Wednesday, August 15, 2012
I suppose the only thing that helps is the fact that the original "Total Recall" was just an above-par Schwarzenegger action flick. Don't get me wrong, the 1990 "Total Recall" is still a perfectly fine movie that's still lots of fun twenty-two years after its first release. It starts out as a normal silly action movie, and then as led by director Paul Verhoeven, it grows increasingly silly and awesome in its third act. Suddenly we got mutants on Mars, a psychic baby growing out of Marshall Bell's chest, and Arnold's eyes popping out of his head. Its actually pretty amazing how much fun Paul Verhoeven was able to pull out of a normal 80s action flick. And it has some of ARRRnold's best Teutonic lines "GIVE DEESE PEOPLE AYRE!" "GET YO ASS TO MAWS!" So right there the original was a perfectly fine movie and any remake would naturally be inferior and pointless.
What did Hollywood do? They made an inferior and pointless remake, naturally.
The new "Total Recall" is directed by Len Wiseman, who is best known as the creator of the Underworld franchise and directing "Live Free and Die Hard"*. Len Wiseman is probably a nice human being in real life, but as a director, he's mostly floated by because his wife, Kate Beckinsale's ass looks excellent in tight bondage leather. Does he have a fraction of Paul Verhoeven's talent or irreverent sensibility? No, compared to Verhoeven he's a hack. And his movie is a piece of crap compared to the 1990 original. The studios probably thought that using the old "Total Recall" name was the recipe for success, then don't even try to do anything else. Rip-off just about every futuristic SciFi movie from the last fifteen years, cast less interesting actors, and cut out everything that made the original movie fun, now that's a recipe for one hell of a ruined afternoon at the movies, isn't it?
The new "Total Recall" isn't a cinematic abortion that will leave me furious for months afterwards like "Abraham Lincoln: Idiot Hunter". But its really really boring. Colin Farrell is a fine actor, but as an action lead he has NONE of the charisma for Schwarzenegger, so already the remake fails, just on that. But everything this movie does, the original does better! There is not one role, one visual effect, one action sequence that was not topped by the 1990 version. This is a remake utterly outclassed by Verhoeven.
The main artistic drive behind this new "Total Recall" seems to be an attempt to be more grounded and possibly realistic. Maybe a darker future, or something. I can't be sure, because I'm not entirely convinced that this film even had an artistic drive behind it. Well, "Total Remake" is not in any way darker than the original, its just a goddamn PG-13 rating. And the new ideas it has are just bad. Like, they don't want mutants, they didn't want the story to take place on Mars, no stolen air, instead the supervillain's plot is far worse. I can only imagine that Len Wiseman either didn't like the first "Total Recall" or his studio execs didn't understand it, saw other recent action SciFi successes, and decided they wanted to steal the best ideas from those. As for "darker", I guess the movie is visually darker. Of course, visually most of the darkness comes by shamelessly stealing the art design from "Blade Runner" and throwing floating flavelas over it. The tone, now that we've lost all the Johnny Cabs and fat women disguises is really boring. You see, the genius of Verhoeven was that he could create scenes that were both funny, disturbing, and exciting all at the same time. In contrast, Wiseman can only make scenes with one tone: boring.
The original Phillip K. Dick short story wasn't exactly all that serious either, I think its his own story that actually ends in an gag. In that one, when the main character goes to REKAL and the whole super spy on Mars storyline begins, they solve the problem by replacing the spy memories with fake memories about saving an alien invasion. And guess what? At the age of nine, the main character saved the world from aliens. Jessica Beil mentioned on the Daily Show a few weeks ago that this new movie is a direct adaptation of Phillip K. Dick's storyline, and she was TALKING OUT OF HER ASS. I call bullshit right now. Nothing about the new "Total Recall" gives me any indication that they were more interested in the original storyline than the 1990 movie. The remake manages to be the worst kind of remake: the one that feels its necessary to reference the original movie in every scene, while still completely failing to find its own sense of style, and being really inferior to the first one. Does Colin Farrell meet one alien in "Total Remake"? NO. Does he go to Mars here? NO. Has Len Wisemen even read a single Phillip K. Dick short story? Maybe, but I don't see evidence of that in this production.
