Friday, August 10, 2012

Movie Review: Total Recall (2012)

Sorry I'm later than usual, I got back at like 9 and then had to actually WRITE the review.
So it seems that today's planned content, the Fiasco Session 2 AP, isn't written yet. That's okay though - instead of writing it, I was watching Total Recall. No, I didn't jump back into old stuff - if you hadn't noticed, there's a new one! And so I watched it after the trailers impressed me with their portrayal of a very sci-fi culture.
I made a good choice.

First, my own background on this one.
* I am an enormous sci-fi buff. Somehow I've managed to NOT see the original Total Recall though. From what I can tell, it was pretty much just an Arnold Schwarzenneger action vehicle. A decent one I hear, but still an action movie about him, not a sci-fi movie with action.
* Neither have I read "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick. I am perpetually fascinated by that man's writing, but I have NOT read the basis of Total Recall. I want to though. To be honest, everything I've seen says that this film doesn't really have much to do with it (and the same was admitted even before release), and I can see that, but it still interests me about it.
* This review will probably be a little kinder to it than most. My weighting of things puts a bit more emphasis on stuff that Total Recall happens to have done right.

General: Alright, I'm just gonna talk. For one, the directing is fine, the cinematogrophy is fine, etc. They weren't particular stunning, but you could see they had enough skill. Wiseman did a decent job of directing every one, and I was never particularly unhappy with decisions.
Save one. Okay, we do have an issue - flashing. ESPECIALLY in the first few minutes, there is a lot of blinding white flashing, and it is extremely annoying and hard to watch. Later one it returns from time to time, and it ends up obscuring some of the action scenes a bit. As far as I noticed, they didn't have any real issue with shaky-cam, which I was actually expecting this movie would be quite prone to using. Glad to be proven wrong.
Now, the writing is an odd spot for me. In general, the writing was decent in my opinion. More than anything, I felt it was very flowing and natural dialogue to have, none of it sounded like they were pushing it since it's a movie. A scene between Douglas and Harry in a bar early on before he goes to Recall is particularly intriguing for me, as was the guy who actually got him into the Recall machine. Unfortunately, Lori's dialogue in particular often seemed pushed to me. In general her character was one-dimensional - she was "hunt and kill Douglas no matter what" and lots of appearing on the scene and him panicking about it.
A strange continuity point is that the synthetic police force's ability to resist bullets changes from scene to scene depending on what would look cooler. One moment pistol shots are bouncing off their bodies barely harming them, the next they're being oneshotted. Admittedly, Douglas's defeat of the master-synthetic (the black one) was fast and a little anticlimactic, but at the same time made perfect sense as a clever means of leveraging his wits against it. It was just over really fast was the issue.

And that brings me to an entirely separate point.
Pacing and Genre: The pacing in this one is somewhat odd and clashes with what I'm about to say: I'm not convinced that Total Recall was a sci-fi movie. It had a sci-fi setting, but the movie wasn't ABOUT the sci-fi. It was about the action. I listened to an episode of The Walking Eye (an RPG podcast) the other day in which Kevin interviews Joshua A.C. Newman (a prominent sci-fi game designer) about what exactly sci-fi is and how it is classified and how you would DEFINE sci-fi, and then they compared it to how that works in games. Even if you don't do RPGs, if you're a sci-fi lover I hugely recommend it as a listen - Kevin was doing it as his final project in a sci-fi literature course and despite not getting the gaming talk really his prof gave him a perfect score for the discussion of sci-fi in general. The big thing I got out of it was this idea, and I'm not entirely sure if it was what was intended but I still found it neat: Sci-fi isn't about settings or the future or aliens. Those are things that are often elements of sci-fi, but they aren't the defining factor. Sci-fi fiction is a science experiment on reality - change one major factor (sometimes several, but the more factors the more watered down it is) and follow through with society, see how society reacts to the change or what would be different. I, Robot was an experiment on if technology awoke. Blade Runner was an experiment in what happens if Replicants happen. Frankenstein is what would happen if reanimation was possible. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale is an experiment in what would happen if we could implant memories. THIS? Total Recall is not about what happens if memories could be implanted. Total Recall is an action movie with the pretense that he's not sure if it's real or if he's inside the memory, but it isn't ABOUT that, that's a background detail. The political dealy-o with the UFB and the Colony is the main feature of the movie, not Rekall.
Still can't see the difference? Here, let me try an example from some other things. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Water World are both shifts to the standard world in that the world has flooded, restarting civilization (the differences between the two's scenarios actually doesn't matter here). Water World is about them reacting to the changed variable, and the movie is an example of what happens when people are forced into living with that new change. The Wind Waker, on the other hand, uses The Great Sea as a setting only, and the game itself is about stopping Ganon's triforce-grabbing again. It's an adventure game on the Great Sea, not a game about how the Great Sea changes things. Oddly enough, most modern zombie fiction (and less oddly most post-apocalypctic fiction) is this sort of experiment. On an opposite note, I'd say that Star Wars is NOT science fiction in this regard, which is something interesting that Joshua brings up in the podcast.
I gotta say, hearing Joshua talk about it and coming to this realization really makes Joshua's game Shock: Social Science Fiction look incredibly appealing. I really GET it now.
So back to Total Recall. The movie is an action movie in a futuristic setting. That's why it's a bit odd that it has a sci-fi movie's pacing! Action movies are usually a lot less talk-y and investigate-y than this one. This was a lot of discovery and thinking for an action movie. Unfortunately for it, it really should have picked, as you're left thinking either this was a very shallow sci-fi movie or a remarkably slow action movie.
Note that me saying that is saying in comparison and when taken as a whole. The action itself is not slow, and it's actually a lot of fun. Especially a chase near the beginning which showed off a ton of the city stuff was very fluid and exciting, despite Kate's one-dimensionality. I think that I'm being a bit hard on it here - Kate' presence keeps flashing me back to Underworld: Awakening, which was the most solid action I've ever seen (not a good thing) but it's making this seem slow in comparison. She definitely carried over the simplicity of Selene over to Lori.
All this said, I thought it was fun as an action movie and the futuristic setting was incredibly cool. It's just a curiosity of classification.

