Taking inspiration, and even greater liberties, from the design and feel of Ridley Scott's revered cult classic 'Blade Runner,' Len Wiseman's remake of Paul Verhoeven's beloved cult favorite 'Total Recall' is, at its fundamental core, loud bombastic popcorn entertainment... but with some brains. Yeah, that took me by surprise as well, to see a genuine thought-process behind all the pretty (admittedly, also pretty darn gloomy and depressing) pictures. However, before anyone runs out to feed their cerebral appetites with this large scale spectacle of CG wizardry, it should be said that the movie offers more mindless fun capable of melting the gray matter than fostering its growth. This doesn't necessarily make it a bad movie, per se — though certain aspects could contradict that sentiment.
Rather, we have a choice to enjoy it as a gratifying thrill-ride and nothing more. Or, we can read further into it, as in, we can build debate and endless discussion on the story's vision of our future, because there are on some pretty funky allusions being made here. The script by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback, which is loosely based on a screen story by Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon, which in turn was loosely based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, is clearly open to the possibility of the latter and definitely welcomes such discussion. For my money, I see it as purely coincidental that Wiseman's 'Total Recall' just happens to contain intriguing ideas from our current cultural, socio-political climate.
A good deal of the insightful concepts, of course, still originate from the genius of sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick, particularly those involving the collapse of illusion versus reality, of characters discovering the façade of their existence and finally building the courage to lift the wool from their eyes. John Cho as the sleazy used-car salesman at Rekall, where they implant false, usually very exciting memories at a deep-pocket price, is the first to shrewdly hint at these ideas. Really rocking the whole bleach blonde hair with black goatee look, Cho's McClane explains our perception of reality as little more than the brain making sense of randomly firing electrical neurons. Later, Bill Nighy, in a sadly underused role as resistance leader Mathias, reinforces those thoughts when he rightly points out the dilemma of knowing one's self based on the past because memories are regrettably unreliable.
As is a common trait in a majority of Dick's works, our hero facing this quandary is a likeable working-class Joe generally content with the illusion, yet he still can't satisfy that itch of wanting more than his ordinary, routine existence has to offer. Colin Farrell plays this hapless, mostly reluctant hero, Douglas Quaid, in agreeable fashion with a permanently baffled, perplexed expression on his face. Although lacking the bulked up charm and larger-than-life presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Irish actor nonetheless brings that sang-froid to the role which audiences have become accustomed to. And there's something in the way he always looks alarmed and surprised that Quaid can do some of the things he does that's actually rather engaging.
When trying to break the banality with a Rekall implant, Quaid suddenly discovers his life has been a sham, and thus begins his fall through the rabbit hole. He trades in his gorgeous wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale making cold-blooded determinism into a very sexy attribute) for the beautiful love-of-his-life Melina (Jessica Biel making badass hero with curves incredibly seductive). And he abandons his factory worker day job for a thrills-a-minute career as an undercover spy that saves the world. This is ultimately where Wiseman wins lots of stride with audiences, using the standard cat-and-mouse chase as an opportunity to tour his futuristic vision of life in the aftermath of World War 3.
Better known for his work in the 'Underworld' series and 'Live Free or Die Hard,' Wiseman fills the screen with a jaw-dropping CG spectacle where both utopic and dystopic societies co-exist on opposite ends of the worlds. The gap between the wealthy haves and the impoverished have-nots is now so vast that the only way to travel from one to the other is through a gravity elevator that travels through the Earth, fittingly (as in ironic metaphor) named "The Fall." In this 'Total Recall,' ideologies have become the reality and norm, a living nightmare where Farrell's Quaid becomes a welcome wake-up call.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment offers 'Total Recall (2012)' in two Blu-ray options: a two-disc set and a three-disc combo pack. Both are dubbed the "Extended Director's Cut" and come with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. Target and Wal-Mart also have their own combo pack releases exclusive to their stores.
For this review, the first two discs are Region Free, BD50 on opposing panels and come with reflective, lightly embossed slipcover. The time difference between the theatrical and director's cut is about 12 minutes of extended and new footage, but the most dramatic change is an Ethan Hawke cameo in a rather amusing and important role.