The new storyline is far more convoluted. Instead of Mars (which was actually was Quaid's fantasy in the Phillip K. Dick version) we have an Earth where after World War III, the only inhabitable areas are Australia and the British Isles.... somehow. Ignore how that makes no sense. Anyway, Britain is where all the upper class people live, and its a rip-off of "Minority Report" (with a little bit of "The Fifth Element" thrown in). Australia is where all the poor people live, and that's a rip-off of "Blade Runner"**. Of course, the only person in this movie who doesn't have an American accent is Kate Beckinsale, because the people who made this movie don't care. To get between Australia and England, you need to ride the Gravity Train! This is a huge skyscraper-sized train that is dropped through the center of the Earth to be caught in London. The idea being that since its falling through the Earth, you won't need any energy to run it, because gravity supplies all of the acceleration and deceleration. Of course, this is impossible, and illogical, to a stupid degree. I'll talk about the Gravity Train more in a few paragraphs.
The main cast are all inferior to their 1990 counterparts. Collin Farrel is dull as shit. Jessica Beil is worse than the original heroine, played by Rachel Ticoton. Kate Beckinsale plays both the sleeper agent fake-wife, Sharon Stone, and her character has now been expanded to be the main Heavy for the villain, who was originally played by Michael Ironside. Kate Beckinsale skillfully manages to be worse than both of those original actors, but at least she comes off as being prettier than Jessica Beil. If only slightly since these chicks look enough alike that I was getting them mixed up throughout the movie. Bokeem Woodbine is worse than Robert Costanzo. Even Bill Nighy - in all THREE MINUTES of his screentime! - manages to be much worse than the psychic baby in Marshall Bell's chest. The only person who seems to do any better is Brian Cranston as the main villain. He was the only actor I liked in this entire movie. And of course he loses.
So the art design is worse, the tone is worse, the characters are worse, at least the action is kinda exciting. I mean, I was watching it objectively and thinking "wow, this could have been exciting if I gave a shit". Or if most of these action scenes didn't remind me of better movies. I really did try to stop comparing "Total Remake" to "Total Recall", but the movie itself wouldn't forget its processor. One guy mentions Mars off-handedly, Colin Farrel uses the same TV box to watch his previous self talk to him, the three-titted prostitute is back, they even managed to get a fat woman say "two weeks". Uch. But I did manage to stop comparing the two movies eventually. But then there was a huge flying car chase that was just like the one from "Fifth Element". And there's an army of robots that move like the ones from "I, Robot"! So at that point I gave up and pretty much was miserable for the rest of the movie.
Oh, did I mention lens flares? Because there are a lot of lens flares. This movie has so much glare on the camera that at first I thought there was something wrong with the projector. I would try to figure out what this cinematic technique is supposed to signify, but I'm pretty sure it means nothing, like the rest of this movie. Even J.J. Abrams would think this is excessive. There's one conversation scene where the characters' faces are covered in lens flare! I'm not sure which is more obnoxious, the lens flares or the random dubstep music sadly which humanity still listens to in the future.
Anyway, this movie is not merely mediocre, but also massively stupid. This is where I get to talk about the Gravity Train. Because this bugging the crap out of me. So first of all, Gravity Trains are impossible. The farthest any human being has managed to dig down is seven miles, and the Earth is roughly 7,926 miles in diameter. We haven't even manage to get past the solid crust, and if we did, we'd have trouble because the burst of pressure coming out from the Earth's mantle would basically be a man-made volcano. Furthermore, if you were able to get past the unimaginable levels of pressure from the mantle, you've have to go through the Earth's outer core, which is 1400 miles of searing liquid metal at an even higher pressure, and then it gets trickier. The inner core is a solid ball of a nickle-iron alloy that is roughly as hot as the surface of the Sun. So assuming you manage to get through ALL THAT, then you have to do it again to get back to the other side. Then you must cover your tunnel with a surface of super-impossible unbreakable materials so it doesn't simply get crushed by the pressure. Seems to me that it would have been a Hell of lot easier to just fly the twenty-hour flight between England and Australia. I mean, the rest of the world is irradiated (somehow), but you can still fly over it!
Anyway, I would simply give all this scientific impossibility a pass since this movie is just a stupid SciFi adventure. But it deliberately cut out all the weirdness from the first movie to avoid being campy! Then it added a fucking Gravity Train! So now I'm judging it by the standards of reality. You break it, you bought it, assholes.
More importantly, the gravity train thing only seems able to carry fifteen thousand people at a time. The train might be able to make several trips during the day. A freefall through the center of the Earth has been calculated by people smarter than me to take forty-two minutes, but in this movie it takes fifteen minutes, whatever. Saying it makes two trips an hour (giving time to load and unload passengers), that means it can only make forty-eight trips a day, and thus can only carry seventy-two thousand people a day. Which sounds like a lot, but the idea behind this gravity train is that all the Australians go to England to work as an underclass. But those numbers are ridiculously small for even current populations of those countries, let alone a super-densely populated SciFi city that doesn't seem to have a sky. Do you know how many people commute to current New York City every day using just normal bridges, trains, and ferries? Two million. Two million back and forth. So for ease of commuting between entire countries, this Gravity Train simply cannot carry the numbers needed. It does not work.
