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Welcome to Rekall, the company that can turn your dreams into real memories. For a factory worker named Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), even though he's got a beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) who he loves, the mind-trip sounds like the perfect vacation from his frustrating life - real memories of life as a super-spy might be just what he needs. But when the procedure goes horribly wrong, Quaid becomes a hunted man. Finding himself on the run from the police controlled by Chancellor Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston) – the leader of the free world – Quaid teams up with a rebel fighter (Jessica Biel) to find the head of the underground resistance (Bill Nighy) and stop Cohaagen. The line between fantasy and reality gets blurred and the fate of his world hangs in the balance as Quaid discovers his true identity, his true love, and his true fate. (From Sony’s official synopsis)

Total Recall (2012): Extended Director's Cut
Usually, the initial reaction to any remake of a beloved movie is usually anger. How dare (insert filmmaker) touch (insert favourite movie title). You don’t mess with perfection. But hold on, Paul Verhoven’s Total Recall – a truly perfect blend of campy comedy and genuine, gory action – really shouldn’t be the final word on the subject of Philip K. Dick’s original story ‘We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.’ First of all, Verhoven’s film is a very loose adaptation and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s involvement totally changed the physicality of the main character. The 1990 film’s production history adds more kindle to the ‘what if’ fire. Originally, a very different version of Total Recall was scheduled to be written and directed by David Cronenberg, who would’ve been coming off the mainstream success of The Fly at the time (he reportedly wanted to cast William Hurt for the lead role). This version, which was in preproduction long enough for Cronenberg to write 12 drafts of his screenplay, reportedly stuck much closer to Dick’s story and most likely would’ve worn its intellectualism proudly upon its sleeve, unlike Verhoven’s film, which hides its smart streak well below a sheen of colourful imagery. I would never dream of trading Verhoven’s classic romp for a more thoughtful and measured film, but have always wanted to visit that alternate universe where Cronenberg’s film was completed.

When Sony originally announced they were producing a new version of Total Recall, I found myself arguing the supposed value of a hypothetical remake that would stick closer to Dick’s story and/or Cronenberg’s vision. My hopes were dashed quickly as Kurt Wimmer, the writer/director of bland-verging-on-terrible sci-fi actioneers Equilibrium and Ultraviolet (to further depress expectations, I realized he most recently wrote Law Abiding Citizen and Salt). Matters grew worse when Len Wiseman, the most boring-yet-still-capable action filmmaker in the business, was hired to direct. You could almost smell the tediousness wafting through the air as soon as Wiseman’s involvement was announced. But, producer Neal H. Moritz continued to insist that this remake would be more like Dick’s story, so I held out hope.

Total Recall (2012): Extended Director's Cut
Turns out Moritz wasn’t lying, at least not entirely. This Total Recall is different from Verhoven’s in many ways, most of them tonal. Anything fun about the 1990 version is removed in favour of something more gritty and ‘real.’ There’s no Mars, no mutants, no outrageously gory shootouts, and basically no comedy whatsoever. There is, however, an overload of fumbled references to the original film. These are merely placatory bones thrown to fans in hopes of making them recall (Ha! Title pun!) the joyful memories of Verhoven’s version and ignore the fact that they’ve seen this all before. But, even with all the fun bits removed, this Total Recall is a remake, not a real attempt at changing the formula to better fit Dick’s story. The best comparison I can make is not to other failed attempts at remaking great movies, but to the well-produced and ultimately pointless fan films that appear on YouTube. Every plot twist that was already unraveled over two decades ago is reiterated with little more than a tonal shift to differentiate any of these dramatic reveal. There’s no irony in the exercise, either, just the hope that the audience is either not familiar enough with the 1990 film to notice the lack of imagination, or too excited by the familiarity to care. There aren’t even any stand-out performances to set things apart. I’d like to think that Colin Farrell and Bryan Cranston are objectively better or at least more diverse actors than Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronny Cox, but without any real character or emotional dynamics these thespians merely blend into the faceless mass of monotony. The bulk of the villains this time around are literally faceless, by the way – they’re either robots or wearing SWAT masks. It’d be funny if it weren’t so sad.

Oh, and for the record, this version of the story actually has less in common with Dick’s story than the 1990 movie, because it entirely erases Mars from the equation. In the span of the short story, Quaid (called Quail) never travels to Mars, but dreams about it and discovers he was a secret agent on the planet.

