The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Total Recall – give me a few days and I won’t recall a thing

with 29 comments

I can’t recall anything of the original Total Recall. Oh, the irony.

You would suspect that someone has tempered with my brain, erasing all memories of it, replacing them with scenes from other 1990 movies. Edward Scissorhands.  Pretty Woman. Dances With Wolves (but not Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since I’m the wrong generation). I leave it to you to decide if this would be an act of cruelty or a service.

But to be honest I think it’s more likely that I remember it all wrong. I never watched Total Recall back in the days. I just saw the picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger getting his head squeezed (looking surprised since he thought he had an appointment with his dentist) so many times that I finally thought I had seen it since it looked so familiar.

Be as it is with the reasons for my amnesia; the point is that I can’t compare the new Total Recall with the old one, which probably is in its own interest. This means that I’ll look at it as it is without getting my judgment clouded by irrational longings for my past youth and an over-sentimental love for movies from that time.

Action – not science fiction
Unfortunately this lack of attachment to the old film wasn’t enough to make me love the new one.  It’s probably a decent action film; I can’t tell standard action isn’t a genre I care for very much. But as science fiction it’s really nothing special.

This is saddening, since I think that there is a story with potential deep down there. I’ve always loved the kind of themes that the sci-fi author Philip K Dick brings up ( Total Recall is inspired by one of his short stories.) The walk along the borderline between reality and dream or imagination. The little man against the big organization. The questions about what it truly means to be a human.

However I get the impression that the makers of this film don’t care particularly much about ideas. They are there somewhere, but the time spent on them is abysmal.

The plot – about a man investigating why his memory has been tempered with and whose side he is on in the conflict between the last remaining inhabitable areas in a future where most of Earth is poisoned by chemicals – is just an excuse for very generic and long running action scenes. Shooting, running, car chases and explosions. Rinse and repeat. Over and over again.

To make sure they can sell tickets to the 11 year olds as well, they’ve made the action clean and harmless. No gore, no blood, no scenes of excruciating agony and pain. In one way it’s a relief for a squishy like me. But it’s also kind of bland.

After watching Total Recall what I felt strongest was an urge to revisit other movies, titles like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Memento, Inception and The Matrix. They also contain intriguing ideas about the nature of our minds – and they leave more space for this, not evolving into pure and pointless action like this one did.

The world
But come on, don’t I have anything nice to say at all? Well, I’ll give it as much as that I think it looks good. While I hated that the robot soldiers had the same plastic look as starship troopers, I liked the way they pictured the colony – always dark, always rainy, Asian style, reminding of Blade Runner. I also liked the few glimpses we got of the polluted world outside of the areas where people still lived. It’s just a pity we didn’t get to spend more time there or with that part of the story.

In a few days most of Total Recall will be lost to me – again. And believe me – it’s not a big loss.

Total Recall (Len Wiseman, US, 2012) My rating: 2,5/5


My colleagues in the Swedish network Filmspanarna also watched Total Recall. Here’s what they made of it (in Swedish):

Fiffis filmtajm
Fripps filmrevyer
Har du inte sett den (podcast)
Rörliga bilder och tryckta ord

Written by Jessica

August 15, 2012 at 8:00 am

29 Responses

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  1. Well, I wouldn’t vouch for the lasting memorability of this Total Recall either were it not for my affection for the original. And you’re absolutely right in judging it more of an action- than a sci-fi-movie. Maybe the only difference between us is that I have mot patience with pointless and brainnumbing action?


    August 15, 2012 at 8:52 am

    • Yeah, it seems as if I was the grumpier of the two of us in case of this movie. Usually I’m the one that likes almost anything. But I’ve just never been a fan of endless chasing-style action. MI IV, which i Loved, was one of the few exceptions.


      August 15, 2012 at 12:48 pm

  2. As if I needed just one more fleeting voice saying this film isn’t good. I can’t imagine I’ll be seeing it.

    Sam Fragoso

    August 15, 2012 at 9:25 am

    • Glad if I can help saving you from it. This said it would be absolutely OK if you were on an airplane and needed a distraction. But it’s not something you necessarily should look up and pay for watching in a theatre.


      August 15, 2012 at 12:49 pm

  3. I sure needed a total recall yesterday when I wrote my review. I´m supprised how quickly the movie faded away compared to the REAL Total Recall.


    August 15, 2012 at 10:24 am

    • Better memory adjusting equipment this time perhaps? The mystery continues…


      August 15, 2012 at 12:50 pm

  4. I’m a big fan of Philip K. Dick’s stuff Jessica and despite not liking Schwarzenegger very much, I really liked the original. I think I’ll avoid this one for a while though, I’m hearing nothing but poor reviews. Such a shame they keep dropping the ball on these remakes.

    Mark Walker

    August 15, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    • I think you really can jump this one. Even if the art direction is fun, it’s not enough to cover that this basically is just an average action movie. I can imagine that it would have been much better if they had put it in the hands of let’s say Duncan Jones. Someone who is into sci-fi and has the love and feeling for it.


      August 15, 2012 at 9:04 pm

  5. So interesting that you compare it to all those mind-warp movies! That was really what I found most disappointing: that they took out all ambiguity in the real vs recall debate. It would have been so easy to include and would have, in my opinion, vastly improved the movie. Like you said, the action was too sterile, so without a solid story the whole thing fell flat.


    August 16, 2012 at 1:13 am

    • What you say. It feels like a waste since they obviously had a budget and talent good enough to make it look good. And the casting is ok as well. They just put the emphasis in the wrong place (according to me, perhaps not according to a younger audience who might care more for long action sequences.)


