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A factory worker, Douglas Quaid, begins to suspect that he is a spy after visiting Rekall - a company that provides its clients with implanted fake memories of a life they would like to have led - goes wrong and he finds himself on the run.
For more about Total Recall and the Total Recall Blu-ray release, see Total Recall Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on August 1, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, Bill Nighy
Director: Len Wiseman (I)
» See full cast & crew
Total Recall Blu-ray Review
Memories in 4K.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, August 1, 2013
An illusion, no matter how convincing, is just an illusion.
Fret, or fret not, 2012's take on the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger Sci-Fi favorite Total Recall does indeed show a three-breasted woman in all of her bare-chested glory. And that's a big part of the film's problem. Whereas in the original film it was contextually understood that the girl was a mutant -- the plot revolved around disfigured humans-turned-Martians fighting for their basic freedoms from power-hungry suits -- her presence makes no sense in the slicked-up 2012 edition. She appears just for the sake of tying back to the original, and apparently things like context and themes were lost on the filmmakers of this one, filmmakers who felt it was more important to recycle more than just the general idea of a "secret agent" who doesn't know he's a secret agent until he tries to have a "secret agent" identity falsely implanted in his mind which in turn revives his skills as said secret agent. Or something. The story's always been beautifully complex, and it's not really dumbed down in Director Len Wiseman's (Underworld) take. Nevertheless, the movie on the whole does feel rather superfluous, though still quite a bit of fun. It tries to tell the same story in a different way without really letting go of some of the pieces that made the original work in its own way and on its own terms. 2012's Total Recall relies more on smooth action and less on characterization and mind-bending plot complexities. There's nothing wrong with that, but be advised that this Total Recall will play much better by forgetting the old Total Recall, advice the filmmakers would have been smart to take to heart. Had they ditched the three-breasted girl, not to mention a whole lot of the other recycled dialogue and elements that serve only to remind viewers of the superiority of the original, chances are audiences new to the world of Phillip K. Dick's story and longtime fans of the original film both could have more easily enjoyed Wiseman's vision had they not been constantly bombarded by remnants of a superior experience.
It's the end of the 21st century. Chemical warfare has decimated the globe and the Earth's most precious commodity is suddenly livable space. Only two territories capable of sustaining life remain: The United Federation of Britain (what is today Western Europe) and The Colony (present-day Australia). Colony workers travel to the UFB via "The Fall," a high-speed inner-planetary transit system. There, they assemble synthetic police robots that assist human law enforcement in the implementation of a high-tech police state. One worker from The Colony is Douglas Quaid (Collin Ferrell, Phone Booth), an everyman married to a sexy emergency worker named Lori (Kate Beckinsale, Whiteout). He awakens every morning with the same recurring dream fresh in his mind, one that sees him paired with a mystery woman, fighting desperately to escape those who would do them harm. Quaid chooses to spice up his rather dull life by visiting Rekall, a little high-tech parlor in which memories are chemically implanted into the subject. The catch: the artificial memory cannot replicate a real memory, or there will most certainly be hell to pay. When Quaid is injected with the formula for a "super agent" memory, it's revealed that he is, in fact, a super agent. He singlehandedly kills twenty well-armed law enforcement officers who come to capture him. He goes on the run, only to learn that his life is a lie and that even his wife isn't who he believes her to be. Now, he finds himself with no one to trust save for a Colony rebel named Melina (Jessica Biel, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), daughter of resistance leader Matthias (Bill Nighy, Love Actually). Suddenly, Quaid is a central figure in a bloody revolt for freedom against the UFB and its leader, Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad), with both sides trying to gain his allegiance through stories of a past he cannot fully recall.
Total Recall undoubtedly delivers some of the finest in slick Action movie goods, and it's one of the most purely entertaining Sci-Fi dystopian-inspired flicks in some time. Put aside memories of the original and it's easy to see the appeal of this implant. Len Wiseman's film generally works very well in most every regard: action, acting, production design, story, and pacing. It's a prototypical modern-day Hollywood production through and through, dazzling with the latest in seamless cutting-edge visual effects, faultlessly staged action, and pretty faces adorning the main characters. But is all the good stuff on the surface? Total Recall isn't just skin-deep, but neither is it waist-deep in the complex, thought-provoking twists and turns that made the other film so special in its ability to blend hardcore action, humor, a well-defined idea, and an alien world with mind-blowing plot and character complexity. 2012's Total Recall does blend in some deep and interesting discussions on both the science and the philosophy of the memory implant procedure, and there's a beautiful scene midway through the movie in which Quaid must decide the veracity of the story that he's living an internal fantasy of his mind's own making and not existing in the flesh-and-blood world with real consequences, pains, sufferings, and questionable outcomes. However, deeper themes on the discarding of life experiences and tracks in favor of the artificial aren't explored beyond their place as a plot device to set in motion various shoot-em-up action scenes. Total Recall proves breathtakingly absorbing and highly frustrating both at once. It shows signs of an epic remake/re-imiagining and at the same time falls disappointingly short on the more important end of the Total Recall experience by failing to create a more thought-provoking atmosphere beyond a few scenes that only bridge the gap between action extravaganzas which, while very well-made, ultimately feel a bit hollow and play without much in the way of true action novelty.
