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 🙂

Total Recall: The Original

Wow, it seems that I have Mars on the brain today! How else am I to explain the constant deluge of Mars-related news and my insistence on publishing Mars-related posts? Not to mention the fact that a few nights back, my wife and I finally sat down and watched Total Recall together. the original, not the remake. And interestingly enough, the whole reason we watched it, aside from my insistence that it was a classic, was the fact that she expressed some desire to see the new one.

As for myself, I had little interest paying theater prices to  see the remake. But I figure I’ll have to catch on DVD (or download) sooner or later, if only so that I can provide a comparative review. My compromise with on this with el wifey was that she watch the original first, just so she’d know what she was missing when we finally did get around to seeing it 😉

Word around the camp fire is that the remake has made its share of money (it’s purpose from the get-go) but that the critical response has been pretty iffy. In fact, it received a 29% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.com and was generally panned for lacking all the elements that made the original a hit. Of my friends and fellow armchair critics, the consensus seemed to be that it boasted cool action sequences, but lacked originality and depth.

So to be fair, and in preparation for my eventual exposure to the remake, I thought I’d give the original movie an official review. I mean, you have to know what makes an original movie awesome before you say that a remake fails to deliver right? Of course you do! And I apologize in advance for all the terrible puns, but this is an Anry movie dammit! They are to be expected. Okay, here goes. Cue the Arny noises:

“HLALALALALAL!”

Total Recall (1990):
Loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, the story deals with the subject of false memories, identity, and free will. Although Dick’s original story did not take place on Mars, much of the plot had to do with Mars, Martians, and the fact that the main character was a hero who was in possession of secrets even he didn’t… (ahem) recall. In the end, the movie adaptation was faithful to the spirit of the story, if not the letter, and managed to expand on it greatly.

The film was a box office success, grossing over 250 million dollars and receiving largely positive reviews. In addition to its classic sci-fi themes and motifs, it boasted some very cool and cunning set designs, special effects, and action sequences. Plus, it possessed that rare and awesome Anry quality, where everything had a certain comical, cheesy element to it, even the somewhat gratuitous violence.  but of course, much of this was due to the directorial style of Paul Verhoeven, director of such gory over-the-top cinematic splatter fests as Robocop, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls!

Plot Synopsis:
The story opens on the apartment of a blue collar worker named Douglas Quaid (Arny) who is unhappy with his workaday life. At night, he dreams of being on Mars with a strange woman he doesn’t recognize, and interprets this as a latent desire to move there and become something more than he is.He asks his wife about moving to Mars, which she promptly shoots down given the violence between a mutant resistance faction and the Mars government, which is led by a man named Cohaagen (Ronny Cox).

Eventually, his desire to experience a trip to Mars leads him to seek out a company called Rekal, an organization that specializes in false memories. After hearing the sales pitch, he decides he wants to live out a fantasy where he is a secret agent who is sent to Mars, a scenario which resonates with him for some reason. Unfortunately, things go awry when Quaid begins his “implant procedure”, as it seems that he begins acting out his fantasy even before its been implanted in his mind. Naturally, the company is frightened and decides to dump Quaid in a cab and erase all traces of his visit from their computers.

When he returns home, a work friend finds him and asks about his visit, which he does not (ugh!) recall. The conversation then turns ugly as thugs grab him and his friend pulls a gun, telling him he must die because he “blabbed about Mars”. Quaid has no idea what he’s talking about, but quickly kills him and all the thugs with ease. Running back to his apartment, he tells his wife Lori (Sharon Stone) about what happened, insisting that it’s not a delusion. After washing the blood from his hands, he is shocked to find that another gunman is trying to kill him. This time it’s his wife!

After disarming Lori, he learns the truth. His name is not Douglas Quaid, and he and Lori were never married. His true identity was erased for reasons she does not know and she was to keep an eye on him, posing as his wife. When he realizes she is stalling and men are on the way to get him, he knocks her out and runs. He is pursued by an agent named Richter (Michael Ironside) who is apparently Lori’s boyfriend and works for Cohaagan. He is determined to kill Quaid, something which Cohaagan doesn’t want. He reveals that he is the one who erased Quaid’s memory and dumped him on Earth, and asks that he be returned to him alive.

After escaping, Quaid ends up in a dingy hotel and is contact by a man claiming to be his contact from Mars. He warns him that he has a trace bug in his skull, and tells him how he can muffle the signal. He then leaves Quaid a case with various items, such as money, ID cards, a device for removing the bug in his nose, and holographic device which projects a mirror image of himself. On top of all that, there is a laptop-like device that contains a recording which he made for himself, which begins to explain the situation…

Turns out his real name is Hauser, and that he was working for Cohaagen up until a few months ago. Then, he defected and joined the resistance, a move which prompted Cohaagen to erase his mind and dump him on Earth. The recording tells him to go to Mars and find the resistance, and that his mind contains enough info to ruin Cohaagen forever. Quaid escapes mere seconds before Richter and his men show up, and does as the recording tells him and gets his ass to Mars!

Once there, he has a bit trouble getting through security, as the disguise he brought begins to malfunction. Richter is in the vicinity and realizes it is Quaid, and a firefight begins. Quaid narrowly escapes thanks to a stray shot which shatters the dome, causing decompression. When the emergency doors begins to close, he manages to slide underneath one and make it away.

He then travels to the Hilton Hauser told him to seek out, where he finds a message in a safety deposit box written in his own hand. It tells him to go to a club called “The Last Resort” in the red light district (“Venusville”) and ask for a woman named Melina. A newfound friend named Benny, a cab driver with “five kids to feed”, picks him up in the midst of a resistance attack and explains that this is commonplace. Once in the “Last Resort”, which appears to be a front for the resistance, Quaid meets Melina; who as it turns out, is the woman from his dreams. They have a brief reunion, in which she slaps him and tells him they thought Cohaagen killed him. He replies that he doesn’t remember who he is, to which she replies that he was only ever using her to “get inside” and kicks him out.

Back at his hotel, Quaid receives some strange visitors: Rekall’s President, Dr. Edgemar, and his wife, Lori. He explains to Quaid that he is dreaming his experiences and never left Rekal, which makes some sense since everything that has happened to him is what he specified in his travel package. He offers him a way out by presenting a pill, which he claims is a symbol that will allow him to wake up from his self-sustaining dream. Quaid is about to comply, but notices that Edgemar is sweating and shoots him. Lori then attacks him with the help of some more thugs, and Quaid is beaten to near-unconsciousness.

