It seems funny that a film like “Total Recall “, which deals with implanted memories or experiences operated on in the head, was presented to the cinema audience twice. Based on the short story “Memories en wholesale” by Philip K. Dick Only scandalous director Paul Verhoeven dared to tackle the plot, before ex-music video filmmaker Len Wiseman took on a remake 22 years later.
The first film adaptation attracted attention at the time, mainly due to the leading actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and became a considerable success. However, the remake was able to assert itself properly, but crashed when it came to reviews. If you compare the two films directly, it quickly becomes clear why. The original is superior to the remake in many ways – but not in all.
Old school action cult vs. computer fight scenes
That was in the early 1990s Action cinema in Hollywood is in a period of upheaval. For the first time in films like “The Abyss “used digital computer effects to facilitate or replace the work of set builders and make-up artists. In 1991,” Terminator II – Day of Reckoning “was the first major blockbuster with a character that was entirely computer generated. In retrospect, “Total Recall” seems almost anachronistic: Paul Verhoeven relies entirely on tried and tested trick techniques to design an elaborate sci-fi world. A part of his film is even set on Mars, for which complex miniature structures were created. Real film blood was used for the notoriously harsh scenes of violence, and impressive artificial faces and bodies were used so that they could be disfigured and shot “in real life”.
The remake cannot keep up with the attention to detail and the inevitably strong authenticity of the mostly real images in the 1990 film. Len Wiseman, who previously relied on digital tricks for “Underworld” or “Die Hard 4.0”, filmed his “Total Recall” as a child of the 2010s: Accordingly, the sci-fi worlds were created entirely on the computer, the degenerating action scenes nothing more than a sequence of zeros and ones. There is basically nothing to be said against this and there is a time for every version of effects. But when it comes to design and memorability, Verhoeven created magnificent images that are anchored in the collective memory to this day. The remake, on the other hand, hardly differs optically from other sci-fi films like “Oblivion” or the superhero blockbuster “Captain Marvel”. This point goes to the original.
Independent concept vs. mix of different role models
Both “Total Recall” films deal with the same thing Base plot: a man wants to have artificial memories implanted, and it is discovered that he already has implanted memories. It turns out that he is a former secret agent who no longer knows anything about his previous life and lives in an illusory world in order not to be dangerous to his opponents. Although both films adopt this concept, they move away from Philip K. Dick and his short story: Douglas Quaid, the main character, travels to Mars in the Verhoeven film, which is not what Dick does. The ending was also changed enormously in 1990: while Dick makes it clear that the story took place in real life, at the end of the Arnie film the question arises as to whether all events were not just a dream that is part of the implanted memories. So the action film got a philosophical note.
Such independence is a long time coming in the remake. This time Quaid stays on earth and does not fly to Mars, the end is also clearer. This is of course a nice thing for literature fans. At the same time, Wiseman could not decide how much he wanted to orientate himself on Philip K. Dick and how much on Paul Verhoeven. In the original, for example, there is a famous scene with a woman who has three breasts – and which is precisely quoted by Wiseman in the remake. While this fits stylistically in the weird, deliberately trashy staged Verhoeven film, it looks completely out of place in the deadly serious, futuristic 2012 remake. The look, which had a strong individuality in 1990, is also consciously an “Blade Runner “, which unfortunately robs the created world of atmosphere and unique selling point. Another point that the original has earned.
Cool sayings en masse vs. serious mood
“Total Recall” is a film by Paul Verhoeven, but it is mostly a film with Arnold Schwarzenegger. And as such there is a certain tone of voice: The action scenes are full of one-liners and cool sayings that were decisive for this time in the action cinema. Legendary Arnie’s aggressive fight against his vicious wife, whom he promotes to the afterlife with the saying “Consider this a divorce”. Arnie may never have been a great character actor, but only he could present the wonderfully absurd, exaggerated action movie star sayings so credibly. A big benchmark for anyone who should follow suit in a remake.
Len Wiseman chose the talented as the lead actor Colin Farrell, who delivers an excellent performance – no question about it! But whether he can compete with Arnie in coolness cannot be judged: he has no opportunity to do so. The script of the remake takes itself much more seriously and wants to do without ridiculous action movie sayings. Unfortunately, this is problematic because the story is basically already so exaggerated that it seems all the more absurd without any self-irony. Even more than the original, the “Total Recall” remake would have needed Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is responsible for the fun and grounds the absurd story with equally absurd comedy. It is 3-0 for the original.
90s action star vs. strong character actor
As is often the case in action films with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the rest of the cast list is unremarkable. This does not apply to “Total Recall – Total Recall” for his angry wife Lori, the sex icon Sharon Stone is embodied. The rest of the cast remains rather colorless: Rachel Ticotin as the insurgent fighter Melina is fine but hardly worth mentioning, the villains are appropriately played by Ronny Cox and Canadian Michael Ironside. They do not get beyond the mere status as villains. Verhoeven knew that in an Arnold Schwarzenegger film the audience would focus entirely on the star and did not even try to give other characters more space than necessary.
In this aspect, the remake can actually add new aspects to the original. In addition to a brilliant Colin Farrell, Lori is cast here with Kate Beckinsale, who is great to look at as a devious killer. And Melina as a character also has a lot more time to develop, thanks to action star Jessica Biel and her great performance. But the villain is a special eye-catcher, who is played in his few scenes by Bryan Cranston – the star who dominated the antihero Walter White from 2008 to 2013 in the multi-award-winning series “Breaking Bad“mimed. Guest appearances by John Cho or Bill Nighy refine the cast, in the longer Director’s Cut on the Blu-ray version even Ethan Hawke can be seen in a cameo. Here you can give a point for the remake without hesitation.
Conclusion: Nothing beats the original!
In the course of the piracy debate, there was a long pithy saying: “Only original is legal”. Perhaps Hollywood should internalize this very thought. The remake of “Total Recall” is a superfluous new edition that has nothing new to add to the original apart from an outstanding cast. Especially since the original is still so easy to look at today that the argument that one wanted to address a younger target group does not apply.