand these significant obstacles, common sense tells you that England is not the geological antipode of Australia. A quick search on an antipodal map shows that the antipode of England is about 1000 km southeast of New Zealand and the antipode of Australia is several 1000s of km west of Spain in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean! While this works well as a metaphor for the opposition between the UFB and The Colony, it would have been nice if the writers could have done a bit more research to work around these physical improbabilities.
My scientific quibbles notwithstanding, I did enjoy Total Recall overall. The complex relationships between Quaid, his wife and his other love interest make for some fantastic physical confrontations. The plot of Quaid’s past is reveled quickly enough so that the majority of the film is taken over by his conflict with his former and current alliances. The film rushes along at a fantastic rate and culminates with a very satisfying visceral conclusion.
Colin Farrell as our hero Douglas Quaid is serviceable, if somewhat uninspiring. Jessica Biel is believable and fairly complex as Melinda the resistance agent. Kate Beckinsale as Lori Quaid really steals the show! She is terrifying and gorgeous at the same time! The many fight scenes between her and Farrell are both disturbing and realistic at the same time. Another nice character twist is played by Bokeem Woodbine, who plays Quaid’s friend and co-worker at the beginning of the film, but transforms into a completely different character lateR in the film.
The look of Total Recall is deep, rich and very immersive! The digital mat work is seamless and I kept looking at the cityscapes trying to figure out what was a real set and what was digital and I could not. I loved the sleek look of the flying cars, the detailed cacophony of massive infrastructure supporting the towering buildings and the details in the crowded roadways and sidewalks. It did have quite a few similarities to the look of Blade Runner, but there were enough differences to keep it from being a complete knock off.
While Total Recall isn’t the deepest or most complex of science fiction films, it is full of enough exciting action and captivating characters to hold your interest until its spectacular climax!
TECHNICAL: Acting – 9 Directing – 9 Cinematography – 9 Script – 8 Special Effects – 10
VISCERAL: Visual – 10 Auditory – 9 Intellectual – 8 Emotional – 9 Involvement – 10
TOTAL - 91


  1. I didn't dislike this film as many other people, but I still thought it was an unneeded remake in the first place, that didn't really do much with it's original material in the first place. Still, Biel and Beckinsale are always great to look at. Nice review Fritz.

  2. Hi, DanO!

    I’m glad that you didn’t dislike the new Total Recall, which is a step above most of the haters’ pure abhorrence for this remake of their beloved ”classic” 1990 Total Recall. As I mentioned in my review, I don’t consider the 1990 Total Recall to be a classic, but I do think it was an entertaining, if slightly flawed, sci-fi action flick. I think the 2012 Total Recall tried very hard to tell a similar story, but with a more realistic tone. I think that it succeeded at its intent to tell an action-driven, espionage science-fiction story and I for one enjoyed it for that.

    You inadvertently bring up an interesting question as to whether a film should be remade or not. As a general rule, I’d rather see an original film instead of a remake of anything. However, Hollywood has been remaking films since the days of silent films. The reason for this is mostly due to name recognition; in that it is easier to sell a film that people already know the story than it is to sell a new idea. This is the reason so many movies are based on best seller books, old TV shows and now comic books. I personally think that a remake of a film is almost always a lose-lose proposition. If the film is a much-loved classic, most will hate the remake before even seeing it. If it is a remake of a poor film, most will assume that the new film will also be of the same quality. Given that remakes will continue to be made, I will continue to watch the films I think I may enjoy and avoid the ones that I think I’ll dislike. In other words: I’ll take the remakes one film at a time just like I do every other film.

    I will confess that the casting of Biel and Beckinsale was a factor in my seeing Total Recall; that and the fact that I am a fan of the director Len Wiseman.

    Thanks for the comments, DanO!

  3. Wow I got to say this was the worst film I have seen at the theater this year. If you decide you are going to make a remake then it should be compared to the original. That is the price of imitation.
    This film mangaged to suck out the humor, fun cheese, and many of the Sci-fi aspects of the original and replace them with an endless series of chase scenes and explosions that they set in a near copy of the city in Blade Runner.

    I also enjoyed checking out the rest of your site, but with regards to thei film I completly disagree. This film is the cinematic equivalent of Nickelback. ;-)

  4. Mark,

    I’m glad you took enough of an interest in my review of Total Recall (2012) to take the time to post a comment on it; even if you totally disagree with my opinion of it. Also, thanks for following my blog. Hopefully my reviews of genre films will continue to provoke your opinions of more films in the future.

