Total Recall (2012)

total_recall_farrellRemake season continues for me, this week with the 2012 remake of the 1990 original movie Total Recall. Back when it came out, I was seriously questioning what the hell was going on in Hollywood, as this was just another remake in a summer that was packed full of them. But as the saying goes, “put up or shut up” – i.e. if I’m going to complain about the tide of remade movies, I might as well know what I’m talking about.

And much like last time, I figure that a review of this movie should start by paying a little lipservice to the original (which this remake did in spades!)

Total Recall 1990:
total_recall1The film is set in the not-so-distant future, where a man named Douglas Quaid is haunted by dreams of Mars and a mysterious woman and seeks an escape from his humdrum life as a metal worker. He learns of a memory-implant service named Rekall which he believes might be the solution, since they can provide a simulated adventure that he has always wanted – to go to Mars and live a life of adventure.

He then goes to Rekall and selects a package that includes a simulation where he is a special agent on a top-secret mission. However, things go terribly wrong when he begins acting out his secret agent character before the company has even had a chance to implant it. They sedate him and put him in a car, hoping to wash their hands of the incident. But when he wakes up, his friends and wife try to kill him, claiming he is not who he says he is.

https://i0.wp.com/www.fmvmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Total-Recall.jpgHe is given a briefcase by a former associate which contains a recording, in which he is telling himself that he’s really a man named Carl Hauser, and that the governor of Mars (Cohaagen) erased his memory because of a secret he carries. Quaid/Hauser then goes to Mars, retracing the path his old self has given him, and finds his way to Melina and the resistance. She then takes him to Kuato, leader of the resistance, to unlock his memories.

They help him recover the secret he’s been carrying – which involves the discovery of an alien artifact under the surface of Mars – but the base is then found and overrun. He and Melina are taken prisoner, and he learns that Hauser was never a double-agent, but a mole working with Cohaagen all along to lead them to the resistance. They strap him and Melina into chairs and try to force Hauser to recover his old self.

total-recall-originalHowever, Quaid and Melina escape and enter the alien artifact. Cohaagen tries to stop them, claiming its a doomsday device that will destroy the planet, but Quaid manages to activate it before the three of them are sucked out onto the surface. The reactor turns out to be an atmospheric generator that turns Mars’ icy core into breathable air, which then pours out onto the surface, saving Melina and Quaid and making the planet livable.

Quaid kisses Melina, still not sure if what he has experienced is real or a dream.

Total Recall 2012:
TotalRecall2012PosterAt the end of the 21st century, the world has been devastated by chemical warfare, rendering all but two regions unihabitable. Whereas the wealthy live in the northern hemisphere – in the United Federation of Britain (UFB) – and in the Colony (former Australia). Tensions between the two are high due to the latter demanding independence, and a series of terrorist bombings attributed to a man named Matthias.

Enter into this Douglas Quaid, a factory worker who makes the transit between the Colony and the UFB every day on a massive subterranean lift called “The Fall”. At night, he dreams of fleeing for his life with a woman, and then being taken captive. He attributes these dreams to feeling trapped in his dead end life, and then hears of the memory-implant service known as Rekall.

https://storiesbywilliams.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/0e021-total-recall-movie2b252882529.jpgAgainst his friend Harry’s recommendation, he goes to Rekall and requests a memory in which he is a intelligence service agent. The chief technician reveals that any duplication will cause problems, and then stops the process when he learns that Quaid really is a secret agent. Federal agents then break in and shoot everyone and try to take Quaid prisoner. However, he kills his captors and escapes.

Coming home to his wife Lori, he tells her of what happened and she tries to kill him as well. After escaping again, a pursuit begins, and Lori is told by UFB Chancellor Cohaagen to bring Quaid in alive. Meanwhile, Quaid is told by a former coworker to find the “key”, and a hidden message in the call leads him to a safety deposit box containing fake IDs, a holographic disguise, and a recording in which he explains what is happening.

https://i1.wp.com/www.fxguide.com/wp-content/uploads//2012/08/TotalRecall_TwoWeeks.jpgApparently, Quaid is actually a man named Hauser who worked for UFB intelligence. He was given the task of infiltrating the Colony’s resistance until he met Melina, who convinced him to change sides. He is instructed to go to the UFB and find it, but upon arrival, he is found out and forced to flee again. He is then rescued by the woman he keeps seeing in his dreams and escape Lori for the second time.

