TOTAL RECALL (1990) vs TOTAL RECALL (2012) - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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What if Tom Pheby's whole life is a dream...

I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the two versions of Total Recall that have graced the cinema (and my DVD collection). Both are loosely based on the Philip K. Dick story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale", both share many similarities, but deliver a very different result.

Certainly when it comes to leading man they could not be further apart. I think we can all agree that Arnold Schwarzenegger, the star of the 1990 version, is no Lawrence Olivier. Heck, he's not even Colin Farrell. But in this case that's not a bad thing.

Arnold has made a lucrative career out of being extremely big, filling the screen with his muscles like pomegranates that protrude from almost everywhere except his earlobes. He has his limits; his accent and his general appearance have certainly narrowed the roles on offer to him, but having said that he does what he does extremely well. Playing either the bulging mountainous mercenary, the sweaty sword wielding Conan, or the unstoppable Terminator. There have been times when Schwarzenegger has made a conscious effort to break away from that particular mold, but most will acknowledge that those occasions weren't a resounding success (and I'm feeling charitable with those words).

Arnie's an action star through and through. Total Recall is a science fiction action movie. There's no point in beating about the bush, Colin Farrell is never going to win a head to head against Schwarzenegger for the better leading man in a blockbuster action movie.

So, having established that, let's have a look at Paul Verhoeven's 1990 classic where Arnie stars as pumped-up construction worker Douglas Quaid.

Quaid lives a very ordinary life with a very unordinary wife. But digging up concrete and coming home to a very fit, Lycra wearing Sharon Stone every evening for a spot of horizontal jogging is not enough for Douglas, he craves excitement and this ambition leads him to Rekall.

Rekall are able to offer a break from the norm which is tailored to the individual by embedding new memories of stunning achievements and wonderful excesses, giving a lowly construction worker a sense of self worth.

Shaz Stone, worth coming back home for after a hard day on the pneumatic drill.

Quaid craves a cerebral holiday to Mars via a Rekall brain implant. But what do you know, it all goes horribly wrong! After the big man sneaks off for the memory tweak (where he gets to wear a pair of nifty metal earmuffs) he gets more than he bargained for and starts revealing previously suppressed memories of actually being a secret agent.

On the way home, Quaid is attacked and reveals some elite fighting skills, offing the assailants without breaking a sweat. At this point we don't know if Arnie is actually some kind of super spy or just a messed-up construction worker who has just been sniffing too much brick dust, but Lycra clad Shaz soon makes it clear that it's the first option, and reveals his whole marriage has been the result of a memory implant too. As it turns out, Quaid's also a significant threat to the ruling government and all this mundane domesticity was just a cover so he could go all guns blazing to join the rebels, so that's that.

Except that's not that, there's another twist. He's in fact employed by the government to infiltrate the resistance and lead them directly to their leader, Quatto. It's at this juncture where the film starts to become a very different beast, one consisting of chases, explosions, shoot-outs and three breasted women (well, one woman, three breasts that is). It's a vibrant, whizz, wallop, sci-fi yarn that is frantically paced, loaded with stunts and effects, and holds your attention the whole way, even if it all is totally implausible.

Okay, the visuals are considerably dated by today's standards, particularly that ball up the nose thing and the stuttering, spluttering fugly ginger woman at the space port but it's still a good, if not great movie, and one that remains highly watchable and entertaining.

Fast forward to 2012, Arnie's gone and in comes impish, featherweight Irishman Colin Farrell. Firstly, he's physically different. It would take five, possibly six Colins to make one Arnie. As a result he doesn't have that imposing presence on screen similar to that of two buses queuing for the same stop.

Secondly, the film doesn't stray far enough from the 1990 version to merit it being made at all. It lacks the ingenuity, inventiveness and wit, making it a very pale, almost watered down version of the original.

Thirdly, although the effects are considerably better, it lacks the heart of its predecessor and leaves you feeling a tad deflated. On another day your eyes would be better employed counting the number of bricks that comprise your neighbours house, or reading the back of a bleach bottle.

Fourthly, Colin's accent becomes super annoying over the course of the flick. He sounds more Minnie Mouse than trained killer with a secret. He's just too damn wimpy!

On the plus side, Shaz has been replaced by Kate Beckinsale. This is more than fine by me as she's one of the best things about the 2012 remake, but Kate and Colin (now that's a sticker on a car windscreen) seem to have zero chemistry between them. Giving me another reason to dislike Farrell.

Anyhoo, there are noticeable tweaks, for instance the remake is set on an Earth that has been devastated by the fall-out from chemical warfare, leaving only Australia and parts of the British Isles unaffected. No doubt so that SkySports can televise the Ashes cricket series without encountering any competition.

Quaid is no longer a construction worker. He now puts the rivets into robots - which job is more soul destroying is open to debate. He's a different Quaid too; when Farrell's take finds out that he's a spy he seems oblivious, adopting an "oh well" attitude. Whereas Arnie seemed so angry that he could have punched the wall out at the local library and throttled a stranger.

But there's much the same. 2012 Quaid still yearns for more excitement in an otherwise humdrum life, so off he trots to Rekall to blah de blah de blah. You know this bit... chair, metal earmuffs, all goes wrong, becomes a spy, against the government, works for the government, and ends up loathing himself until he does the right thing. Ta dah!

It's an equally action packed, thrill ride with top notch special effects, but you can't help thinking that with a cast as solid as this, Farrell aside, it should have genuinely delivered more. What the film makes up for with its visual shenanigans, it loses with a story that doesn't ever allow you to put yourself in Quaid's position. Farrell fails to capture the personal upheaval and turmoil of events, which was strangely dealt with more successfully by the muscle bound Austrian. Who would have thought it!
So regardless of the action hero status Arnie had, it's the other aspects of his performance in the 1990 original that help the movie succeed and make it by far the better of the two. It has a few issues but its a much better watch than the slick upgrade. The 2012 version illustrates perfectly that remakes are only worth doing if they add something fresh to the mix, and not just a handful of story tweaks, blistering CGI and a dialogue revamp.

Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter

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