Sony’s move to release one of the greatest science fiction action films ever made on blu-ray just around the time they put out their all-flash-and-no-substance remake in theaters may only prove to be more of a backfire than anything else. Other than pocketing some cash off the newly tricked-out Total Recall disc, this only proves how vapid, empty and utterly useless the current theatrical release is. But enough about the trash. Let’s talk about the good version after the jump.
Inspired by Phillip K. Dick’s short story entitled “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” and set in the year 2084, Doug Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a mild-mannered construction worker living a simple, if not slightly dull (save for his smoking vixen of a wife played by Sharon Stone) life. Doug keeps having dreams about Mars and this propels him to visit a service called Rekall Inc., a business which literally implants memories as personal experiences. But something goes horribly wrong. Doug frantically wakes up in the middle of his procedure, screaming about a blown cover. The dumfounded Rekall techs do the best thing for their client and business – they wipe his memory, refund his money and dump him in a cab. Soon after, Doug is attacked by his pals from work and then shortly following, his wife. It seems as though Doug is not really who he thought he was. The next thing we know, he’s on Mars, living a spy’s life of bullet-dodging, ass-kicking and intergalactic intrigue. Is it real? Is it his mind’s reaction to the Rekall procedure? Reaching that conclusion is where the fun of the movie lies.
Like much of director Paul Verhoeven’s other work, the movie is brutally violent, cleverly satirical and visually arresting. But beneath all the gloss, blood and bullets, lurks a film that’s actually about something. The movie keeps us on our toes – constantly blurring the line between reality and fantasy. We’re given a series of clues that despite what we’ve seen (Doug’s freakout at Rekall and the company’s refusal to ever acknowledge he even dropped in), lead us to believe that our hero may in fact be completely delusional. The director even uses a few visual motifs – a brunette counterpart and blue skies on Mars accompanied by a very curious fade-to-white at the film’s conclusion – to offset any audience certainty that Doug is in fact living the life of a secret agent man.
Further, the hyper-real violence – a bullet-ridden body repeatedly used as a human shield, rat viscera dripping down a computer screen, and a pair of arms messily torn from their sockets via elevator lift (just to name a few of the many) – only seem to drive home the point even further that Doug is experiencing less reality than over-exaggerated fantasy.
Made in the pre-CGI age, Rob Bottin’s incredible make-up effects are sensational. From his triple-breasted prostitute to a fat lady’s mechanically separating head, his work is as impressive to view now as it was twenty-two years ago. And while some of the miniatures look old-fashioned, nothing beats a tracking bug pulled from the nostril of a fake Arnold Schwarzenegger head.
While Schwarzenegger’s limitations as an actor make for a smattering of awkward emotional moments (read: cringe-worthy), his overall charisma and presence make up for the silly stuff. And while the gore is clearly there for stylistic purposes, its excessiveness tends to wear thin by the third act of the flick. But these are nitpicky. As a whole the film is fast, funny, vicious and one hell of a good time.
Although shot in anamorphic 1.85:1 (as opposed to so many 2.35 Hollywood blockbusters), Total Recall comes across as a visually stunning piece of work. In its newly remastered format, its blacks are crushed to an even deeper hue and colors more vibrant than they’ve ever been (there’s actually a supplemental dedicated to the newly-restored aesthetic of the movie). The film has a pervasive crimson look (even more standout on the blu-ray) throughout its second act, that clearly (now more than ever) contrasts the blue skies that pervade at the climax.
The studio did a pretty decent job with its made-for-this-edition set of extras. The feature commentary with Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger is a lot of fun (their remarks are more jovial than enlightening, but just listening to them talk is really entertaining). The 35 minute interview with the Director made just for this disc where he talks about the difficulties of keeping the smart and spectacle intact when shooting actually provides its own set of insights. The “Restoration Comparison” featurette is worth watching (it’s only five minutes), as it provides a vivid comparison with the prior release and how the movie looks on the blu-ray. And finally, the “Imagining Total Recall” documentary, which is a half-hour chronicle on the making of the film will have merit for any fan of the picture.
Despite some dated models and giggle-inducing acting, Total Recall still holds up as one of the great sci-fi action films. If you’re debating buying a ticket for the remake or purchasing the original, it’s a no-brainer. It’s Arnie all the way.