Total Recall (1990)
By: Mr Intolerance on November 16, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Universal (Australia). Region 4, NTSC. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1. 108 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: rnold Schwarzeneggar, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox
Screenplay: Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Gerry Goldman
Country: USA
External Links
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Doug Quaid (Schwarzeneggar) has some problems. He's married to a stunning woman, has wads of cash, lives in a nice apartment… Ummm, can I start again? Doug Quaid has some problems. Sure he has all of the stuff mentioned above, but he has terrible dreams that make him question his sanity, and who he really is. You know what, I'm still settling for the above – a personality crisis I can live with.

The colony on Mars, run by Governor Cohaagen (played by Ronny Cox in uber-bad guy mode, a la his role as Dick Jones in Robocop) is having some problems of its own, being fraught with "terrorists" (telepathic mutants who have evolved on Mars, eking out a pretty miserable existence in the lower levels of the city), who in reality are simply trying to get an even break (the media – staple trope in Verhoeven's films – of course pitch it somewhat differently. Again the director's left-wing tendencies come to the fore – the oppressive regime grinding down the free-spirits). This is what Doug dreams about, well, that and a mysterious brunette. Doug decides to take a trip down to Rekall Incorporated, a place where memories can be surgically implanted, in order to put his mind at rest. It doesn't work out as planned, (although if you listen closely to some of the dialogue, some of the plot is substantially spoilt for you). With Rekall, you don't just have memories implanted as you, you can have memories implanted being another person. Quaid opts for being a secret agent, and badness ensues, as parts of his memory suppressed by the government are awakened. Y'see, he WAS a secret agent on Mars – and now that he's becoming more aware, his secret agent skills are coming back to him, which is handy because his immediate future involves violence. Or, of course you could suggest that this is all part of the dream/memory implanted by Rekall. Depends on how you want to read the film.

So let me get this straight… We have the world's best A-list exploitation director, a violent sci-fi action adventure plot based (rather loosely, it must be said) on a Phillip K Dick short story, the Governator at the height of his powers, we have Michael fucking Ironside (who has been one of my heroes since I was twelve years old watching V: The Final Battle) – what is not to like in this film? Bring it right the fuck on.

It becomes rapidly apparent that every part of Quaid's life has been monitored and reconstructed by not to mention inveigled into by the Agency, here embodied by Richter (the afore-mentioned Michael Ironside –I texted a mate of mine last week telling him that I thought all parts of my life could be made wonderful if I was Michael Ironside – I stand by that statement), and the film picks up a pace that does not let up for the rest of its run time. You know that old cliché about movies being "a roller-coaster ride", well, this one actually is – you could actually almost see it as a 108 minute long chase scene, frequently punctuated by some very bloody fire-fights, for which the film received some predictable criticism.

Lori (Stone), Quaid's wife – and actually Richter's main squeeze, tries to kill him, once he reveals that his memory programming is slipping, and reveals that they've only been a couple for six weeks, despite his knowledge of them as an item lasts eight years. Sharon Stone is an attractive woman at the best of times, but when she's all sweaty and in a leotard and a boob tube… I'll be back in a couple of minutes. *wiping hands* This scene just reinforces the idea of what's real, and what's a fake. Inside the dream, he's been in a dream. When I saw this on its cinematic release when I was 18, I didn't look that deeply into it. It was another Arnie movie – ergo: it's all real. It's only listening to Verhoeven on the director's commentary that's making me start to question things. It's an interesting concept, but not one that's essential to consider when enjoying the movie.

And the chase begins! Quaid does the bolt before Richter and co turn up, but they're hot on his heels. Y'see, Quaid is unaware at the moment that he has a bug (no, not one from Klendathu, smart-arse, an electronic one) up his nose, so Richter knows where he is. This is dealt with in an interesting plot twist – some of his former buddies locate Quaid, and try to help him out. First thing he has to do is to wear a wet towel around his head like a turban (!) – it's to muffle the signal of the bug – and then go to a location which will get him some clues that will help him along his quest. It's a lot to take on good faith – remember, Quaid has no idea who this guy is. Personally, I'm not a trusting person by inclination.

