Blu-ray Review: Total Recall (Mind-Bending Edition)
Adapted from a short story entitled “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by famed science fiction writer Philip K. Dick (who also provided the source material for such celebrated films as Blade Runner and Minority Report) Total Recall as we know it, almost didn’t happen. Imagine David Cronenberg’s Total Recall starring the late Patrick Swayze, or Richard Dreyfuss as a mild-mannered office worker who discovers he is not who he thinks he is? Doesn’t sound appealing? All of these people were attached to Total Recall at one point or another. It wasn’t until Arnold Schwarzenegger bought the rights to the story that the film truly began to take shape. He asked Dutchman Paul Paul Verhoeven, hot off the success of Robocop to direct, and a blockbuster was born.
Set in 2084, Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a seemingly happy, well adjusted blue collar guy with a beautiful wife (played by Sharon Stone). Doug has one major problem: he’s obsessed with Mars. He has no idea why, but he can’t stop dreaming about the Red Planet. Doug tries his best to convince his wife to visit Mars with him, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. Quaid decides to visit Rekall, a company that deals with memory implants.
Rekall has the technology to implant the memory of any holiday that a customer desires, one guaranteed to seem as real as actually being there. Though warned by friends of the potential dangers, Quaid can’t resist, especially when the Rekall salesman offers him ‘the ego trip’ option, whereby the customer can experience his entire vacation under an alternate identity. Quaid decides to go to Mars as a secret agent on a mission, but almost immediately, there are problems. While undergoing the procedure, all kinds of alarms start sounding. It seems Quaid’s mind has already been altered. He has an outburst, fighting with members of the Rekall staff and scaring them with claims that his cover had been blown. Realizing Douglas could cause Rekall a lot of trouble, the staff quickly gets him out of the building.
From there, Quaid’s life becomes a living nightmare. He is shocked to learn that his life on Earth is nothing more than a lie, designed to hide his true identity. Further, there are people trying to kill him in order to keep him from learning the truth. While trying to escape would-be-assassin Richter (Michael Ironside) and his associates, Quaid travels to Mars in hopes of finding allies and discovering his true identity. Along the way, Quaid meets up with an old girlfriend (Rachel Ticotin) who reminds him of his past life and his important role in the rebellion on Mars. Led by the mysterious mutant Kuato (Marshall Bell), the rebels are fighting Mars’ dictator Cohaagen (a deliciously nasty Ronny Cox), who’s been able to maintain his hold on the Red Planet by controlling the oxygen supply. Can Quaid figure out who he is, in time to help free Mars from tyranny?
Total Recall is a fast moving film, rarely pausing to take a breather. Surprisingly violent at times, the story effectively takes the viewer into an alternate reality. Co-writers Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Gary Goldman, along with Paul Verhoeven keep the viewer guessing throughout the film. The audience is as unsure about Quaid’s identity as he is. The filmmaker’s effectiveness at keeping viewers on edge only ratchets up the overall tension.
Schwarzenegger has never been known as a great actor, but he actually does a fine job of expressing Quaid’s mounting confusion and frustration. Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger do an excellent job with the action scenes as you might expect. The supporting cast is great, with Sharon Stone doing a devilishly sly job as Quaid’s faux wife, and Michael Ironside as a despicable villain. Rachel Ticotin is fine as the love interest, but I don’t think she and Schwarzenegger have much in the way of chemistry.
Presented in 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio, this presentation is best described as inconsistent. Sharpness and color saturation are erratic; occasionally, things look reference quality, and then things turn foggy. The reds of Mars look beautiful, so this transfer does have moments of beauty. Flesh tones have an unfortunate reddish tint. This could’ve been much better.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix shows its age with a less than full use of the soundfield. Though Jerry Goldsmith’s score comes through nicely, much of the rest of the film is firmly in the fronts. Dialogue is always easily discernible and has been placed in the center channel.
English SDH, French, and German subtitles are available.
The following special features are included:
- Audio Commentary with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Director Paul Verhoeven available on previous releases, this is a fun, breezy yet informative commentary. Definitely worth a listen for fans of the film.
- Interview with Director Paul Verhoeven (HD; 34:47) Verhoeven talks about walking the thin line between dream and reality in the film, and shows remarkable honesty in discussing certain story issues with the film.
- Making Of Featurette (SD; 8:23) is a vintage featurette which has snippets of the film playing in between cast and crew interviews.
- Models and Skeletons: The Special Effects of Total Recall (1080i; 23:15) is a look at the then state of the art special effects of the film. Several members of the SFX crew give their thoughts.
- Trailer (SD; 2:07)
- Imagining Total Recall Documentary (SD; 31:29) is a vintage making-of.
- Restoration Comparison (HD; 5:13) features a series of scenes with before and after “wipes” which show the much improved contrast, color timing and saturation this new HD transfer offers. Despite its flaws, this transfer is still better than what came before.
- Photo Gallery (HD; 1:02)