Art Direction: That said, this was the sticking point for me. I came to this movie because of the setting and cool futuristic world that it looked like they'd built, and they did not disappoint me. In fact, I went in with high expectations, and they knocked them out of the park. It's made of a couple elements.
* It's made of the tech you see. This is probably the biggest difference between what was available to us 10 years ago and now is what we can do with our CGI to make technology. His hand phone is brilliant, the Rekall machine's interface was gorgeous, the holographic tatoos were unbelievably cool for being so unimportant. The tech that wasn't all holographic was very industrial looking, as was suiting with the pseudo-post-apocalypctic vibe they had. One concept artist, Stephan Martiniere, was art director on RAGE, and was worked on such things as the new Star Wars movies and The Fifth Element and Tron: Legacy, so I see a lot of his previous works coming together here.
* The robots. The synthetics had a very sleek, futuristic look, and yet were very functional. Seeing some of their guts in the factory Doug worked at was interesting too. The master-synthetic (the black one) looked super-cool and I want to absorb that design coolness. Too bad he died so fast :/ .
* And what am I DOING? I'm skipping the big guy! The cultural environment. And one piece steps forward and says "This film was me all over" and that film was Blade Runner. Especially the bit where he's walking through the seedier part of town looking for Rekall, everything everywhere said "I LOVE BLADE RUNNER!" The east-west fusion, the rain, the fashion, the bizarre dark underworld was everything I could have wanted it to be. And you know what, I'll take this one step further: This is the world that Blade Runner was tryign to show us. Blade Runner sticks out as, even today, one of the coolest works of art direction in film, and in my opinion, this kind of world of the dark side of the Colony, was what Blade Runner would have been showing us if they'd had the technology to do so. Ridley Scott even proved recently with Prometheus that this sort of tech was something he'd wanted in Alien and couldn't do to full extent until now, and I think this is a similar case with Total Recall and Blade Runner.
Seriously though. This is some fan-fucking-tastic design work. I would pay to see it again to marvel at it.

Sound: I gotta say, the music under there never really drew attention to itself, but it was pretty good! Considering finding the soundtrack, I liked it quite a bit. It was sometimes not so clear if soemthing was a part of the music or was sound effect (thanks to the efforts of the sound mixers of course) but I hope the music is clear enough for standard listening. Better than the standard action suite though!

Is It Real Or Is It Recall: Sound familiar at all? That's been the movie's tagline. Now, I must admit that when I went in, I figured the movie would have him moving in and out of the machine, and it would start being unclear which we were in at any given time. Instead, they give us a single large mystery: he plugs into Rekall and we see the fluid hit him (and he's being given a Secret Agent experience) when things go wrong and the attendant accuses him of being a spy (you can't have any shred of truth shared with the implanted memory) and to get him out of the machine as fast as they can before the fluid take effect and he goes through the movie as a spy and all. It's brought up midway through that Harry tries to convince him he's still under and that he needs to kill the gal he's with to reject the memory and come back to them. He doesn't believe him though and doesn't do it. Through the rest of the movie, we are never given any indication of the truth of the matter. In my opinion, what it gave us was the Inception ending: are we still under, or was it real after all, and it DOESN'T ANSWER. Thank god. It's making me think. It really boils down to if the machine started working the moment the fluid hits him - if so, the alerts of him actually being a spy were part of the delusion that he's a secret agent. If it WAS possible to pull it before it affected him though, he actually experienced it. I'm not sure which side I believe, and I think they did the right thing not telling us. Hell, I'm not trying to take a side even, it's better to leave it ambiguous than to try to twist the minutae of the film to support my choice.

Conclusion: I feel sort of conflicted. I really like a lot of the things the movie did, but on the whole it's a fairly average action movie with some very cool elements. I think I'll be positive though - the Real/Recall element and the extremely amazing art direction get heavy weight from me.
See This Movie If You Like: The best futuristic worlds CGI can build, fun action
Don't See This Movie If: You're looking for a redo of either the '90 movie or the short story, you're looking for sci-fi with lots of focus on the Recall device.
Grade: 8.5/10. B+. Worth seeing in the theater - the big screen makes the art direction even more awesome. I didn't see it in 3D, but I imagine it would be GREAT in 3D if it was done right.

So, what else? The song for tonight doesn't quite match up with the content, but I don't actually care. So the song of the day is December, by Collective Soul.
So I hope you enjoy it! I'll be back with Fiasco tomorrow! Looking forward to going to see Bourne Legacy soon (likely over the weekend, Sunday is my guess). And guess what! This marks 7 days of straight content! Hope to keep up the cool stuff for a bit.
Uh, that should be it! Later folks.

End Recording,

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