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Original vs. Remake: TOTAL RECALL

Original vs. Remake: TOTAL RECALL

By Gabriel Laks

Now that twenty-years have passed since its release, it's fair to say that the original "Total Recall" has become a minor classic if only for the fact that it's an effective poster boy for the sort of undeniably silly yet undeservedly intelligent action movie that rarely gets made any more. It would be hard to argue against the fact that many aspects of the film have aged poorly, but its themes are, as in the best Philip K. Dick adaptations, timeless. So, now that the new "Total Recall" has been out for a weekend and we've all had sufficient enough time to ruminate upon it, how does the remake stack up against the original?

ACTING

Let's get this out of the way early: Bryan Cranston, the actor who plays the villainous Cohaagen in the new "Total Recall," is the best actor to appear in either film. And not even by a little. By a lot. That's not to say either film has a poor cast. The original features such luminaries of the craft as Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside, while the new one boasts the talents of Bill Nighy in addition to Cranston's. Neither film is marred by any particularly bad performances. But the original "Total Recall" still wins this round by a country mile. Yes, yes, Arnold Schwarzenegger's acting talents are...debatable. But they're also uniquely suited for the sort of campy milieu that director Paul Verhoeven not only specializes in, but excels at with rare effect in his take on "Total Recall." The new film has aspirations towards Nolanian grit, and unfortunately this tempers its actors' performances as a result. Outside of Cranston the actors are largely staid and dour, which is to the film's detriment. Nobody will have an impression of Colin Farrell's Douglas Quaid in twenty-years, but impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger's Douglas Quaid will never go out of style.

WINNER: "TOTAL RECALL" (1990)

DIRECTION

Len Wiseman, the director of the new "Total Recall," can move a camera. He always shoots his scenes with an eye toward heightening tension and pace, important factors in the crafting of a movie. The problem is that he films everything in the movie like this, whether it be an action scene or a romantic one. Nearly every single moment is shot with a combination of roving camera movements, blown out lighting, and lens flares, the unfortunate result of which is a monotonous film. Paul Verhoeven's reputation as a director is built more upon the uniqueness of his subtext than the innovation of his visuals, but at least the sequences within his 1990 "Total Recall" are distinct from one another. The new "Total Recall" feels like one big chase sequence which, unfortunately, gets old about thirty-minutes into the film.

WINNER: "TOTAL RECALL" (1990)

THEMES

The themes of the original "Total Recall" are timeless. It's a film that balances a dual focus on the power of the mind and the vulnerability of the disenfranchised, somehow finding links between the two that feel not only logical but essential. We don't want to overstate it's importance—it never breaks new ground in the areas it explores. But for a big budget action film it somehow feels weighty if only by virtue of the fact that it has ambition. While the new "Total Recall" makes some feints towards social relevance with a few thinly veiled references to modern day politics (IE the security check scene), it's ideas ultimately feel half baked at best and accidental at worst.

WINNER: "TOTAL RECALL" (1990)

Now, we know that the original "Total Recall" has been winning, well...all of these rounds. That's why we here at The MindHut have created the last round:

USE OF BRYAN CRANSTON

The new "Total Recall" film has one Bryan Cranston. The original has zero. The winner is clear.

WINNER: TOTAL RECALL (2012)

Which "Total Recall" do you prefer?

Tags: movies, summer movies, total recall, remakes, colin farrell

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About the Author
Gabriel Laks

Gabriel Laks is a Seattle born and New York-based writer and director. His work has been featured in such places as College Humor and Channel 101, and his writing has been quoted in The New Yorker. Gabriel currently resides in Brooklyn, in an apartment filled to the brim with Adam West Batman memorabilia.

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email contribute@sparknotes.com.

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