However, Melina shows up to rescue him, and the two kill the thugs, shoot Lori, and then make a getaway. Once again, Richter shows up and is unable to capture them before they slip away. They run to the Last Resort and escape through a series of underground tunnels which lead to the resistance headquarters. Meanwhile, Richter and his men attack the club, but are told to pull back by Cohaagen. He then shuts down the ventilation shafts, slowly depriving Venusville and the mutant population of air.

In the resistance HQ, Quaid is taken before Kuato, leader of the resistance, who apparently lives within the stomach of one of his lieutenants. He helps Quaid to remember what he saw that made Cohaagen erase him memory, which turns out to be an underground reactor built by aliens millions of years before. He wakes up to discover that Cohaagen’s forces have found them and are coming through the walls. They escape into a airlock, but Benny betrays them and shoots Kuato’s host dead. With his final words, Kuato tells Quaid to start the reactor.

Captured, Quaid and Melina are brought to Cohaagen’s facility where he tells them the last of the story. It turns out Hauser was not a double agent at all, but a loyal member of Cohaagen’s inner circle who volunteered for the memory implant procedure so he could get close to Kuato and lead their forces to his lair. They knew that Hauser would not be able to fool Kuato unless he sincerely believed himself to be a double-agent, hence the implanted memories and feigned cover up. Quaid does not believe it, until Cohaagen shows him another recording where Hauser tells him himself that he’s been played.

Cohaagen orders them both placed in memory-implant chairs where Hauser will be restored and Melina will be turned into a willing supplicant of his. He then leaves with Richter, and Quaid manages to break his bonds and kill the scientists before the procedure can take effect. He pulls Melina out, who also appears unaffected, and they begin to fight their way to the reactor. Benny tries to take them out using a drilling machine, but Quaid manages to disable the machine and kill him with a drill!

Once they reach the reactor assembly, Richter attempts to stop them with a small army. But relying on the holographic device and some kick-ass shooting, Quaid and Melina manage to take them out. Richter tries to escape using the underground lift, but Quaid jumps aboard the and the two fight it out. Quaid manages to overpower Richter and tosses him over the edge. Richter grabs hold of Quaids arms and threatens to take him with him, but he loses his arms when they are crushed against the shaft, and he falls to his death.

Quaid reaches the reactor room where Cohaagen tries to stop him, telling him that the reactor will detonate the planet’s precious minerals. However, Quaid doesn’t believe him, and Melina arrives shortly thereafter to shoot Cohaagen. However, Cohaagen indicates that he has planeted a bomb on the device, which Quaid narrowly manages to toss down a shaft before it goes off. Once it explodes, it breaches the room’s seals, causing decompression and sucking Cohaagen out onto the surface where he dies of asphyxiation. Quaid manages to activate it mere seconds before he and Melina are sucked out as well and begin to suffocate.

The reactor fires up and begins to plunge a series of red hot rods into Mars’ core. This causes the ice core at the heart of the planet to melt and explode in plumes of air to the surface. This air leads to the creation of an atmosphere and a blue sky within seconds, saving Melina and Quaid from asphyxiation and destroying all pressure domes on the surface. The Red Planet has now become a habitable world, which is apparently what the Martian aliens had intended all along.

Quaid and Melina walk up to the nearest hilltop and look out at the sky. Quaid wonders aloud if he is in fact dreaming, to which Melina replies that he had better kiss her before he wakes up. The movie ends with the sunshine becoming a blinding flash of light, leaving viewers to wonder if it was all a dream, or actually happened.

Summary:
To cut straight to the chase, I really liked this movie. I saw it back when I was a surly teen, and appreciated it for what it offered – action, guns, and plenty of creative nudity! Remember that scene in the Last Resort with the three-breasted hooker? Scarcely a boy who grew up in the 80’s doesn’t know about her! But as I got older, I came to see the plot as something rather creative and complicated, which inevitably drew me back to the story again and again over the years.

Of course, the number of twists and explanations might seem a bit contrived, and even I thought so for awhile. But that was before I saw it again recently and actually thought them through. Basically, Hauser was himself when he found the resistance and posed as a defector. But Melina didn’t let him in, thinking his intentions weren’t pure. It was Cohaagen’s attempt to remedy this by staging his capture, circulating rumors of his torture and death, and then planting false memories and dumping him on Earth and setting him up to find his way to Mars and the resistance. It was only in this way that his sincerity could be seen as genuine, and the psychic Kuato wouldn’t be able to detect his true intentions. For all intents and purposes, he was Quaid when he met him, and his desire to learn the truth and help the resistance was genuine.

Sure, the overall twists, turns, and explanations for them all still present some degree of confusion, but that’s part of what’s good about this movie. Even after multiple viewings, audiences still debate whether or not everything was just a dream or real. They cite various tidbits of evidence, like the fact that Dr. Edgemar was sweating, that the story was exactly what Quaid asked for, that this coincidence was due to the fact that Quaid was looking to reclaim the life he lost, or that he had dreams of Melina before he went to Rekal. It all makes for a cool debate.

The plot also managed to make some rather cool commentary on the nature of identity, memory, false consciousness and free will. If it were possible to implant memories in a human being, then would they really cease to be who they were and become someone else? Would this be a possible remedy to the problems of criminal behavior and psychosis? Kuato offers a resolution to all this when he says to Quaid, “a man is defined by his actions, not his memories.” This is then thrown for a loop when Quaid discovers that his true and original self was an agent of Cohaagen’s, but he responds to this by embracing his new identity and fighting to free Mars.

And of course, the special effects and sets were all very well done. Sure, there are plenty of people who would say that they looked cheesy, especially the animatronic heads that were used for the asphyxiation, robotic head, and bug-removing scenes, but they were pretty state of the art for the time. The mutants were also very well done, molded plastic imitating the effects of radiation quite well. And the animatronic limb that Benny showed and Kuato’s body-within-a-body was also pretty convincing! And this was done without the benefit of any CGI.

What’s more, it was original, which is a claim the remake can’t possibly make. though I have yet to see the movie, one thing that I hear from just about everyone is how the sets and effects seemed very much borrowed. The robot forces look like Storm Troopers and droids, the flying cars look like something out of Minority Report, and the cityscape seemed ripped from Blade Runner. In the case of the original, there was a latent cyberpunk 80’s feel to much of it, but nothing had been copied or borrowed, much as I can tell.

