total recall – reboot

“Welcome to Rekall, the company that can turn your dreams into real memories”.

In Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, Douglas Quail wakes up and wants to go to Mars as a secret agent not knowing that he has already done that (maybe).

In 1990 the same happens to Douglas Quaid played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. That film was a pretty loose adaption of the original story but delivered in terms of challenging the audience to think about what is real and what is merely a dream.

Unfortunately in the latest version of Total Recall the suggestion that it might all be a dream is not at all convincing. And this is a serious failing. Much of Philip K. Dick’s work was based around the construct of personal identity and the question of “What is human?”  This was a theme through stories like “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” which became Blade Runner and “Minority Report” and “Adjustment Team” (which also made it to the big screen). So to let us down in terms of such a fundamental aspect of the original story is disappointing.

Instead it’s a movie about the politics of a future society, where the only remaining inhabitants of earth either live in Britain (the United Federation of Britain) or Australia (the Colony) and workers commute from the Colony to the UFB via a gravity elevator called The Fall. The Colony residents resent the oppression of the UFB but it’s not clear why they tolerate it.

There’s no doubt that it is an action packed two hours. The crowded cityscapes offer a dazzling array of car chases and fight sequences that move in all dimensions. Colin Farrell who plays Douglas Quaid is a bit less wooden than Arnold (but not much). Kate Beckinsale does an excellent portrayal of the beautiful but pretend wife Lori and when the gorgeous rebel Melina (Jessica Biel) offers Quaid a ride I began to forget my concerns about the lack of philosophical meaning.

The script does retain some of the great parts of the Schwarzenegger version such as the quips from the lead character during the shoot-ups. Gems like “That’s my wife” and “Consider this a divorce [bang!]”. We had even the return of the three-breasted hooker. But, because the cars are driven by humans, we miss out on the interactions with the robot taxi drivers (machines that answer back are an important part of the Philip K. Dick mix). This version has plenty of robots but they are just soldiers and more like those in “Attack of the Clones” than those thoughtful ones in “I, Robot”.

Its right up there is terms of special effects, action, car chases and fight sequences but strange as it may seem, Schwarzenegger had more meaning.

Perhaps in your reality the remakes are better.

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