Nobody told me they were going to make a BLADE RUNNER television series! I love BLADE RUNNER! BLADE RUNNER is great. Especially that bitter-sweet, closing sequence when Rutger Hauer recalls all the things he’s seen in his way-too-brief life, and how his memories will soon be "lost in time like tears in rain."
I love it.
I love how that monologue starts out: "I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe." Ain’t that the truth. I *have* seen things you people wouldn’t believe, and its name is TOTAL RECALL 2070.
You see, there really isn't a BLADE RUNNER series in the works. But...bless its heart...TOTAL RECALL 2070 wants to be BLADE RUNNER so badly it *hurts*. It wants to be BLADE RUNNER so badly that you feel genuinely sorry for it. Watching this show evokes the same empathy and compassion one might find when looking upon a wounded animal that is clinging vigorously and passionately to life. You want it to survive…to overcome…even though your heart tells you the best thing to do is line it up for a mercy killing. The same dichotomy of emotion applies here.
TOTAL RECALL 2070 is too much a rip-off of BLADE RUNNER to find an audience among viewers who will be tuning in expecting to see a series based on the movie TOTAL RECALL. It is also too much a bastardization of its name sake to be appealing to anybody who sticks with it, hoping they might actually catch a glimpse of TOTAL RECALL in a series whose name is…after all…TOTAL RECALL. While watching TR2070’s two hour opening episode, I was reminded of Jeff Goldblum’s scene in THE FLY. He’s heavily mutated, picking at something gewey on his arm, asks & answers quizzically "What’s this? *I* dunno!"
Below are a few samplings of this series’ re-think of the TOTAL RECALL concept. I’m not going to point / counter-point *each* observation against BLADE RUNNER, and I’m not going to go into the vast array of RECALL elements missing from RECALL. To do either would take far too much effort and time. Just trust me on this one - if you’re at all familiar with BLADE RUNNER, you won’t have *any* trouble detecting the similarities between this series and BR. And if you love TOTAL RECALL, you’ll have to look really hard to find anything which evokes memories of Schwarzenegger and Stone kick-boxing the crap out of each other….a mutated resistance of sympathetic uglies….vast alien machines under the surface of the red planet…or a big, dumb, innocent guy who gets caught -up in a web of espionage and intrigue which he isn’t even sure is happening.
TOTAL RECALL 2070 is set in some really big American city. The city is, basically, a bunch of old-style buildings that have grown straight up. Envision BLADE RUNNER meets BRAZIL meets Gotham City in BATMAN FOREVER - including some flashy Times Square-like billboards - and you have a really good idea what this city looks like. The streets are packed with pedestrians and cars, seems to be raining a lot in the city - many people with umbrellas walking around. If you want a visual association for the street sequences in RECALL, go watch the street sequences in BLADE RUNNER, dress everyone up like Deckard and Rachel - that pretty much captures the flavor here.
Humanity has grown off-world (Mars is most often mentioned - one of the few holdovers from the original RECALL film), and has engineered a race of "androids" to function as workers and servants. These androids are virtually identical to humans, and are detectable only through a few subtle giveaways. Problem is, the androids are slowly evolving past what they were constructed to be, and are now looking for identity and meaning and *depth*. The androids go to a place called Rekall, a company specializing in memory implants (the second holdover from the feature film). At Rekall, the androids bully the company’s chief memory engineer into expanding their consciousness, etc. They want to be more *alive* - and memories seem to be the key to attaining their goal.
Our hero is a street-hardened, somewhat disenfranchised police officer named David Hume. The police (called the Citizen’s Protection Bureau) are investigating a series of murders involving the androids and Rekall. Hume gets the task, needs a new partner. He is assigned a cop named Ian Farver. Farver is an android, Hume doesn’t know that quite yet. WHY he doesn’t know it is a grim testament to his investigative talent, as it couldn’t be more obvious. Look at the eyes…).
David and Ian get to be buddies, but Hume must eventually cope with his realization that Ian is synthetic. Can he overcome his "they are just servant machines" mentality and feel friendship for his android partner? This theme was also explored in the wacky 1976 series HOLMES AND YO-YO, by the way.