All that said, and for as entertaining as the film can be, it's rather off-putting to watch a Total Recall film and hear only a cursory mention of Mars. The Red Planet plays virtually no role in this film, giving way to warring territories that are generically at odds in a large-scale master-slave relationship in which, interestingly, the people from "The Colony" manufacture the police state synthetics which help to control their lives. It's a fascinating dynamic that's also grossly under-explored -- even in a movie that runs over two hours -- in favor of big action scenes. Perhaps the movie would have worked better were it played as a parallel story in the Total Recall universe. Change up the names -- ditch "Quaid," "Lori," "Melina," and "Cohaagen" -- and, given some of the other broad changes, it might have worked better. Again, it's a case of a good movie with a fine and exciting story to tell that's wrongly more concerned about cashing in on an established and respected name brand rather than risk making a name for itself and treading new ground, even if it's just in a universe "inspired by" or "parallel to" another. There's also quite a bit of cinema familiarity away from the core story, continuing this film's journey of identity uncertainty. Its future-set police state dystopia intermixes high technology amidst slum-like structures that produces the look of Blade Runner, a world populated by something resembling Star Wars' clone troopers. Adding to the visual complexities is Director Len Wiseman subscription to the JJ Abrams lens flare theory of filmmaking; when audiences aren't dazzled by bullets and bodies, they're subjected to a steady diet of red and blue and other colored globs forming across the screen.
Total Recall's cast does as well as can be expected in a movie that simply cannot find its own identity. Colin Farrell fits himself surprisingly well into the role. The film doesn't miss Arnold's overpowering presence -- which did help the other film quite a bit considering its more muscular, less precise approach to action -- and instead benefits from Farrell's more streamlined size that compliments the faster, more organic action quite well. Farrell also handles the more intimate and personal aspects of the part with admirable clarity, even in his character's most confused moments. Though the script doesn't offer him much of a chance to stretch his mind as much as it asks him to stretch his legs, he proves himself more than capable of finding an emotional balance within the chaos of his physical escapades. Unfortunately, neither of the film's female leads match Ferrell's excellence. Kate Beckinsale does her best to channel her inner hot-headed, ultra-determined bad girl but comes across as a little bit too singleminded and aggressive both in look and style. Jessica Biel's performance is a bit more even -- as her character demands -- but she falls into a sort of comfort zone in which she brings nothing to the character that another actress could not have provided, save for a somewhat plot-necessary dead-ringer-for-Beckinsale-look. Bokeem Woodbine might be the most impressive of the leads, playing a part that blends two of the original film's characters into one: Quaid's work buddy (Robert Costanzo in the original) and the man sent in to talk him into believing he's living a nightmare rather than reality (Roy Brocksmith in the original). Woodbine handles his double-duty quite well and turns in the film's most balanced, approachable, and mysterious performance. Bryan Cranston plays the part of a somewhat watered-down Cohaagen nicely enough. Cranston -- nearly unrecognizable here without the Breaking Bad bald head -- gives the part a suitably evil edge but, due in large part to the disappointingly scripted character, he cannot match the screen presence and intensity Ronny Cox brought to the 1990 film.
Total Recall Blu-ray, Video Quality
Sony's commitment to releasing the finest Blu-ray products is evident with every spin of a Sony-branded disc. The consistency of product -- from the latest blockbusters to the most cherished classic titles from years gone by -- is arguably tops in the entire industry, and why shouldn't it be; Sony was a lead Blu-ray design and advocacy outfit, its PlayStation 3 console offered disc playback and instant wide format adoption, and the first wave of titles released back in 2006 bore the Sony label on the spine. Since then, and through a few growing pains and spurts -- a bloody format war, a misstep or two, the transition from Dolby TrueHD to DTS-HD Master Audio -- the studio has emerged as the most trustworthy in the industry when it comes to its Blu-ray product. When it says Sony, chances are extremely high that the movie is going to look (and sound) about as good as the format allows. Now, Sony is recalling the days of its "Superbit" DVD releases with the emergence of "Mastered in 4K" (*) Blu-ray discs. The initial wave consists of a handful of films, all of which have enjoyed previous, and largely very high quality, Blu-ray transfers. The new transfers are sourced from 4K masters but here's where the giant asterisk comes in: they're then downscaled to standard Blu-ray 1080p resolution. That means buyers can enjoy them on their regular old Blu-ray players and their regular old HDTVs -- no fancy new hardware required. The downside is that viewers aren't really seeing the material in 4K; even those who shell out the large sum of cash for a new 4K TV will be treated only to an upscaled presentation, much the same way today's regular old TV/playback 1080p device combos upscale standard definition DVDs.
