Totally Recalled

 

 

The saddest thing about a movie like Total Recall is to see so much talent, energy, and dough-re-mi has gone into what winds up being a simple chase movie. At the least the original had a balance of silliness and violence that kept you on your toes. That’s what’s wrong with so many big cartoon movies like this: they come into the theaters dripping with pretension. A movie like Batman, Spider-Man, Total Recall, etc. is fundamentally a carnival ride for the eyes. But even if the movie-makers agreed, they’d have to give us new thrills. What we get here are the same old thrills. The synthetic cops look like second-cousins to Darth Vader’s storm troopers. The vertical city looks like a cross between the worlds of Blade Runner and Minority Report. In fact, at one point, I think I even saw the billboard that is a critical element of MR. Is that a case of homage or let’s-just-see-what-we’ve-got-in-the-warehouse? Even the Inception trombones have been pressed into service again.

We know the story, if not from the original short story (Philip K. Dick‘s “We Can Dream It for You Wholesale”) then from the original movie and if not from the original movie, then from the trailer for this one, which gives the whole game away. So why does it take so long for poor Colin Farrell to figure out what’s happened to him?

The movie’s big question is about identity. Who am I really? The bored factory worker? The legendary freedom fighter? Or someone else? But like most big dumb movies, this one has only a flicker of an idea, to give the characters something to talk about between chases.

There’s a long tradition of this kind of movie–the normal person who wakes up to the fact that he or she’s actually a spy with mad skills and a  license to kill. (Can anyone say “Bourne”?) For my money, the best in the genre is Geena Davis‘s The Last Good Kiss. (“Chef’s do that!”)

Colin Farrell, a fine actor, does a creditable job in the lead with a combination of vulnerability and chop-socky smarts. But the best performance is by Kate Beckwith, who plays his wife. In the original movie, if I remember correctly, the character has a brief, surprising scene. Here she’s the hero’s non-stop nemesis with a combination of menace, coquetry, and pure pissed-offedness.

The city, too, is an elaborately realized look at a world where space is at a premium, with skyscrapers and elevated highways stacked on top of each other. The movie has two major chases–one on top of and inside flying cars and the other on top of and inside flying elevators. They play out a little too much like a three-dimensional game of Frogger, though the elevator chase is more inventive.

The movie gives us better digital effects than the original, but you can’t help asking why someone thought this trip was necessary.

 

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Green Lantern: Bye Bye CGI

Green Lantern Onesheet  I’m not in the mood to jump on the bandwagon in criticizing Green Lantern. Because that would make me a hater. And besides, with production and marketing costs reported at about $400 million, and projected worldwide income at only about $270 million, it would be cruel to add more fuel to the fire. People might lose their jobs over this. Knowing Hollywood, though, they’ll just get promoted.

Instead, I want to think aloud about the state of that all-American classic—the effects-driven movie. After all, what’s wrong with Green Lantern? It’s got CGI up the wazoo. It’s got a hero in tights. It’s got likeable stars. It’s got a Syd Field written-by-the-numbers story. What could be the problem?

Maybe it’s not the movie’s fault. Maybe we’re suffering from a CGI overdose.

When you see a character in a movie fly, is it really possible any longer to be amazed and delighted? No, no, it isn’t. The same thing is true of movie cars that jump into the air when they explode, of buckling skyscrapers, of massive alien spaceships hovering over cities. These effects just aren’t enough anymore. It’s the same old thing. Once you’ve seen Earth annihilated over and over again, it’s hard to get worked up over the next great inter-galactic threat.

You couldn’t possibly be surprised by these effects unless you have the memory of a gnat.

Only a few effects-driven movies have had truly original and lasting images, ones that still strike us as amazing. Alien was new in several important ways: a creature whose looks and behavior we hadn’t seen before, a gritty vision of the future we hadn’t seen before, and an alien habitation that was both repulsive and fascinating. I’d put Predator in this group, too. Not a great movie, but a great creature. Blade Runner, of course, for its noirish vision of the future, an outgrowth of the fantastic Metropolis, whose effects still haven’t been matched—or totally understood—since it was released in 1927. And while we’re back in the old days, add 1902’s Voyage dans la Lune, whose effects fascinate in part because we know they weren’t all camera tricks. What else? 2001, whose eerie crispness has been copied so often that we forget its impact when it first came out. What about Star Wars, you ask? Dont’ ask. The first one looks dated. By the way, whoever thought those overweight, middle-aged extras looked like X-wing fighter pilots? And watching the more recent chapters is like watching a three-card monte game on a street corner. You know there’s a trick, but you just can’t see how it’s done. Terminator 2’s relentless quicksilver villain was a brand new creep-out. And I’d add Iron Man as the first superhero/CGI movie I can remember that was its own send-up of superhero/CGI movies.

I can remember when serious filmgoers moaned that, after Jaws, every move would be effects-driven. That came to pass so quickly and completely that we think a movie’s boring if it doesn’t have special effects.

But maybe now the wheel has turned. Maybe the failure of Green Lantern means we’re done with effects-driven superhero movies. For all the CGI we’re seeing in movies these days, we’re seeing precious little that’s new, that truly amazes. What we’re getting are copycat movies with interchangeable parts—same old heroes, villains, and effects with just a few cosmetic changes.

So let’s put down the matte painting, the miniatures, the keyboard, etc., huh, fellows? Let’s get back to real movies about real people.

There. I feel so much better for not making fun of Green Lantern.  I mean, I could have said that, back in the day, we had no idea that all it took to save the world was a mood ring and a lava lamp. And I could have said that Parallax, the bad guy, looks like that spud you left in the oven too long.

Parallax, Villain

And I could add that Muammar Qaddafi should learn a lesson from his brother, Hector Hammond, about the downside of evil. And what outrageous dermatology bills must these guys have?

Villains

But I feel better for not indulging myself.

Let me know about a truly amazing effects-driven movie that I’ve missed—one that adds something we truly haven’t seen before.