In the U.S this week, Total Recall became the first blockbuster to brave a release in the sparsely populated wasteland of mainstream cinema; created in the aftermath of the year’s juggernaut movie The Dark Knight Rises. The film stars Colin Farrell and is a remake of Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s renowned 90’s space adventure. Both films are adaptations of author Philip K. Dick’s 60’s sci-fi short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Alien screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett started the ball rolling on the original project as far back as the mid-seventies. Whilst doing the rounds in Hollywood, the script’s sophisticated manipulation of reality inspired the weird and wonderful imagination of David Cronenberg. The Canadian worked on the project for a year and in that time decided upon a dark and serious tone for the film that stayed very loyal to Philip K. Dick’s original. O’Bannon and Shusett however were leaning more towards a boys’ own adventure in space; described by Shusett as “Raiders Of The Lost Ark Go To Mars”. The project was subsequently abandoned.
After years in the dark, the film eventually saw the light of day due to the star power of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who kick-started the film’s production and immediately hand-picked Paul Verhoeven to direct. Verhoeven decided – the hell with the short story’s straight-up tone and average Joe protagonist, and instead moulded the film around Arnie’s bulging biceps and comedic talents. Regardless of the alterations, the film flourished because of an intelligent directer with a vast understanding of the science-fiction genre, as well as a captivating mega-star who enthusiastically put his neck on the line to get the film made. Much like Robocop and Starship Troopers – Verhoeven’s other sci-fi outings; Total Recall features fantastically brutal action-sequences. Its complex narrative, like all intellegent science-fiction, is constructed to comment on contemporary social issues such as class warfare.
Although I am a huge fan of the original Total Recall, with its juxtaposition of gory violence and camp humour, I don’t think I’m alone in wondering how a much darker dystopian take on Phillip K. Dick’s tale might look. David Cronenberg’s ill-fated vision is consistently discussed amongst ‘the greatest films never made’ by fans and academics alike. The story of the film’s arduous journey to the big screen includes visionary directors, a cinematic genre favourite and a literary masterpiece. The problem then for any would-be director thinking of continuing that journey with a remake, is that Total Recall comes with baggage.
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Imagine my horror then when I discovered that the director to attempt the difficult task of re-imagining this classic, was to be Len Wiseman. Anyone who has seen the Underworld films will known that Wiseman’s direction is all about style over substance. Having said that, I must commend Len on his decision to combined female villain Lori and male villain Richter into one character. Whereas Sharon Stone’s Lori was essentially eye candy, Kate Beckinsale’s portrayal of Lori is no doubt strengthened by a much more prevalent role in the narrative. His decision to also cast Drive‘s Bryan Cranston as puppet master Cohaagen, continues Cranston’s recent and well deserved career renaissance. The film so far has opened to mixed reviews across the pond. Having not seen it myself (with the film not set to be released in the U.K release until 29th August), Total Recall could be a masterpiece. However, for that to happen Wiseman will have had to have grown leaps and bounds artistically from his Underworld roots.