I went to watch Total Recall (the remake) about two weeks ago, expecting to be disappointed. From the trailers it looks like they were trying to make serious something that was simple fun with lighthearted inception-esque ideas; a Schwarzenegger movie.

After watching, I was pleasantly surprised in a few areas though overall I still prefer the 1990 version. Lets start from the beginning.

Spoilers ahead

The story is about Douglas Quaid who, aside from being married to the gorgeous Kate Beckinsale, lives a fairly boring life as a factory worker in the lower class Colony (which the movie makers think is what Australia will become). Being disturbed by dream of an adventure with this other girl he supposedly doesn't meet, he feels discontent with his current life and, at the advice of a factory co-worker (but against the advice of everyone else) he pays a visit to Rekall, a memory implant company that provides its clients with experiences that would normally be impossible. And you can read the rest of the plot on wikipedia as I'm not going to waste the time to rewrite it.

The core part of the story is basically the same as Total Recall with only two minor changes: the story doesn't involve mutated Martians, and the government regime is the bad guy instead of some evil mining corporation. This immediately raises two execution problems with this remake.

Firstly, what I remembered the most about the original film was the Martian characters. Due to the excavation work being done in Mars, people, who were human at first, had to migrate to the red planet to do the mining. Due to radiation these workers have mutated in ways reminiscent of post-WWII Japan. And who could forget the three-breasted lady, and I think that was the first time I was saw to the naked female form on screen. Awkward.

Where was I going with this? Right. So in the remake there is no martian colony, thus everyone is boring old human, whether they resided in the UFB (high class Britain) or in the Colony. One thing that really bothered me is that the people from the Colony appeared to go to work at the factories which resided in the UFB, where synthetic forces (robocops) were manufactured for I guess the protection of the UFB-ites. Why aren't these factories located in the Colonies? It is neither cost effective to send your factory workers to and from the other side of the world, nor wise given that there is a 'resistance' brewing trouble with Colony origins. Why not make them build the robots in the Colony, have them shipped using that elevator, and THEN activate them in the UFB side! And given the advanced future the rest of the film portrays I am surprised they were still using humans to help build robots. -.-'

The second change which really undermined my actual enjoyment of this remake was the switch from evil corporation to political agenda as the antagonist. I don't mind politics in movies as long as it's cleverly setup and not slapped in your face, which this movie does very poorly. I think even from the prologue I could already tell there is going to be a lot of focus on this whole anti-authoritarian theme. In fact, it's so emphasised throughout the film I swear they were going to abandon Douglas' personal journey and focus more on a commentary on classism between the two factions. But no, the head of the Resistance shows up for literally one minute of screen time, and gets killed. I guess the producers felt it wasn't important to flesh out the philosophy behind the Resistence and its relationship with the current regime. Either ways lets move on.

Surprisingly the good aspects of the movie were mainly tributes they paid to the old version. This includes the three-breasted prostitute, the fat lady in yellow going through security and the psychological stand-off of "whether this world is real or just the dream you ordered" in the second arc. I think the little twist with the fat lady in yellow was my highlight of the whole film but I am easily impressed by tiny moments of ingenuity.

The other good aspect of the movie which was not inherited from the old version really is the visual design of the Colony. Ignoring the practicality of the design, it really captured the idea of concrete jungles in many populous cities of Asia and updated it with other issues such as climate change, income inequality, and the Asian import/asylum problems Australia is currently facing.

I also like how much more involved Beckinsale got with her character as Douglas' fake wife than in the original (I think was played by Sharon Stone). Of all the characters I think she was the most developed despite being a fairly one-note killing machine. Through subtleties we learn about her loyalty to the UFB, and her determination even if it means to disobey her direct superiors. I also liked that she wasn't dating her boss (which I did think was an unnecessary revelation in the old film), and showed real emotions during the confrontations. Yes there were lots of highly choreographed action but it's the pauses where you really can tell Kate's putting her all into it.

The relationship between Arnold Schwartzenegger and Sharon Stone in the original was a bit distracting because you can tell that they were being so nice to each other it was too artificial for a real relationship. In the remake you really do feel like they've been going through hardships together for a while. And when she turns against Douglas, even though I knew it was coming, was a more believable twist simply because I was bought with them being a troubled couple.

Now when comparing Arnold with Colin Farrell, I will say this: Colin acted the character much better, but I like Arnold more. I think this comes down to how hard they both were trying within the film. Colin you could tell knew the script well and understood what he was supposed to emote and to what degree. So whenever you see him trying to convey mixed feelings such as awkwardness, disillusionment and uncertainty, it looks fairly genuine.

Arnold you can tell from the start to finish he's trying to act fairly simple emotions like "angry", "happy", "on steroids". But what I love is his enthusiasm and how hard he tries. It's over the top, but not on purpose. It's funny, but also fun. It can be distracting at times, but it doesn't ruin the film. I'm pretty sure some scenes there were animatronics used with Arnold's face because he couldn't create the expression himself, but that's okay, it was a 1990 production which was awesome back in the day, and would still be now if it was done by Arnie!

The one issue I did have with both films was the 'real' love interest. They were just so uninteresting next to the main character and the fake wife. Now I'm not talking about whether they portrayed a forgotten lover well, I mean just in the context and scope of the overall film. In the original version Melina plays a slightly more significant role, and fights side by side with Douglas all the way through the movie, with strong indication that they really were together before his memories altered. Melina in the new version is too 'girlfriend'.

I think at some point in their first encounter during their talk in the apartment I was hearing in my head "Hey, I just met you and this is crazy, but we used to be together. Really.". She looked more like a girlfriend from high school than a serious lover. So I wasn't as invested in her character in the remake. Also, she ends up being the cliche damsel in distress towards the end, and at this point I was replying some messages on my phone by this point (it was on silent).

One last thing. Both films try to keep you guessing all the way through the film whether the entire ordeal of Douglas was real, or just what he ordered at Recall. With all things added up I would argue that the original film did a better job. The reason is that the ending was more cliche in the original. It is something a simple working class person could conceive as the perfect ending, and with the fade to white it is heavily implied that this was really all just a dream. In the remake, there's just too many times 'reality' kicked in, and it was much more heavily implied that it was not a dream. Yes the director's take in both cases is that neither of them were a dream, but I think despite the smarter dialogue in the remake, the original outwitted me with that fade out to white at the end.

While I liked the original better, I do have to give an extra point to the remake because they chose Australia as the chinatown-like Colony. That setup actually has a stronger socio-political commentary of the real world than the rest of the film. And being Asian Australia myself, it just made me giggle for a brief moment.

7.0 / 10.0

A few more nitpicks if you haven't read enough