Here’s something I found in the garage- my old R1 DVD of Total Recall. Remember when disc releases of movies weren’t just about the picture quality or even the extras but the packaging too? Say what you like about the movie, but this one’s a little special: the disc comes in a round tin that is embossed to look like the cratered surface of Mars. Its pretty neat. At the time I probably thought it would be the definitive and final copy of the film I would ever need buy. Was I ever that young and foolish? My Blu-ray steelbook is sitting on a shelf behind me just daring me to be stupid enough to replace it with a 4k UHD copy.
I’ve started the year with the intention of reviewing or at least commenting on everything I watch this year- that’s ‘new’ movies, old movies I’ve already seen but have rewatched and also tv box-sets that I get through. Don’t know if I’ll manage that throughout the year, but I’ve certainly managed it for January so at least I’m off to a good start.
Naturally the initial impact is that the number of posts has gone up -15 this month, which is pretty considerable for me. I’ve also started numbering all the ‘new’ stuff I’ve seen; you’ve probably noticed the prefix of the year and then a number at the front-end of some reviews. It’s something that Richard does for obvious reasons on his 100filmsinayear blog and I’ve always been curious about just how many ‘new’ films I myself manage to watch in a year and this is one way of finding out. I’m counting tv series in the list but I figure that’s reasonable since a) there shouldn’t really be many of them and b) they take so much time just to watch compared to movies and since that impacts the time available to actually watch any movies, I figure including them is a fair trade. We’ll see how it goes and where I end up at years end.
So January is done; let’s see how it was with a look at the month’s posts, here’s the list-
- (2016.1) Terminator Genysis
- Georges Delerue’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (Unused Soundtrack)
- (2016.2) Fear The Walking Dead Season One
- (2016.3) Inside Out
- Three More Years
- A Tale of Two Recalls
- (2016.4) Ted 2
- (2016.5) True Detective Season Two
- (2016.6) Snowtown
- (2016.7) The Revenant
- (2016.8) Boardwalk Empire Season Five
- (2016.9) Child 44
- Dances With Wolves
- Blade Runner Details
- (2016.10) It Follows
With so many tv series in that list(catching up on some of last years highlights) there is a lot more viewing-time in there than might first appear, but I’ve also managed to watch seven new films during the month, including one trip to the cinema with The Revenant, which as an extraordinary film and no doubt already a possible Film of the Year. Re-watches were the two Total Recall films on consecutive nights and the four-hour extended cut of Dances With Wolves. I was pretty pleased managing the latter as I really want to hit the ‘to-watch’ pile this year. I didn’t make a ‘to-watch’ list for 2016 but I’m conscious that some of the films that were on the 2014 To-Watch list still languish on the shelf (Betty Blue, The Maltese Falcon etc) and I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend good money on discs and never even watch them. Its a bad habit and an obvious waste of money. A particular target this year will be some of the Anime box-sets that have piled up over the past few years. A Glasgow-based label, All The Anime, have been releasing some gorgeous blu-ray sets over the past few years and I’ve been buying them up (as most have been limited editions) but I haven’t been knuckling down to actually watch them. Part of it is because my wife isn’t into anime so I have to watch them when she’s engaged elsewhere and its been difficult, but anyway, I must do better. (My wife doesn’t like Blade Runner either, which is why I didn’t watch my favourite movie of all time at all last year- something else I must attend to).
Best film of the month was naturally The Revenant, worst film was Snowtown, which was just horrible (I still feel somehow dirty from watching it and intend to dump that disc in a bin somewhere soon unless someone wants a freebie). I hope Snowtown turns out to be the worst film I see all year, because I’d hate to think of seeing anything worse.
Regarding those tv shows, as usual the quality was pretty high (to be honest it should be as I’m selective what I watch). True Detective had bad word-of-mouth but really surprised me, I thought it was excellent and deserved better reviews. Boardwalk Empire had a pretty good send-off with its final season. I do think some of these high-profile A-list shows are often superior to what passes for film entertainment these days and merit inclusion on this blog.
