Original v. remake: 'Total Recall'

A couple months back, J-Rod was obsessed with 2012’s Total Recall. He watched it all the time. Not really, but he watched it a lot. Why? I have no clue. I had yet to see the whole movie, so one day, when I saw him watching it (again), I asked how different it was from the original.

He turned and looked at me, bewildered. “The original?”

Oh, yes — the original from 1990, starting Arnold Schwarzenegger. J-Rod was completely unaware that the 2012 film was a remake. (Somewhere in Hollywood, someone is smiling. That is exactly what Hollywood is banking on when releasing a remake: that many do not realize it is a slightly different version of a movie made twenty or thirty years earlier.)

I wanted to compare and contrast the original and remake, and took J-Rod’s innocent ignorance as a challenge. I had never seen all of the original — just bits and pieces, mostly glorifications on special effects shows — so I borrowed Bobblehead’s Blu-ray copy and watched it with J-Rod on Sunday night.

I was prepared, having seen all or most of the remake in the last couple months, but I had a bit of a bias. I am not a big fan of remakes and wanted the original Total Recall to be better, wanted it to wow J-Rod. It did. It wowed both of us, actually. Toward the end of the original, when Schwarzenegger’s character meets Kuato, I turned to J-Rod and said, “Wow. I’m glad they remade this movie.”

Both movies begin much the same: Douglas Quaid, an ordinary working class Joe, visits Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories. As the implant process begins, the Rekall staff realize that Quaid has suppressed memories. It is then revealed that Quaid is a former secret agent whose memory as been altered and current identity fabricated.

Supposedly. The twist, in both movies, is that Quaid wanted memories of being a secret agent implanted in his mind. The guessing game then begins: Was Quaid really a secret agent, or are we viewing the Rekall adventures he wanted implanted?

The plots slowly diverge at that point. In the original there are mining colonies on Mars and an underground resistance fighting the planet’s corporate overlord. In the remake, the Earth has two habitable areas remaining, the United Federation of Britain and the Colony, which are connected by a gravity elevator through the planet’s core. Those living in the Colony are exploited politically and economically, and there is an active resistance to the UFB. That is the major difference between the two. At one point while watching the original, J-Rod asked how the Colony in Australia comes into play. It doesn’t. That was the one thing I knew for sure about the original (“Get your ass to Mars!”). At some point in the remake, though, there is a reference to Mars and something that happened there — a nice nod to the original.

Besides the major plot differences, the movies basically mirror each other. Quaid’s wife, played by Sharon Stone in the original and Kate Beckinsale in the remake, turns out to be an undercover agent on assignment and actively pursues Quaid after his suppressed identity is revealed. Melina, Quaid’s partner and love interest in the resistance, is played by Rachel Ticotin in the original and Jessica Biel in the remake. Quaid’s suppressed memories provide vital information to the resistance and are uncovered through telekinesis and technology. Quaid and Melina are captured…and so on and so forth.

Both are good movies, but, having watched both, I think I prefer the remake. Let me count the ways…

• Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel. In the same movie. Need I say more? I don’t, but I’ll do it anyway. Sex appeal aside — because that is obvious — their characters in the remake have a lot more fight, independence, and determination. Their counterparts in the original seem meek in comparison. They also do not play as large of a role in the original; the whole movie focuses on Quaid, relegating Stone and Ticotin to sexy ornaments. Stone is pretty badass when she first turns on Quaid, but she is nothing compared to Beckinsale. Holy cow!

• Colin Farrell seems like a more natural Douglas Quaid. Nothing against Schwarzenegger and his acting, but his presence in the original is overwhelming; it is too obvious that he is something more than just an ordinary working guy. I mean, what else should we expect from Arnold? Farrell, I think, fits the profile of an unsuspecting Joe much better.

• Though I could have missed clues pointing otherwise, it seemed too obvious in the original that the post-Rekall events were not implanted adventures. (A couple things do not fit that explanation, so I am open-minded either way.) I felt the remake was much more subtle and would lean toward believing that everything after Rekall was implanted. Again, I could have missed revealing clues that indicated otherwise and should probably watch it again. (Interestingly, it was on again last night — though J-Rod did not watch it.)

• The remake is much more grounded; the original seems too fantastic. Mars, mutants (yes, mutants), and the discovery of Martian artifacts and machinery are too fanciful. (That said, I suppose the plot is perfect as an outrageous memory implant.) The gravity elevator through the Earth’s core is a pretty crazy concept, as well as the plan to invade the Colony with an army of robots, but it seems more believable. Also, the mutants on Mars were a little too much.

• Speaking of mutants in the original, I thought the woman with three breasts was immoderate. I am dead sure there are those who think otherwise, but for me it was over the top — especially since they are shown three times! The first time was okay. The second time I thought, “Okay. I’ve seen these already.” By the third time the novelty was gone. “Now they’re just showing them for fun,” I thought. (Was there a woman with three breasts in the remake? I can’t remember. If there was, she certainly did not make three appearances.)

• In that sense, the original seemed much more cartoonish and comical. Bombastic Schwarzenegger action movies always feature a vein of humor, and that’s okay; I expect Arnold to make a couple one-line “funnies.” But I prefer the seriousness of the remake.

• Obviously, the special effects and CGI are much better in the remake. Though groundbreaking at the time of its release, the effects in the 1990 version are laughable by current standards. Though I am not a fan of gratuitous CGI, I thought the remake looked much better.

Overall, the original disappointed me. Perhaps I would think differently if I had seen it as a kid, or in its entirety before watching the remake. Regardless, I think a Total Recall remake was worthwhile.

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