Total Recall is a good movie—no sense denying that. I know there is this whole perceived notion that Arnie has been in a host of big, dumb action movies.
And it’s correct.
They’re big, loud, bone-breaking, bullet spewing, cliché riddled farces. And I love them. Aguirre, the Wrath of God they are not, but be it Commando or True Lies, they’re fun, enjoyable romps because they are big, dumb action movies, full of clichés and one-liners. But that doesn’t mean that Schwarzenegger hasn’t made some great films either. Terminator 1 & 2, Predator, and even Conan the Barbarian might be dismissed as simple Arnie movies. Still, they’re actually tense films that deal with themes and ideas outside the standard action movie. And of course, there is Total Recall. Dubbed by some as the thinking man’s action film, it deals with the nature of reality and dreams, the self as persona, paranoia, fatalism, and anti-consumerism, all sandwiched within a sci-fi action film filled with blood squibs and nudity.
Based on the short story “We Can Remember It for you on Wholesale” by sci-fi legend Philip K. Dick and directed by Dutch cultural critic Paul Verhoeven, Total Recall is the story of construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) in 2084. Despite living a comfortable life with his wife Lori (Sharon Stone), Quaid longs for some excitement as he nightly dreams of the Mars colony and a mysterious woman, Melina (Rachel Ticotin). With a revolution in progress, against the governor Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) limiting travel, Quaid visits the company Rekall, despite the discouragement of his family and friends, to have an artificial memory of being a spy on Mars implanted. Like a themed holiday. Except, during the procedure, it turns out Quaid really is a double agent from Mars called Carl Hauser, who is aiding the revolutionaries against Cohaagen. The dreams are memories, and Douglas Quaid is just an implanted cover personality and memories. Now his wife, friends, and Cohaagen’s agent Richter (Michael Ironside) are on the hunt for him. With little choice left, he has to “Get his ass to Mars” and find Melina and the answers that can free the planet.
Total Recall is a rare affair. It’s the second entry for two different, unlinked, film series. It’s the middle part of the Philip K. Dick “Mind Jab” trilogy, which includes Blade Runner and A Scanner Darkly, and deals with themes of identity, duality, the core of being human, and the nature of reality. And while Blade Runner and Scanner Darkly did do it with more nuance, Total Recall leads you to question if everything is real or just the implanted memory Quaid asks for. Verhoeven points out, with a wink to the camera that everything Quaid asked of Rekall happens and it’s up to the viewer to decide. The hologram motif that runs through it sets up the dual nature of the reality, and its science made dream world.
It’s not just reality that’s questioned. Are we watching Quaid or Hauser? What will happen to the other personality at the end? Are we just the by-product of our memories and experience, a blank slate without any innatism? And if we can alter our memories of them, then what does that mean for us? Goes beyond the simple “shoot bad guy/make quip/get the girl” of other Arnie films.
Like the other films, Total Recall is a story from below. European influences to the production from Verhoeven and cinematographer Jost Vacano give it a social edge. The villains are the corporation and the government. The rebels are the poor and mutated. While there are some massive set pieces, the majority of the action takes place in the impoverished areas of the Mars colony, slums, and red-light districts. Or tight tunnels standing in for alleyways. Vancano shoots the action scenes in tight, small spaces on the screen from low angles, or in mid shots that hide more than show. Most action films would have long shots and wide angles to show off the blood splatter. While it is most definitely more cartoony than Blade Runner, there is a similarity. Hard shadows are replaced with the hard reds of Mars. Making this a film rouge.
The other film series is Verhoeven’s anti-consumerist-media satirical quadrilogy, along with Robocop, Showgirls, and Starship Troopers. Robocop, with the host of fake adverts, corporate villains, and the heroic amount of cocaine is the most blatant. While toned down in Total Recall, it’s still there. Everywhere Quaid goes, he is surrounded by adverts, by the media. On the subway, on the walls of his house, in his dreams. It infects everything and, literally, sells a false reality.
So everything sounds good, right?
The thing is, I’m not just reviewing Total Recall. I’m reviewing the 30th Anniversary collector’s edition.
And the extras you get with the film, it’s not that great. They’re okay. Just not great.
The soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith is a fantastic one and comes with the 4K Ultra and Steelbook Editions, as is the featurette on Goldsmith’s work, Open your Mind which provides an insight into the thematic skills he possessed.
The audio commentary by Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger is a strange one. Verhoeven waxes lyrically over the production style, and implications of each scene as Schwarzenegger dissects his acting. Though every time Verhoeven goes on a tangent about the meaning of the mise-en-scène, Arnie responds with “exactly”.
I think it might be a code.
It is cool finding out that Quaid was originally envisioned as an office worker played by Richard Dreyfuss. I would sell my right arm to see that film. But the problem is, they give the date of the commentary as ten years after the film came out. So we’re getting a twenty-year-old commentary from an earlier edition. We are in the midst of a global pandemic, but arranging a Zoom recording is not beyond the technical realms of possibility.
It’s not just the commentary, most of the extras are from previous editions. The Making of and Imagining Total Recall featurettes are clearly over ten years old.
The Total Excess: How Carolco changed Hollywood is recent, however, being produced last year. With interviews from Verhoeven, Oliver Stone, and Michael Douglas to name a few, the 56-minute doc showcases the rise and fall of this independent production company that gave filmmakers control over their project and produced some of the best films of the Eighties and Nineties before their collapse. It shows that in Hollywood that no matter how great your movie, money talks, and critical acclaim walks. We knew this already, but it’s something we need to be reminded about.
So save for that, there is little new on the extras. Most are harvested from previous editions. And if you’re selling a collective addition, you need to do more. Otherwise, you are just asking people to buy a film that they already have. Even something on the writer Philip K. Dick and the Hollywood adaptions of his work, or a Total Recall at 30 would have been enough.
I can’t stress enough how enjoyable and entering a movie Total Recall is. For this reason alone you should get this addition to see it in its UHD and Blu-Ray glory.
But as an overall product, the 30th edition is a let-down.
Dir: Paul Verhoeven
Scr: Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Gary Goldman
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox
Prd: Andrew G. Vajna, Mario Kassar, Buzz Feitshans
DOP: Jost Vacano
Music: Jerry Goldman
Runtime: 113 minutes
Total Recall 4K is out on BLU-RAY, DVD, STEELBOOK, DIGITAL AND 4K ULTRA HD COLLECTOR’S EDITION now