Together, they make it away and Quaid takes them to his old apartment to hide. Here, he finds the “key”, which is a recorded message on his piano that tells him that Cohaagen has been behind the bombings, and that he is planning an invasion of the Colony with an army of synthetics so he can level it and rebuild it as a new living space for the UFB. Luckily, Hauser discovered a kill code for the synthetics, which he must get to Matthias to stop the invasion.

https://i0.wp.com/www.thewallpapers.org/photo/59772/Total-Recall-013.jpgAs they attempt to leave his apartment, they are interrupted by Harry, who claims Quaid is still at Rekall and that he is an implant there to help him wake up to reality. Quaid chooses to shoot him and save Melina, and they are once again pursued by Lori and once again escape. They travel via the Fall to the Colony, where they meet with Matthias to hand over the memory that contains the kill code.

Unfortunately, the memory proves to be a recording of Cohaagen telling them they’ve been had. He then shows up with Lori and several security forces, kill Matthias, and take Melina away. Hauser is told he was given a false code to lead them to the resistance, and that a backup of his memories that predate his betrayal will be restored. Hauser realizes his old colleague is with them, has left his restrain undone, and escapes.

https://i2.wp.com/www.themaninthemoviehat.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/caps-total-recall.jpegA fight takes place aboard the Fall, and Hauser and Melina plant a series of bombs on the rails. The Fall arrives and the synthetics begin to deploy, and Hauser begins fighting it out with Cohaagen and his forces. Hauser and Melina defeat Cohaagen and then detonate the bombs, which causes the Fall to begin falling backwards towards the center of the Earth where it explodes.

Hauser loses consciousness and wakes up with Melina inside a medical vehicle. He realizes it is actually Lori wearing his holographic disguise and they fight again, and he finally kills her. He and Melina are reunited, and they stand together and hear how the Colony is now expecting full independence. He sees a Rekall signs and has a moment of doubt, but ignores it and kisses Melina.

Summary:
Once again, I am forced to give this one to the original. Whereas the remake had some signs of quality, which included decent enough performances from Farrel, Biel, Beckinsale, and Cranston. But unfortunately, some decent sets, a whole of lot of chase scenes and big budget special effects were not enough to save this movie from a relatively weak plot and a whole lot, too much CGI, and a whole lot of borrowing.

We-Can-Remember-It-for-You-Wholesale-Dick-Philip-K-9780806534459First of all, why did they do away with the whole Mars plot? The story which both the original and the remake are based on – “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by Philip K Dick – centered on Mars, though it did not take place there. Including it in the plot seems like a no-brainer. But for some reason, the writers of the remake wanted a story focused on Earth and the dangers of chemical warfare and rezoning.

Second, the story did away with a crucial element this time, which was the good old fashioned mind-fuck of the original. In that version, not only did we not know for certain whether or not Quaid/Hauser was dreaming the whole thing, we truly thought he was a good guy up until they showed otherwise. The plot involving replacing his memories was a ruse by Cohaagen in order to get Hauser past Kuato’s psychic detection.

https://i1.wp.com/filmesegames.com.br/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/total-recall-comparison-trailer-thumb-550x295-94147.jpgIn other words, in order to infiltrate the resistance, he had to believe he was an actual traitor. Thus began the convoluted process of making the resistance think he was genuine by erasing his memory and dumping him on Earth, then leading him to retrace his path and find his way to Kuato. Though the information he had about the Martian artifact was real, it was just the bait they dangled in front of the resistance’s nose to get them to give up their location.