Watching the "Mastered in 4K" transfer in 1080p does yield some benefits over the standard 1080p Blu-ray releases, even if it's not a true 4K experience. The discs take advantage of a significantly higher bitrate than regular old Blu-ray discs, meaning more muscle to produce the finest picture quality, revealing superior details and showcasing that perfect cinematic, pleasing grain texturing for pictures photographed on film and more accuracy for those photographed in the wholly digital realm. "Mastered in 4K" discs also promise superior color balance and accuracy, reproducing a more faithful-to-the-source palette that will reveal the sort of natural shading and subtle nuance even the best of 1080p Blu-ray cannot match. More, Sony promises enhanced viewing on its own line of 4K TVs thanks to a proprietary upscaling algorithm that's designed to squeeze the most out of the "Mastered in 4K" line of Sony discs, above and beyond what any competitor's display can offer. Makes sense considering some branch of Sony is at work along every step of the process. Unfortunately, one of Sony's shiny new 4K televisions was not available for review purposes, but suffice it to say that either of the launch displays -- the 55" and 65" XBR-labeled sets -- will undoubtedly offer the best consumer viewing picture to date, whether joined with a Sony "Mastered in 4K" disc or a regular old Blu-ray from any studio.
How to improve on an already stellar presentation? Sony's "Mastered in 4K" Blu-ray release of 2012's Total Recall remake does just that. What was a reference quality transfer manages to improve by a fair amount with the added resolution of the 4K master, even after it's been reformatted to 1080p. It's obviously not a significant leap, but the image takes on a noticeably tighter appearance. Even as a rather dark film -- it's awash in shades of brown, gray, and blue with heavy black backdrops -- the color palette looks a little more natural, steadier in the darker scenes and more vibrant where applicable, notably as seen on some of the neon signage around the usually rainy or otherwise dreary and unwelcoming city shots. Details appear slightly better defined, again not by a significant margin but there's clearly a sharper, more robust presence to much of the image. It's certainly not evident in every single shot, but choice comparisons do reveal a more well-defined picture in many places. Black levels are very strong and very deep, but not to the detriment of nearby details. Flesh tones appear true to the surrounding conditions. Technically, the picture appears flawless, lacking noise, blocking, banding, or other eyesores. Total Recall shows that even relatively brand-new films with already incredible "standard" Blu-ray transfers can improve with the "Mastered in 4K" process, whether on dedicated 4K screens or displayed on any old 1080p television.
Note that some comparative screenshots from the previous review were sourced from footage not included in this release and have thus been replaced.
Total Recall Blu-ray, Audio Quality
As expected, Sony's Blu-ray release of Total Recall delivers a dynamic surround sound experience that effortlessly pulls the listener into the film's haunting, dark future world environment. The track makes easy use of the entire stage, delivering a full, aggressive, and nuanced sound presentation that's as sonically dramatic and polished as most any out there. Sound elements -- from music to heavy sound effects, gunfire to light ambience -- are worked into the track with precision engineering, getting placement, balance, volume, and clarity all exactly right. Shootouts are handled beautifully; gunfire erupts from all corners and plays heavily but with fine clarity and attention to detail the whole way through, from trigger pull to bullet impact. The general din of a bustling future city plays convincingly in every shot, creating a very much lived-in world defined by subtle sound effects and strong, positive, balanced bass when necessary. From the din of The Fall's a busy transport hub to rain-soaked exteriors, the track paints of vivid sonic picture of all of its unique environments. Music is naturally smooth and spacious, very clear throughout the entire range and perfectly balanced from speaker to speaker. Dialogue plays firmly and naturally, hovering above surrounding din during busier scenes and always focused and clear as it streams through the center channel. In short, this is a dynamic, exciting sound presentation that does everything as well as can be expected. The movie benefits a great deal from its expert soundtrack, and it has been reproduced onto Blu-ray with great care.
Total Recall Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
This 4K Blu-ray release of Total Recall contains no supplement content. Note that this is the theatrical cut, not the extended director's cut available on the previous release.
Total Recall Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Total Recall, 2012's most frustrating movie, gets so much right but doesn't ever fully come together under its own power. It's a film in the midst of a terrible identity crisis, a remake largely in name only that tries to be so different from its predecessor but at the same time take advantage of every opportunity to remind viewers of the other, superior production. This Total Recall would work wonders were it slightly reworked to exist in the same universe as its predecessor rather than try to fit in that film's own pair of shoes which prove too big to fill. This 2012 film is exciting and breathtakingly put together, a real stunner of an Action movie, but there's just not a good balance between "new" and "old" and there are too many poor choices in what basic ideas and themes to carry over and what to leave behind, what specific scenes and elements to recreate and which to abandon altogether. The entire film's problems are embodied in that three-breasted woman: the movie, like her, is a beautiful curiosity that just doesn't always fit amidst its surroundings. Replace her with "story," "emotion," "thoughtfulness," or "characters" and see this Total Recall as a good-looking but rather empty take on a superior product. Still, it's well worth watching -- and enjoying -- if viewers can separate the two films and soak this one up on its own merits, which is admittedly very hard to do, at times. Sony's "Mastered in 4K" Blu-ray release of Total Recall looks amazing in every way, but not so amazing as to make it a necessary addition to the collection, particularly for anyone without the state-of-the-art 4K television sets to watch it on.
Total Recall: Other Editions
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