Wimmer’s script forces him to pay awkward homage to Verhoven, but Wiseman’s main visual inspiration appears to be a mix of two different Phillip K. Dick adaptations – Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (which also featured Colin Farrell and began life as a Total Recall sequel). The Blade Runner elements are largely cosmetic, including fan-service use of that film’s famous ‘Spinner’ flying cars (they aren’t literally Spinners, but they’re damn close) and consistently rainy outdoor environments with Chinese graphic design influences. The Minority Report elements are much more vague, encompassing the basic look of the film, which also includes some unfortunate J.J. Abrams influences (why is Janusz Kaminski the only guy who can pull of excessive lens flairs without them becoming obnoxious?). Wiseman has somewhat cleverly divided these visual approximations between the film’s two major locations – the affluent/corporate world equals Minority Report, the impoverished/industrial world equals Blade Runner. This all, of course, draws unfortunate comparisons to Scott and Spielberg’s vastly superior skill sets. It’s almost fascinating watching Wiseman sabotage himself at every turn. He appears to be full of ideas for action sequences, but is apparently completely incapable of putting them to film without making a hideous mess of things. He uses strobe lights, lens flairs, intrusive camera movement, and profuse darkness in an apparent attempt to completely obscure his action. The most profound side effect of the humourless tone and obtuse battle scenes is that the film feels incredibly lethargic, despite the relentless movement from set-piece to set-piece.

Total Recall (2012): Extended Director's Cut
The best sample of Wiseman’s self-sabotage is a brief fight scene where Quaid’s deep-seeded instincts take control and he kills a room full of SWAT, um, guys. This sequence, which is a direct reference to Quaid’s instinctive ‘awakening’ in Verhoven’s film, was shown in part during the trailers, so I don’t feel I’m spoiling anything discussing it. The basic concept behind the sequence is to create intensity though a single, unbroken shot, which is always a good way for a director to showoff his behind-the-camera prowess (Spielberg pulled off a fantastic long take shot for Minority Report’s ‘spyder sequence’). The Total Recall cast and crew went through the process of setting up and executing this sequence something like 20 times according to interviews (it was reportedly so complex that it was almost pulled from production) until they finally got it right – in camera. But the whole exercise is for naught, because Wiseman insists on zooming his camera in and out of the action in a circular motion that turns the sequence into a hideous, hard-to-follow, digitally augmented mess. Despite his occasionally hideous aesthetic choices, Wiseman has certainly become more adept with special effects since his early days on the original Underworld. His action is dirty and borderline indiscernible, but he’s getting good at seamlessly blending his live-action elements into his digital backdrops. Total Recall looks pretty expensive (bland, but expensive), despite featuring a relatively modest price tag for a blockbuster action/sci-fi hybrid.

I should note that this review disc arrived the same day as the official release, so for the sake of time, I only watched the extended cut in its entirety, which includes about 12 extra minutes of footage (the sticker on the box says 20 minutes which is some foggy math on Sony’s part). It’s more than possible that the shorter theatrical cut works better than this version, not to mention the fact that the construction of this version is surprisingly sloppy, including some whiffed sound and musical cues. Apparently, this version would’ve earned an R-rating, rather than a PG-13, due to actual tri-boob nudity and four f-bombs.

Total Recall (2012): Extended Director's Cut


Total Recall was shot using a mix of Red Epic and standard 35mm cameras, but the bulk of the footage is apparently digital HD. The whole film is so heavily digital graded and otherwise altered that it’s more or less impossible to discern the difference, anyway, on this 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray transfer. Wiseman and cinematographer Paul Cameron aim for a gritty, dark look that vaguely recalls (Ha! Title pun again!) Minority Report – minus all the heavy film grain and thick blue tint. The smooth blending capabilities of the Red system are heavily exploited, which doesn’t look particularly attractive, but is certainly an impressive use of the format’s abilities. This transfer features almost nothing in terms of unwanted digital noise or banding effects. The colour palette is often very unnatural, but is consistently represented here. The basic hue choices are a sort of washed out orange, which is used for skin tones, a base blend of sickly greens and cool blues, and relatively strong red highlights that occasionally bleed over into outdoor lighting schemes. This patchy look really should just glop into the heavy blacks, but everything remains well-separated where needed. Fine details really should go missing in all of this darkness (and likely does on a standard definition transfer), but most scenes are nicely freckled with tiny background embellishments and sharp highlights. The high contrast look battles the smoother Red Epic look, but not at the risk of textures, which work in both close-up and wide shots without more than a hint of edge enhancement. I really don’t like the look of this movie, but this transfer is basically perfect.

