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Stephanie Ogrodnik [Celluloid 07.17.12] scifi action thriller adventure

Do you miss the twitching fat lady with the exploding head and the repeated crotch shot gags between Sharon Stone and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Too bad. The panel on Friday was adamant about stating that Len Wiseman's Total Recall is not the tongue-in-cheek film we know from the 90's and that might not be a bad thing. When I initially saw the theatrical trailer for this film, I was apprehensive about a revival of Paul Verhoeven's version that took itself so seriously. I also couldn't picture Colin Farrell filling the shoes of the Governator, though he did say that he contemplated using the Austrian accent. Rather than dwell on making an acceptable, contemporary Mars that wouldn't call John Carter to mind, Wiseman wiped the slate clean and went for a look and atmosphere that mixed sci-fi concept art with six-year-old fantasy, not withholding the future promise of three-breasted hookers. I went into the panel expecting this to be just another vapid attempt at banking on an established audience. After viewing the extended footage on Friday, revealing a vivid dystopian future, I can say this is a Hollywood remake that might go toe to toe with the original--and I don't mean in box office figures.

Most or all of you may already be familiar with the story: A factory worker visits Rekall, a company that brings clients' fantasies to life by implanting new memories, to receive memories of life as a spy. Instead, he discovers that the life he has been leading is a lie and winds up on the run from a deadly past that he no longer remembers. Aside from the guards, who resemble a hybrid of storm troopers and the cast of Tron, Wiseman's dystopia hits the mark for this film's tone. Deviating from the pastels of the 90's, Doug Quaid's new city is forebodingly black, which is ironic considering Wiseman's past work on the Underworld series. It's a proper mix of technological advancement and a typical carnal city grunge - a sharp, mechanized world where science progresses triumphantly yet the quality of human life has long since plateaued. Wiseman described the city as a multilayered space, sitting on top of itself and expanding. Even if the script sounds wholly unappealing, it'll be worth it just to see Wiseman's take on the future, which even secured some of the cast. Both Colin Farrell and Bryan Cranston stated that they were initially unsure about this film. Farrell recently played the villain of another remake, Fright Night, and Cranston was hesitant to take on a film that someone has already made "very indelible." After seeing the art rendering and Wiseman's mission to make this film all his own, both stars were reeled in.

Several main plot elements have been maintained though the aesthetics have been altered dramatically. If you've seen the trailer, you already know the new version of the immigration mask. Rather than a SFX head malfunctioning, Cohaagen is able to pinpoint Quaid when his immigration mask starts to flicker from one identity to the next. Also, the tracking device that Arnold once had to fish out of his nose is now located in Colin Farrell's hand. While it might sound like this reduces some of the urgency and tension, watching the character slicing his hand and slide the gelatin-like device from his palm gave a delightfully cringe-worthy taste of what an audience can expect from other changes in the film. The vehicles are not unlike other futuristic car designs we've seen, with smooth, curved angles still fitting the general shape of a low riding sports car, with a lower ceiling and, of course, no wheels. From congested streets, with sensual red lighting and dank, wet alleys alongside slick, pristine office buildings (ripe for tearing apart) there's a real tangible portrayal of a future city dynamic. During the panel Colin Farrell briefly discussed the sets themselves. Rather than working solely with a green screen, he said they did in fact build "incredible and practical sets" so that there were always real tangible things to connect with. There are real physical visual elements intertwined with on par digital effects. One set, he said, was designed elaborately with the feel of an opium den, stating lovingly that it felt like home.

Another reason to check out this film is the villains. Sharon Stone might be tough to follow, but from what we could see in the footage, Kate Beckinsale appears more than able to take on that challenge. Aside from the action itself, every close up reveals a look of hunger that's both sexual and ruthless. During the panel, she said it was exciting and liberating to let out some of the crazy and that a contemporary audience is ready to see a female without a right hand man. Oh, and Jessica Biel's in it, too.

Bryan Cranston, known to many as Walter White of AMC's hit television series "Breaking Bad," took on the role of main villain Vilos Cohaagen. Rather than playing him as a purely maniacal tyrant simply out to kill Quaid, he only wants him to "behave." Cranston said that in his head Cohaagen could be a truly benevolent guy if it were not for terrorists, ruining his vision of a better society for the rest of the population. We only got a few glimpses of him in the footage, but even when he's just shouting through a video call Cranston knows how to command attention on screen. Amusingly enough, he almost appears to be channeling the same tension and energy that we would see for Walter White, only with more hair.

From his passionate descriptions on the panel, it goes without question that Wiseman expects a great deal from his own film, demanding a level of quality from his own output in a way that's actually refreshing. From Underworld, it appears that he is a filmmaker who already knows how to manage an action film set in a new world. Also, with other talented filmmakers such as well-seasoned action cinematographer Paul Cameron and editor of Man on Fire Christian Wagner, it looks like there are enough building blocks to construct a well-rounded action film. It's just a matter of how it all pulls together.

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