Total Recall

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on August 03, 2012

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Dear Andy Potter
Environment Artist

Dear Andy,

Awesome work! Not just the job you had to do, but the way you did it. Your unenviable task was to take us somewhere new, based on somewhere we've already been. The original Total Recall (1990) with Arnold Schwarzenegger has a special place in my heart, since I was obsessed with the bulging Austrian as a child. But you did something improbable. You made me forget the original. I sat down and my mind was wiped clean, implanted with new memories.

The first challenge was to create a new world when the story no longer takes us to Mars. Instead, chemical warfare has divided the surviving humans between the bourgeois island of the United Federation of Britain (formerly the U.K.) and a worker-based hellhole called The Colony (formerly Australia). The blue-collar drudge sends Douglas Quaid (Colin Ferrell) to Rekall, where fantasies can be technologically transformed into real memories. Then all hell breaks lose, and we, along with Quaid, are left constantly questioning the truth.

As a visual artist, you still had to make everything feel real. You did it by grounding futuristic technology with Asian-infused decorum, all inside a densely-packed community reminiscent of Habitat 67 in Montreal. The designs are beautiful and help the film stand on its own. Other smaller details pay tribute to Paul Verhoeven's earlier version, like a three-breasted prostitute and a misdirection that's a fat treat for fan boys. The overall tone is not nearly as dark or adult as the original, but your team manages to one-up the visual creativity of the Fifth Element, Minority Report and even Inception.

Director Len Wiseman clearly lovesĀ­--and has a talent for--staging action sequences. He saturates your elaborate environments with extended shots that embrace the unique nature of your spaces. Especially when jumping from surface to surface, away from explosions, down holes, through windows, and over whatever gets thrown in the way. Why walk or run when you can leap, right?

So it all looks great, but the beauty is often only skin deep. The intricate plotting doesn't really rattle our minds and cliches abound. For one, the film confirms my theory that the only people who lose, then recover, their memory are secret agents. And there are more artificial lens flares per frame than even J.J. Abrams would dare. But with your help, and a phsically flawless female tandem in Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale, we can easily sit back and enjoy the visual pleasures on screen.

Above all else, this Total Recall succeeds because Wiseman convinced people like you to dream big. Most sci-fi films today are lucky to give us a grand total of three or four "oh cool!" moments. _Total Recall _impressed me with gadgetry and action scenes every three to four minutes. From glowing tattoos, to phones inside people's hands to stomach-turning gravitational rotations, everything is designed to impress. And up until the more generic 20-minute action blowout finale, it was hard not to be.

Thanks for the memories,


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