Which brings me to item two in the weak plot front. The fact that Quaid/Hauser was actually a good guy in this version made me respect the plot way less. It was cool finding out the hero was a villain, and then seeing him chose to remain with his implanted identity rather than allow himself to be turned back into his old self. It was a big reveal, added a solid twist to the plot, and even raised an existential question or two.

https://i2.wp.com/img2-3.timeinc.net/ew/i/2012/08/02/TOTAL-RECALL-RED-PILL.jpgAnd then there was the key moment where Quaid/Hauser has to decide what is real. In both versions, this takes the form of someone telling him he’s still dreaming and has to do something he won’t like in order to wake up. In the original, it involved Quaid being handed a pill which the man from Rekall says is a symbol of his desire to wake up, but could just as easily be a sedative. He realizes the man is a fake by the way he’s sweating and shoots him.

In the remake, it takes the form of him being confronted by his friend Harry who tells him he’s dreaming and to shoot Melina, a figment of his imagination. He chooses to shoot his friend Harry and accept that what he is experiencing is real because Jessica Biel begins to cry. But isn’t that be exactly what a fantasy woman would do in that situation? Seemed like quite the gambit there.

https://i0.wp.com/img576.imageshack.us/img576/8643/totalrecallf.jpgAlso, the “secret” that Hauser had stumbled upon in this version was really quite lame. In the original, it involved an alien artifact, which is oodles more interesting than than Cohaagen planning to rezone Australia for more living space. Sure, the idea was laden with scientific inaccuracies – melting an ice core doesn’t instantly terraform a planet! – the ridiculousness of it could always be circumvented by arguing that it really was all a dream.

Last, but not least, there were the many parts of this remake that were obvious shout outs or references to the original. First, you had the three-breasted hooker, who was well cast and easy on the eyes. You also had key lines like – “If I’m not me, then who the hell am I?” “How would I know? I just work here.” And of course, the redheaded woman at the customs line. But these seemed a bit too many and obvious to be a simple wink and a nod.

https://i2.wp.com/iteenacgppesam.wikispaces.com/file/view/Total-Recall-Vilos-Cohaagen-Actors.jpg/493570572/Total-Recall-Vilos-Cohaagen-Actors.jpgAlso, Bill Knighy had barely any screen time at all, and only really comes on to paraphrase what Kuato said in the original film. And the bad guys? No comparison! While Kate Beckinsale was believable enough as a villainess, Brian Cranston simply did not hold a candle to the original’s Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside. Those two were perfectly cast as the evil, somewhat over-the-top bad guys, the perfect counter to Arnie’s over-the-top good guy.

But getting past that, there’s the matter of what the movie kinda-sorta did right. The settings were all quite artistic, with the world in the Colony being gritty, crowded, dirty looking, and consisting of a great deal of cultural influences. By contrast, the UFB looked cleaner, brighter, and the design seemed singular by comparison. And the emphasis of shortages of space was summed up nicely by the massive, overlapping layers of structures.

total_recall_setsAnd the “synthetics” were artfully done and kind of cool looking. As were the flying cars, the aerial traffic lanes, and the three-dimensional elevator pods that crisscrossed the sky. And “The Fall” was a pretty neat idea, especially with the whole “gravity reversal thing”. But in just about all cases, these things have been done before. The sets are reminiscent of Blade Runner, with it’s gritty, crowded streets, signs in Asian characters, and the synthetic humans wandering around.

The robots also looked like a cross between Storm Troopers and the machines from I, Robot, and the flying cars called to mind another Philip K Dick adaptation, namely Minority Report. What can be said about a movie who’s set designs and concept art are quite impressive, but which borrow heavily from several other franchises? It’s like this movie is subtly mocking itself for a lack of originality – which makes sense since it’s a remake.

https://i2.wp.com/futuredude.com//wp-content/uploads/2012/07/total-recall-2012-reboot-robot.jpgAnd with all the special effects, things looked entirely too fake. People today might find the Kuato puppet and the molded plastic suits of the mutants to be outdated, but those showed a lot of heart versus the extensive use of CGI in this one. In fact, seeing movies like these make me long for the days of old-style effects where costumes, real actors and real sets were built rather than generating everything digitally. George Lucas, I’m looking at you as I say this!

I’d say its blatantly obvious at this point, but this one definitely goes to the original. And much like the Robocop remake, it begs the question: why redo a movie when the original got it right? Sure, the 1990 version of Total Recall wasn’t perfect. It had a lot of cheesy elements and some massive scientific inaccuracies, but it managed to both entertain and impress with the way it played with perceptions, twisted things around and kept people guessing until the end.

