Thirty years ago, howling winds among the blackened ruins of Los Angeles in the year 2029 AD and a flying machine of death and destruction began James Cameron’s 1984 classic science fiction action thriller The Terminator. This film was a landmark for the director as well as its star Arnold Schwarzenegger and began one of cinema’s best known sci-fi franchises. It has many great qualities that many films have since tried to emulate. Such as its pulse pounding pacing and action, as well as the many interesting themes it explores (i.e.: the conflict between man and machine and the idea of fate and whether it can be altered).
The story involving a ruthless killer cyborg played by Schwarzenegger coming from the future to kill a waitress called Sarah Connor (played very well by Linda Hamilton), the mother of the future human resistance leader John Connor, examines the idea of humanity losing control of the technology it created. All of this is done through the lens of classic ’80s high-powered action and gun battles. One of the memorable things about The Terminator is how uncompromising it is. The brutal nature of the terminator is on full display as he coldly executes his targets and relentlessly pursues Sarah. This is also explained quite well by her protector Kyle Reese (another excellent performance by Michael Bien), a soldier sent back from the future to protect her. He tells her quite bluntly that the machine will not ever stop until she is dead.
Any discussion of The Terminator would not be complete without mentioning the fantastic future war sequences that start the film and are seen in flashbacks throughout. It showed a scary post-apocalyptic landscape of a city destroyed by nuclear fire, and massive hunter-killer machines trying to wipe out any humans that appear as if they were rats. This is all seen through the eyes of Kyle Reese, and when he is shown getting back to a human hideout, the sense of misery and despair among the surviving humans only heightens the tension. It makes his mission to protect Sarah and ensure that humankind has a fighting chance all the more important and desperate. It also demonstrates the terrifying nature of terminators as one infiltrates the hideout and mercilessly slaughters anyone nearby. This is paralleled by the present-day terminator walking into a police station and killing everyone he sees in an effort to get at Sarah. Speaking of Sarah, the film well presented the theme of a once-timid character who finds her inner resolve and becomes a completely changed person. By the end of the film, Sarah Connor is just as determined and full of fight as the machine that is stalking her.
All of these qualities are why the movie is still admired and seen 30 years after its release. The Terminator stands out among many of its decade’s other action films. It propelled James Cameron and the cast to stardom and led to him directing other favorites like Aliens, The Abyss, Titanic and Avatar. It cemented Schwarzenegger as an international star and created a fascinating universe that was further developed in three sequels, books, comic books and a TV show that expanded on the world of the super computer Skynet bent on humanity’s destruction. This world will be revisited in next year’s Terminator: Genisys. Hopefully, it will be as action packed and exciting as the classic 1984 original that is still the best of the series and will endure for years to come as a sci-fi masterpiece.
Let’s get to the point, the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of Total Recall is better than this new one with Colin Farrell. I have to admit I never read the source material by Philip K. Dick that both films are based upon. So I judged this film on how it compares to the 1990 version and the level of satisfaction I get from watching it.
The original sci-fi classic is superior because of Schwarzenegger’s forceful type A personality, which is both abrasive and appealing at the same time. He has action-motivated comedy timing, delivering lines with a unapologetic Austrian accent. That movie had your classic Schwarzenegger lines and Arnold’s nature blended perfectly with Paul Verhoeven’s stark vision of the future. It was easy to buy that Schwarzenegger’s character of Douglas Quaid grew into a freedom fighter, he was someone you could cheer. In the new version of Total Recall, Farrell’s character is more of a scared loner and less heroic. It’s largely the same premise, a bored factory worker in the future tries to have exciting memories implanted into him but learns he’s some kind of super spy and involved with a wide conspiracy with everyone out to kill him including his wife. On a side note, one of the few things I liked about this Total Recall were the two main women. Kate Beckinsale (Quaid’s wife) and Jessica Biel (his lover Melina) are incredibly attractive and captivating.
The new film also lacks Verhoeven’s cynical humor that made the first one so memorable. Gone are the mutants and the Mars setting. Although we do get a few nods to the original such as the three-breasted hooker and that old lady that was really Quaid in disguise when he arrives on Mars that kept saying “two weeks,” makes an appearance. But I found myself missing Mars, it made the original film seem more massive and epic. Another thing missing is a memorable and powerful soundtrack that the original had. I can’t even remember the score to this new version of Total Recall but to this day I can clearly remember Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for the original film.
The production design in the new Total Recall is spectacular to look at. The transportation system used to travel between two cities on opposite sides of Earth was really interesting. Basically in this version, Earth is a toxic, uninhabitable wasteland except for two cities (The United Federation of Britain and The Colony-formerly Australia). The only way to travel is to use a gravity elevator that actually goes through the planet’s core. It reminded me of that great underrated gem The Core. As a passenger approaches the center of the planet the gravity reverses since the elevator is headed to the opposite side of the world and the chairs in the elevator have to rotate. Several interesting scenes take place in this setting and was one of the film’s few highlights.
Some of the other future tech was also neat to look at. For example, they use phones that are imbedded into palms and the robot police that pursue Quaid were really cool and would’ve fit in perfectly with Verhoeven’s Robocop.
But this film lacked Schwarzenegger and it suffered; it just wasn’t very interesting. There was not enough comedy relief- or compared to Schwarzenegger, not enough signature comedy by the leading actor. I don’t blame Collin Farrell though; Arnold is one of a kind. I knew Total Recall was in trouble because of the fact that I fell asleep twice while watching it. Even Ice Age: Continental Driftis a better film than this one. So IOW, (using a thick Austrian accent) “Get your ahss back to Mars.”—at least, on blu ray or DVD- with the original Total Recall.