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‘Total Recall 2’ –- Why It’s a Shame the Remake Likely Won’t Get a Sequel

'Total Recall' sequel?
Sony Pictures

The new version of ‘Total Recall’ is different from the original in many ways, but one thing that sadly remains similar is the opening box office gross. Back in 1990, $25.5 million was enough to be the biggest debut of the year. In 2012, an initial earning of $26 million is barely enough to crack the top 25. Given that the remake cost a lot more than the first film, even with inflation considered, the numbers are quite a disappointment. So, once again we can put to sleep the prospect of a ‘Total Recall 2.’

It’s a shame, not because I necessarily like the latest take on this material, which again is loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” but because I was always curious about the ideas for a sequel to the Arnold Schwarzenegger incarnation, none of which came to fruition, obviously. And then there’s also something fascinating about continuing a story from a remake of an adaptation, because even though it’d be a sequel it’d have the potential to be a more wholly original film than those that came before it.

Of course, as many of you are aware, the first plan for ‘Total Recall 2’ was to adapt Dick’s “The Minority Report” as a follow-up with Quaid/Hauser now working for the newly established “PreCrime” police division. And eventually he has to go on the run again, because the precognitive mutants from Mars who can foresee murders have a vision that he will kill a man, which turns out to be a set up. The script for that idea was eventually turned back into a straight adaptation of the short story and made into a movie by Steven Spielberg.

Interestingly enough, ‘Minority Report’ co-stars Colin Farrell, who now leads the ‘Total Recall’ remake. If you’ve seen the new film, it’s fun to re-watch Spielberg’s decade-old sci-fi-noir as if it were a continuation (i.e. that the ‘Total Recall’ remake is a prequel), although you have to accept that Quaid/Hauser becomes merely a supporting character, a gum-smacking Department of Justice agent who is auditing the PreCrime department when the main character (played by Tom Cruise) is framed and goes into hiding.

By the reason of casting connections, though, we’re just as well-off re-watching ‘Next,’ which is based on Dick’s short story “The Golden Man,” and somehow linking it to the new “Total Recall” by way of Jessica Biel’s characters, each of whom first appears to the respective protagonist in a dream. However, ‘Total Recall’ 2.0 fits better with ‘Minority Report’ in that production designer Patrick Tatopoulos very blatantly divided the look of the former so that one location resembles the future of Spielberg’s film, while the other calls to mind the design of another Dick adaptation, ‘Blade Runner.’

Following the decision to develop “The Minority Report” as its own film, ‘Total Recall 2’ continued as a possibility with numerous drafts written and rewritten to indeed follow Quaid/Hauser on a whole new spy adventure that took the ambiguity of the first film and went wild with it, maintaining the question of whether we’re watching reality or virtual reality and twisting the plot again and again like it was a piece of taffy. Author David Hughes breaks it all down in a chapter of his recently updated book ‘Tales from Development Hell.’

To summarize, in any one of the versions of ‘Total Recall 2,’ we could have expected clones, a space elevator or space bridge, plot devices that would resurrect characters who had “died” in the first film, mind control, love triangles, an outer space cruise ship hijacking, time travel (sort of), subterranean colonies, a Parker Posey-type love interest (umm, imagine a Posey and Schwarzenegger love scene) and enough multiple identities and layers of consciousness and narrative to have made ‘Inception’ seem rather tame by the time it came out. It’s not surprising that Schwarzenegger, or anyone else involved, found most of the scripts to be too complicated.

As indicated by the success of ‘Inception’ and other movies made in this century, many people are into complicated. They have the internet now, and with it forums for discussion of and entertainment blogs that dissect headier and complex films and TV shows. One of those ‘Total Recall 2’ drafts could very easily be reworked to fit the remake, although it might not fit too perfectly since the new film is not complicated at all. There’s no ambiguity, no great plot twists and no fodder for conversation afterward. Its single interesting moment is when Bill Nighy’s character gives a speech that’s basically a defense for remakes (unfortunately the film itself is a big counter-argument).

The way the ‘Total Recall’ remake plays out — as much like a futuristic redo of ‘The Bourne Identity’ as a rehash of the original ‘Total Recall’ — the most appropriate direction for a sequel would be to just adapt ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ to the world and time of ‘Total Recall 2.’ So it’s probably for the best that we’ll likely get another remake of the film before we ever get a follow up.

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