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Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Total Recall

Directed by: Len Wiseman

Produced by: Neal H. Moritz
Toby Jaffe

Screenplay by: Kurt Wimmer
Mark Bomback

Story by: Ronald Shusett
Dan O'Bannon
Jon Povill
Kurt Wimmer

Based on: We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick

Starring: Colin Farrell
Kate Beckinsale
Jessica Biel
Bryan Cranston
John Cho
Bill Nighy

Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams

Cinematography by: Paul Cameron

Editing by: Christian Wagner

Studio: Original Film

Distributed by: Columbia Pictures

Release date(s): August 3, 2012 (United States)
August 29, 2012 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 118 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $125 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $178, 454, 768

Aloha folks, as you can see, the reviews are coming in with a bit more regularity (perhaps at the expense of Uni work). As mentioned in my previous review for Dragon Eyes, I have acquired copies of Mercenaries, Transit and Dead Heads, and also have copies of Rampart and Chronicle. Also, having a ton of free cinema vouchers and with a good few new releases that have piqued my interest (Taken 2 in particular, given it's 12A-certificate after an 18-certificate predecessor), so, as ever, keep your eyes posted.

So, here we have Total Recall. This is the second film by the name of Total Recall to be based upon the 1966 short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick. Whether you know or not, I'm gonna tell you that I'm a massive Philip K. Dick fan, so it is to my great shame that I can't say I've read the short story (the Minority Report short collection is sitting upstairs in my bookcase), but I have seen and love Paul Verhoeven's 1990 film with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although it is interesting to think what David Cronenberg would have done with that, Verhoeven satirical take in the vein of his 1987 classic Robocop was a perfect blend of Dickian trademarks, Verhoeven and a Schwarzenegger action vehicle. In this, the 2012 version, Colin Farrell plays Douglas Quaid, a seemingly happily-married (to Kate Beckinsale) factory worker in the United Federation of Britain (UFB), one of the two remaining territories on Earth after chemical warfare, along with The Colony (Australia). Suffering from violent nightmares, his co-worker convinces him to try out Rekall, a company that implants in him artificial memories. However, the process triggers a reactivation of legitimate memories of his time as a spy, and all hell breaks loose. You get the point, and I can't be arsed getting into much detail about plot synopsis!

To start with the good, the film sets a pretty high standard where design is regarded, and I'm not just talking about one element, I'm talking about the whole mise-en-scene. Granted, sometimes it does feel like it's on a soundstage, and it certainly owes a dept to Steven Spielberg's 2002 film Minority Report, but I couldn't tell what was an effect and what was part of the physical set. Everything has a feeling of believability, entrenching it in reality even though it is a fantastical science-fiction story, and as such, there is a sense of legitimacy to the film and it's intentions. Also, Paul Cameron's cinematography is a strong touch to the film. Given that there is much to show in terms of the design, it is good that he manages to shoot in a stylistic way to display these things, while attempting to keep things focused on the actors. Finally, while character-wise they might not have much to do, the principals of the cast (Farrell, Beckinsale, Jessica Biel) to a decent job of filling the shoes of their roles. Farrell has of late proved himself, like Robert Downey Jr., of being able to be a believable and engaging leading man in action films, but retaining an everyman quality absent in many action stars. Also, Beckinsale is the one who has the most to do here, and does her best to do it, despite the obvious deficiencies in the script.

Which brings me to the negatives. Obviously, if we are to follow a train of thought, it would be natural to talk about the script, and that I certainly shall. Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, each of whom have been involved in interesting projects in the past, seem to have attempted in their collaboration to achieve too much, sticking their hands in too many bean jars, but not coming up with much content from each of these metaphorical jars. For instance, the actors, good as they are, are acting above what is written on the page, for their characters lack a genuine depth or three-dimensionality necessary for us to connect with them. Also, although the structure is decent, following an easy, digestible three-act design, ultimately the story itself and the various themes that the film is trying to engage with simply don't work. Is it a character study? Is it a war film? Is it a balls-to-the-wall action film? Is it a satire on mass consumerism that ultimately dwarfs all semblance of humanity and consciousness, or lack thereof? Ultimately, it is none of them. Also, no surprises (AGAIN!), I wasn't fussed on the film's music. As I've said before, I like Harry Gregson-Williams, but some of his film work is just 'musician for hire' fare, and I think that there could certainly have been more original things done with this collaboration between he and electronic group Hybrid. On a smaller note, Bryan Cranston is horrendously miscast. Anywho, I must also say that a good bit of the issues fall down to director Len Wiseman. Once again, I like Len Wiseman, but I think that he has let so many elements go out of his control (the script especially) so that the film ends up being a turgid mess. I'll try to make this clear here, but the film consistently inconsistent, so hear me out. The script dictates the direction any film goes, that's where things are developed, from the bottom up, so to speak, and as such, it brings the inconsistencies with trying to do so much. However, Wiseman, being a director who is usually able to control things, applies the same, almost workman aesthetic to Total Recall, and it just doesn't work. He should really have just decided to let chaos reign, because there are two different aesthetic at work here, and we get Total Recall's consistent inconsistencies. I hope I made my point clear, as I understand my train of thoughts are completely all over the place right now. It just baffles me that a film so messy and crazy can also be like an incredible, unpredictable dullard in conversation.

There are things to admire about Total Recall. I think there is a strong cast, the cinematography is good, and from an overall design standpoint, the film looks terrific, so hey, well done to everyone involved in the development of the film's mise-en-scene. However, even if everyone's heart is in the right place, and I do think they are, Total Recall is a failed exercise. It leaves you with a really strange, putrid and kind of sickly feeling, in that you are able to appreciate the illusive veil of maya that the film creates, but you can still see through the veil and underneath there is an ugly dullard who is someone that you just would not want to spend two hours of your life with.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (I'm getting fatigued thinking of ten hours in Belfast City Centre tomorrow, and I ain't even working!)

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