The James Clayton Column: Things we don’t want to see in the Total Recall remake

Feature James Clayton 13 Jul 2012 - 08:21

With the release of Len Wiseman's Total Recall just around the corner, James shares his hopes and fears for the sci-fi remake...

Do you recall Total Recall? You probably do if you went to see it when it was re-released in select cinemas last week. Alternatively you may have it on DVD on Blu-ray disc. If not, you can probably go to Rekall and have it implanted into your memory for a small charge.

You may be led to recollections of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 flick by the forthcoming release of its remake (due in August) and viewings of the exciting trailer may have the side-effect of nostalgic mental trips back to the quite excellent original. Ah, the vivid orange shades of dystopian offworld Mars; the tension etched into the face of Arnold Schwarzenegger; the scenery-chewing majesty of Michael Ironside; the incredible sight of a woman with three breasts.

It’s a great film, and a large part of that can be traced to its roots in the genius mind of Philip K Dick, for it’s an adaptation of his story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.

I have a thing for the Phildickean. I’m a huge fan of the author, and get a thrill out of this sort of cerebral science fiction material. This is why I’m all stoked up to see Len Wiseman’s new Total Recall in spite of my affection for the Verhoeven original. A good story, I’d say, is always worth repeating.

Generally, remakes are understandably and sometimes justifiably viewed with scepticism, antagonism or outright scorn. However, I’m a great believer that they can be a really good thing if they’re done creatively with intelligence, style and good intentions, and I think that Total Recall meets the criteria as a concept that’s worth rebooting.

People, I think, approach remakes from a biased perspective, remembering all that was wonderful about the original and, thus, are susceptible to the danger of closing their minds or getting cut off behind rose-tinted glasses.

If they can even get to the point of acceptance where they’ll allow for the existence of a remake, they can’t extricate themselves from the memories of the first run’s best bits. The experience of the same story the second time around suffers if it doesn’t have those things or at least inferences to them.

I suppose that explains the presence of Bubo the irritating mechanical owl in Clash Of The Titans and its sequel Wrath Of The Titans. Someone thought that the artificial avian was the most excellent aspect of the Harryhausen-and-Harry Hamlin original and decided to drag the silly little critter back for successive cameos.

I don’t tend to agree with this sort of thing, and I’m more of the mindset that we should brush off the past and get radical with re-spins. It’s high time for a significant break, and to return to Total Recall I’m hoping that Wiseman, Farrell et al are serving up something that’s suitably dissimilar to the Verhoeven classic – a film that has no place for clingy nostalgia when there’s optimum opportunity to innovate and channel the fresh spirit of a new cinematic age.

Time will tell, but I’m trusting that this will be the case for the new movie. The divergent aesthetic and tone on display in the trailer, and the fact that there’s no going to Mars this time around are reasons for optimism.

Once again, I really like 1990’s Total Recall, but I can recall aspects that I’m not so keen on, or that I simply just don’t want to see repeated. Here’s my hitlist of stuff that should not appear in the new adaptation...

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnie is an action legend, and I will always have a great amount of respect for the Conan The Barbarian and The Terminator icon. He did a good job stretching his range in Total Recall, but his appearance will always be problematic as I struggle to see him on screen and not think, “ah, the Austrian Oak is finding this all very baffling”.

Even more so than being a distinctive Paul Verhoeven joint, the 1990 blockbuster is undoubtedly more of a star vehicle than a Philip K Dick adaptation. This is an excellent opportunity for the story to step out of the vast shadow of Schwarzenegger, so I hope there’ll be no cameo, no subtle allusions to the old Doug Quaid and no “This never happened to the other fella!” moments from Colin Farrell. If I see Arnie this August it should be in The Expendables 2 – not in Total Recall.

Doug Quaid in disguise as a woman

When Schwarzenegger’s Quaid arrives on the Red Planet, he does so in disguise in a sequence I find strangely unnerving. He opts to inhabit the body of a large red-headed female before succumbing to untimely spasms in a malfunction that blows his cover at customs. From there his face convulses horribly, his wig falls off and his fake head breaks down like a filing cabinet for convenient use as a bomb to toss at the shocked guards (“Get ready for a surprise!”).

There’s something oddly jarring about this tech-edged ‘Arnie as a Russian doll in drag’ breakdown and I don’t think I’d like to see Farrell’s Quaid go through a similar ordeal. No clandestine cross-dressing cyborg freakouts this time around, if you please.

A woman with three breasts

Is a woman with three tits really that titillating and attractive? Mary the mutant hooker (played by Lydia Naff) has gone down in geek history as an iconic pin-up thanks to her extra breast, but I’m not sure if her triple-threat should really be appreciated as something exceptionally sexy. The Last Resort brothel’s top draw raises a lot of doubt about nature, love and raises potential performance anxiety for those who’d get intimate with her. For example, between which pair of breasts would one put one’s head? Could you ever buy adequate lingerie for this lady? Would you find it difficult to deal with others’ staring?

No offense to Mary, but it just doesn’t seem natural. I think that Doug Quaid should be concentrate on his memory conundrum and shouldn’t be at all distracted by the appearance of weird cleavage.

The signs for Total Recall 2012 are promising, but there’s still time for reshoots and interference in the edit suite, so it’s not safe to say that we’ve escaped from the aforementioned offensive articles yet. If they do appear I’ll be very upset. I’ll be so upset I’ll have to go and get my memory wiped and have it replaced with a nice imaginary holiday to Mars.

James Clayton can remember it for you wholesale after he’s visited Wikipedia and been promised a vacation to Mars as payment. You can see all his links here or follow him on Twitter.

You can read James' previous column here.

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