Total Recall (2012): Extended Director's Cut


The film kind of sucks, but this Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is very aggressive and delightfully immersive. There’s nary a moment throughout the film where there isn’t something going on in the stereo and surround channels. The action sequences are clearly the most reference-worthy, simply because they’re so loud and busy. These include zippy shoot-outs, foot-chases that make good directional use of passing objects, an extended flying car chase that climaxes with a sudden influx of utter silence, and the last act chase aboard ‘The Fall’ (a sort of giant elevator that moves through the center of the earth). The problem in comparing this mix to those of similar films is that the effects are too heavily anchored in reality. There aren’t any discerning elements, like the strange beeps and bops of a Ben Burtt Star Wars mix. There is a tendency for things to blend together here. I’m more impressed by the quiet moments and the immersive qualities of the ambient noise. The less bombastic zero gravity gun battle also tends to work better due to its restraint and dynamic ranges. Harry Gregson-Williams’ score doesn’t feature any memorable themes or sweeping instrumentations, but there’s something vaguely cool about how abstract his relentless music is. I’m not sure I’ve heard reversed drum and piano noise used this regularly in a major motion picture. The score is given free rein to move around the rear speakers, not just the stereo speakers, and the LFE enhancement is wonderfully deep without vibrating. Probably the loudest scene in the film, musically speaking, is a brief trip through a futuristic red light district where the familiar warbles of dub step blast around the channels.

Total Recall (2012): Extended Director's Cut


The extras begin on disc one with director Len Wiseman’s commentary track (available on the extended cut only). Wiseman is pleasant and enthusiastic about the project, which is infectious at times, but also a little exhausting. A lot of the discussion here concerns the differences between the two cuts, which is a good call on Wiseman’s part, since there is so much behind the scenes material already available on this collections other extras. And when he does cover basic behind the scenes stuff he tends to find unique anecdotes not already available elsewhere. Overall, this is a solid and informative track with only a handful of longer bouts of silence. The other major first disc extra is Total Recall – Insight Mode, a pop-up, in-film option that includes text-based factoids, production design images, pre-viz, picture-in-picture interviews with the cast & crew, and raw behind the scenes footage with filmmaker commentary. There are also occasional breakaway, branching featurettes here, which pause the film and extend the runtime of theatrical cut (the only cut this option is available for) to 137 minutes. What I saw was pretty informative and more intensive than most of the similar options I’ve viewed, which tend to include a scant collection of PiP videos. My one major complaint is the font choice for the factoids. They’re entirely made up of a bold version of a skinny, all caps, sans-serif font and are almost unreadable. I’d also prefer the option to watch this stuff outside of the movie considering the sheer quantity of stuff covered.

Disc two begins with Science Fiction or Science Fact (9:30, HD), a look at the film’s technology and its relation to real life with theoretical physics superstar Michio Kaku. This includes a Rekall-like brain implant performed on a rat, robotic advances, holograms, and the possibility of flying cars. Not surprisingly, ‘The Fall’ is not a very likely possibility. Speaking of, Designing The Fall (3:00, HD) features producer Toby Jaffe, production designer Patrick Tatopolous, visual effects supervisor Adrian de Wet, and actor Bryan Cranston talking about the theory, design, and technical elements of the film’s giant elevator. The Total Action (20:00, HD) section is broken down into seven featurettes. The Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel sections (rather obvious) cover the involvement of each actor in the production, while other sections cover specific sequences – The Tripping Den, Destroying Rekall, Lobby Escape, and Quaid vs. Cohaagen. These include interviews with Wiseman, producers Neal H. Moritz and Jaffe, cinematographer Paul Cameron, special effects supervisors Clay Pinny and Lee Alan McConnell, location manager Marty Dejczak, and actors Farrell, Beckinsale, Biel, and Cranston. There’s some overlap here with the Insight Mode, though, funnily enough, the in-film versions have more overall information. The extras are wrapped up with five pre-viz reels (25:30, HD), a gag reel (8:00, HD), and (back on the first disc) trailers for other Sony releases. The leftover disc space is used for a God of War: Ascension PS3 demo. I don’t own a PS3.

Total Recall (2012): Extended Director's Cut


Total Recall is an utterly bland, mostly pointless, and occasionally ugly remake of a vibrant and amusing camp-action classic. It’s hard to entirely hate it, though, since its very existence led Lionsgate to put out a better-looking Blu-ray release of the original film. Assuming you’re one of those rare people that actually enjoyed this version and are curious about the extended cut, this Blu-ray collection is certainly a treat, including nearly perfect 1080p video, solid (occasionally overwhelming) DTS-HD MA sound, and two discs worth of special features. If only movies I liked got this kind of royal home video treatment.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.