It is nearly impossible to judge the 2012 Total Recall without comparing it to its 1990 predecessor. Both films are loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s novel We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. The reboot bears almost no resemblance to Dick’s original story. Most notably, it dispenses with the Mars storyline completely in favor of an entirely Earth-based plot. Neither film uses the cool little twist at the end of Dick’s novel, so perhaps we will someday see yet another film in the future. Total Recall (2012) is more action than sci-fi, which works in its favor at the beginning, but bogs down its second half. On its own merit the film is a fairly enjoyable, albeit lightweight, action-adventure flick.
Colin Farrell plays Doug Quaid, a factory worker who finds himself bored with his day-to-day life. He lives in a shabby apartment with his pretty wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale), longing to provide her something better. Every night he has a nightmare about being a secret agent trapped in an impossible situation. A mysterious woman fights at his side. Unable to cope with the nagging feeling that his life should be different, Quaid visits the memory implanting facility Rekall. He asks to become a double secret agent but before the procedure can take place, armed men swarm the office and Quaid is thrust into the very situation he had just asked for. So is it real or not?
That is the essential question of Total Recall. Not knowing what is fantasy and what is reality is the most intriguing aspect of the film. The theatrical version cut back on the ambiguity, but the director’s cut, now available on Blu-ray, restores that element. Offering more about 12 minutes of additional footage, the director’s cut expands the storyline slightly, adding a couple of key changes. I won’t spoil what those exact changes are, but there are some fundamental differences to the characters of Doug and Melina (Jessica Biel).
I don’t necessarily think those differences made the movie better, but it was interesting to see what director Len Wiseman had originally envisioned. What does work better is the alternate ending, which makes the “is it real or not” concept even more ambiguous. I also liked the subtlety of this change. If one is not paying close attention, or doesn’t remember the theatrical ending, it might even be missed.
Overall, Total Recall offers plenty of cool, visceral action that moves the film along at a quick pace. The dystopian futuristic world is not all that original but provides a suitable setting for the story. However, I did like the idea of “The Fall,” a tram able to transport people through the center of the Earth in only 17 minutes. There are only two livable territories on Earth, the United Federation of Britain and the Colony (formerly Australia). UFB workers who live in the Colony must commute via “The Fall.” That added a unique element to the story.
I also enjoyed the performances of the three lead actors. Beckinsale did a good job of switching between loving wife and ruthless government assassin. Farrell was effective in bringing out the emotional side of his character, while at the same time handling the intense action. Bryan Cranston as the evil Cohaagen felt a little underutilized. He didn’t get a chance to give the villainous role as much flair as he could have, but he was notably intense during the final scenes of the film.
Total Recall looks as impressive as any recent Blu-ray I’ve seen. It is basically flawless in every way. The clarity is astounding, with the detail in the CG effects readily apparent. Live action footage and digital effects have been blended in a realistic way and this transfer shows it off perfectly. Not the most colorful film, the cool blues and grays are consistently strong. It’s a 1080p high definition transfer that does justice to Paul Cameron’s digital cinematography (second unit footage was shot on 35mm film).
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is just as impressive as the transfer. This is a highly active audio presentation, but the sound effects are well prioritized even in the most action-packed scenes. Whether it’s hovering cars speeding along, a maze of elevators, or a barrage of gunfire, the surround mix is immersive. Dialogue is easy to understand even during the loudest sequences. The subwoofer gets plenty of floor-rumbling action too. This is an all-around excellent lossless mix.
There have been reports of audio dropouts while bitstreaming the TrueHD track. I didn’t experience these issues, which seem to vary greatly (from no dropouts to so many it’s unwatchable) based on reports. If you’re experiencing this issue, switching your player’s output setting to LPCM will remedy it.
The two-disc Blu-ray edition contains a surprisingly average selection of special features. The first disc comes with two features, which are really the best on the release. Director Len Wiseman recorded an audio commentary that plays over the extended cut. Wiseman discusses the differences between the theatrical and extended versions, giving a very in-depth explanation of why the changes were made. With the theatrical cut, there is the optional “Insight Mode.” This allows us to see picture-in-picture and split-screen behind-the-scenes content (sometimes stopping the movie altogether to focus on something). This is a good technical examination of the film.
The second disc has a little over an hour’s worth of featurettes. “Science Fiction vs. Science Fact” takes a look at the futuristic concepts presented in the film and their plausibility. There’s an eight-minute gag reel that’s just okay. Some of the featurettes, such as the five-part “Stepping Into Recall” (25 minutes), look more closely at the development of the special effects. The seven-part “Total Action” (about 20 minutes) gives a little information about several key action sequences as well as a spotlight on each of the three lead actors. Really the second disc is kind of superfluous. The commentary and “Insight Mode” on the first disc cover the bases.
While I wouldn’t say Total Recall (2012) is a great film, it is certainly enjoyable. The director’s cut is worth checking out for the many subtle differences. While the Blu-ray package is not spectacular, there are enough extras to please fans of the film.