It was also well cast and ably acted. Cox and Ironside brought their usual awesomeness to their villain characters, Stone was convincing as the assassin/seductress, and the supporting cast was pretty solid. And let’s not forget, it was an Arny movie, which meant that it was automatically fun, cheesy, and full of hilarious one liners and his signatures “Hlalalalalalal!” And seriously, some of the lines he said: “Consider that a divorce”, “You blew my covah!”, and “See ya at the party, Richter!”. They rank right up there with “Get to tha choppa!”

The only real weaknesses were the many cheesy scientific implausibilities. For one, the scene where he removes the bug from his nose was impossible, as it would have broken his nose. Second, there’s no way anyone could create an atmosphere on Mars by simply evaporating water. Sure, it might be a good step in the right direction, but there’s no guarantee it would work, and it would take centuries, not mere seconds. Last, if you were already asphyxiating due to exposure to near-vacuum, you wouldn’t be instantly saved once breathable oxygen started pouring out. But of course, all of this could be dismissed by saying that it was all a dream. Or it can be simply written off as part of the cheese factor.

Overall, I’d say this movie deserves to be placed in the sci-fi classics section, between guilty pleasure movies and the films that actually have something to say and will make you think a little. If you haven’t seen it, then do so! And if you’re planning on seeing the remake, or already have, then get your ass to the video store and ask for Total Recall! And until next time, here’s a three-breasted hooker to keep you company! See ya at the party! Halalalalalalal!

Happy Canada Day!

Hello and welcome to my Canada Day post! As it is the True North’s national birthday – commemorating the day when the original provinces came together and agreed on Confederation, the first act of national building and quasi-declaration of independence – I thought it fitting that I do a post honoring Canada’s contribution to the field of science fiction. The list is extensive, contrary to what you might you think, and includes some of the most critically acclaimed examples of literature, film and television in this genre. But like most things Canadian, it suffers from a potential lack of recognition. Well, I, as a patriotic (but not nationalistic!) individual, shall do my part to promote. Hell, one day I want to be on this list, so I better make sure people know about it 😉

First up, movies that were filmed, directed and produced right here in Canada, eh!

Scanners (1981):
This film, directed by David Cronenberg, is considered a cult classic amongst fans of sci-fi and horror alike. In this movie, “Scanners” are people that exhibit powerful telepathic and telekinetic abilities who are being sought out by a corporation named ConSec, a purveyor of weapons and security systems. Ostensibly, their purpose is to register scanners so the public can be protected from them, but it is clear that they have a nefarious agenda as well.

The story revolves around two rogue scanners, the dangerous Darryl Revok (played by Michael Ironside) and the reclusive Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack). After a “demonstration” goes terrible wrong where Revok causes Dr. Ruth – head of ConSec’s scanner section – to explode, ConSec becomes dedicated to finding all rogue scanners and stamping them out. On their radar is Revok, a known and powerful scanner who is a homeless transient, moving from place to place in the hopes of staying ahead of corporate spies.

In the end, Vale finds himself trapped between Revok’s renegade faction on the one side and ConSec’s goons on the other. In the end, he is captured by Revok and learns that they are brothers, that Ruth is their father, and that all scanners are the result of drug trials involving pregnant women and ephemerol. This drug, which was designed to combat morning sickness (echoes of thalidomide), is the same one which they now use to control scanners.

Revok’s plan is to now use a captured shipment of the drug and administer it to countless pregnant women worldwide, thus creating an army of scanners. When he learns of this, Vale and Revok begin to fight each other using their powers. In the end, Vale defeats his brother and then assumes his likeness, thus putting him in charge of the rogue scanners. The story thusly ends on a cliffhanger note, with Vale’s intentions open to speculation.

This movie was not only a cult classic, but very heavily inspired. It’s investigation of psychic abilities, with corporate controllers, rogue telepaths, and drugs used to control them, would all show up in later franchises, particularly Babylon 5. In addition, that head exploding scene is considered an iconic imagine, one which has been referenced many times over on the silver screen. Consider the line from Wayne’s World where Garth appears to be having a nervous breakdown on TV and one of their cronies asks: “Did you see that movie Scanners where the dude’s head exploded?”

Johnny Mnemonic (1995):
Though it was widely considered one of the worst adaptations in science fiction history, Johnny Mnemonic was nevertheless a faithful representation of William Gibson’s original work (also a Canadian). Set in the “Sprawl” of the 21st century, the story is about a mnemonic courier who uses wetwire implants (i.e. cybernetic brain implants) to carry information around illegally. This is apparently a common practice in the world of the future, where corporate control is absolute and the most precious commodity is information.

Enter into this Johnny (Reaves), a courier who is given a job to carry a package that is twice the size of his capacity. He takes it, knowing the risk it will pose to his brain, because he’s looking for that final payoff which will allow him to have his implants removed and his memory restored. This is something all mnemonic carriers must go through, which is the sacrifice of their own memories in order to make room for all the pirated data they carry.

Quickly, Johnny realizes the package he contains is incredibly valuable, as Yakuza close in and murder his contacts. His own boss betrays him as well, forcing him to turn to a freelance ninja named “Sally Shears” (aka. Molly Millions) for help. Like him, she has enhancements which are beginning to mess with her body, and she recommends they get help from her friend Spider. As a doctor, he is used to dealing with nervous system illnesses, particularly NAS (nervous attenuation syndrome).

When they arrive, Johnny is informed that he is the one who hired him, and that the information he carries comes directly from the pharmaceutical giant Pharma-Kom’s labs. It is nothing less than the cure of NAS, and the company will kill to make sure it doesn’t get it out, seeing as how they make billions off of treatment and will lose out if it is cured. The race is then on for Johnny to download the cure onto the open Net, and with the help of a group of counter-culture fighters named Lo-Tek, they manage to do just that.

Though the movie was generally panned by critics and did quite poorly at the box office, it remains a cult classic to many because of its gritty, cyberpunk feel and faithful adaptation of Gibson’s characteristic themes. It also boasted an all-star cast, which included Keannu Reaves (Canuck!), Dolph Lundgren, Takeshi Kitano, Henry Rollins, Ice-T, Dina Meyer, and Udo Kier. On top of that, it also made use of pioneering special effects to give visual representation to Gibson’s concept of “cyberspace”, the movie also contained all the elements he so loves to include in his stories. Freelancers, Yakuza, mega-corporations, mercenaries, cybernetic enhancements, dirty environments, urban sprawl, hackers and techy geeks. This movie had all that, and is required viewing for fans of Neuromancer and Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy.