    You say that Total Recall was the worst film you have seen at the theater this year. I can only think that you have not seen many films at the theater in 2012, because of just the genre films there have been several poorer films released - and we are only 2/3rds of the way through it! Surely if you had seen The Watch, Dark Shadows, Snow White and the Huntsman, Wrath of the Titans, Mirror Mirror, The Devil Inside, The Raven, or (worst of all) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance you wouldn’t be calling Total Recall the worst film you’ve seen at the theater this year.

    You state “If you decide you are going to make a remake then it should be compared to the original. That is the price of imitation.” I stated at the beginning of my review of Total Recall, that as a general rule, I’m not in favor of remakes. However, since the film industry continues to make them, I will continue to watch the ones I’m interested in and attempt to judge them on their own merits. I feel that if you compare a remake to the original film, you will end up doing one of two things. One: If you really like the original film, than no matter what, you will not like the remake. It will either be too different from the film you loved, or it will be too slavish a copy of the original; ether way you are predisposed to disliking the remake. Two: If you disliked the original film, you are unlikely to even watch the remake; but if you do, you’ll most likely not like it because you weren’t interested in the subject matter to begin with. Either way, a remake is doomed to fail by comparison to the original film. This is why I try to judge a remake on its own, so that I give myself the best chance possible to enjoy the film.

    In your criticism of the Total Recall 2012, you mention that it “managed to suck out the humor [and] fun cheese” of the original. The light satirical humor of the 1990 Total Recall is what I disliked most about it. I think the interesting science fiction ideas of TR’90 were subverted by all the one-liners and physical gags in it. The director of TR’90, Paul Verhoeven, used the same technique in Robocop (’86) and Starship Troopers (’97) and I think those two films would have been better served with less satire and more science fictional drama as well.

    I agree that TR’12 could have focused more on the science fictional concepts and less on the action sequences, but that is the style of director Len Wiseman, so I was prepared for this type of film before seeing it. I too thought the visual style of TR’12 borrowed a bit too heavily from Blade Runner (particularly the crowded cityscapes), but most science fiction films in the past 30 years have done the same thing, so I was willing to give the filmmakers a pass on this faux pas.

    Hey, I kind’a like Nickelback’s song “Rockstar”! Thanks for the thought-provoking comments, Mark. Y’all come back now… ya hear?

  5. People riff on about how wonderful the original was. Was it? Seriously? Arnie is better of portraying a cyborg than attempting to pull off a human being. Some plot device about an alien reactor conveniently left unused? The whole core of Mars is ice? Insta-terraforming to Earth normal pressure(with a pure O2 atmosphere) and leaving the core of Mars rather depleted? This was Paul Verhoeven directing, the same man who butchered Starship Troopers. "What if dis is all a dream?" "Well then kiss me quick before you wake up."

    Whilst everyone is piling on the hate, this is closer to the original "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick. Quaid's character is a lot closer to the original Quail. As for the mind-bending said of it will, if you look at Total Recall 2012 and then re-read the story then it becomes pretty ambiguous as to whether the second half of the movie was real or not. As for the whole invasion thing - yes, that was how the story ended, sort of. Not a microwave meal terraforming. As for "Hauser," Quaid's motivation was, that he was actually a really nice guy deep down, if a little messed up. As for Kristen / Melina, it's probably intentional that they look similar (partly because Melina never existed). Melina is just like Kristen's "undercover" persona. The end fight between Kristen and Quaid makes this apparent - also that the final scenes of the movie might not be real, as the Philip K. Dick story implies.

    The trouble is, you just don't see all of this because you're too busy looking for bits from the original Total Recall. It's not a Total Recall remake. It's another film adaptation of We Can Remember It For You, which borrows a few characters (partly because there only half a dozen in the 22 page short story). I only realised this when I reread the story.

    As for the Fall, the actual elevator describes a hyperbolic path through the Earth's outer core and mantle, all of which are liquid. Since the core also rotates, it's impossible to drill through anything but the core axis. The elevator constantly accelerates *downward* (so the seats are actually oriented upside down immediately after the drop commences) and doesn't just drop.

  6. Hello, Troy! Thank you for all the fascinating comments on Total Recall.

    I think much of the love for 1990’s Total Recall is based on nostalgia. I grew up in the 1960s watching the classic (and not so classic) horror and science fiction films of the 40s and 50s, so I tend to be nostalgic - and hence less critical - about those films. Many people who write blogs today grew up in the 80s and tend to be more nostalgic about the films they watched from the 80s on video tape or at the theater in the 90s. While I was – and still am – a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s films, I do agree that he was not an actor, but more of a star. One of the reasons that his films, including Total Recall 1990, are filled with so many one-liners is because humor tends to off-set Arnold’s lack of credulity as a three-dimensional character. All science fiction films made by Hollywood contain some – and usually many – scientific errors. As long as they aren't too blatant to this non-scientist’s eyes, I’m willing to give them a pass in the name of entertainment or artistic license. The whole “Insta-terraforming to Earth normal pressure (with a pure O2 atmosphere)” sequence at the end of Total Recall 1990 was one mistake that really stood out to me. Because it was so essential to end of the film’s plot, it really kept me from liking it as much as I might have. Yes, as a reader of Heinlein’s novel, Paul Verhoeven indeed “butchered Starship Troopers”.

