[Editor's Note: Poster Lab is your weekly dose of movie poster dissection, wherein the House examines the pluses, minuses, and in-betweens of the poster design(s) for a buzzworthy film.]
If recent sci-fi film ads are any indication, all we are is pixels in the wind. Movies like Total Recall, a remake that's poised to give you déjà vu this August, face the predicament of promoting themes like memory and alternate reality, which aren't exactly the easiest things to visualize. Common solutions have been to break matter apart like low-res jpegs, and let the debris disperse in smoky, techy milieus. The first Total Recall poster follows this path, depicting futuristic hero Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) as if his very identity is being erased in geometric fragments. Why does it look so familiar? Well, you just saw a variation of it—same font and all—during the release of last year's Source Code, whose poster also shattered the hero's existence into flashes and swept them up like confetti. Though not not as clean as the Total Recall one-sheet, the Source Code ad uses the trend as a tool to integrate film stills, filling the pieces with headshots of co-stars Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga. More generically, Farrell's gun-toter just disapparates into thin air, which may well point to how this F/X cash cow will be received.
To call a remake "unnecessary" is asking for trouble, since there's no telling what a new version could bring to a viewer who isn't shackled to the original. But Total Recall 2.0 seems especially unwelcome, seeing as the first film took time to gather its ardent followers, and its resurrection is hardly the cinematic event of the summer. Directed by Underworld maestro Len Wiseman, whose wife, Kate Beckinsale, steps into Sharon Stone's shoes, this update looks like it, too, may fly away in a windswept flutter, what with meager anticipation, a rather fresh source text, and a recipe/roster that can't quite broadcast prestige. Wiseman, like so many modern action directors, has a way of delivering hollow polish. And Farrell, who with this and Fright Night is looking like a vehicle for '80s and '90s revivals, has let his peak of In Bruges be followed by a rather forgettable stretch. Is his smoldering profile more enticing than Schwarzenegger's ice-blue mug? Even if Farrell is by far the better actor?
The tagline for the new film unabashedly asks, "What is real?" and countless viewers of the poster will chuckle as they connect the question to Hollywood's dearth of original stories. If Columbia Pictures execs really want an answer to their question, what they're going to get, unfortunately, is a resounding "Not much," seeing as scads of the major studios' big fish are recylced from those who swam before. And the same, evidently, goes for taking the fish to market. The Source Code poster isn't the only ad today's subject recalls (nyuk, nyuk), as much of what we've seen of late involves characters metamorphosing. Take, for instance, one one-sheet for Snow White and the Huntsman, which sees Charlize Theron's wicked queen disintegrating into flapping black ravens. Though commonplace, these effects ably imply fractured psyches, and they sure look nifty gracing the lobbies of flashy multiplexes. But in recent cases, they also suggest an unintended probability: that the movies represented are doomed to fall to pieces.