Screamers (1995):
Here’s a cult classic I keep coming back to of late! Based on Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety”, Screamers is another adaptation of classic sci-fi which was filmed, directed and financed here in the Great White North. And I mean that literally since most of the filming took place in a quarry in Quebec during the dead of winter. And though the story was updated for the post-Cold War world, set on a distant planet and being a war between corporate interests and quasi-national forces, the basic elements remained much the same.

Taking place in 2078 on a planet known as Sirius 6b, the story revolves around an ongoing war between two factions who are fighting for control of the planet. On the one side is the NEB (New Economic Bloc), a super-corporate entity that controls mining in outer space. On the other is the Alliance, a resistance formed out of the former miners and scientists from the colony.

After the NEB bombarded the planet with nukes, turning it into a radioactive wasteland that is perennially experiencing nuclear winter, the Alliance resorted to creating devices known as the “Autonomous Mobile Sword”, a race of self-replicating machines built by a self-sustaining underground factory. These weapons, which tunnel underground and use high-pitched sonic blasts to paralyze opponents, carry the nickname of “Screamers”.

The story opens when a NEB representative comes to the Alliance bunker offering a ceasefire. After investigating the situation, the Alliance commander JOe Hendricksson (played by Peter Weller, aka. Robocop) realizes that the war still rages back home and no one cares what happens to them anymore. He decides to take the NEB up on their offer to end the fight on Sirius 6b, but during his trip to the NEB bunker, learns that new breeds of Screamers are out there. After meeting with Jessica (Jennifer Rubin), the NEB mercenary commander, they attempt to investigate the Screamer factory and learn that there are in fact four varieties now, each of which is becoming more human!

They make it back to the Alliance bunker, only to see that it too has been overrun. In the end, only Hendrickson and Jessica survive and begin making their way to the emergency escape shuttle hidden in the nearby mountains. Once there, Hendrickson learns that Jessica herself is a Screamer when an identical model of her appears and attacks them. Apparently, she is the fifth variety and the most advanced model to date, one that bleed, cry, imitate human emotions, and even have sex. Jessica sacrifices herself to protect him, and Hendrickson learns that her mission was to find the escape shuttle and go back to Earth where they could be sterilizing it of all life as well.

This was in keeping with the Screamer new mandate which was to destroy all human life, not just their enemies. However, that ended when Jessica became over-sympathetic to Hendrickson and broke with her original programming, thus demonstrating the most human characteristic of all, that of empathy. Hendrickson then takes the shuttle himself and leaves the planet, bound for Earth, and safe in the knowledge that the Screamers will never get off Sirius 6b.

Thought it differed in many ways from the original PKD short story, the thematic nature of the movie was accurate. You have the idea of the Screamers, the automonous, self-replicating and intelligent machines that are left to their own devices and end up turning on their own masters. You have the concept of runaway technology erasing the line between what is real and fake. Thought it ended on a happy note, unlike “Second Variety” where a machine made it off planet, the movie still managed to deliver on its message. And it was pretty damn scary too boot!

Cube (1997):
Here is another cult-classic that practically created its own sub-genre in science fiction film making. Directed by Vincenzo Natali and produced by the Canadian Film Centre as its first First Feature Project, Cube became an instant hit due to its paranoid, Kafkaesque feel and psychological thriller tone. Set inside a giant (you guessed it) Cube, made up of countless adjoining rooms that are numbered and contain different booby traps, the story revolves around a series of strangers who wake up inside and must find their way out.

What is immediately apparent to all the characters in the story is that they all possess different abilities and share the same story. Each and every one of them was carrying on with their daily lives, only to wake up and find themselves inside a cube-shaped room. None of them know each other or can remember how they got here, but once they found each other, they agree to work together and find the way out.

Amongst the captives is Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint), a charismatic police officer who takes command, Leaven (Nicole deBoer) a young mathematics student, Holloway (Nicky Guadagni), a doctor and conspiracy theorist, and Worth (David Hewlett), a pessimistic man who refuses to talk about himself. Quentin believes they all have a role to play, Holloway believes they are part of a government experiment, Leaven develops a theory that the room’s numbered in prime are the safe ones, and Rennes follows but seems skeptical of their chances.

As they continue, they find that Quentin’s theory about the prime numbered-rooms is flawed. Tensions also begin to rise within the group because of Holloway’s paranoia, Quentin’s controlling behavior, and Worth’s reticence. The group then experiences a bit of a breakdown, during which time Worth finally reveals that he was one of the architects who helped design the Cube. He never knew what it was for or who even commissioned it, the specs merely passed his desk and he added his own insight. He believes that essentially, the Cube created itself, the result of human stupidity and complacency.

However, Leaven concludes from Worth’s description that the numbers might actually be Cartesian coordinates, and the group begins working its way to one of the outer edges. They also come across a mentally challenged boy named Kazan, who Quentin wants to leave behind by Leaven insists they bring. But in time, their efforts prove futile when another feature of the Cube is revealed, the fact that it periodically shifts its rooms around. Another breakdowns occurs as Quentin becomes paranoid and shows his dark side. After a confrontation with Holloway, he lets her fall to her death, thinking she was out to get him.

The group begins to truly fall apart as Quentin’s true nature is revealed. It seems he is a violent man with a penchant for young girls, the reason why his wife left him with their kids. He begins to run the group through bullying and fear. But a ray of hope emerges when Leaven concludes that the numbers are not primes or coordinates by powers of prime numbers. She cannot calculate them, but the mentally challenged boy Kazan – an apparent autistic savant – can. They continue on their way and Worth incapacitates Quentin, who has now gone completely insane.

Eventually, they find their way to the outer edge and prepare to leave, but Worth wonders if it’s worth it considering that there is nothing out there but “boundless human stupidity”. They are about to step out when Quentin sets upon them. Leaven jumps in to help, and the three are pulled back in as the room’s once again shift. Kazan is left alone to walk out into the light of day, free of the Cube.

