This will be a basic review, as I watched Total Recall across splintered intervals throughout my rather stressful exam period in late May, and so I don’t have quite the coherent a set of notes I would like. I had vaguely heard of Total Recall before I watched it but knew very little about it. This film is a remake of the 1990 of the same name, based on Philip K Dick’s novel We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. I hadn’t seen any of director Len Wiseman’s work before and know little of the starring actors.
The concept of living a fantasy life – the ‘Recall’ – is hardly a new one, and it isn’t really explored to that great a degree in this film. In fact, very little of Total Recall is actually about memories. There’s the beginning sequences in which we are familiarised with the life Douglas Quid and introduced to the setting. This is done rather well in a scene with his wife, Lori, in which we develop as much sympathy for the characters as we can in such a limited timescale, then we see bits of his monotonous work at a robotics factory. The film does a better job developing these characters and setting in just 10 seconds than, uh certain other films with similar themes. The Recall concept is first established when Douglas visits the ‘Rekall’ complex to experience false memories, then finds himself in a gunfight with Federation forces and discovers he has the abilities of a top-class agent. Later, his Lori tries to kill him and is revealed to be an agent posing as his wife. As the film progresses more of Douglas’ ‘real’ persona of Carl Hauser are revealed, but this plot thread seems to take a backseat, bizarrely. There is that brilliant scene where his former friend Harry tries to convince him he is still living in Rekall’s fantasy world, and you genuinely wonder whether the events are actually happening or if it is all just a fantasy, but there’s not really much of a return after this.
The film’s setting is also quite strange. It’s set in the year 2084 after the Earth has been rendered mostly uninhabitable by war, with only Britain (now the United Federation of Britain) and Australia (the Colony) inhabitable. Not sure what kind of warfare would be so specific, and there’s never any indication that either of these settings are survivors of a brutal war (I can’t believe only the UK and Australia would alone be neutral in a world war). It’s also jarring to hear so many American accents and scarcely any Australian. These issues aside, the actual cities are well developed and realised. From the kind of folding transport systems to the ‘hoverways’, it’s all rather impressed. I was particularly taken by the attention to Physics in the film. Most obviously, the freefall sequence as they travel in the gravity train was extremely well done, and perhaps one of the most original reasons for an escape I’ve seen in a film (though surely there’d be a warning as it entered freefall?). As a Physics geek, I appreciated the attention to detail – it was also seen in other examples, such as a falling hovercar destroying another car as it lands through the force of it’s, uh, hover power thing, but the falling hovercar itself bounces off and is less damaged.
The film’s plot was rather basic and, as I’ve already mentioned, didn’t have all that much to do with the recall concept. Basically, Douglas’ real persona, Carl, is a Federation agent but Douglas himself ends up becoming embroiled in the resistance seeking to free the Colony. This all builds up into a rather predictable but well-directed action sequence in the end in which the villain, Chancellor Cohaagen, is killed (why would he personally have joined the invasion force?) and the link destroyed. This is how you do a decent science fiction action sequence! It should get to the point and develop and include real danger rather than the bizarre decisions taken by, uh, certain other films. The ending is your kind of standard Hollywood ‘happy ending’ – although apparently in the Director’s Cut there is a sudden Blade Runner style moment of ambiguity intended to leave it uncertain whether he is still in the fantasy world. That would be a far more satisfying conclusion. I found Douglas’ searching for clues to his identity and mission fairly engaging, and the pieces did eventually slot together well.
None of the acting really left a memorable impact on me, meaning most was decent but little exceptional. I recall (sorry…) Colin Farrell playing the part of an ‘average guy in a crazy situation’ very well, and Bill Nighy totally dominated the few scenes he appeared in.
Overall, this was a decent blockbuster. Okay, it was a bit rushed, sometimes flimsy and generally quite superficial (I seem to say this a lot about films…) but, essentially, it worked and succeeded at its aims. I think other critics have been harsher than I am towards the film, but I did ultimately enjoy it. One of the better blockbusters I’ve seen, and it did help to take my mind off scary exams.
Final rating: 8/10