My favourite post? Well, I think my post about the two Total Recalls was fun to write. I don’t consider it a review piece, more an opinion/commentary piece given the benefit of the distance of time/hindsight, and watching the two films back to back over two nights was a nice experiment and opportunity to compare them. It was nice to look back at when I first saw the original and consider how my thoughts have changed about that film over the years, and it will be interesting this year to possibly see how many 1980s films have aged well (or not!).
So anyway, I’m pretty pleased with how January went. Maybe the dark winter nights and lousy tv schedules have helped (certainly regards finding opportunity to work through those three tv shows), we’ll have to see how better weather and other distractions impact things as the year progresses.
February next, with some important blu-ray releases, offering the chance to rewatch some of last year’s highlights like Sicario, The Martian and Spectre, and also some ‘new’ films like the long-delayed Evangelion 3.33. Amazon Prime has a few films on there now that I really must get around to watching, and I’ve at least one tv series to get through (American Horror Story: Hotel just missing the January list). I’m sure there will be a few surprises too, and hopefully something from that dusty To-Watch shelf...
He awoke- and wanted Mars. The Valleys, he thought. What would it be like to trudge among them? Great and greater yet: the dream grew as he became fully conscious, the dream and the yearning. He could almost feel the enveloping presence of the other world, which only Government agents and high officials had seen. A Clerk like himself? Not Likely.
-Philip K Dick, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, 1965.
The other night I watched the 1990 Total Recall, and the following night the 2012 remake/reboot. Call it an experiment- and don’t try it at home, kiddies, it’ll possibly fry your mind.
Neither film has much to do with the Philip K Dick original short story. If David Cronenberg had managed to film his version starring Richard Dreyfuss or William Hurt then maybe things would be different. The box-office failure of the high-budget Dune led to the films original producer Dino De Laurentiis, in an effort to save his company, selling the rights to Carolco pictures, who bought the rights at the behest of Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the time in the prime of his movie career.
Schwarzenegger saw the film as a perfect action vehicle for himself and progressed the project himself- it was his decision to hire Paul Verhoeven for instance, being highly impressed by Robocop. The influence of Robocop would dominate the film- casting Ronny Cox as the main villain, and the hiring of many of Robocop‘s backroom staff- cinematographer Jost Vacano, production designer William Sandell, editor Frank Urioste, make-up effect wizard Rob Bottin. Philip K Dick’s original story was increasingly less and less of an issue as the film transformed into a sci-fi pulp successor to the uber-violent Robocop.
Back in the day this was why I had something of a love’hate relationship with the film; on the one hand it was one of the most memorable cinema experiences of my life (watching it at a special midnight preview event, to this day I have never seen a film in such a wild atmosphere of rampant testosterone and noisy appreciation of action films), on the other it was a terrible adaptation of the PKD original. It was the second major film to be based on a PKD story (following Blade Runner) but it didn’t feel like a PKD story at all- at least Blade Runner had the mood and some of the subtext (what is human?) of its source material. Total Recall didn’t seem to have anything from the PKD story; there is no bloody violence or muscle-bound heroes, or mutants or alien reactors , not even a trip to Mars, in the PKD story. It was dumbed-down into a spectacularly violent action film featuring at the time incredible WTF violence as Schwarzenegger blew away the bad guys and saved the planet.
I’m being rather unfair to the film there but at the time that was how I felt. On the surface that was all the film was, and viewers could simply watch it as a literal telling of the story of Schwarzenegger saving Mars and be happy with that (even if that drew the ire of PKD fans). But even then there was a sophistication to the film, a subtext regards the nature of reality and what was real (the final fade to white a lovely nod to a rather darker reading of the film) that suggested more of the spirit of PKD than might be initially guessed. Indeed, watching the film over the years its blatantly obvious that everything is just happening in Doug Quaid’s head, it’s a mindtrip either gone horribly wrong (leaving him lobotomised) or perfectly right (leading him waking up at Recall Inc. having had the ‘holiday’ of a lifetime)- it’s up to the viewer which. The idea that what we are watching is really happening anywhere other than in Quaid’s head is just, well, crazy. The story is preposterous, the science nuts (Mars as depicted clearly isn’t the reality, instead it’s a glorious pulp fantasy). The only way it works is if its a Recall package playing out in his head.