Where to begin? This story was a masterful piece of psychological thriller and paranoid fantasy! The fact that we never truly learn who built the Cube, what purpose the “test” really served, and the possibility that complacency and ineptitude is what built it not only makes for a mysterious story, but a big, fat existential allegory! For in the end, are we not all prisoners within a giant maze we can’t discern, who’s maker is unknown and who’s purpose in indistinct? Calling to mind Kafka, Sartre and the “Allegory of the Cave” – a la Socrates – these movie was not only a nail-biting thriller but a fittingly dark philosophical commentary.

Last Night (1998):
Filmed and set in Toronto by writer/actor/director Don McKellar, this apocalyptic sci-fi film tells the story of the last night on Earth, and shows various people choose to spend it. Though the date is not specified, and no explanation is given as to what calamity will be bringing the world to an end, it is made abundantly clear that it will be coming at the stroke of midnight, leaving everyone in the story only a few hours with which to live life to the fullest.

Naturally, the streets are filled with people who have decided to riot, loot and generally wreak havoc. But the main focus of the story is on the lives of various intersecting characters who have chosen to use their time more constructively. One is Patrick (played by McKellar himself), who lost his wife not long ago and is spending the time saying goodbye to family and friends, but who seems to want to spend the last of it alone.

His best friend Craig (Callum Keith Rennie) chooses to spend it in a non-stop sexual marathon as he attempts to fulfill every possible erotic desire he has, not to mention those of his partners. This includes having sex with his former French teacher, a black woman, a virgin, and just about any other scenario he can think of. When Patrick comes to say good-bye, he clumsily tries to encourage him to have sex with him as well. Patrick awkwardly declines, but Craig manages to get a sustained kiss out of him before he goes.

Meanwhile, Sandra (Sandra Oh), who has become stranded in the streets, meets up with Patrick and they get to talking. After realizing their time is short and they have only each other to spend their last hour with, they begin talking and sharing. Many times over, she insists that Patrick open up, saying “make me love you”. They agree to a suicide pact on the roof, listening to “Guantanamera” and drinking wine. In the end, they cannot shoot each other and end their time on the Earth with a heartfelt kiss.

The movie became an instant hit because of its personal nature and the realistic way in which it depicted the end of the world. By not specifying how the world was ending, McKellar kept the focus on the people themselves and how they chose to confront death, bringing out the very best and worst in themselves. While some chose to lose all control and commit murder, others chose to spend it with loves ones, or took a chance on forming new bonds with total strangers.

This last performance, between Sandra Oh and McKellar himself, was the most touching part of the film. We have two people who would never have known each other, both of whom experienced personal tragedy, and who came to experience one brief, shining moment of love – the most life affirming thing of all – before all life ended forever. So sad, yet so poignant. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house!

eXistenZ (1999):
From the same mind that brought you Scanners (David Cronenberg) comes this twisted psychological thriller about reality and the way technology affects our perception of the world around us. Featuring an all star cast that included Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sarah Polley, Don McKellar and Willem Dafoe, this movie received multiple awards and was well received by critics, though its box office gross was overshadowed somewhat by the release of the Matrix that same year.

Set in the not too distant future where organic game consoles known as “game pods” are all the rage, the story revolves around two game companies – Antenna Research and Cortical Systematics – who are competing to create the best in bioware. At the same time, a group of “realists” – people who are opposed to the technology because it “deforms reality” – are engaged in a guerrilla-style fight with both companies.

Enter into this Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the greatest game designer in the world who works for Antenna and is testing her latest virtual reality game, eXistenZ. During a seminar, she is shot in the shoulder by a realist using an “organic gun” – a device which can pass through security checkpoints – and the console appears to be damaged. As a result, she must plug in and test it with a trusted person and asks Pikul (Jude Law), the security guard to join her.

As they enter the game, reality becomes increasingly distorted as the two undergo behaviors which seem odd to them but are “consistent with their characters.” At the same time, they are stalked by characters that appear to be Realist fighters who are trying to sabotage them. Geller eventually realizes that they have been double-crossed by the people who installed Pikul’s bioport, the interface which is inserted into a gamer’s lower back, in order to infect and destroy her game. On top of that, Cortical Systems personnel are also inside, looking to copy the game for their own purposes. Pikul then reveals that he is in fact a Realist agent who was sent to kill her. She answers by saying she knew for some time and detonating his bioport.

However, in a finay twist, the two then appear on a stage with the other main players from the game and realize they were all part of a virtual reality game called “tranCendenZ”. This game was being played by the cast,  mirroring the first scene, but with electronic devices rather than game pods. The real game designer, Nourish (played by McKellar), feels uneasy because the game started with the assassination of a game designer and had an overall anti-game theme that he suspects originated from the thoughts of one of the testers.

Pikul and Allegra approach him and ask him if he should pay for his “crimes” of deforming reality. As Merle (Sarah Polley), Nourish’s assistant, calls for security, Pikul and Allegra grab hidden pistols  and shoot Nourish and Merle to death. As with the other game, the other players appear more frozen than shocked, suggesting that they are still inside. Pikul and Allegra point their guns at another player, who is at first dismayed, but then asks if they are still in the game. Pikul and Allegra don’t know, and the last scene ends with the fear written on their faces.

Much like the Matrix and Inception, this movie was characterized by it’s mind-bending sequences and unpredictable twists, showing how one’s perception of reality can be distorted thanks to the effects of mind-bending technology. But whereas other films chose to delve into the relative aspects of it all or sought to make an existential point about mind control, Cronenberg’s aim was clearly in showing the dangers of such reality-based technologies by equating them with drugs. All throughout the film, the psychoactive nature of the game is played up, showing how the ability to distort reality and tamper with one’s own psyche can be an addictive form of entertainment. The dangers in this are obvious of course, in that one’s ability to tell reality from fantasy will be worn down, leading to potentially fatal consequences.

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Well, that’s movies covered! It will take a few more days to cover the rest, respectively television and literature. These are even more fertile ground than films, so expect some detailed and lengthy posts. I will try to be brief as possible, but this is a tribute to my country of origin so don’t expect any topical treatments. No, sir! In the meantime, Happy Canada Day to all Canucks at home and abroad. Hope you are with the one’s you love and are having a good time. And to you Canada, happy 145th birthday! Cheers!

