Tag: philip k. dick

Total Recall


Total Recall (2012)
★ / ★★★★

A recurring dream involving being chased by the authorities alongside a woman he believes he never met has prevented Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell), a factory worker, from getting proper sleep over the past couple of weeks. Feeling depressed, he thinks that a treatment at Rekall, a company that can program memories into a person’s brain, can help him get over the nightmares if he is given an exciting or happy memory. A routine procedure prior to the treatment, however, triggers a repressed memory in unsuspecting Douglas. It turns out that he is a spy so specialized and dangerous that he is able to take down ten armed men, assigned to capture him alive, in under thirty seconds.

Inspired by Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” credit must be given to “Total Recall,” directed by Len Wiseman, for deciding not to make a carbon copy of Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 film. Instead, it opts for a more straightforward approach by focusing on delivering the action and spending less time on philosophical musings about which reality is real and which is constructed by machines. However, despite this, the film lacks drama, suspense, and memorable characters in order for the material to rise above the standard and have its own identity.

The dialogue is so flat that each time it takes a breather from the action sequences, I felt like I was watching the actors rehearsing a scene. There are moments when the performers try to compensate by overacting to little or no avail. Since there is no dimension to what they are saying, not once did I believe that there is something critical at stake. There are talks about terrorist organizations, struggle for equality, and worldwide domination–rather, what is left of it considering an international chemical warfare rendered most of the planet uninhabitable. But the screenplay by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback fails to incorporate these struggles in a thought-provoking, insightful, or entertaining way.

I enjoyed the special and visual effects. The futuristic cities are inspired by Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” in that there is a menudo of cultures plastered on neon-colored billboards as well as ethnically diverse crowds going about their businesses. I was at awe on how select buildings can possibly stand because they seem to lack support from the ground up. The best chase scenes involve Douglas running on rooftops, through skyscrapers, and inside houses. The editing matches the character’s desperation to survive so it is exciting to watch unfold, at least initially. Eventually, the chases suffer from diminishing returns because the same formula is adopted and the results are more or less the same.

“Total Recall” feels twice as long than it actually is. Although, as a remake, it takes some liberties to detach from the expected, it seems reluctant to really experiment and go wild. I enjoyed watching Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel, as Douglas’ wife and partner in crime, respectively, for their physicality. I believed that their characters are not women to be messed with because they are capable of handling themselves. Their fight scene stands out but I wished there had been more chances for the two of them to release their anger onto one another. Such would not have boosted the film’s quality per se but it might have been more fun.

Total Recall


Total Recall (1990)
★★★ / ★★★★

Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) had a recurring nightmare about being with a brunette (Rachel Ticotin) in Mars. Feeling like he needed a break from his job, he decided to get an operation done in which scientists would upload memories of him going on a vacation onto his brain. The operation failed (with disastrous results) because, as it turned out, the current memory Douglas perceived to be his real life was simply artificial. Douglas decided to go to Mars and face a corporate leader (Ronny Cox) who was behind the charade. However, before he left, he had to face his wife (Sharon Stone) who felt strongly against his course of action. The first few minutes of the film did not give me a good impression. I thought the acting was laughable, especially from the lead, and I wasn’t quite sure if the campiness was intentional. But as it went on, I became more impressed with its creativity in terms of the questions it brought up regarding which reality was real, the technologies that defined the future, and the intense action sequences. I had fun with its many product placements which were popular back in the late 80s but lost selling power after twenty years. Furthermore, for a science fiction film, I did not expect it to have so much blood. There were times when I felt like I was watching a horror film. The picture constantly changed gears. It wasn’t just about Douglas’ quest to find his true identity. There was a subplot about humans and mutants in Mars who decided to join forces and rebel against the greedy corporate leader. Cox’ character was determined to keep the element that could ultimately create atmosphere in Mars for himself for the sake of cash flow. Slow death of dozens of lives due to a lack of oxygen meant absolutely nothing to him. In a nutshell, I was convinced that he was a villain worth experiencing a painful demise. “Total Recall,” based on a short story by Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and directed by Paul Verhoeven, was a very entertaining film because it had a plethora of ideas that shaped and defined its underlying themes. Impressive special and visual effects were abound which helped to elevate our perception of the futuristic world. After the main character’s discovery that his life was a simply a fabrication, every scene that followed was thrilling action scene. But there was a question that lingered up until the final scene: Was everything we saw reality or was it the “perfect” fantasy vacation that Douglas asked for?