      August 16, 2012 at 7:25 am

  6. Clearly, you didn’t listen to The Matineecast episode where both Corey Atad and I panned it. See what happens when you neglect your Canadian friends?

    Ryan McNeil

    August 16, 2012 at 3:00 am

    • I haven’t neglected you! I did listen to the show, I just haven’t come around to comment on it yet!
      The thing is that I watched the film as a part of a bloggers meet-up in Sweden. What movie we’ll go and watch is more governed by what is available as an afternoon screening than by anything else. Sadly this means that we more often than not end up watching blockbuster style movies since that’s the only non-children movie that is screened at that time of the day.

      Still watching a bad movie isn’t so bad when you have great people who can help you to pick it apart afterwards.


      August 16, 2012 at 7:22 am

  7. Hey Jessica, I could not agree more with the flaws that you mentioned in your review. What a letdown this film was. If anything I think I may have been even harsher in my review. If you are going to make a remake you better make sure its a homerun or why even bother? I don’t see myself ever watching this terrible film again.


    August 16, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    • I just went to check out your take on this and yes, we’re on the same page. What saved it from a complete disaster to me was that it looked so well. Loved the colony as well as the area outside of the city.
      But basically it felt like a big waste. Some good actors in it, but they’re wasted. Like when Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy meet. That could have been an interesting confrontation of different philosophical views on the world… and it just turned into a simple fight like in any police film. Sigh.


      August 16, 2012 at 8:06 pm

  8. Oh I totally agree with everything you write. You are actullay summarizing my thoughts better then I did myself. Good choice of picture from the movie. Just looking at that image makes you think it might actually be a good film. The header “Action – not science fiction” is so true. Not that action is something bad. A few days ago I saw the all but bland action flick The Raid. Basically 1,5 hours of action… and amazing.


    August 16, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    • I looked and looked for a picture and I just didn’t want to go with the one in the brain machine since I thought I’d seen enough of that. And when I found this one I thought it was so pretty that I had to make an exception and make it big even if I usually go for small images for quicker loading.

      I have yet to see The Raid. I’ve heard so mixed things about it. Kermode loved it. Ebert hated it. But Kermode is my number one critic and it’s very rare that I disagree with him (though it happens). So I think I might give it a chance, despite that it’s probably a little too violent for my taste.


      August 16, 2012 at 9:54 pm

      • It’s a beatiful image that makes you wonder about what the person (Farrell) is thinking about when he’s leaning against the balcony wall. So opposite compared to the feeling you get after watching the movie.

        My first four written down sentences about The Raid: “Completely insane action. Was glued to the screen most of the time. It’s raw violence. I wonder if you are a disturbed person if you like this stuff”.

        Do you still want to see it? 😉


        August 16, 2012 at 11:12 pm

        • We’ll that’s what I heard about The Raid… Also that it borrows a lot from the game world. I used to be very sensitive about violence, but I’ve been trying to get more adjusted to it over the last year. Drive made me put up my hands across my face but I did peak through the fingers and it went pretty well in the end.
          So maybe I can tolerate this. I don’t know until I’ve tried.


          August 16, 2012 at 11:15 pm

  9. Nice post, Jessica. I liked how you played with the “memory” theme of the movie. Pretty much everyone agrees that it doesn’t bring anything special or memorable.


    August 16, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    • Thanks Fernando! It was a pretty obvious parallel to make, even though it felt a little bit too obvious. And yes, people really seem to agree a lot on this one. There are no different camps here, like in the case of TDKR or Prometheus.


      August 16, 2012 at 9:56 pm

  10. Hey, I can’t recall anything of the original either, but I’m sure it’s a heck of a lot better than this crapfest. It was disappointing and I had anticipated it for over a year since the panel at Comic-con was fun. The look of the colony is very Blade Runner-esque but everything else is nothing special.


    August 17, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    • What a shame since you had looked forward to it so much. I had pretty low expectations to be honest and they were fulfilled. But the Blade-Runneresque setting, as you label it so elegantly, was a nice surprise.


      August 19, 2012 at 8:36 pm

  11. I really love the original movie. Sure it’s action packed but Philip K Dick provides great ideas as usual. The whole book and movie are based around the question of how you can tell fiction from reality. After all, if you can’t trust your memories, what can you trust?

    I’ll just have to see this one for myself. But as I’ve read before, the SF part is greatly diminished.


    August 18, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    • Yes, without having read Dick’s story, I see that there is potential for a great and mindtickling sci-fi movie of the sort I like. But they’ve put too little emphasis on this and too much on the chasing and shooting. So don’t expect too much of it if/when you see it.


      August 19, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      • As a fan of Dicks work, I’ll just have to see this one 🙂

        Talking about him, Screamers is a very good movie based on one his books. The critics only thought it to be OK, but in my eyes, it’s brilliant.


        August 20, 2012 at 12:39 am

        • I haven’t seen Screamers, but I always listen carefully to your recommendations. We agree about most movies.


          August 20, 2012 at 10:29 pm

      • Just seen it and I expected a lot more. The action scenes just went on and on. I found myself thinking questions like “mmm, wouldn’t it be more efficient to make non-human robots to do police work?” or “why the heck would you build a road a hundred meters in the air?”. As you notice, the SF part isn’t really worked out very well and the story contains some huge holes.

        Oh well, at least Prometheus gave us a good SF movie this year.


        November 4, 2012 at 12:18 am

        • Yes, it’s very unremarkable. If you think the best thing about a film is that it reminds of Blade Runner, you probably rather want to watch… Blad Runner.


          November 5, 2012 at 7:46 pm

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