Starship Troopers

Here we have yet another example of a sci-fi book adapted to film, with significant changes being made! And, much like with Blade Runner and 2001: Space Odyssey, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Whereas the novel was an in-depth look at the timeless nature of military service with some rather interesting social commentary thrown in, the movie was all about a war with a hostile alien species. In the book, there really wasn’t much about the Bugs or humanity’s fight with them by comparison. Rather than being the focal point of the story, it operated as a sort of background to the main premise, which was the armed forces and their role in society. So its not surprising that in adapting the book to the big screen, they chose to focus on the war stuff and gloss over the rest. While this allowed for a more entertaining movie, it didn’t come without its share of consequences.

(Background—>)
Interestingly, and perhaps ironically, the movie was to have a polarizing effect on audiences and critics, much like the original novel. Though Heinlein was a gifted author and one of the “Big Three” of science fiction (along with Asimov and Clarke) I can honestly say that Starship Troopers was not his best work. But it was the themes and the central message of the book that seemed to divide the critical and the general reception it got. Was he advocating violence without a second thought and a quasi-fascist social code, or simply depicting a future society in which these things came to be? Was he serious when he said that how violence had solved more problems in history than any other means? Or was he being cynical or facetious? Who knows? In fact, Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers largely to explain and defend his feelings about the military and nuclear policy. Much like his feelings, the book was nuanced, and was therefore likely to elicit mixed reactions.

In any case, the movie had the same effect on audiences. Some were mad that it wasn’t faithful to the original novel – no doubt because of all the pretty actors and actresses and all that love triangle crap – while others were happy for the changes, hailing it for its action, costumes, settings and the way it expanded on the Bug War. Me? I kind of fall in the middle camp. While I appreciate the acting and the fact that we actually got to see much of what was explained being acted out, I didn’t much care for the cast or the teenage-type drama. I felt that it was a good effort, and a fitting addition to Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi lineup (director of such movies as Robocop and Total Recall). Still, it would have benefited from a different cast and some script changes, though it would have definitely done less well as the box office as a result. In the end, its best when filed under guilty pleasures; kind of like Independence Day, but with way less cheese!

Oh, and for the record, I will NOT be getting into this movie’s sequels! Far as I’m concerned, the less said about them the better! I’ve caught snippets and what I saw was so demoralizing, I knew I couldn’t sit through the whole thing. I can’t even begin to wonder what the hell the producers were thinking there! So… avoiding those, let’s get into the first and, as far as I’m concerned, only Starship Troopers movie worth mentioning!

(Content—>)
So this bad boy opens with a scene from Klendathu, the battle scene on the Bug homeworld that’s pretty important later on in the movie. This set up does much to establish tension and give us a preview of the movie’s later carnage. Then, cut to the comparatively domestic scene of Johnny Rico (played by Casper Van Dien) in his high school History and Moral Philosophy class. Here, we get a watered down version of what Heinlein said in the original book, emphasizing the quasi-fascist morality of voting and violence, and sans the moral responsibility stuff. But what are you gonna do? This movie is an action film, talking about the legitimacy of violence can only be seen as a set-up for how they plan to deal with a hostile alien species, one that does not understand mercy, coexistence or peace. And of course, that annoying triangle I mentioned is clear even at this point. Johnny loves Carmen (Denise Richards), Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer) loves Johnny, and Carmen… she wants to be a pilot. We get an earful on the Federation and how service entitles one to basic rights – like voting – something civilians don’t enjoy, and in the course of a futuristic football scene, we see Carmen get all gaga for some dude who is a naval pilot.

In the ensuring scenes, during graduation and a whole lot of expository talk about life decisions, it becomes painfully obvious what’s going to happen. Carmen is going to join the Federation, Johnny is going to join to follow her, Dizzy is going to join to follow him, and Carmen is going to dump Rico. We also meet Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris), who is a latent psychic and is joining and getting bumped to the top because of his abilities. It’s also obvious that he’s going to develop the ability to psychically communicate with people. Why? Because he said he couldn’t… yet! And of course, Johnny and Carmen are annoying as hell. That might be prejudice on my part, but I have a hard time taking anything Denise Richards does seriously. Casper Van Diem? Can’t get past that cleft chin! And frankly, he looks the part of the clean-cut American teenager too well! And with a name like Johnny Rico, someone who’s actually Latino would have seemed like a better bet. Having these pretty cardboard cut-outs as stand-ins might have been effective as an ironic statement, pitting beauty against the ugliness of war. But that’s just not what I got from this. Seems the beauty was meant to be a box-office draw, the violence strictly for entertainment purposes. Didn’t really get the sense that there was any real meaning or depth at work there.

Quick sidenote: NONE of this happened in the novel! For starters, Johnny did have feelings for a girl named Carmen, but she was NOT his girlfriend nor even a central character, nor did she figure that prominently in his decision to join the Federation. In addition, Dizzy Flores was a MAN! Yes, in the novel this woman who was in fact a fellow grunt in the Mobile Infantry, not some love-sick girl who followed Johnny into the service (and incidentally, to her death). Oh, and the man who was Johnny’s moral philosophy teacher, Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside) was not the same man who led the Roughnecks! In the novel, it was a man named DuBois (a stand-in for Heinlein himself) who was the teacher. Rasczak was a commander he would later meet, and who would promptly die off during the Klendathu battle. This last aspect I can understand. Having his teacher return later in the book as his CO makes sense, since the teacher was a citizen in both the book and movie. And killing him off promptly wouldn’t make much sense, not if you plan on expanding on the action. But the rest… yeah, box-office draw!

Oh, and I should also mention that whereas the novel was nuanced in its approach, the movie was not. Clearly, Verhoeven chose to go with the quasi-fascist school of thought on this one. Regardless of what he thought about Heinlein message, he clearly thought the movie would be more effective if the whole issue of service and citizenship were presented in very rigid terms. Civilians have few rights, society is informed by propaganda reels instead of independent news sources, and those who serve are “meat for the grinder” (an actual line from the recruiting sergeant!). While this proved interesting at times, it was not in keeping with the message of the book. In some cases, these elements were wholesale inventions of the writers and not mere exaggerations on what was in the novel. Still, they did at times feel like a fitting commentary on the nature of war and social issues, which WAS in keeping with the spirit of the novel (if not the actual content).

