Total Recall’s lighting is terrible. As the film opens, Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) awakes in a room with more flickering florescent than a techno club. As the world comes into larger view, devastated by global chemical warfare, the lens flares become characters in and of themselves.
In 2009, J.J. Abrams made an unpopular statement about lens flares with his Star Trek reboot. For their effect, they stood for the cleanliness and futuristic reflectiveness of the Enterprise. It looked new. In Total Recall, nothing is new. It has been warped by water. Concrete is stained. Buildings are built raggedly, minimum safety requirements be damned. Apartments are dirt magnets. In this world, one questions how anyone could afford lights, let alone those bright enough to create such an effect.
Arnold Schwarzenegger once inhabited a world like this, although his was built on color and satire. Len Wiseman directs here, placing his inhabitants in intricate worlds that are part Blade Runner and part Transformers. Any one of these structures could morph into Optimus Prime and it would make sense physically. Buildings are littered with jagged edges and coarse construction, yet their cars are soft, rounded at their edges. Nothing blends.
Quaid stays Earth-bound for his journey into the psyche, and while Mars in the original was often kooky or uneventful visually, Total Recall’s rebirth is everywhere. Robots become a villain, chasing down Quaid and shooting at him despite repeated narrative elements stating he knows critical information. Quaid’s mind contains supposed material that would crush the empire of Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), one that keeps the people at bay through menial jobs and minimal pay.
Only two places on Earth remain habitable, Australia and Britain. People travel through the core of the planet in an elaborate set-up that probably cost more to build than it is worth to send workers into factory jobs. What it creates visually in a dazzling zero gravity shoot out cannot overcome the glaring lack of basis for its creation within the internal story arc.
Total Recall will toss action scenes onto action scenes, turning Kate Beckinsale into her Underworld character, and Jessica Biel into the furthest thing from her Valentine’s Day loner. Both create tough, high kicking female roughhousers who wear tight clothes to serve their cinematic, marketing purpose.
Explosions and future panoramas are wonderful, most of the effects chewing up the screen more than the lead actors. Total Recall just keeps coming, even if you don’t want it to. Following a path almost identical to the one Schwarzenegger would follow back in 1990, there are few bumps for those who know this twice translated Phillip K. Dick short story. All that changes is the attitude, and here that is picked from any number of sci-fi film sources. With all of the conspiracy and shooting robots – who are ludicrously poor shots – wandering about, this might as well be an I Robot sequel.
The film throws money at a problem it doesn’t know how to solve, and that problem is how to re-imagine a film beloved by so many. Taken on its own without identical media source material, this Farrell-driven piece still lacks identifying factors. Total Recall does not seem to question reality either, which is what makes the story so endearing. It leans too far in one direction, robbing it of mystery. Thus, it loses its fun too.
Shot mostly on digital, this AVC encode from Sony has a tremendous amount of material to keep up with. Cites careen past the camera, sparks light up the imagery, gunfire causes lighting to go haywire, and rarely does the film settle down visually. The outstanding level of definition, even when in motion, is something to excited about. Foot chases across rooftops pan out to reveal concrete texture as visible from afar as it is up close. Street views push details of the road, and rundown interiors make appreciating set design all the easier.
Critically, nothing is lost to the brilliance of the black levels. Density is superb, giving the piece a dazzling dimensionality and expensive Hollywood gloss. You can almost see the money being lost by Sony as their box office intake flatlined while the movie progresses. As expected, with the outrageous level of lens flare, the source lights produce exceptional contrast, even in dimmer interiors. Cities are vibrant even if humanity is barely hanging on.
With minimal aliasing, image break-up is rare, and almost unavoidable given how many lines make up the world. Those instances are held to cityscapes, never elsewhere, and exist in such limited capacity that you need to be on the lookout to find them. Detail is packed into tight quarters, and with some leniency allowed for smoothed over Beckinsale close-ups, this disc exists as a showstopper.
Saturation is muted, held to the strips of glowing neon or flagrant ads that drench the populace in their hues. Rust covers much of the metals, giving it a reddish tint while moss and algae coat everything else. Flesh tones will, on occasion, receive a small injection of orange before falling back into a natural state. Total Recall’s world is either sanitized whites or rough grays. That is not why the visuals are appealing, but this is too much of a looker to write it off because of dystopian sights.
Immediate gunfire rings out to introduce Total Recall’s TrueHD mix to the world. Punchy in the low-end and topped with crisp highs, the balance is great while selling a slightly tweaked, futuristic design. None of the shoot-outs will let the listener down, filled with so many bullets that miss, you can’t help but be taken in by the soundfield.
Activity is rarely light. Even in the world as Quaid walks through it, rain is running down walls, people chatter, and loud music beckons from seedy interiors. Cars pass by along with flying vehicles, a keen sense of direction driving this mix of elements. It is more than panning, but specific directions that capture elements as they travel. It can subtle or a force.
Explosions weigh heavy within the material, booming into the subwoofer with effective weight. The thrust is immediate. Cars ramming each other during a low-end focused chase near the midway point of the movie are dominating. Engines hum as they pass over the screen, and a collision/flip is nothing short of awesome at its peak. Great work.
Len Wiseman pops up to deliver a solo commentary track, and continues into the material with a pop-up feature called Insight Mode. Both are only available over the extended cut of the film which is also included on the disc. It adds over 17-minutes. Trailers end this Sony presentation.