Tag Archives: phillip k. dick

Total Recall (1990) – Review

31 Jul

Wether you know the name or not, Phillip K. Dick is responsible for many of the science fiction stories that you all know and love, especially the ones that have been turned into blockbuster movies. Do titles like A Scanner DarklyMinority Report, and Blade Runner ring a bell? Those are just a few examples. One of Dick’s most popular stories was published in 1966 and was titled We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, which was later adapted to the 1990 sci-fi/action classic Total Recall. Now, Phillip K. Dick’s stories have a penchant for being smart and highly conspiratorial, so it would be nice if the movies adapted from his stories had that same style. Luckily, Total Recall is one of those movies.

Total Recall (1990) Original

Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) lives an average life with his average job as a construction worker and shares a home with his above average wife, Lori (Sharon Stone). As life on Earth continues as normal, life on Mars is filled with violence and revolution as a so called terrorist named Kuato fights for the rights of the lower class colonists. All of the reports about Mars makes Quaid want to take a vacation there and escape his everyday life but his wife is not into that idea at all. This prompts Quaid to take a ride down to “Rekall,” a company where memories can be implanted into your brain and make you think you had the vacation of your life. Unfortunately for Quaid, the entire procedure goes terribly wrong and a massive manhunt for him, led by the ruthless Richter (Michael Ironside), begins and leads him to the very surface of Mars where he learns of his real identity and begins fighting for the survival of every colonist living on the planet’s surface…or is he?

This movie had the chance to just be a regular, run of the mill Schwarzenegger movie filled with lots of action, but no real ideas and no intelligence to speak of. What made matters worse was the idea for this movie was being tossed around Hollywood for years before it actually got picked up. To give a point of reference, the writers for this movie got Alien made in 1979 before the got Total Recall made in 1990, even though they began working on the latter first. In a way though, this actually worked out better because the right director and actors all became attached during the process, and an excellent movie was eventually created.

001

One thing that not only struck me but also struck audiences at its release 24 years ago was the amount of insane violence in this movie, although I’d like to just call it action since it’s so abundantly ridiculous. Believe it or not, Total Recall was actually slapped with an X rating for Verhoeven’s first cut of the movie, but he negotiated it down to an R rating and edited some of the scenes in the movie and changed some shots around. There’s still plenty of gunplay, bone crunching, and gore to be had here so it isn’t a total loss. Then again, people who saw Verhoeven’s 1987 film Robocop will know all about that. Also like RobocopTotal Recall takes place in the distant future so some work had to be done to make it look appropriate. Close to 70 different stages were built which to a really long time, and a lot of this movie was actually shot in more modern parts of Mexico. This worked very well since Total Recall does have a good sense of space and design.

Probably one of the main draws for anyone to see Total Recall is the amazing special effects, which I could say ranks in the top 5 best of film history. Sure, today they look dated, but at the time the effects were really a marvel. I still do find them incredible because this was one of the last movies to do everything with practical effects and no digital composites. There are some exceptional scenes on the Martian surface that was all built by hand over periods of time. Another great use of practical effects are the animatronics that are used for people exposed the the vacuum of Mars, and also the prosthetic make up used for the mutants. This is a really great looking movie that won an Academy Award for visual effects while all of the other movies in the category were runner ups and not nominees. Pretty much, Total Recall was in a category all its own.

To put it simply, Total Recall is one of those movies that perfectly blends all of its various pieces together to make one hell of a fun movie. The action is outrageous, the humor made me laugh, and the psychology was well worthy of a Phillip K. Dick science fiction story. Sure there are many differences between this and the original short story, but I gotta hand it to Paul Verhoeven. He definitely knows how to makes top notch action films.

 

 

Advertisements

The Adjustment Bureau – Review

31 Jul

Science fiction is a genre that can be blended with other unique styles of storytelling to make an original narrative like no one has seen. The master of this would be the late, great Phillip K. Dick, whose stories have inspired films such as Minority ReportBlade Runner, and A Scanner Darkly. Now we have The Adjustment Bureau, a movie that has such strong chemistry between its leads and a love story that is touching and difficult all amongst an atmosphere of science fiction and philosophy.

David Norris (Matt Damon) is a New York congressman who has just suffered a terrible defeat for a senate seat, but his pain is alleviated when he meets the beautiful Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt) in the men’s room of all places. They quickly fall in love, but this is not part of the plan. Soon Norris is being chased down by mysterious men in suits and hats who call themselves the Adjustment Bureau. Their job is to make sure everything goes according to the “Chairman’s” plan, which has David and Elise never meeting more than once. David can’t accept a life without Elise, so he begins to fight against the Bureau’s rules and the plan in order to escape with the woman he loves.