Quaid makes his escape via a Johnny-cab – that's a taxi with a robotic driver and a relentlessly chipper demeanour – and learns a few things about himself. Personally, I think six weeks of living with Sharon Stone would make you learn a few things about yourself, but happiness is relative, I guess. Money, ID, a device to remove the bug (fuck that looks like a painful process), a personal hologram projector (another level of the is it real/is it fake theme), a unique disguise and a video message to himself from the past, telling him to get his arse to Mars. Now, Arnie might not be the world's greatest actor, but he projects two very different personae here – one, sympathetic and vulnerable (lets call him Quaid), the other a smug, self-satisfied prick (Hauser).

Quaid gets his arse to Mars – his arrival is certainly a memorable one, and one of the more famous scenes in the film (the special effects were pretty groundbreaking at the time) – and he pretty much immediately sets about righting some wrongs he didn't even know were being wronged in the first place. Turns out that Hauser did some stuff that made the current administration really put a lock on him. The narcs try to shut Quaid down, but he knows the score and gets busy, Governator-style. Cue: bullet count!

Cohaagen is not impressed by Richter's antics – after all, he shot out a window in the spaceport – remember, Mars has no atmosphere, and this could have been absolutely catastrophic – explosive decompression, don't you know. Quaid proceeds in an orderly manner to the nearest hotel and his next clue: Melina, a chick he was friendly with before everything went pear-shaped. Turns out that Melina works in a titty-bar called The Last Resort in the red-light district. Now, the red-light district is where the mutants all hang out, pretty much because they have to. Cue some Rob Bottin appliance and prosthetic make-up – it's at this point when listening to the commentary track I found it pretty funny listening to Verhoeven trying to talk seriously about one particular make up job – a three-breasted hooker. That's kind of a difficult thing to intellectualise. Nope, not an exploitation director at all…

Melina is also part of the resistance against Cohaagen's regime. What do the mutants, led by the elusive Kuato, want? More freedom and more air – that last one might sound a bit odd, but Cohaagen controls the oxygen-producing equipment, and he can turn it on and shut it down in different parts of the city whenever he wants. Poor old Ronny Cox never gets a nice guy role in a Paul Verhoeven film – in RoboCop, he's a corporate scumbag, in this he's a political slime-ball. Mind you, his performances as both are pretty good. Probably worth mentioning at this point that Verhoeven did bring a lot of crew and some cast over from RoboCop – like Carpenter and Cronenberg, he seems to have a lot of loyalty to the people he works with – shame he couldn't get Basil Poledouris for the score, but you can't complain about Jerry Goldsmith, whose approach is still epic, but not as grandiose as what he did for The Omen. This film needed a big score, but not something as Wagnerian as that film received.

Melina drops a plot-point bombshell here (not telling) that suddenly makes us look at Quaid/Hauser in a different way, and this gets reiterated later on with another major about-face. Anyway, she sends him packing, and Quaid, at a bit of a loose end, leaves the joint with cab-driver Benny, who has a few surprises of his own, as the film progresses. Back at the hotel, Quaid is visited by a Rekall doctor who tells him that everything he's experienced since visiting the Rekall labs has been nothing but a dream – part of the implant he received. This, of course simply re-states what some of the audience have been thinking since the start of the film. Quaid sees through the guy like grandma's old undies and it's time for another blood-soaked fist- and then gun-fight! And a cat-fight – yee-hah!

