Total Recall: An Inexplicable Obsession With Elevators 1

I tried to go in to this movie with an open mind. I really did, I swear.

Then Total Recall told me: So yeah. Elevator through the center of the Earth.

Well. If you’re not going to take this seriously, neither am I.

And no, I don’t count that as a spoiler, because the damn movie slaps you with that facepalm-inducing concept within five seconds of the opening credits starting. (If that revelation stops you from seeing this movie in the theater, I’d appreciate it if you use some of the money you saved to send me a cookie.) That’s right. The grandeur of possibly fake saving an entire planet has been replaced with a giant elevator that somehow goes through the center of the Earth.

It’s a sad, sad day when you manage to come up with a concept that makes even less scientific sense than the original Total Recall. And here’s the thing: the elevator through the center of the Earth is actually the least aneurysm-inducing part of the world build. Don’t even get me started on how the societal set up itself makes no damn sense. (Everything is a chemical cesspit except Europe and Australia so every day all the people from Australia get shipped to the other side of the world via the elevator to go to work WHAT okay I need to lay down now.)

I’m kind of wondering if the script writer was perhaps savaged by an elevator as a child. Because there is a lot of elevator action going on in this movie. Large chunks of it, action scenes and chase scenes, take place in elevators. I don’t know, is there a Jungian archetype for this? I suppose we could get all Freudian and boil it down to sex because HEY A THING GOES INTO ANOTHER THING, only I can think of nothing potentially less sexy than Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel looking vaguely uncomfortable at each other in a giant elevator.

That, and this new version of Total Recall was so infested with lens flares that I had this crazy moment where I wondered if JJ Abrams had punched Len Wiseman in the head and taken over, only then it would have been a much more interesting and suspenseful movie. I’m not really a fan of the Abrams love affair with lens flares, but at least he manages to do it in a way that’s not actively annoying. Here, I got very, very tired of seeing ghostly blue streaks over Jessica Biel’s face. As far as I can tell, her only purpose in the movie was to look pretty, and that sure didn’t help.

The original Total Recall wasn’t exactly a festival of logic, but I think I was more willing to go with it because the movie so obviously didn’t take itself seriously. I’m more than capable of enjoying movies that have a certain sort of gleeful badness – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter anyone? – but with this one I just spent a lot of time rolling my eyes. Total Recall took the concepts of the old movie (loosely based as it was on We Can Remember It For You Wholesale) and sucked all the joyful, ridiculous mayhem out of it. So instead, it feels ponderous, silly in a squirm-inducing way, and you don’t even get copious blood spatter as a reward.


I did find it amusing that in the future:

  • Great Britain apparently becomes the Empire, complete with stormtroopers and battle droids. Glad to see that they’re keeping up with their glorious tradition of being cartoonish villains in American-made movies.
  • Enormous guns on combat helicopter things can only fire two second bursts and then have to reload themselves, which takes just long enough that they are basically useless.
  • Collin Farrell gets his ass thoroughly kicked by a suit-wearing politician. 
  • Stabbing someone in the intestines kills them instantly, except that it doesn’t because they subsequently come back to life just in time to be blown up.
  • Bill Nighy is the leader of the resistance. (If I had somehow managed to keep it together after the ELEVATOR THROUGH THE CENTER OF THE EARTH thing, to be honest that would have killed it for me. Sorry, Mr. Nighy.)

There were precisely three things that I liked about this movie. One, the sets and backgrounds were done really well. I liked the sprawling multi-level dystopian metropolis. It looked intense, wonderful, and at times downright Blade Runner-esque, and that hits all the right geek buttons with me.

There were some great little nods to the original Total Recall that I appreciated, as someone who loves that movie in all its silly glory. There was the hooker with three breasts, the woman in the ugly yellow coat at security, and a lot of other little nods in lines. Spotting those Easter eggs were some of the only truly fun moments in the movie.

Third and most important, Kate Beckinsale almost managed to salvage the entire movie by being unbelievably badass in every single scene in which she appeared. I found myself hoping she’d show up even more often to punch the good guys repeatedly in the face. She also does the amazing Natasha Romanov-style crotch punch, which I will never get tired of seeing. The only regret I have is that at the end she gets killed by Collin Farrell. In the original movie, Quaid’s not-wife gets taken out by his girlfriend, and it’s quite satisfying. But as far as I can tell Jessica Biel’s character was basically just there to look worried and get punched, so I suppose she didn’t have the necessary reservoir of awesomeness to even penetrate Kate Beckinsale’s BAMF field.

In the contest of which movie is a better homage to We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, neither Total Recall wins. They’re based on the story, but it really should be “based” complete with scare quotes. I think I do have to reward the 1990 movie with a slight edge, though. Douglas Quail never goes to Mars in the short story, but the red planet is there, and aliens come up as well. And frankly, the 1990 movie does a much, much better job of creating that lingering, uncomfortable feeling about whether or not this entire thing was real, or just an insane fantasy.

Because let’s be honest. If you’re going for insane fantasies, standing on top of a mountain on miraculously terraformed Mars while kissing your girlfriend in a pose off a pulp fiction cover wins over celebrating blowing up the big, mean elevator by being wrapped in a blanket.

Go big or go home. You’re better off getting your ass to Mars.

One comment on “Total Recall: An Inexplicable Obsession With Elevators

  1. Reply Harry O'Scary Sep 26,2013 22:41

    Nice write-up. I myself was wondering what was up with the elevators.

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