Thursday, August 09, 2012

Total Recall

Warning:  I try to avoid blatant spoilers in the first part of this review, but it's impossible to discuss the movie without giving something away, so proceed at your own risk.  I will give another warning when I get to anything that I consider to be a major spoiler.  Short version is that this movie has good and bad points, but I enjoyed it for the visuals.

I went to go see the new Total Recall with my wife and while it wasn't a great movie, it wasn't a terrible one either.  The biggest strength of the movie is its visuals.  I'm not sure I've seen better images of a cyberpunk dystopia since Blade Runner.  Quaid's apartment and the surrounding areas of the Colony have a classic cyberpunk feel, and the early scenes that take place in that area are worth the price of admission just for the virtual tourism.

The later scenes in the United Federation of Britain (UFB) are less dystopian and cyberpunk and more standard urban sci-fi.  The visuals aren't bad, but nothing really stands out, which I suppose may have been what they were going for in contrasting the dynamic Colony with the bland UFB.

Unfortunately, despite some excellent visuals, there are some real problems with the rest of the movie.  The biggest being major holes in both the plot and the science.  First, the science.  I realize that different people will have different thresholds for their suspension of disbelief, but the movie passed a couple of mine.  The world has been devastated by chemical warfare, but there's no explanation as to why certain areas of the globe have avoided that devastation.  It's understandable why Australia might have come through unscathed, but Britain and parts of Europe survived where Africa and South America didn't?  That requires some explanation that is never provided.  There's also no explanation as to why the UFB never becomes contaminated from the adjacent blighted zones.  There's no sign of a dome or energy field keeping the blight at bay.

The second hole in the science is the gravity train known in the film as "The Fall."  The idea of a transportation system passing through the center of the planet is an old one (going back to the 17th Century according to Wikipedia), but it has some significant problems that the movie does not address.  The two biggest being the molten core of Earth and the friction inherent in any system that isn't a vacuum.  Neither of these are addressed in the film.  There's also the problem that if such a system actually worked, it would take around 42 minutes to get from one side of the planet to the other, not the 17 mentioned in the film.

So much for the science.  The plot has similar holes.  

Warning:  OK, past this point I'll be discussing the plot of the movie, so major spoilers ahead.

There's never any explanation as to how Cohaagen originally planned to use Quaid to expose Matthias.  It's clearly stated that the Rekall incident was unexpected, yet that's the only thing that triggers Quaid to go looking for Matthias!  So why was Cohaagen keeping Quaid around?  It wasn't to turn him back into a loyal Houser, because he obviously could have done that at any time based on his ability to try to do it after Matthias is dealt with.  The whole thing makes no sense as presented in the film.

While we're on the subject of the plot, I want to touch on the point that some involved in the production of the film claim it was based on the short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," rather than the previous film. That's obviously false. It may have drawn some inspiration from the short story, but it's arguably further from the source than the original film, and it shares various elements from the first film that aren't present in the short story, including the protagonist's name of "Quaid."  It's "Quail" in the short story. This is a minor point for me, since I think the short story would actually make for a lousy film, but I find it annoying that some would claim it as an influence where it obviously wasn't.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. It wasn't perfect, but it had some good action scenes and the great visuals I mentioned before.  Still, the first film, with all it's Schwarzenegger cheesiness and dated special effects, is the better one.  Although I do think the new version has a better triple-breasted whore.

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