The thing about remakes is that 90% of them don’t need to exist. I suppose that a lot of movies don’t really need to exist, (there are plenty of sequels we would probably be better off without) but the problem with remakes is that most of the time the film being remade is a revered classic. People don’t like having classics messed with (just ask George Lucas). And yet… it happens anyway.
As far as I can tell, movies are remade because movie studios don’t have any better ideas, so they figure they might as well just fall back on something that worked before in the hopes that it will work again. I hate sounding so cynical. I also hate trying to guess other people’s motivations.
One of the things I learned from being an English major is to never presume that you know what a person’s intentions are. If you write something in an essay about how “the author intends to blah blah blah” you will get marked down for that. And you should, since you have no way of knowing what the author’s intentions were, short of actually asking him or her about it.
What I’m trying to say here is that I could be completely wrong. There’s something to be said for a new take on existing material, it just seems that profit is the underlying motive behind most remakes/sequels/reboots.
Such is the case with “Total Recall.” Why even bother to remake one of the Governator’s best-loved films? It’s already a sci-fi classic. Don’t mess with it. And yet they went ahead and did it anyway, to the tune of a $200 million budget and several big-name stars (Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel). Fans’ ire was further aroused upon the announcement that the remake would do away with the entire Mars subplot, which was a major part of the original’s second act. Couple that with the fact that the remake would go for a more family-friendly PG-13 rating, and you’ve got yourself some pissed-off Ahnuld fans.
The funny thing is that I was not initially among this group of pissed-off fans. I’m an Ahnuld fan to be sure, but at the time the Total Recall remake was announced I hadn’t actually seen the original. Sure, I thought it was weird to remake an Ahnuld classic, but not having seen the original I didn’t have any strong opinions about it at the time. So I saw the remake when it came out in August, despite the terrible reviews it got, and I enjoyed it well enough. It was packed with flashy action and admittedly impressive-looking special effects, and after it was over I left the theater satisfied and went on with my day. It was a pleasant enough day at the movies, which was all I really wanted.
I still hadn’t seen the original until just last night, when I watched the Blu-Ray of it I got as a birthday present (I’m 24 now, need to change that on my About page). And I’ve got to say that the original was a far better film. Doubtless this revelation surprises exactly no one. As a general rule originals usually are better than remakes. Occasionally you get a good remake like “True Grit,” but there are still plenty of people out there who hold the original John Wayne film in higher regard. I haven’t seen it so I have no comment on that.
But back to Ahnuld. What struck me about his Total Recall was how smart it was. It’s the kind of movie that hits you with a plot twist seemingly every fifteen minutes, each one undoing the last one. By the end there have been so many plot twists that you’re not really sure what’s real and what’s not. This is, of course, completely intentional. Total Recall is Inception before Inception. Instead of feeling cheated by the constant plot twists, you find yourself swept along by them.
It’s a tricky balancing act. How do you pull one over on the audience without having it feel cheap? I don’t really know to be honest, but by the end of the original Total Recall I didn’t feel cheated by it. Part of it I think is that the plot twists make sense within the world that the movie creates. Half the time movies pull some twist out of the bag that makes no sense within the context of the movie itself. With Total Recall you’re left thinking “Yeah, okay” instead of “Wait, what?” although there may be a little of that too. But in a good way.
This is in sharp contrast to the remake, which is the kind of movie that evaporates as soon as it’s over. The movie ends, the credits start, you think “that was fun” and you go on with your life. I don’t have a problem with this per se, it just really stands out when comparing the original to the remake.
The other thing is that the original is just flat-out more fun. The remake is so relentlessly straight-faced that it almost forgets to have any fun. There are some great action scenes that all look very slick, but there’s not much to it beyond that. It’s enjoyable in the moment, but really not very memorable. It’s just another sci-fi action movie with nothing to really distinguish itself, and it was mostly overlooked in theaters. Understandable with movies like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises in theaters at the same time.
Despite all of this, I did enjoy the remake well enough. I’ll buy the DVD/Blu-Ray combo pack when it comes out and watch it when I want to turn off my brain and have fun. But that’s the problem: with the original, you don’t have to turn your brain off to have fun. It’s actually got brains to match the copious bloodshed, which the makers of the remake apparently forgot to include.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.