    Not having read Dick’s story, I’ll have to take your word for it that “this [Total Recall 2012] is closer to the original ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale’ by Philip K. Dick”. Despite the many classic SF novels that I have read, P. K. Dick was never one of my favorite authors, so I've only read his novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep” after having seen Blade Runner, the movie which is based on it. As for which film accurately portrays the idea of what is real and what isn't real; I honestly think both films did not do an adequate job of this. These types of internalized ideas are very difficult to portray in a visual medium like film, so the fact that Total Recall 2012 lacked in this regard didn't bother me too much. I do think you make some good points defending the film’s attempts to do just that and perhaps I’ll catch more of them on a re-watch.

    Obviously, I agree with you about Total Recall 2012. “It's not a Total Recall remake. It's another film adaptation of “We Can Remember It for You”, which borrows a few characters”, is a perfect way to describe the film, which is why I began my review of it saying pretty much the same thing. I've done some writing here at GOTG! on the subject of remakes, re-imaginings and prequel/sequels to classic film and how 99% of the time, people who love the original are going to dislike the remake.

    I did quite a bit of research before I expressed my quibbles about the scientific accuracy of the gravity elevator used in Total Recall 2012 and I still stand by my reasoning that this simply would not be possible as portrayed in the film. If, as you say, ”the actual elevator describes a hyperbolic path through the Earth's outer core and mantle”, then it might be possible for this mechanism to work. I just thought I remembered the film describing the elevator as going in a straight line through the core of the Earth and not a hyperbolic path through the mantle.

    It looks like I need to re-watch Total Recall 2012 with these ideas in mind. Thanks again for your deep and interesting comments on Total Recall and my review of it. Please do stop by again soon, Troy!

  7. It is so great to see someone review this film for what it isn't, a remake. As soon as the film trailer came out and I watched it, I knew it was going to be different from the original. I am probably in the minority as I was not a fan of the original Arnold version. Although there where a couple of cool moments in that film, overall I found myself a bit board with that version.

    I was very pleased to see that there would be a 2012 version with Colin Ferrell. I can go either way with him as far as his acting, but I was ready to give this new version ago.

    I remember going to see the film myself because I couldn't find anyone else to see it with me, which was fine. I walked out of the theater after watching this movie and was completely pumped! Maybe my movie standards aren't as strict as most reviewers or moviegoers. When it comes to a movie about the future and what it will be like, I tend to suspend my disbelief for the film. Yes, some of the science didn't seem like it was possible, but I was willing to let that go because I was so into the action of the film.

    I enjoyed the action tremendously. The fight scenes with the female leads were fantastic. Colin Ferrell was fantastic as the lead in the film and I believed his desperation and fear throughout the film.

    I think there are good and bad reasons for some remakes, but I think it can hurt films like this one and another fantastic remake that outshines the original Dredd 3D, then again, it wouldn't be that hard to outshine the original, that film was horrible.

    Anyway, thanks for the great review and insights on this fantastic film!

  8. Thanks for the comments, Troy.

    Its nice to know that you were able to separate you opinions of the original Total Recall and enjoy the remake on its own merits. I actually recall enjoying the 90s version when I saw it at the theater, but the unrealistic ending almost ruined the movie for me. That film has not aged well, like many 90s action flicks, so I was more open to enjoying the new Total Recall, than those that still loved the original.

    I also happen to be a fan of director Len Wiseman's Underworld movies, so I knew going into this new version that I would love the action oriented style of the film. Despite some of my quibbles with the science of this Total Recall, I felt that it portrayed a very immersive futuristic world - which is something I think is very important to a good science fiction film.

    The arguments for or against remaking films is moot at this point, because no matter how many people rail against them, Hollywood is going to continue to make them, because they make good economic sense. More often than not, remakes make money based on brand name recognition alone. As I've said elsewhere, I will judge remakes of films the same way I judge every other film: I will either like or dislike them based solely on the film itself and not by comparing it to another film.

  9. What's really annoying is that the filmmakers know that at least some of the audience is in the cinema for the remake factor. The film makes a handful of references to the original - most of which don't make sense out of context.