At startup, viewers can skip through a series of Blu-ray promos and trailers before arriving at the usual main menu window with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Shot with a combination of 35mm and HD cameras, 'Total Recall' debuts on Blu-ray with a fantastic, reference-quality 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that will leave you wanting more. Granted, the presentation is bursting with lens-flares, which can be a bit of a distraction, and oozing in teal & orange, but overall, it looks squeaky-clean and quite dashing. From the smallest lines in the bizarre architecture of the Colony to the tiniest imperfection on the magnetic highway in the UFB skyline, definition and clarity is razor-sharp and distinct. Facial complexions, especially in close-ups, are revealing with lifelike textures, pores and trivial blemishes.
The 2.40:1 frame also displays spot-on contrast with brilliant, immaculate whites flooding the entire screen. Visibility into the far distance is astonishing, as we can see the very tip-tops of buildings in the background as clearly and plainly as the objects in the foreground. Black levels are inky rich and penetrating, providing the image with a beautiful cinematic quality and an excellent three-dimensional appeal. The cinematography comes with a deliberately toned-down palette, generating a very gloomy, dystopic feel throughout. Yet, primaries bleed through with vibrancy and energy in key parts of the film.
All in all, this high-def transfer is superb.
To start with, I must point out that I experienced annoying issues with the audio dropping out several times while watching the movie. It happened twice within the first fifteen minutes using my Oppo player. When switching to the PS3, the movie played fine for a while, but at around the middle of the highway chase in UFB, the audio suddenly dropped once more and this time caused an even more irritating lip sync issue.
After fixing it, the audio dropped again at the start of Chapter 9. Frustrated and nearly infuriated, I replayed several of the scenes and it dropped in the same spots, which would indicate the problem is with the disc. Then I switched the player's settings from bitstream to PCM and suddenly the problem was fixed, which is somewhat confusing but still has me thinking the issue lies with the disc. But in spite of finding a solution to the problem, having to go through such a process of figuring a way to correct it is incredibly maddening, and because many will also have to suffer a similar experience, this Blu-ray falls short of five-star perfection.
If not for such an irritating issue, however, (and for those lucky enough not to experience it) this Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is otherwise stupendous and remarkable. The front soundstage is continuously alive with the chatter of busy crowds, brimming with the hoopla of city life and thriving with the endless commotion of street traffic. Imagining is broad and expansive, delivering off-screen effects with clean fidelity and convincing directionality. Dynamic range is sharply-detailed and room-penetrating with superb separation and distinction between the middle and higher ranges. Meanwhile, dialogue reproduction comes in cleanly and well-prioritized, never overwhelmed by the loudest segments.
A very pleasant surprise is a commanding and potently palpable low-end, rich with depth and a power the fills the room. The mid and upper bass is robust and highly responsive, providing each bullet, punch and explosion with a serious wallop that rattles walls. A great scene for this is at the beginning when Quaid/Hauser is forced to shoot his way out of the Rekall offices. Then we also have lots of intense ultra-low frequencies effects used at various points of the story and an awesome assortment of sweeps which seem associated with the bass-heavy music of Harry Gregson-Williams, starting with the opening credit sequence and then throughout the rest of the movie.
To top it all off, the rears are continuously active with either city noise or the intentionally-noticeable stillness of a room. Action scenes come with bullets and debris flying everywhere, random objects scattering about the room and any number of the futuristic vehicles hovering overhead or speedily whizzing by either side of the listener. There's a fluidity and smoothness in the way things move from one channel to the next that's terrifically impressive and satisfyingly immersive. Gregson-Williams's score also bleeds into the background, generating a brilliant soundfield that endlessly engaging and making this an awesome lossless mix . . . If not for one annoyingly major distraction bringing it down a notch.
In Len Wiseman's recall (I know, corny) of Paul Verhoeven's violent cult favorite, audiences can gaze and be mesmerized by the beautiful design of a futuristic nightmare of the wealthy haves and the impoverished have-nots. Full of thrills-a-minute action and spectacular CG wizardry, 'Total Recall' is decent popcorn entertainment feigning some smarts, but it's ultimately another mindless display of explosions that only scratches the surface of intriguing ideas. The Blu-ray, on the other hand, arrives with outstanding demo-worthy video and potentially reference-quality audio, if not hindered by one serious issue. The wealth of supplements, a majority of which are exclusive to Blu-ray, save the day and make this strong package for the price. But until we have more information on the audio problem, I would suggest renting first before deciding on a purchase.