When you really stop and think about it, this is a beautiful story that has both thrills and romance, both of which are equally powerful. The connection between Damon and Blunt is incredible, and almost special in a way. The difficulty of crafting a romantic film is making sure the actors have believable and exciting chemistry. The chemistry is so perfect between these two actors that I was surprised sparks weren’t flying from my television.

Looking beyond the overt sci fi – romance elements of the narrative is crucial to really feeling like you understand the movie. There is a very open and unassuming religious and/or philosophical debate about fate vs free will. When asked who the Chairman is, the Bureau’s response cleverly dodges the answer. When asked if they are angels, they say that is only one interpretation. This gives people of all religions and philosophies to be able to discuss this movie without any barrier of ignorance.

The Adjustment Bureau is one of those movies where the entire situation seems hopeless for the main character, which only makes us root for them more. Damon’s character is very likable, and I couldn’t see him played by anyone else. The audience really wants him to succeed, especially since we can relate to love and the desire to hold on to it, despite what it may cause in our future.

I went into The Adjustment Bureau with high expectations, which isn’t always a good idea. Luckily, this movie exceeded my expectations. I’ve seen some pretty negative reviews of this movie, and it makes me wonder if those critics watched the same movie I did. It was suspenseful, thrilling, funny, and romantic. What else can you really ask for in a movie? I definitely recommend The Adjustment Bureau. 

A Scanner Darkly – Review

14 May

Living in a world where our every move could be closely monitored by the government without our knowing is a terrifying concept. For all we know, this may be happening already. I could be under surveillance as I sit here writing this review. Then again, maybe I’m just being paranoid; moreover, this paranoia is the essence of A Scanner Darkly.

Seven years into the future, nothing is secret and everything is questionable. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is a police officer working deeply undercover amongst a group of junkies addicted to a new drug, Substance D. These junkies consist of the clever and possibly homicidal Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.), the spaced out loser Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), the paranoid Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), and the dealer of the group Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). Soon enough, due to a suit that hides the officers identity while at the precinct, Arctor is assigned to spy on himself, and deal with the junkie turned informant, Barris. As this vicious conundrum of identity and trust keeps unraveling, Arctor soon beings to lose control of who he is due to “cerebral cross chatter” and the other effects of Substance D.

The initial main drawing point of A Scanner Darkly is the bizarre and intriguingly surreal animation. After the film had been shot it was than edited over a period of 15 months using Rotoshop, which the director, Richard Linklater, had used in a previous film, Waking Life. This stunning use of animation gives the film an other worldly feel that I’ve never experienced before with a movie. It was realistic, than at the same time, was artificial.

With films like Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting, the theme of drug addiction and withdrawal is not new. What A Scanner Darkly does differently is explore this theme with a deeper level of subtlety. The film doesn’t use eerie music or impressive camera techniques to make the viewer uncomfortable. The Rotoshop animation helps, but what I feel is the driving force of paranoia is the way the story is told. Up until the very end, the viewer has very vague impressions of what is real and what is not. The story is expertly told from both the sides of the police and the junkies, so when these worlds collide, it’s enough to make your brain split down the middle.

This story is definitely classified as science fiction, but a lot of what occurs in the film is funny. Robert Downey, Jr, Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane are fantastic at playing the three most paranoid characters I may have ever seen. The way these characters handle themselves using the backwards logic of drug use is very entertaining, yet in no way condones the use of drugs.

The government in this semi-futuristic society only adds to the paranoia backing up the film. Sure, the characters are nervous, but shouldn’t we be just as nervous? I can honestly say that I have no idea just how deep the government, the FBI, the CIA, etc. can probe into the lives of everyday citizens. I wouldn’t call my uncertainty fear, but I would say that there is a good chance that we very well may be watched by “Big Brother” sometime in the near future.

I love how everything about A Scanner Darkly relates back to paranoia. The psychology behind Arctor, the drug abuse, and the overpowering government are incredibly fascinating.  As a film, A Scanner Darkly succeeds in making the audience feel strange and nervous, all while telling an intricate narrative. I’m definitely interested in going out and finding my own copy of Philip K. Dick’s original novel, which this story is based on, and seeing how Dick tells the story. For now though, I highly recommend A Scanner Darkly. It is a fantastic film.