The Adjustment Bureau


The Adjustment Bureau (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick, “The Adjustment Bureau” was about a U.S. Congressman named David Norris (Matt Damon) and his accidental discovery of men in hats (John Slattery, Anthony Mackie, Terence Stamp) whose jobs were to make sure that fate went according to plan. The event that triggered it all was David’s chance encounter with Elise (Emily Blunt), incidentally, the night David was destined to lose the election. The moment David and Elyse met, they immediately felt a spark, a signal that perhaps they just might spend the rest of their lives together. But the mysterious men in hats and their boss upstairs knew that David and Elyse were not meant to meet each other, let alone be together, so they were willing to do whatever means necessary to keep them apart. The film was a successful hybrid of romance and science fiction. Its casting should be recognized. From the moment David and Elyse met in the men’s restroom, Damon and Blunt convinced us that their characters were perfect for one another. They played each other off with ease. From the awkward “What are you doing in the men’s restroom?” look to the way the their bodies moved closer to each other as their first conversation went on, the picture convinced us that they had chemistry. Casting was fundamental but critical because if their interactions lacked charm, we wouldn’t have been emotionally invested. If we didn’t want them to end up together, the conspiracy that wanted to keep them apart would have been ineffective. I admired the fact that there was not a defined good versus evil. The agents of the Adjustment Bureau were assigned a job and their job just happened to involve separating forces that greatly attracted each other. There were some plot holes, especially since the film took the liberty to fast forward in time for several years without explaining some events that happened in between, and misplaced expositions designed to explain what was happening and why certain things had to happen a certain way, but such elements were almost expected in high concept movies. For me, what mattered more was the material always looked forward so its pacing was steady. Like people in love, as long as I remained curious about the mystery and how the romance would eventually turn out, I learned to live with its imperfections. Unlike most films with romance in their veins, David and Elise’s fate as a couple wasn’t perfectly clear. There was a discussion of death which could serve as a foreshadowing. There was a question whether we should leave someone we love if we knew that our presence in their lives hindered them from reaching their potential. But there was also an implication that if enough unpredictable ripple effect were created, perhaps fate could be changed even in the slightest ways. Directed by George Nolfi, “The Adjustment Bureau” was able to reach a balance between intelligence and heart. But what it required from us was a little bit of imagination.

A Scanner Darkly


A Scanner Darkly (2006)
★★ / ★★★★

Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, “A Scanner Darkly” was about a cop (Keanu Reeves) who was assigned to spy on his group of friends in order to capture a guy named Bob Arctor. But it turned out that the main character and the man that the cops were interested in was the same person; Bob, like many people, was addicted to a drug called Substance D which supposedly induced multiple personality disorder. Directed by Richard Linklater, “A Scanner Darkly” is one of those movies that is full of promise but it gets in the way of itself because too many questions were asked but very few (if any) were answered in a clear way so I couldn’t help but feel cheated. For instance, I was curious about the real underlying effects of the drug in question. Some addicts experienced hallucinations such as bugs taking over their bodies, others experienced drunken stupor, while some were always on the verge of euphoria. It then begs the question whether the drugs’ effects were somehow connected to our personalities. I wanted to know more about the science and the effects of the drug in the brain. There were scenes that tackled the drug’s effects on the brain (I liked how it related the whole phenomenon to split-brain patients) but they were superficial at best. Maybe it wasn’t that shocking to me because I’ve seen split-brain experiments in real life. I didn’t care much about the friends (one of which was played by Robert Downey Jr.) acting stupid and asking “insightful” questions that led nowhere. The scenes with the friends made me feel like the movie was way into itself; instead of trying to pull me in, it made me question whether the story was really going anywhere. I do have to say that the animation was enjoyable because it added an extra dimension to the project. Everyone pretty much led their lives half-awake so that lucid tone made me feel like I was one of them. I liked that the animation was there to highlight certain facial expressions and quirks to convey certain truths behind the dialogue so it didn’t feel much like a gimmick. I thought the animation worked especially well in scenes where characters experienced hallucinations. Nevertheless, I wish the movie spent more of its time in engaging us instead of teasing us with its vast ideas. It was borderline pretentious. I felt like there was a disconnect (when it should have been clearly connected) in exploring the relationship between the drug world/addicts and the very same people who wanted to eliminate the drug off the streets. The main character embodied both worlds but the way the story unfolded left me hanging, somewhat confused, and frustrated. It’s definitely a different movie experience but I think it makes a good double-feature with Linklater’s other film “Waking Life.”