The film is over 25 years old now but it plays as well as it ever did- indeed the years have been very kind to the film. Sure some of the optical effects are showing their age (as is some very early CGI) but the film is still superior to so many action films that we have seen since. There is a brutality to it, and a joyful extravagance and glorious inventiveness to the action and the spectacle. Arnie shoving the probe up his nose to extract the tracking bug, the woman’s head splitting apart to reveal Arnie hiding within, the vast landscapes depicting the Red Mars of pulp dreams, the bloody violence… it’s a magnificent ride. It may not be a very good PKD adaptation, but it is a very good sci-fi action film.
So why, why, why did anyone think a remake was a good idea? Of all the misguided projects arising from Hollywood’s current penchant of remakes and reboots, why would a remake of Total Recall be seen as anything good? It was hardly from a desire to make a film more faithful to the PKD original. Okay, we don’t have mutants or a trip to Mars but what we do have is just as confused a mess as Doug Quaids fantasy mindtrip of the first film. The idea that the adventure might be a fantasy, that nothing of it is real, is quickly dropped from the remake and what we are seeing is evidently ‘real’, silly as it is.
This is the biggest difference between the two films- clearly the originals sense of doubt about what is real was felt too highbrow for modern audiences. Likewise the 1990 film had its own definitive ‘look’ whereas like so many modern films, the 2012 Total Recall spent a lot of time looking forward by looking back, particularly to Blade Runner and Minority Report. So much so, indeed, that at times it seems more a remake of those two films than the 1990 Total Recall- we have the rain-drenched, crowded neon streets of Blade Runner, the zooming rail-cars and chase scenes and sterile sets of Minority Report.
There isn’t much of a plot to the 2012 film- it’s more of a long chase/action scene, of elaborate effects sequences that could play out in silence and pretty much tell the story, such as it is. Which is what so many modern Hollywood films do, when you think about it.
Watching the original film, it’s clearly a Schwarzenegger vehicle, a film only he could star in, a film targeted chiefly at his fans. It’s playful and violent but is true to itself- that Verhoeven could manage to layer in some subtext about the reality of what we were watching is a bonus but hardly the chief thrust of the film. And while Schwarzenegger had a worldwide fan-base in 1990, it is clearly film aimed at an American audience; references to ESPN for instance and Mars looking like some mutant Disneyland. The 2012 film on the other hand is just a soulless construct, the actors fairly faceless and devoid of character, the film a series of storyboarded action sequences designed to be globally distributed to an international audience requiring minor dubbing of its perfunctory dialogue. Yes its very pretty but none of it means anything. Even the original’s violence has been diluted to the standard cartoon cgi theatrics of modern action films. It looks spectacular but we feel nothing, the protagonists as inhuman and artificial as the robot police chasing them.
The image above- it could just as easily be a shot from Blade Runner or Minority Report. Colin Farrell is a better actor than Arnold Schwarzenegger and deserves a better film than he has here- this is what is so frustrating about the whole project. My one main contention with the original film is that PKDs stories were always about the Everyman- people like us caught in strange situations and reality-warping moments, and if there was ever any point to another Total Recall it was to return to the original We Can Remember It For You Wholesale and the casting someone of Colin Farrell’s ability was a step towards that. But modern Hollywood action films are more stupid and one-dimensional than I ever thought the 1990 film was. Watching films like this, I wonder why bother with ‘real’ actors at all- the use of CGI virtual actors seems almost inevitable now, perhaps one day even swapping faces to match the ethnicity of the audience watching them.
So anyway, two nights, two very different Total Recalls. I’m sure I would be kinder to the 2012 film had I not been re-watching it the night after watching the original. It certainly looks spectacular and the visual effects are on the whole very photo-realistic, but after watching the 1990 film before it, it is clear that the 2012 film is a soulless digital construct compared to the analogue original. The question ‘What Is Real?’ lingers in the mind during the end-credits of the 1990 film, but during the 2012 film’s end-credits that question isn’t even necessary. None of it is real; it’s all artifice now. Philip K Dick would be proud of that irony at least.
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.