I return once again to the thorny problem of reworking films and television shows. To my intense disquiet I learned that Stephen Spielberg is planning a remake of West Side Story. Why? He really should know better. Now plans for a revamped Cagney and Lacey. Why? The original was a groundbreaking evolution in cop shows, and Sharon Gless and Tyne Daly rocked their soon-to-be-iconic roles. They virtually invented badarse women. We do not need a remake.
Saturday night I was browsing the television schedules, and saw that Total Recall was on. Back in the run-up to the millennium, I joined a lot of readers of the Guardian in voting Verhoeven’s meisterwerk as being the most underrated film of the decade. It shows its age a bit these days, but back then it was an object lesson in deception, paranoia, and manipulation. I popped a bottle of wine, and settled down.
I got about one minute in and thought, ‘Hang on? Where’s Arnie? What happened to Sharon Stone? Who the fuck are these people?’ Now, as it happens, I rather like Colin Farrell as an actor*, but he’s no Arnie, is he? Kate Beckinsale is a convincing kickarse, but as Lori completely lacked the menace of Sharon Stone. Jessica Biel failed to hold a candle to Rachel Ticotin as Melina. It was just all wrong.
As a CGI shoot’em’up it was all bad, but that’s all it was, a CGI shoot’em’up, lacking the guile and low-cost depth of the original. And so much of it had been done before. It was as if Len Wiseman, a director I generally admire**, had a romp through the sci-fi movie archives and, magpie-like, gathered up some baubles. You could almost hear the thought processes.
‘Hey! Hovercars! They had them in Blade Runner. And Demolition Man. And Fifth Element. Let’s have a shedload of them. And here’s the thing! We’re gonna have a totally awesome car chase where lots of them get wrecked.’
‘Len, just sit down and take some deep breaths.’
‘No, I’m all cool here. Hey, I gottit! Android killers. They were find and dandy in Star Wars***. There’s a real hot ticket!’
He even resurrected the three-titted hooker from the original. You know you’re running out of ideas here.
Sadly he failed to run out of ideas about the location, which was miraculously transported from a Mars colony into a dystopian London in the British United Federation. The sets could have been taken from the Blade Runner props department, and the whole concept was disappointingly chauvinistic.
As a bit of entertainment, it wasn’t bad, though it wasn’t good either.
*He was fantastic in London Boulevard.
**Though it’s very hard to forgive him Independence Day. Very hard indeed.
**And I, Robot, and a zillion other rogue-machine-themed films going back to the 50s.