In this remake, there really is no mystery, the plot is simplified, the most important element (i.e. Mars) is dropped, some of the best elements are missing, and it borrowed too heavily from multiple sources – not the least of which was the original. So really, why was it even made? In this season of remake review, I find myself asking that question quite a lot! Not a good way to start…

Okay, onto new things. Which may, at this point, include The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles relaunch. No promises though 🙂

Fan-Made Film: Transformers “Attack on Giant”

https://i1.wp.com/onetechavenue.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/transformers-stop-motion.jpgMichael Bay has earned his fair share of notoriety for taking popular 80’s franchises and completely ruining them. With his crass remakes of nostalgic classics like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a soon-to-be-reviled remake of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he might just best George Lucas for the title of who raped 80’s childhoods the most.

But it is arguably his work with the Transformers genre that has earned him the most scorn. From it’s beginning as a semi-decent movie that still had all the Bay staples (racist caricatures, sexist portrayals, stupid dialogue, action porn, eye-candy visuals), it quickly degenerated into a franchise that produced equal parts convulsive laughter and vomiting over just how bad it was. And with a fourth movie on the way, its clear he has no intention of stopping.

https://fbcdn-sphotos-h-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-xpf1/t31.0-8/p417x417/10321100_703313716407853_1238366140818904261_o.jpgLuckily (as is often proving to be the case these days) fans of the franchise have stepped up to fill the void left by Bay’s hackish, opportunistic attempts to recreate a childhood classic. Entitled “Attack On Giant”, this mini-film was shot entirely in stop-motion using Transformer toys, sound effects from the original series, and focuses on a fight scene between two original version toys: Battle Tanker and Giant.

Sure, the visuals may not be as intensely colored as in Bay’s movies, and the stop-motion might be a little clunkier than seamless CGI, but the quality and the heart are there in spades. And you got to admit, this was a very fine effort for a fan-made film. This is just one of several stop motion fan films made by Harris Loureiro, a Malaysian amateur filmmaker who has created five Transformers fan-films to date.

So if you like this video, be sure to check out of some of his other videos:


Sources: theverge.com, techtimes.com

Bad Lip Reading: Game Of Thrones

game-of-thrones-air-guitar_510At long last, the people at Bad Lip Reading have tackled the first season of A Game of Thrones. And wouldn’t you know it? They even provided a theme this time around! It’s called “Medieval Land Fun-Time World”, and chronicles the attempts of Eddie (Eddard Stark) and a gang of misfits as they try to save their medieval-themed fun park.

Yeah, if that sounds like the plot of a really cheesy comedy, that’s because this is what they were going for. The whole thing is pitched like an extended preview for a film jam-packed with bawdy fart humor and cheap jokes, with hilarious results. And they even managed to squeeze in some CGI and special effects to make the illusion complete.

Seriously, this has to be their most elaborate video to date. Check it out:

Cool Video: “Kara”, by Quantic Dream

KaraI just came across this very interesting video over at Future Timeline, where the subject in question was how by the 22nd century, androids would one day be indistinguishable from humans. To illustrate the point, the writer’s used a video produced by Quantic Dream, a motion capture and animation studio that produces 3D sequences for video games as well as their own video shorts and proprietary technologies.

The video below is entitled “Kara”, a video short that was developed for the PS3 and presented during the 2012 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. A stunning visual feet and the winner of the Best Experimental Film award at the International LA Shorts Film Fest 2012, Kara tells the story of an AX 400 third generation android getting assembled and initiated.

Naturally, things go wrong during the process when a “bug” is encountered. I shan’t say more seeing as how I don’t want to spoil the movie, but trust me when I say it’s quite poignant and manages to capture the issue of emerging intelligence quite effectively. As the good folks at Future Timeline used this video to illustrate, the 22nd century is likely to see a new type of civil rights movement, one which has nothing to do with “human rights”.

Enjoy!

Star Wars News!