Anyway, we soon get to the myriad of scenes where Rico is receiving his training at the hands Sgt. Zim (masterfully protrayed by Clancy Brown). He and his buds are run through a training regimen that is far more brutal than anything in the novel (constant cries of “medic!” demonstrate this point) but the point here is clearly to draw parallels with the kinds of brutal discipline which the Marines and other elite military units are notorious for. We also get scenes of Carmen’s comparatively cushy experiences, and in the course of her video correspondence with Rico, she of course sends him a Dear John. This, coupled with a terrible accident in which a grunt dies, causes Rico to resign. He, however, changes his mind when a sudden and unprovoked attack (echoes of Pearl Harbor) destroys his home of Beunos Aires and kills his folks. Again, not in the book people! While Rico’s training was explored at length in the novel, there was none of this high-drama stuff where he got dumped, felt responsible for getting someone killed, and took a whole bunch of whippings. Nor did he suddenly quit, only to have walk out interrupted by a declaration of war. In addition, his folks did not die in the attack. In fact, he went on to meet his father later in the novel when he himself enlisted so he could do his part for the war. This served as a resolution between Rico and his father in the novel, after the latter disowned him for joining the military against his wishes. But, like I said, high-drama! It was effective, of course; each and every one of us was probably thinking “he can’t quit now! It’s payback time!” And the news reel that followed in the wake of the attack was very effective at parodying war propaganda films, something they did often in the film. Like many elements, it gives us a sense of the timelessness of war, while at the same time highlighting the quasi-fascist nature of the Federation.

Oh, and did I mention that somewhere in between all that we got the infamous coed shower scene? Now why was it that this scene was so totally over-hyped! Are audiences really this smut-obsessed and/or puritanical? I mean really people, we saw a few breasts and Van Dien’s ass! What’s all the hubbub about? Word is that Verhoeven even got undressed while shooting just to show the actors that it wasn’t that big a deal. How’s that for irony? And considering what he got Sharon Stone and Elizabeth Berkley to do in Basic Instinct and Showgirls, this was NOTHING! Why then should this have been such a focal point when it came to the movie’s reception? But that’s Hollywood for ya. A little T&A and suddenly everybody starts going gaga and losing their minds!

Moving on, after a few minor scenes with a reunion between Rico and Carmen, Rico brawling with her new pilot boyfriend (showing the obvious conflict between the services) and the grunts getting tattoos that say “Death From Above” (a common war slogan meant to draw parallels with past wars), we cut to the battle scene at Klendathu. And as I said earlier, this first action scene was a big improvement on the book. For one, we actually get to see the fighting! Second, the Bugs are presented as a hostile swarm, not as semi-intelligent things with actual lasers mounted to their limbs (as they were in the book). I have to say I approve of this take on things, either the Bugs are an individually sentient species or a hive mind. Can’t have it both ways! Second, the scene is a faithful recreation of an invasion, reminiscent of D-Day and Iwo Jima any other “storming the beach” kind of scenario. It’s full of tension, the usual last-minute reassurances (“remember your training and you will make it back alive”), the lull as the troops hit the ground and wait for the shooting… and then, the shooting! Oh, the shooting! Yes, for the next few minutes, carnage ensues as the Bugs counter-attack, the MI get the crap kicked out of them and are forced to beat a hasty retreat. And, fulfilling the preview from the beginning, Rico gets mortally wounded, on camera no less! In orbit, the fleet does little better, getting schmucked by plasma streams – reminiscent of AAA and Flack – and are also forced to withdraw. Cue the hospital scene immediately afterwards, with all kinds of gore and a massive list full of MIA and KIA scrolling by on a huge wall screen to drive the point home. “The Bugs don’t take prisoners,” says Mr. Navy pilot man. Yeah, we get it, it was a disaster!

But of course, Rico is alive. Turns out his listing as KIA was a clerical error or something (another familiar army theme!) Another reunion follows as they get reassigned to the Rough Necks and find that their former teacher, Mr. Rasczak, is the CO. Yep, they are now part of Rasczak’s Roughnecks! WHOO! And true to form, Michael Ironside is missing a limb. That guy always seems to be losing limbs in Verhoeven’s movies! And at this point, its a clear indication of what service to the Federation means, aka. sacrifice! They take part in a new mission designed to gather intel, Rico and Flores have their hot sex scene, and then we cut to a pitch battle where they are forced to defend a fort while waiting for emergency evac. As plot contrivances would have it, their rescue just happens to be Carmen and her pilot beau! Yet another reunion! And of course, Ironside loses MORE limbs and dies as Rico is forced to kill him, Dizzy is killed too, and Rico is left crestfallen but hardened. Seems he’s finally learned what it means to be a citizen! Good for him! Too bad Dizzy had to die in order to get into Rico’s pants though. But according to her, as she said while bleeding out on the shuttle’s floor, it was worth it. And I thought guys were willing to die to get laid!

After her funeral we get another (wait for it!) REUNION, as NPH walks in wearing what is clearly an SS officer’s uniform. More quasi-fascist symbolism! And just to make it clear that he’s become an unfeeling Machiavellian dick, his eyes are sunken in and he talks like a real hard-ass now. “Oh, I’m sorry, you don’t approve (of my methods). Well that’s too bad! We’re in this for the species, boys and girls! It all comes down to numbers, they have more!” And of course, he lets them in on their plan. Seems they believe there is a sort of “brain bug” on the planet below, that each colony of drones has one that runs it like a hive mind. Which means they got another mission to fly: attack, and capture the brain! Rico, having come up through the ranks, is now CO of the Roughnecks – Rico’s Roughneck! Whoo! Convenient that his name starts with an R, keeping the tradition of alliteration alive! Naturally, events conspire to place Carmen in harms way. Her ship is destroyed by that same plasma-AAA, a little reminder that the Fleet has it tough too! And she and her beau crash land on the planet and are taken prisoner by the brain. It sucks out her beau’s brains (ick!) and is about to do her in too. But luckily, Rico and his squad come to her rescue, guided by NPH’s ability to telepathically communicate with humans now (told you he’d figure it out!). And they have one final (do I even need to say it?) reunion on the field of battle. And they even bring back Sgt. Zim, seems he’s busted himself to private just so he could get into combat and capture the brain bug himself! So, with their reunion complete, the movie ends with a propaganda reel telling the people of Earth to enlist because they need more bodies! Rico, Carmen and NPH all get some screen time as examples of what to live up to, cue the war music and roll credits!