The investigation moves forward. They end up on Mars…briefly…where the whole place looks like a big factory with a bunch of pipes and conduits and stuff. There is a minimal sub-plot & character motivation involving telepathy, which is the third and final holdover from Paul Verhoven’s original film (which, like BLADE RUNNER, was based on Philip K. Dick literature). The androids have kidnapped a telepathic child, intending to use him to pry memory related secrets out of the Rekall engineer they have run off with. The child has been genetically altered as a side-effect of nuclear conflicts in Europe. Whether or not the element of "mutation" (which is quickly glossed over here) will figure into future episodes is unclear in the resolution of RECALL’s pilot episode, but it should be noted that the child is normal looking - and not freakish or disfigured as presented by Verhoven in the 1990 movie. This child’s telepathy does provide one brilliant moment, however. I won’t ruin it for you here, except to ask: how would you intimidate a telepathic child?
The world of TOTAL RECALL 2070 is characterized by old-fashioned sets and costumes which look like they could easily be used in a 1930s or 1940s detective film. The same can be said for many of TR’s characters. There is a character who looks *so much like* the Gaff character in BR you might actually gasp - wondering if…by chance…Edward James Olmos had been roped into appearing in this series. There’s also a character whose attitude and look are quite evocative of Russell Crowe’s L.A. CONFIDENTIAL persona. There’s a loud-mouthed, tough talking police captain who rides his men to the point of breaking them. Most of TR is steeped in old-style feel and attitude. The only thing distinguishing it from "noir" is the preconception that noir films tend be "dark" - and RECALL isn’t really "dark" in any way.
Throughout the opening episode there is a background "ambiance" present, a mosaic of sound which includes airy "wooshes", electronic chiming and chattering, rain, and even a hint of Oriental music at one point. The street vehicles look modular and boxy, Hume’s preferred fire arm has illuminated diodes near the barrel, looking suspiciously like Deckard’s built-up blaster in BR.
Other not-so-subtle acknowledgments to genre efforts include: the androids bleeding white juice (ALIEN), laser firearms revving up with an electrical charge sound when drawn (BABYLON 5), heavily out-fitted security commandos with blast gear, blast helmets, clear face-plates (CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, BABYLON 5 with a touch of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK), the idea that law enforcement is more-or-less owned by corporations (ROBOCOP), and some others which I’ll let you to look for yourselves - gives you something to do while watching it.
I realize I have focused a great deal on TOTAL RECALL’s similarities to BLADE RUNNER, and talked very little about RECALL 2070’s comparisons to the film which spawned it. That’s because the opening episode of TOTAL RECALL really holds no similarity to the film which spawned it. It’s got the name, but it doesn’t have the heart or soul or spirit of the original movie. And what few filmic concepts the pilot does utilize will not help the viewer to overcome an inescapable sensation that we’re being asked to buy into a product which isn’t what the label says it is.
So the question has to be asked: WHY? Why did someone take a television series about TOTAL RECALL - which holds such vast potential in setting & action (and for an endless arsenal of TWILIGHT ZONE-like twists and turns) - and transform it into a series so heavily resembling another concept?
Tells me that someone involved with RECALL’s development wanted to make a BLADE RUNNER television series in a really bad way, and couldn’t pry the rights away from Warner Bros. So they seized this as an opportunity to do whatever the hell they wanted to do. It’s all Philip K. Dick anyway, right? They’re both popular properties anyway, right? So who cares if the story on which BR is based is called "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", and the first episode of RECALL is named "Machine Dreams"? Who cares if fans of both franchises are mutually insulted by the lack of complete attention given to either concept ? They’re getting the best of both worlds anyway, right? Even worse is the possibility that the people making this show might have genuinely believed no one would even notice.
Doesn’t work that way. This series is offensive. It does not do honor to its title, or the sixteen year old film it is so fervently trying to emulate. It offends fans of both "worlds" by not being enough of either world to satisfy in any way. If I were Warner Bros. (who owns BLADE RUNNER), I’d call up my lawyers, get a copy of this pilot, and let loose on the people responsible for this sacrilege. Maybe the Warner folks would be doing us a *favor*…for once…by Deep Sixing this thing before is hits the airwaves.
And to Showtime, who is saddled with the unenviable responsibility of promoting and airing this abortion? While imperfect and uneven in many ways, the often-intriguing STARGATE SG-1 is an excellent example of how to use the basic premise of a feature film (for a series) and expands upon it - taking it many new and interesting directions while still staying true to its origins. It worked for you then, didn’t it? Were you guys asleep over there? How could you let this happen?
How could anyone let this happen?
Anyone who did ought to be ashamed of themselves.
TOTAL RECALL 2070 should air sometime in the first quarter of 1999.