Star-Wars-Luke-Skywalker-TatooineEver since Mark Hamil announced that he would be returning to the Star Wars universe, courtesy of Disney and Lucas’ multi-billion dollar payout, fans have been wondering exactly how the aging star could reprise a role that occurred over thirty years ago. Well as it happens, Hamil had his own thoughts on the subject, and shared them during a recent interview with Comingsoon.net.

In essence, he believes that the new stories will be focusing on the offspring of the original cast, rather than simply picking up where the old stories left off. This would put Luke in a senior role, making him the sort of mentor figure that Obi-Wan was to him:

I’m assuming, because I haven’t talked to the writers, that these movies would be about our offspring — like my character would be sort of in the Obi-Wan range [as] an influential character. … When I found out [while making the original trilogy] that ultimate good news/bad news joke – the good news is there’s a real attractive, hot girl in the universe; the bad news is she’s your sister – I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to wind up like Sir Alec [Guinness]. I’m going to be a lonely old hermit living out in some kind of desert igloo with a couple of robots.

RS_fightHe was also keen to give some pointers to Abrams, the director of the new trilogy. Of particular interest was the fact that he advised that the new director steer away from a rather controversial aspect of Lucas’ newer films, which many fans felt placed special effects above substance and elbow-grease.

I said to George that I wanted to go back to the way it was, in the sense that ours was much more carefree and lighthearted and humorous – in my opinion, anyway….hope they find the right balance of CGI with practical effects. I love props, I love models, miniatures, matte paintings — I’m sort of old school. I think if you go too far in the direction of CGI it winds up looking like just a giant a video game, and that’s unfortunate.

Sage advice. In Hamil’s day, the sets were made to look like Franz Oz and Jim Henson were in charge, not a million computer geeks saturating every single frame with digital effects while actors spoke to tennis balls suspended from strings.

But most important of all, Hamil was sure to let people know that he hopes and intends to have all of the original cast back for another swing. Rumors abounded after he signed on to the project that others might be as well, which he quashed. However, he did let people know that he hoped they would:

Another thing I’d want to make sure of is are we going to have the whole gang back? Is Carrie and Harrison and Billy Dee and Tony Daniels, everybody that’s around from the original [returning]? I want to make sure that everybody’s on board here, rather than just one.

RJ_leiaAnd as it turns out, he may get his way yet. In a more recent interview with Palm Beech Illustrated, Carrie Fisher announced that she will be joining her “brother” as part of the cast and reprising her role as Princess Leia. In the course of a little QandA with the magazine, she was quite direct about what her plans were with the new movies. And she was more than a little cheeky about what it might look like:

Disney is going to continue the Star Wars saga, producing movies set to hit theaters starting in 2015. Can you confirm whether you’ll reprise the role of Princess Leia?

Yes.

What do you think Princess Leia is like today?

Elderly. She’s in an intergalactic old folks’ home [laughs]. I just think she would be just like she was before, only slower and less inclined to be up for the big battle.

And still wearing the bagel buns?

The bagel buns and the bikini, because probably she has sundowners syndrome. At sundown, she thinks that she’s 20-something. And she puts it on and gets institutionalized.

Solid enough for ya? So if I’m not mistaken, that just leaves and aging Harrison Ford, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz and a few extras to wear the Chewbacca, C3P0 and R2D2 suits, assuming the originals have retired. How hard could that be? Disney’s at the helm, not Lucas, and they’re sure to pay through the nose to get the old nostalgic-cast factor going. So c’mon, people, you got something better to do?

Source: Blastr, IO9

The Real Robocop! Of A.I.D.’s and video hoaxes.

Not a bad video, and actually quite convincing. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something distinctly District 9-y about it. And wouldn’t you know it, I was right! The video’s director, Neill Blomkamp, was actually the man who gave Peter Jackson the concept for his 2009 movie District 9. Apparently, that film was based on Blomkamp’s earlier short film Alive in Joburg, which featured seamless blending of GGI with lo-fi documentary style shots. To anyone who has seen D9, this ought to sound familiar. The entire movie was shot in documetary style fashion, everything was made to look as real and gritty as possible, and the CGI blending was quite good! Unlike some other movies I could mention, here were visual effects that actually looked pretty real.