(Synopsis—>)
Okay, so the things I liked about this film. Yes, the propaganda reels and the familiar war themes were pretty effective. Rather than being a cheap way to elicit emotions (the way Emmerich does with landmarks), it felt like there was some genuine attempts to get into the collective unconscious and call up the memory of wars past. Ultimately, it felt like the goal here was to keep with the spirit of Heinlein’s novel and show how conflict is timeless and how our experience of it mirrors those of people in the past. Things like unprovoked attacks, military disasters, recruiting drives, propaganda and inspirational pieces… all of these are common experiences and got a pretty good treatment by Verhoeven. While Verhoeven’s interpretation of the Federation as a militarized and obviously right-wing state was also debatable, he did do a good job demonstrating just how it would look and feel for those living in it. It was done subtly, much like he had done with Robocop, the viewer is not told these things as much as shown them, giving them the freedom to figure it out on their own. And the action scenes were pretty damn good! Especially the attack on Klendathu, that one really set a good tone. You really got the rah rah tempo as the MI are hitting the ground and running into the fight, and you felt pretty let down in the aftermath when it became clear what a disaster it was. “100,000 dead in the first hour” said the propaganda reel in the very next scene. 100,000? Damn! Just like Dieppe, Omaha Beach, and Iwo Jima, only not real! Also, the one-liners that were ripped from history. Like “Death from Above”, a slogan that was coined by the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne in World War II, and popularized by the film Apocalypse Now. Or “C’mon you apes, you wanna live forever?”, a paraphrasing of Sgt Dan Daley seminal words: “C’mon you sons-of-bitches, do you want to live forever!” at the Battle of Belleau Wood in WWI. And as for “Everybody fights, nobody quits” or “Fleet does the flying, Mobile Infantry does the dying”… probably all Heinlein, but good lines nonetheless!

Also, with regards to another major difference between the novel and the movie: fans of the former could not have failed to notice that the MI were fighting in body armor and firing rifles and bazookas, whereas in the novel they were in powered armor and used all kinds of weapons. Slug throwers, flame throwers, lasers, tactical nukes. This change probably offended some, but I have to imagine the studios felt that this kind of thing wasn’t too practical. For one, its hard to create the sense of a grand battle, the kind that reminds one of D-Day, Iwo Jima and Hamburger Hill, if you’ve got small groups of soldiers in big suits jetpacking around. That kind of technology naturally calls for smaller attack squads, not a massive hoard of grunts throwing themselves into a wholesale slaughter. Second, from a strictly technical standpoint, recreating this would have meant either meant some expensive animatronics or just a whole lot of CGI. The Bugs were already being digitally added, so if they were faithful to the book, chances are they’d have gone the cheaper route and done all the action sequences on computer. That would kind of be a rip for the actors and would have made the battles look a lot less realistic. And speaking of CGI, this was yet another thing that the movie did right. I have no idea which company provided the digital effects, but they were good! Even now, the effects still stand up and look impressive. At no point do you really feel like, “holy crap, that looked totally fake!” And I’ve said as much of some of the Star Wars prequels, and that was with Lucasarts doing the effects!

Okay, now for the bad… First up, the cast: Casper Van Dien did a reasonably good job of acting, but as I’ve said already, he simultaneously doesn’t look the part and looks it too much. He’s too clean-cut, buffed-out, and that cleft chin of his is TOTALLY DISTRACTING! At the same time, there’s no way in hell this guy’s a Johnny Rico. Rico is a Latino name, the boy’s from Buenos Aires! Much the same is true of Denise “Who did I have to screw to become a star” Richards and Dina Meyer. Whereas Meyer is a good actress and veteran of sci-fi, Richards is a one-trick pony who does nothing but smile and look wooden! More to the point, neither of them look Argentinian, and with names like Ibanez and Flores, you kind of get the impression that they should! Might seem like a minor point, but I truly felt that this clean-cut white cast was a whitewash! Did the studios think they wouldn’t be able to sell as many tickets if they used people other than these shiney-happy poster children? As I said at the beginning, this might have been a neat point if the idea was to contrast such homey looking people with the realities of war and a militarized state. It might have even been cool as a subtle parallel between the Federation and the Aryanism of the Nazis. But I mean… c’mon! I think we can all agree that Verhoeven and the producers were just hedging their bets. Some pretty faces and partial nudity to bring in the teens, some deeper themes to pacify the critics and Heinlein fans. But ultimately, the movie erred on the side of pandering and angered critics and Heinlein fans for the most part. That’s what you get when you hedge your bets. So don’t hedge em, people, place em! Even if the end products sucks, you’ll know it sucked honestly.

Also, there’s the matter of the plot being full of reunions and convenient plot twists that are simply annoying! In an entire universe full of soldiers, pilots and service people, how is it that these four friends from Buenos Aires keep meeting up? And the final scene where Rico, Carmen and Carl are all together and its like “we all knew we’d be best friends forever” is just plain dumb! For one, one of the four is dead! To boot, she’s dead because she loved Rico and followed him into the service, and hence the war. In short, Rico’s unrequited love is kinda responsible for her death, and she died saying it was worth it because she finally got to have him. Are you seriously telling me he would have absolutely no feelings about that? And of course there’s the whole love triangle thing, which in the first place is annoying and childish! I get that some drama was needed in the course of the adaptation (the novel was kinda dry!), but this was not the way to go about it. Something a little less teeny-bopper would have been just as effective, and probably way more respectable.

Aside from that, the plot is relatively solid, moving between segments that tell us about the war, the Bugs, and the Federation without getting bogged down in the myriad descriptions that Heinlein’s book focused on. This much I liked because it focused on what, for me, seemed what the book itself was supposed to be about. Aka. the Bug War, and not a detailed description of the armed services in the future. I have since learned that Heinlein had a purpose in writing this book other than just creating a fantastical story about aliens and ships, but with a name like Starship Troopers, you figure its supposed to be a war movie with an actual war. Anyone adapting this movie to film would likely be inclined to follow the same course Verhoeven did, making it a cool shoot-em up with some relatable themes about the timelessness of war.

But in the end, Verhoeven and his movie managed to succeed financially, even though he pissed off a lot of critics and Heinlein fans in the process. The movie was a big box office draw, it remains a sort of cult hit for some, and for people like me (and I do believe I am in the majority here) it’s an enduring guilty pleasure. Even though it was followed by some horrible, horrible sequels (which I will not speak of further!) and was the beginning of Denise Richard’s appalling career, the movie was still fun, enjoyable, and had just enough going on to be somewhat respectable… at times. Hell, just talking about it makes me kinda watch it again. Maybe I shall, maybe I shall…

Starship Troopers:
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Plot: 6/10
Direction: 8/10
Total: 7/10