Late in 1981, the author Philip K Dick was invited to EEG, the facility where most of the Blade Runner visual effects were being produced. Dick never lived to see the film released, and never saw the complete film- however during that meeting he was shown about 20 minutes of footage, most of it the fx work done by EEG. Dick was shell-shocked, stunned by it. The visual effects supervisor David Dryer recalled, “Let me tell you, that was one of the most successful moments of my career. Dick went away dazed.”
I can only imagine what Philip K Dick would have thought had he seen the 2012 incarnation of Total Recall, somewhat loosely based on his short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. Visually an uneasy hybrid of Blade Runner and Minority Report (with some I, Robot thrown in), its visuals would likely have simply blown Dick’s mind and left him a gibbering wreck. Regardless of the films other qualities, its a remarkable-looking film, and indicates how far films have come since 1982, and also how hard it will be for Ridley Scott to make his Blade Runner sequel and still stay ahead of the curve. Total Recall is incredibly stupid but it looks just how a Blade Runner sequel/remake would likely look.
But it is incredibly stupid.
It’s the future. Chemical warfare (Do Androids Dream’s World War Terminus?) has wiped out most life on Earth, and only two territories capable of sustaining life remain: The United Federation of Britain and The Colony (present-day Australia), linked by “The Fall,” a high-speed transit system that cuts through the Earth like a Jules Verne fever-dream (neither territory seems to be within a Dome or anything, so why they are immune from the blight affecting the rest of the world isn’t clear, and betrays the inherent lack of logic and thought in the film- its best not to think too hard whilst events unfold.)
Workers from The Colony travel to the UFB via The Fall to construct police robots that assist human law enforcement in the high-tech police state. A worker from The Colony, Douglas Quaid (Collin Farrell), married to emergency worker Lori (Kate Beckinsale), awakens every morning with a recurring dream of another woman, and of them being chased by unknown assailants. Quaid visits Rekall, a dream-parlour where false memory implants spice up the humdrum lives of the populace (what’s humdrum about Quaid’s life is open to question; Lori is a sexy, beautiful wife and his life is hardly mundane, commuting to work through the centre of the Earth everyday, but nevermind).
As anyone who has seen 1990’s Total Recall will be expecting, Quaid’s visit to Rekall goes horribly wrong, the process partly re-activating Quaid’s ‘real’ memories, revealing that he is, in fact, a super agent. Single-handedly killing twenty armed law enforcement officers who come to capture him, Quaid goes on the run, learning his life is a lie and his identity an implant. And the woman of his dreams is very real.
Its an intriguing storyline and open to development beyond that of the 1990 film- indeed, averse as I am to remakes, this was one I actually didn’t mind, open to the possibilities of the film. But alas it turns out this film doesn’t really intend to do anything other than amplify the violent man-on-the-run premise of the original, whilst ditching all the 1990’s film’s references to Mars presumably because, well, every film set on Mars tends to bomb (John Carter, anyone?). Once Quaid has visited Rekall the film is off on one long chase sequence and lots (and lots) of action. Some of it is truly astonishing. As a dumb action sci-fi piece it works very well, but the 1990 film already nailed that anyway, which makes this 2012 edition fairly redundant. By the films latter stages it even gets a little boring, as the cartoon chase/action stuff dominates everything and whatever slim plot/mystery there was evaporates in the face of the spectacle. But it is rather enjoyable if you leave your brain elsewhere, and I give the film a big thumbs-up for setting much of it in a futuristic police-state London, complete with Big Ben and red buses, as opposed to locating everything in a future LA or Chicago or New York or similar.
Farrell is pretty good but also pretty much wasted- he looks like he would have been great in a ‘proper’ (serious?) Blade Runner sequel/remake but any muscle-bound action star could have managed the part he is given here. Shame. So anyway, worth a look but with a cautionary nod towards switching your brain off first- just enjoy the ride and the pretty pictures.