And as it turns out, this faux documentary piece about the Tetra Vaal corporation and the development of Artificial Intelligence Defense unit (A.I.D.) was one of the things that brought the Blomkamp to Jackson’s attention in the first place. Shot entirely with camcorders in the streets of Johannesburg’s poorer districts, Blomkamp and his team then added state of the art CGI to several scenes to simulate the robot and even used an animatronic stand-in for non-action shots for some added realism. Mock interviews completed the film, making it look and feel like it really was a documentary about a corporate concept.

Too bad too, I was hoping this was the real deal. And I’m sure some people still think it is, years later. But as they say, if it seems too cool to be true, probably is!

Prometheus and an interview with Ridley Scott

Recently, I came across the lovely article entitled “Don’t f—- around with gods” from the Sydney Morning Herald. The subject was director Ridley Scott’s new movie, Prometheus, which is currently in post-production and set to be released in June of this year. As I’m sure everyone is aware by now, this movie is a return to the universe of Alien, a franchise which Scott began in earnest 30 years ago. Originally thought to be a prequel, Scott has since revealed that this movie is in fact a sort of standalone movie which explores the concept of Exogenesis – the idea that life came to Earth or other planets from an extra-solar source.

Although linked to the original Alien movie in that it deals with the same derelict that the crew of Nostromo encountered, the story is far more concerned with the alien race known as the Space Jockeys than the xenomorphs themselves. Or at least, that appears to be the focus. I’m sure the xenos make an appearance, and probably end up screwing everybody over, as is there tendency! But mainly, Scott emphasized that the plot, as suggested by the title, has to do with the discovery of powerful, dangerous things. When one encounters alien technology, the specter of the bound god who gave fire to humanity can’t help but be resurrected. It’s just timeless like that!

In the course of the interview, Scott also spoke extensively about his reasons for getting into science fiction in the first place. I have to say that I loved his answer: “Science fiction is a wonderful – sorry about the pun – universe for – again, another much overused word – creativity. It’s an arena where anything goes… The opportunity presents itself to fundamentally do anything you want, providing that you draw up a rule book in the first place. You’ve got to draw up the rules of your drama and within that universe you’ve got to actually stick to your own rule book. I think that’s what’s happening – we’re not drawing enough rules up when we do materials. It feels like writing a book…”

Wow. It’s wonderful when you see words that you yourself have said put into the mouths of true veterans! If I was to make a list of directors whom I admire for their creativity and vision over the years, Scott would be tied with Stanley Kubrick for first place! With movies like Alien, Blade Runner, Black Hawk Down and Gladiator to his credit, I got to say that I’m pleased as punch that he and agree on two fundamental precepts. One, science fiction is a great realm for creativity and inventiveness due to the fact that the only limitations are those of the author’s imagination. And two, that it’s best to have a detailed game plan worked out in advance. This is what sunk Lucas’ prequels people! Always know where you’re going in advance and try to stick to the plan. Otherwise you wind up with contrived plot twists and forced situations. Trust me, I know!

Another great thing to read was Scott’s indictation that Prometheus wouldn’t be a massive CGI fest. Something which set Cameron’s Aliens apart from the dubious Avatar was the use of real live actors in suits or animatronics instead of digital creations. Granted, this was done in an age when CGI wasn’t available, but those who followed in Scott and Cameron’s footsteps understood the value of shooting things this way. If there was one thing AVP did right, it was the use of costumed actors and real sets rather than blue screens and generated images.

Having set the precedent, I think it’s only right that Scott remain true to this heritage. After all, his environments, especially that of the Space Jockey Ship, were known for their dark, gritty, grimy look, something which was very… Lovecraftian! Try doing that with digital effects, it just doesn’t work! CGI might be great for creating visuals, but the textures are always too clean and sterile. Or in the case of Avatar, too cartoony! And actors are far more convincing when they’re interacting with a real person, or even a robotic alien, than a standing stick or a tennis ball on the end of a string!

In any case, here’s the link to the article. It’s a good read, and definitely for fans of Scott, the Aliens franchise, and just sci-fi in general!