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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Total Recall (2012) movie review

Overall verdict: 7/10

The Good: exciting from start to finish, many references to the original, sympathetic protagonist, delves into questions of identity and perception of reality, creative and original production design of the future cityscapes and sets, dripping with intensity and energy.

The Bad: choppy action thanks to over reliance on shakey camera and lens flare, lack of suspenseful plot twists, missing the dark humor of the original film, generic plot without the visuals.

******************************Review******************************
What makes up who we are? Are we the result of our past experiences and memories or does our identity stem from something much deeper? These are questions that the 2012 remake of the classic action film "Total Recall" could have delved into. What we have instead is a showcase of the best and worst of modern science fiction film making. It is Definitely a product of 2012 as much as the original was a product of the early 90s.

The aforementioned themes are only teased but never developed in this intense tale of on man's quest to uncover the truth of his identity and past. In a vastly overcrowded, class segregated future, everyman Douglas Quaid is haunted by dreams of being a secret agent on the run. Convinced that these are repressed fantasies brought on by his monotonous life assembling security automatons (which are like Cyber Stormtroopers) Quaid visists this place called "Rekall"; Rekall claims to implant fake but realistic fantasies into one's mind. So he gets a fantasy of being a double agent implanted. Suddenly, its discovered that he already has memories of being an agent: meaning he actually is an agent with his memory erased. A swat team busts in for some reason and he dispatches them to some beautiful camera camera pans. What follows is "Kurt Wimmer's 'Salt: dystopian future edition - minus Angelina Jolie" (surprise surprise, this movie is also written by Wimmer) with Quaid's wife turning out to be a psychopathic killer, his past a complete sham and his grip on that fine line between reality and fantasy slowly slipping. In the background lies a dastardly plot by a rich chancellor involving the poor dissidents of the overcrowded Colony and the leader of an underground resistance.

The most striking feature of Total Recall would be the stunning vision of this overcrowded future. Floating buildings to make up for scarce land, a country confused by its melting pot of cultures, cyborg police, hover cars, it is amazing. This is a future that seems very real judging from our current world: Strict class segregation taken to the extreme. The dichotomy in the design between the rich and elite United Federation of Britain and The ramshackle Colony is beautifully rendered thanks to the amazing production design headed by Patrick Tatopoulos (the guy who worked on Independence Day, Starship Troopers and Dark city).

A pity that the rest of the movie is fairly typical of modern day chase thrillers. Compared to the original Total Recall film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, this remake has Less twists, a less ambiguous ending and lacks the cynical dark humor that made the original so memorable. Instead of keeping it ambiguous as to whether the events unfolding are real or part of Quaid's implanted fantasy, this remake spoils its own mystery for the audience.

Director Len Wiseman brings in all that is good and bad in modern day film making into this movie. He shoots Total Recall with an over reliance on shakey cam and lens flare, almost like a "Paul Greengrass meets J.J Abrams". Think Bourne Supremacy with the visual style of the 2009 Star Trek film. The future is epilepsy inducing, we get it; and sometimes this really distracts from the tip top designs.

The cast is basically a reunion of mist actors that were in Len Wiseman's Underworld franchise. They do an excellent job with the acting and chemistry but the good actors like Bill Nighly felt under utilised. Only Kate Beckinsale was able to truly shine playing Quaid's wife-turned-assassin. Quaid himself is played by Colin Ferrel and is perhaps the only improvement this remake boasts over the original. Schwarzenegger's Quaid was the quintessential action hero but Ferrel's portrayal of the character had a greater sense of peril: he looks nothing like an action hero and this makes his transformation from everyman to savior of the downtrodden all the more powerful.

Whether one finds this a good movie or not depends on whether one can accept the modern trends of science fiction film making. It is the same plot as the original with all the "1990s" elements taken out and replaced with "2012" elements. Art Aficionados will be impressed by the overall look, style and camerawork showcased here. Those looking for a deep meaningful dive into the nature of human identity or even those looking for clever twists or smart dialogue will be let down. Take away the visuals and it's a rather generic, straight forward modern chase thriller.

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Go For it: if you love impressive visuals, stunning camerawork and a bleak but awesome vision of a dystopian future and can accept modern filmamking trends like shakey cam all set to an "easy to follow" thiller.
Avoid it: if you prefer the deeper themes of identity inherant in the original prose story by Phillip K Dick, the dark humor, clever twists and testosterone laden nature of the 1990 original movie.

Entertainment: A
Story: B-
Acting: A
Characters: A-
Music: B-
Replay value: B+
"Brains": C-

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