(If you’ve seen the 1990 version of Total Recall, than it’ll be impossible for me to spoil anything about this film for you.)
So we’re now in a world where we’re remaking films that came out when I was an adult. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised…it was only a few months ago that I watched Amazing Spider-Man, a reboot of a franchise that last began a mere ten years ago. Still, that movie wasn’t an actual remake of 2002’s Spider-Man, even if it was telling a similar story. I read on Wikipedia that one of the cast members did an interview in which she said this new movie wasn’t a remake of the 1990 film but a new adaptation of the original short story upon which that was based, We Can Remember it for you Wholesale by Philip K. Dick. This is clearly nonsense. This new film clearly takes all of its cues from the Arnold Schwarzenegger “classic” (as some refer to it) even down to the title and the character’s names, with no signs of Dick’s plot or paranoid touches (but then when you realize that the denouement of that tale involves the revelation of the protagonist’s childhood role in forestalling an invasion by an aggressive race of space-mice, than perhaps some of those creative decision make sense).
Now, I don’t remember the 1990 film very well, aside from the general impression that it was a semi-trippy, fun albeit disgusting science fiction tale. I’d have to watch it again to make sure (and I really don’t want to) but my impression is that it overall it was straightforward and not confusing, aside from the general ambiguity about whether things were real or not (which I have to confess I completely missed when I first viewed it). I feel like when you found out that Arnie was really a bad guy who had intentionally suppressed his memory, it was a big twist, but that it made sense. And if I’m right, than here is where the remake really differentiates itself from the original.
The 2012 Total Recall has a different style and tone from the original, it’s got an overall unique setting and political dynamic going on (including a ludicrous premise where low-paid workers commute every day from Australia to Great Britain on a big “Free Fall” ride that goes through the center of the earth), and it has a lot more running around on science-fiction rooftops (sort of like Blade Runner). But with all that, it has basically the same story, beat for beat. But somehow, this time around, it doesn’t add up at all.
Why was Quaid’s memory erased? Why was Lori pretending to be his wife? If Cohaagen could just track him so easily, and if seeing Matthias was actually such a simple thing (basically Quaid mentions he needs to see him, and Melina just says that she knows a way, and off they go), than why take him plant false memories in his mind in the first place? If going to Rekall was not in Cohaagen’s plans, how was he hoping to get him connected to the resistance? Did Quaid really “turn” or not? I can imagine answers for most of these questions, but it really took me a long time to come up with some possibilities, and the answers certainly aren’t in the movie.
Since the chances of me ever watching the original film again are pretty slim (I’ve got to consider Paul Verhoeven to be one the grossest directors around), I’ll leave it someone else to point out whether that movie really did make more sense or if I was just less observant back in those days. What I can say for sure is that this remake is a glitzy-ish piece of nonsense with some crazy action set pieces (including a bizarre scene where two sets of characters have elaborately choreographed hand-to-hand fights with each other in a elevator…at the same time), and that I’m pretty sure even if you I hadn’t seen the original, I’d still have found it unsatisfying.