Total Recall – An Appreciation

For the avoidance of doubt, I will be mostly referring to the 1990 movie, not the 2012 reimagining/remake/reboot/re-whatever-the-heck-it-was. The Colin Farrell version isn’t actually bad. The visuals are slick, the action is functional, Kate Beckinsale wears tight leathers … No, the 2012 version was worse than bad; it was pointless.

I should also mention the short story upon which the movie is based, “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. Be aware that Total Recall is an extremely loose adaptation. The basic idea of memory implantation is contained within the short story, but the screenwriters – Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Gary Goldman – layered all kinds of crazy ideas on top, some of which were Philip K. Dick preoccupations. Mutants, precognition, authoritarian states, and so on.

Back to the main feature. There’s no way to get around this, but Total Recall is looking its age. That’s one of the sad things about these beloved movies of yesteryear. For a long time, the movie held up. The effects combined early implementations of CGI with great prosthetics and miniatures work, and rightly won an Oscar.

I can’t emphasise how much of an impact this movie made at the time. The violence was INSANE. Indeed, I get the feeling that Total Recall had a huge influence on many of today’s action directors. Robocop was similarly violent, of course. Would TV series like Game of Thrones really be so mainstream without the “desensitisation” prep work put in by Paul Verhoeven. Just imagine if Verhoeven had managed to get his Crusades movie made!!

For this project, Verhoeven toned down the satirical elements. There are still some nice touches, however. The glossy advertising of Rekall Corporation, the “frontline” reporting from Mars, Johnny Cab, air as a commodity. I love the Earth locations as well. Government buildings in Mexico City doubled for a grim, brutalist future.

While the movie was intended primarily as an entertainment product, there are some great scenes that hint at a more cerebral approach. This shouldn’t be a surprise, given that David Cronenberg worked on the project for a time. The scene between Quaid (Arnie) and Dr Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith) is particularly strong. Dr Edgemar claims that he has been implanted into Quaid’s dream in order to help Quaid escape a “free-form delusion”.

“I’m afraid you’re not really standing here right now”

Note: In this scene, Dr Edgemar uses the term, “schizoid embolism”. In my opinion, this is absolutely top notch sci-fi writing. The term is so deliciously ridiculous, yet somehow we know that a schizoid embolism is extremely bad news.

How about a third version of Total Recall? A few ideas …

A more everyday hero. Arnie was great for his time, and he was the driving force behind getting the original movie made, but sorry, big guy, you gotta go. The first explosion of ultraviolence would be even more effective if the hero had an office clerk look. Come to think of it, why does Quaid have to be a man?

“Get your ass to Mars.” Forget commuter trains running through the Earth’s core, let’s take Total Recall back to Mars. Verhoeven’s version of Mars needs a few tweaks, but the general concept fits well with current preoccupations, namely the wealth gap and resource wars. Perhaps the writers could go for a kind of Casablanca underground resistance feel.

Ultraviolence. Get back to the spirit of the original. Meat shields, improvised amputations, those squibs, Krav Maga fighting. The kids would love it!

Villain. Cohaagen, played so memorably by Ronny Cox, was great, but this element will need to be changed up. A ruthless billionaire tyrant with an unhealthy Mars obsession. Hmmmmm …

Ambiguity. While the original does a fairly good job on this count, the second movie removes the ambiguity with a switcheroo at the end (I think). I want Hollywood’s finest minds on this project, and I want the ambiguity to be flawless. Zero plot holes. The film should work perfectly as either: OTT reality or fever dream.

For the memory of a lifetime, Rekall Rekall Rekall.

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