Book vs. Movie vs. Movie: Total Recall
By Russ Bickerstaff
August 7, 2012
It is at the office where we are first treated to a late '80s idea of what a Philip K. Dick-style future office would look like. Rather than a secretary with "melon-shaped breasts" that can be spray painted different colors based on fashion, the receptionist is using a stylus to change the color of her fingernails as though they were in Photoshop. It’s kind of cute. The office computers are predictably huge for sci-fi of this era. Weird elements of a late '80s conception of the future aside, the film proceeds more or less the same way as was outlined in the story from here. The initial consultation with the memory salesman is fun and it would be a lot more satisfying if Schwarzenegger had anything more than the most primitive and rudimentary acting skills. The wholly incompetent screen actor mugs his way along the best he can, but the subtle end of the dialogue is completely lost.
As in the story, the memory implant doesn't take because of pre-existing memories that had been wiped-out earlier. Things get weird from there, but they take a completely different tack than they had in the story. Admittedly, if they were to be as true to the original story from there on in as they had been up until this point, the film would be over in a half an hour or so, but the direction that the plot takes from there is pretty typical direction of an action film. It’s a simple, formulaic premise that never manages to capture the twisted existential wonder of the story.
Total Recall briefly picks-up on some element of the existential ambiguity towards the end as it is uncertain whether the bulk of the film is him having the adventure or merely the scenario implanted at the memory office. The ambiguity is fun, but it's not carried out perfectly and it's really only a minor side light . There’s a nod to some of some of the surreal questions about truth and reality that fit prominently into Dick's work without actually getting into it in any kind of substantial way. About 75% of the film is stupid action; the other 25% is a fairly faithful adaptation of some of the themes found in the short story. More than anything, Total Recall is another Schwarzenegger sci-fi action vehicle.
The New Movie
Rumors had been circulating on a remake of the 1990 action film. A slightly bizarre rumor had it that Schwarzenegger had expressed interest in starring in the remake. It was announced fairly early on by eventual star Colin Farrell that the film would not be "the same" as the original short story.
And indeed it is not. The story is credited to four people (including the original writing team) with another two getting credit for the screenplay. The new script saddles the premise with a heavy back story, including World War III and a massive gravity elevator that passes through the core of the Earth. The film opens by revealing some of the back story in terse, small text over the image of the Earth. Life is crammed together in tiny little space. And rather than awakening from an idyllic dream of Mars, Farrell's version of Quaid awakens from rather violent dreams involving him trying to defend himself and Jessica Biel from some kind of an attack.