Then there's the physics. They're terrible in this movie. The way "Total Recall" portrays the Gravity Train experience is that the way "down" is all totally normal gravity, 1G. Then when you go into the core, suddenly there's zero gravity for about five minutes. When the train passes through the core, gravity comes back into play all at once, and its -1G for the trip "up". This is absolutely wrong. Yes, there is sense of weightlessness at the center of the Earth, because the mass of all the other parts of the planet all give equal gravitational pull, so you could just float in place. (Of course, the Earth isn't a perfect sphere, so this isn't quite true.) But why would weightlessness kick in suddenly like that? If suddenly all things at the center of the Earth started floating in place, wouldn't the train too float? And you'd be stuck down there? Of course, that's going with this movie's mistaken assumption of how gravity works.
You wouldn't just feel weightlessness in one arbitrary instance. What is a Gravity Train? Its a falling box of steel. Within that box, you're falling too at the same acceleration as the train around you. You and the train are moving together in freefall, you would basically float inside the train. So throughout the entire ride, you would feel weightlessness, for the entire fifteen minute period, right up until the train is caught on the other side of the planet. This applies even to the ride back "up" after you pass the center, because you're still technically falling, but losing acceleration. Its a weird event, but trust me, I spent hours thinking about it last night, because this was easily the most interesting part of the movie to me, just because of how badly they failed. Gravity Trains are theoretical concept, and an interesting one. In a movie with a sense of humor about itself, I would have simply bought it, in this, I don't give Wiseman any free passes.
Oh, and their Gravity Train won't work either for the same reason it won't work in the real world: air friction. That train will never actually be able to reach the other side of the planet, the loss in speed it suffers from friction would ruin the entire plan. Instead of reaching London, the train would stop somewhere in the Mantle, and then fall backwards towards Australia. Now its time for the pendulum ride, as you keep going back and forth across the Earth. It would keep losing energy, never getting as far in each change of direction. It can oscillate for hours up and down past the core until finally it stops at the center of the Earth, without any hope of rescue. A fun ride, I'm sure, but not a happy ending for our heroes. The friction would also be hot enough (since we're moving at thousands of miles per hour) that if Colin Farrel were to climb out on the side of the train, he would get burned away in seconds. The other big problem is that Australia and England aren't actually antipodes on the Earth. If you were to go down through Sydney, you'd end up in the North Atlantic, and going down through London you'd end up Southeast of New Zealand. So the tunnel would have to be at angle away from true "down" to go between these places. So the train would crash up against the sides of the tunnel, rub up against the impossible strong metal walls, and then get burned away by the friction, killing every rider in a fiery ordeal. And since its an action movie, the train will probably explode dramatically just to punctuate the point. Now that would have been an ending that I would have appreciated!
Now, you could accuse me of over thinking a stupid action movie, which is what I'm doing. Unfortunately, this movie gave me nothing else to appreciate but the scientific puzzle of exactly how it totally fucked up physics with the Gravity Train. That was the most interesting thing here, the rest of the movie was a snore and a half. And remember, I'm just one guy on the Internet. I was able to tear this concept to pieces in an hour. This movie had a budget of 125 million dollars, had hundreds of people working on it, and nobody bothered to do the math. They didn't bother to look up that Spain and New Zealand actually are antipodes! Nobody gave a shit about this movie. Worse, its a joyless experience all around. I laughed one time in this entire movie, when I spotted that in the future we use Obama on our bills... in Australia! The only time I felt particularly connected to a single character was when Brian Cranston got killed. By the final scene, I was begging for the movie to just end.
And that was I was looking for. I wanted to write a negative review, and I got my negative review. So thanks "Total Recall". Being a cynical bastard is fun.
* Some people seem to get mad at "Die Hard 4" for being PG-13... which I admit is total bullshit and it means that John McClane can't even say his catchphrase without it getting censored. "Yippee kay yay, mother*GU But I still think the overall movie was perfectly fine,
** "Blade Runner", "Minority Report", and "Total Recall" are all adaptations of Phillip K. Dick stories, ironically. Luckily I didn't spot any stolen artistic designs from "Payback", "Screamers", or "A Scanner Darkly". BUT the robot army is mostly a rip-off of "I, Robot", so now we're stealing from Asimov adaptations.