Should the 'Total Recall' Remake Have Gotten Its Ass to Mars?

Should the 'Total Recall' Remake Have Gotten Its Ass to Mars?

Aug 06, 2012

"He awoke -- and wanted Mars." 

That's the opening of Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," which is the basis for both the original Total Recall movie from 1990 and the remake, which opened this past weekend. It also describes yours truly the day after seeing the new version, and I wonder if a lot of people felt the same way. Sure, it's nice to see some fresh ideas for what could otherwise be a completely redundant rehash, but if the Red Planet is a major component of the literary source material (never mind that the direct narrative never actually ends up there) and the first film adaptation, it probably should be one of the retained elements of the remake. 

It doesn't help, of course, that the new Total Recall is the butt, or at least focus, of many jokes today. Last night, NASA put the Curiosity rover on Mars, and many have noted the irony of the timing. But just a few months ago, following the failure of the Mars-set John Carter (which also costarred Bryan Cranston), it's likely Sony thought it had dodged a bullet in making their film based entirely on Earth. There's one little winking nod to traveling to Mars, amongst a few counterproductive references to the earlier adaptation (the three-breasted prostitute and the "two weeks" woman were the others I caught), and all it does is remind us of what we were missing.

Numerous reviews and even earlier write-ups of the remake criticized the fact that the movie doesn't involve Mars, and most moviegoers probably also saw the negative in this fact, whether in avoiding the film or after actually seeing it. Exit polls gauged a so-so response to the movie, and the disappointing box office (about the same as the original earned in its first weekend, albeit more than 20 years ago and on significantly fewer screens) shows that people weren't all that into being called back to theaters for a familiar story without the fun of Arnold Schwarzenegger or interplanetary action. 

Today, Sony executives must have also woken up wanting Mars, perhaps having dreamt of where their film's gross might have been. But would Mars have really mattered? Even with that element intact, the movie could have still been another bland action thriller involving a Bourne-esque amnesiac spy without any of the intriguing ambiguity and "mindf*ck" aspect of the original.

To me, the difference between the two films is equivalent to the difference between the protagonist's routine life and his fantasy, and I'd rather revisit the original than trudge through the remake again, even if it turned out the former was all just a dream that I never awoke from. Yet I don't think this specifically has anything to do with Mars so much as the overall package. The remake just isn't very interesting or entertaining. 

If you didn't go to see Total Recall over the weekend, was its lack of the Red Planet a factor? And if you did see the remake, were you disappointed in its plot being so confined to our world that it even featured scenes in the Earth's core?



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