Friday, September 30, 2016

Total Recall (2012) Director's Cut


    First of all, I gotta say, I'm a huge geek for most all things 80's and 90's, specifically (and obviously) movies. Ergo, I'm a major Schwarzenegger fan. Terminator 2 shares top spot with Aliens and The Matrix as my favorite movie(s) of all time. Not too far down the list from there is RoboCop, directed by Paul Verhoeven. So as anyone could deduce at this point, I must fuckin' love Total Recall. The original one. It's a 90's sci-fi/actioner, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and directed by Paul Verhoeven. That person would be right. I love Total Recall. So why on god's green Earth am I watching the remake? Again, even! Well... there's a really good reason for that.

   Two words: Director's. Cut. Those two words can change the entire landscape of a movie, and drastically alter how the audience perceives it. Batman V Superman was pretty much hated upon release, and it's "Ultimate Cut" (a fancier way of saying Director's Cut) has a lot of those same people at least tolerating it now. Which is kind of a big deal, you know? So why did nobody tell me that the Total Recall remake had a director's cut? I would've watched that version first! What the fuck people? Well, nobody gave a shit. That's why. The movie wasn't horrible, I'd even go so far as to say it wasn't bad, but it didn't seem to justify it's own existence. It was okay. So middle of the road that you couldn't hate it, unless you were fundamentally anti-remakes to begin with.

   Watching it back in 2012, I remember being impressed by the visuals, and the action scenes, but unimpressed with the story and felt like the whole thing breezed by without making much of an impact. As it fucking turns out, a whole ten minutes was excised from the film, not to mention way more alternate scenes. No fewer than three subplots were dropped, as well as a whole fucking actor cut out of a major part. I don't mean extra #3112 was denied his fifteen seconds of fame and bragging rights, I mean, Ethan Hawke is in this movie. Or WAS before they cut him out. Yeah, the guy from Training Day, and that underrated 90's flick, Gattaca. The star of The Purge (ugh), and Sinister (meh) had a pretty important role in this movie, and they cut it out for fear of confusing the audience.

   What was his role? Well, it was Colin Farrell's role. Kinda. The whole movie hinges on a Bourne-esque plot of espionage, false memories, and fancy spy aliases. Colin Farrell plays Doug Quaid a menial labor worker who's actually a super spy named Hauser. OR IS HE? Well, in the theatrical version, the powers that be didn't want to confuse anyone so in a scene where Quaid is listening to a holo-recording made by himself/Hauser, the floating head is still played by Farrell, but ORIGINALLY, it was Ethan Hawke. Hawke played Hauser, and it wasn't as simple as a casting swap, this added a new element to the movie. Cementing Quaid's skepticism and explaining why he's still so apprehensive after seeing 'himself'.


   The 'added' sub-plots add a lot to the movie, elevating it above a basic and bland thriller, and returning to the realm of a thinking man's action movie. There's an ongoing uncertainty now, things are explained better (trust me, in a movie like this, that's not contradictory) and there's a wealth of more human moments throughout. Not that was a shortage of them before, but now they seem to stick the landing and resonate better. There's also more screentime for Heisen-er I mean, Cohaagen, played by the always excellent Bryan Cranston. Things just flow better in this cut, thus allowing me to get more involved in the flashy action scenes- which are admittedly well crafted.

   All the big budget spectacle of the movie in the theatrical cut felt wasted on a hollow and inert movie, but things have more life to them in this version. There's more flash as well as more substance, making it truly baffling why this version wasn't the released one. Sure, it's over two hours, and there's enough swearing to push it over the PG-13 line (as well as a slightly extended scene with the triple breasted lady) but the movie is simply better like this. But, why am I surprised? Studios have been doing this since... oh, only FOREVER. They even did it to Terry fucking Gilliam with Brazil. Why am I surprised? I've no idea. Shock. Just, shock.

   To clarify, if you hated the movie when you first saw it, this cut... most likely isn't going to win you over. But if you were on the fence, or felt it was mediocre, this cut has enough touches that nudge it in the right direction to qualify it as a good movie. I'd buy it now, I'd watch it again so long as it was this version. It's easier to enjoy the slick and efficiently constructed action scenes when you're a bit more engrossed in the story and the characters. Colin Farrell's performance makes more sense in this cut, and overall I simply enjoyed it more. Is it on par with any of it's rather obvious inspirations? (i.e. Blade Runner, Minority Report, and The Bourne Identity) No, but, it's like a decent companion piece. It takes familiar elements and assembles them into a well polished entertainment machine. Total Recall's flashy visuals, and neat cyberpunk gadgets are the icing on a cake that's already layered with eye popping action, and an engaging style overall.

   Even with these improvements, the movie still isn't a latter-day classic or anything, but at least it's far more enjoyable now. It's a solid flick with memorable visuals, and a respectable cast, delivering decent performances. For years since it came out I would always lump it in with A Nightmare on Elm St, and more recently RoboCop as evidence in my arguments that remakes are generally not good. But, I am not a person who is fundamentally against remakes, and on that note, I can no longer in good conscience hold up Total Recall as example of remakes that don't work, because it does... just... not the version everyone saw. I liked this cut, and I recommend it.

   I should add that it's better to evaluate this movie on it's own merits. It's not seeking to deliver the same kind of entertainment that the original did. That's okay with me, by all means, Colin Farrell can't replace Arnold Schwarzenegger so PLEASE do your own thing. So the movie's atmosphere and aesthetic are more serious, like a thinking man's thriller, the problem is that in the standard version, a lot of the 'thinking' elements were unceremoniously excised. Leaving audiences with a cold and dry husk of a movie that didn't appeal to anyone really. It didn't satisfy fans of the original looking for gore, mutants, and an endless supply of quippy one-liners, and it didn't do anything for new audiences either, proving to be not much more than a cut rate blend of I, Robot and Minority Report.

   I do love the original, but I know that brand of 90's machismo is antiquated now. It's 'retro'. This movie was never going to try and copy that because it simply wouldn't work in today's world. The filmmakers knew this was a double edged sword, so they went for broke on the action scenes and winked at the fans of the original with little sight gags and callbacks, but that was all. Overall, they aimed for a serious sci-fi tone, and it works, at least in the Director's Cut. Fans looking for a mere updating of the 90's Arnie vehicle are going to be disappointed regardless, but those looking for a fresh cyberpunk thriller might be a bit more open to this, and to those people, I suggest giving Total Recall a second chance with this director's cut.

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