TOTAL RECALL (2012) - Blu-ray review

Visually, the 2012 remake is better than the original, with interesting set and background designs, decent enough futuristic vehicles, and superb special effects. The plot is another story.

James Plath's picture

In the 1990 Paul Verhoeven classic, Arnold Schwarzenegger played a man who kept having recurring dreams of Mars and wanted to go on a virtual vacation there to see if he could find out more. But there’s a problem with the memory implantation at Rekall, Inc., and soon he’s being chased by operatives working for the Mars administrator, Cohaagen. Is he a spy? A double agent? What’s his mission? And more importantly, what’s his real identity?

The basic principle in the 2012 remake is the same, although we’re told that global chemical warfare has rendered most of Planet Earth uninhabitable except for two areas: a new British empire, and an Australian colony. Factory workers who go from Britain to the Colony take a futuristic tram directly through the core of the planet in order to do their unspecified jobs, though you’d think that any society capable of creating a tram through the Earth’s mantle and core could have come up with ways of creating underground living space in the contaminated zones. But what do I know?

Visually, the 2012 remake is better than the original, with interesting set and background designs, decent enough futuristic vehicles, and superb special effects. The plot is another story. We figure out way too early that factory worker Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) might be married to someone (Kate Beckinsale) with an agenda that involves a little more than shopping—although it’s not clear where these people shop, because director Len Wiseman (“Underworld”) is content to offer a two-dimensional world about which we don’t know a lot of details. “Total Recall” 2012 is a popcorn movie, and we’re not supposed to ask what the butter is REALLY made of. In fact, we’re not even shown much of the Colony or its inhabitants who are at risk here.

Jessica Biel stars as Melina, a driver who picks up a confused Douglas and is somehow also involved, while Bryan Cranston plays the villain, Cohaagen. The rest of the characters—even Bokeem Woodbine’s sidekick part and Bill Nighy’s resistance leader role—are really secondary. It’s mostly a thrill ride featuring Farrell, Beckinsale, and Biel.

“Total Recall” is rated PG-13 for “intense sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language. But I’m thinking, what 13 year old needs to get a long look at a three-breasted futuristic hooker who says, “You’ll wish you had three hands”? If my son had three eyes I would have been covering all three of them somehow.

“Total Recall” is a loud film, too. You have to have the volume high in order to be able to hear the dialogue (much of which is shouted), but that means the rest of the house will rock off its foundation. The subwoofer really gets a workout.

So does Farrell, who does okay in an action film, but lacks Schwarzenegger’s panache, which I believe is French for knowing just how much to overact in order to be a cool but slightly comic-book action hero.

Director Wiseman focuses totally on recalling the action of the 1990 film, but skimps on characterization and details that have more to do with plot than visual design. And fans of the first film will miss seeing mutated Martians.

I missed seeing an action film that cared about something more. But I’ll admit that it’s fun to look at.

This three-disc (2 Blu-rays, 1 DVD) combo pack features both the theatrical version and an extended director’s cut. In an interview, Wiseman said that the 17-20 minutes of added footage isn’t action, but scenes that slowed the pace a little. I wish they also would have added some depth. 

The art design and set decoration in “Total Recall” are phenomenal to look at in HD, though an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc is marred by frequent horizontal banding. It actually is enough to become a distraction, and that’s too bad, since the film is so highly visual. Apart from that, there’s only enough grain to remind us that we’re watching a film, and there’s no noise to be found in huge expanses of negative space that present themselves infrequently. Skin-tones and hair look amazing in close-ups, and detail in the middle distance is also strong. But curse that banding! “Total Recall” is presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio.

Buckle up, and make sure there’s nothing sitting atop the subwoofer, because the LFE channel really rumbles, almost constantly. There are few quiet moments in “Total Recall,” and the sound is fully immersive, with rear effects speakers ratcheted up in volume as well. If you have a Blu-ray player capable of upconverting 5.1 to 7.1 the back speakers will also be active. But again, you’ll either have to listen to it LOUD or else keep toggling up and down on the volume control, because there’s a huge disparity between the dialogue and the effects. The featured audio is an English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, with an Audio Descriptive Track and French or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitles are in English and Spanish.

Wiseman turns up in a commentary on the director’s cut, defending his choices and explaining what he tried to do differently with this film. The theatrical cut also offers an “insight mode” option that features supplementary material played simultaneously on split screens and pop-ups.

A second Blu-ray disc features a seven-part mini-documentary that runs some 20 minutes long and covers the making of several action sequences, a look at Beckinsale (the director’s wife), a look at Biel, and a look at the film’s climax. Then there are 25 minutes of pre-viz sequences, a three-minute look at “Designing The Fall” (the tram that goes through the Earth’s core and will obviously inspire a theme park ride in the future), an eight-minute gag reel, and a nine-minute “Science Fiction vs. Science Fact” mini-lecture from Professor Michio Kaku, author of Physics of the Future.

Finally, PS3 junkies get “God of War: Ascension” on demo.

Bottom line:
“Total Recall” is entertaining enough if you don’t ask too many questions, or if you haven’t seen the 1990 original. As action films go it features solid visuals and special effects, plus near-constant action sequences . . . if that’s your thing. 


Film Value