Melina saves Quaid, and off they go to meet Kuato – but they've given Richter yet another reason to hate Quaid – the best possible one – and spur him on. Woo-hoo! A car chase! Every movie needs a car chase – I'd even sit through fucking Pride and Prejudice if it promised me a decent car chase. And what's the only thing cooler than a car chase? A bar-room brawl (it's not every film that shows you a dwarf prostitute firing a machine gun), and we get one of them, too. Paul Verhoeven, you magnificent bastard – you've done it again. Let me just re-state that the action here has been almost non-stop since Quaid went to Rekall about ten minutes into the film. If you're not absolutely jammin' on this movie by this point, you may well be in a coma – and we're still nowhere near the end!

Kuato, who is really not what you'd expect, opens Quaid's mind to some memories that might help the air situation – remember, that after brawl in The Last Resort, Cohaagen shuts off the air; sure, he'll kill off a lot of innocent people, but he'll take out the guerrillas, too – but then everything turns to shit. Quaid and Melina get captured by Richter, and are taken to Cohaagen, who at this point holds all the trump cards. Quaid is going to be turned back into Hauser (same body, different fella), which he's not too keen on, and then, well, the film goes totally fucking dog nuts in its final act – watch and see…

The movie does, thanks to Verhoeven's superb direction never really explain itself in terms of Quaid's identity, and whether or not the whole thing is reality, or the dream Quaid went to Rekall to have implanted in the first place. Even today, Verhoeven doesn't categorically answer the question, leaving it up to the audience – but there is one clue in the score in the final moments of the movie which might answer that question.

What's interesting about this film is the fact that it took 16 years to be realised, from Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett's first script through over 40 drafts, 7 directors (including David Cronenberg and Bruce Beresford) and countless choices of leading men (Patrick Swayze was originally to star in the film in Arnie's role! Jeff Bridges and Richard Dreyfus were early choices, too). It was always seen as being too big, too expensive and too difficult to realise. On its release it was the most expensive movie ever made, and one of the first to utilise CG technology (the weapons detection screen sequences) – and was a massive success. It was Arnie himself who got the thing green-lit, brought Verhoeven on board as director – boy's got some clout. I would kill people to see the original cut of the film, which the MPAA gave an X-rating to, due to violence.

Apparently there was a sequel planned, due to the film's worldwide success, but for various reasons it never made it for a number of years, by which stage Arnie had moved into politics, and Verhoeven had moved on with his career – but it was made; a little flick you might have heard of called Minority Report?
An excellent picture – this is really the business; original aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced.
It's an action sound-fest, people! Big gunfire sounds, big explosions, big, generally.
Extra Features
Lots of them. There's a full-length feature commentary with Verhoeven and Schwarzeneggar (they're an amusing tag-team – both of them quite engaging, speaking about the production of the film with a great deal of fondness), a photo gallery, a design gallery, filmographies of Arnie, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside (HUZZAH!!!), Rob Bottin, and Paul Verhoeven, and a bibliography of Phillip K Dick. That's on the first disc. On the second disc, we get more: there's a "Making Of" featurette from 1989 (safe viewing before the film – no spoilers), the original trailer, some interviews, a featurette called "Imagining Total Recall" (for God's sake don't watch this first – spoilers are all over the place, but it is very interesting, and definitely needs to be viewed if you're interested in the film) "Mars: Fact or Fiction" (one for the egg-heads here – scientific gobbledigook by a fella who's involved in the robotic exploration of Mars, which I can't say I was all that riveted by – I'm a movie fan, don't spoil my fantasies for me with your hard facts!) and some storyboard comparisons (never quite sure why people watch these). A complete and top-notch package.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Should you watch Total Recall? Well, duh. Well acted, reasonably well-scripted, although there are a couple of things that don't make a whole load of sense. The fight scenes are pretty superbly choreographed, the special effects are very well done, and haven't really dated that badly. An action sci-fi masterpiece with strong political satire, is my diagnosis. And if you can find a more complete package, I'd like to see it. It almost seems unfair that on his resume Verhoeven gets to list not just Starship Troopers and RoboCop, but Total Recall as well. Some guys have all the luck.

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