August 16, 2012
Directed by Len Wiesman
Total Recall, which I will simply refer to as TR, is a remake of the 1990 Schwarzenegger action flick. This is another attempt to bring Phillip K. Dick‘s classic 1966 short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale to the big screen. Sci-Fi fandom owes a lot to Phillip K. Dick. In addition to this story he also gave us Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (which became Blade Runner) and Minority Report. This version is closer to the Dick story (at least this time it’s set entirely on Earth) than the 1990 version, but its still not very close.
TR is set in a standard dystopian sci-fi world. In the near future, the earth has been virtually destroyed by a chemical war. The only habitable places left are The United Federation (England) and the Colony (Australia.) The two places are connected by a gigantic underground train that travels straight through the Earth’s core. I laughed out loud when I read that bit of exposition, since I’m pretty sure that the pressure and temperature at the Earth’s core would be a little bit too extreme for train travel. But it was a movie, so I went with it. There’s a rebellion of sorts going on, with a small group of terrorists blowing up stuff to strike at the heartless United Federation and its evil President Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston).
The story concerns Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell,) a man who lives a fairly mundane life. He works at an android assembly plant in the Colony all day and at night goes home to his wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale)in a shoebox of an apartment. Doug is a troubled guy. He keeps having recurring dreams of escaping from some sort of prison with a hottie resistance fighter named Melina (Jessica Biel.) I must confess that I too have recurring dreams of Jessica Biel, so it’s entirely possible that I might also be some sort of super spy.
Doug feels that his life is missing something, so he visits Rekal Incorporated, a company that offers implanted memories. After perusing the menu, he decides to have a secret agent memory implanted. As the procedure is starting, McClane (John Cho) detects some other planted memories already in Doug’s head. Convinced that he is a Government agent, McClane halts the procedure and wants him thrown out. Suddenly the building is filled with Soldiers. The Rekal staff is gunned down, leaving just Quaid. In a blink of an eye, he kills every soldier in the room and escapes. Returning home he finds that his entire life is actually a fake memory that has been implanted in his head. Even his wife Lori is not what she seems. She is actually another government agent that has been assigned to be his wife. Following her orders, she then tries to kill him and forces him to flee.
The rest of the film shows Quaid on the run desperately trying to discover exactly who he is. Along the way he meets up with the real Melina and finds out that he has a cell phone implanted in his hand. There’s a really cool Hover car chase, lots of gun play and explosions aplenty as the plot begins to unfold. I particularly love bits where Quaid gets a message from his old self. The idea of watching yourself say and act like a complete stranger is compelling and a little bit creepy. The age old question of “am I a good person deep down, or am I rotten” is one we can all relate to. And of course, you have to be prepared for the answer, no matter how ugly it may be. I always go back to a line form Minority Report (another Dick story, as mentioned earlier) when Gideon tells Anderton “Careful Chief, you go digging up the past, all you get is dirty.”
One of the ideas from the original story that I really love is the question of what’s real and what isn’t. Dick had fun playing with the reader on whether Quail (the name of his main character) is really a spy or it’s just the implanted memories. TR tries to explore that concept, but it’s very overhanded and clumsy. I also love the idea of Quaid trying to discover who he really is. That journey of discovery has plenty of ore to mine. Farrell is a good enough actor to handle it, but the script pretty much pushes all of the “Who am I, and am I gonna like me when I find out” stuff aside and concentrates on the large CGI booms.
Overall TR was pretty good. The film makers didn’t really do any cinematic trailblazing. But they cover the old familiar sci-fi ground well. The gem of this film for me is Kate Beckinsale. Most people know her from the awesomely bad Underworld franchise. I think she’s actually a pretty good actor, and she shows it here. She takes a standard villain part and makes it fun. The screen lights up every time she’s on it and she’s physical enough that you believe that she could kill you in multiple ways.
GAME INSPIRATIONS FROM THE MOVIE
Shadow Run seems to be a perfect fit for this setting, although a modern day Call of Cthulhu would work just as well. You could have two character sheets for each character that has had their memories altered. Then you can spring the new sheet with the ‘real’ character at just the right moment. If your players are up for it, they can have a lot of fun playing a different version of themselves. When you add in just the right amount of swat teams, firefights, and huge government conspiracies, you’ve got yourself an enjoyable evening of gaming!
There were a couple of nods to the original Schwartz version. The traveling women at the security check-in “Two Weeks!” makes a fun appearance and Quaid has a quick throw away line “I always wanted to go to Mars” when he is at Rekall. But that one could also be a nod to the actual Dick story as well. All of the crowd shots of the Colony brought to mind the scenes of LA 2019 from Blade Runner.
‘Course, what do I know?
You can check out this review as well as all the others at the Bloodwork blog on toxicbag.com.