Before the event of so many “Must See Summer Movies” there was Total Recall. While not exactly the event movie of 1990, it was certainly a money-maker for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold was still king of the action box office with hits like Kindergarten Cop, Predator and Twins in recent memory. So when he teamed with Director Paul Verhoeven who was best-known for his efforts on “RoboCop”, it was certainly something to be seen. While it’s considered a science fiction movie, the concepts in Total Recall aren’t totally foreign to us. In the not so distant future, we have established a life on Mars and as a resort to taking vacations, we have people selling us vacations in the form of memory implants. The way they see it “Why take the actual trip, when you can remember it like you already took it”? This sets the scene for Arnold and his attempt to actually act, instead of just how us his body yet again…To be quite honest, it took me more than one viewing of this movie to fully understand it. Part of the vision and mastery of Paul Verhoeven is that he can take difficult scripts (movies) and turn them around so you literally don’t know what’s going on. Or at least, that’s what I got out of it the first time I saw it. But in the meantime, sit back and get ready for a surprise!
Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a humble worker. While not the most ambitious man, he does have a nice home to go to and an even nicer wife (Sharon Stone). He feels the need to go to a local retailer by the name of Rekall. What Rekall does is sell you memory implants to vacations of far away places, without actually going there. Against everyone’s advice, he decides to enlist the services of Rekall, but soon finds that his life is not his own…or at least he thinks so. Now this is where the confusion can easily set in. Quaid is man Arnold (I write ‘Arnold’ because it gets so tiring to write out ‘Schwarzenegger’ time and again) is playing at the beginning of the movie. But as we (and Quaid) find out, he is not actually him…he’s another man by the name of Douglas Howser (also Arnold) who is part of the ruling class on Mars. You see, Mars is to the Earth like Puerto Rico is to the United States. They’re almost a part of us, but there is a class of people who either don’t want it or are unwilling to accept it to happen. After a bothced memory implant, Quaid is told by some “friends” to head to the real Mars where he is needed to find Kuato (Marshall Bell). Kuato is described as the “George Washington” of Mars, as life in the Martian mines has formed a race of mutant beings.
Confused yet? It’s ok…it gets worse (in the best sense of the term). We do learn that Quaid’s life on Earth was a set up, but Quaid refuses to believe that he is anyone but himself, and so the struggle ensues. He ends up having to trust someone from a memory implant (Rachel Ticotin) and is being chased by some of Cohaagen’s (Ronny Cox) men. To fill you in, Cohaagen is the man in charge on Mars and Arnold’s character of Howser is his second in command. By this point I was very confused, this is not only an action movie, but one in which you have to think and keep up with; that’s something that Hollywood can’t seem to produce much of anymore. Still, I feel it’s one of Arnold’s better roles, and one that’s been argued over time and again.
Video: How does it look?
This is the second time that Total Recall has seen the light of Blu-ray, but I have to say that this one has been worth the wait. The original was plagued with artifacting, muddy colors and lack of detail. This new edition, however, is one of the better examples of a digital restoration that I’ve ever seen done to a film. Granted the movie is just a shade over two decades old, so the word “restoration” might be a bit out of place; suffice it to say this looks downright amazing. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image has been given a new transfer taken from the original camera elements and has been supervised by director Paul Verhoeven. The result gives us a very natural-looking appearance that shows a new level of detail. Colors are now more in tune with what they were supposed to be. Yes, there’s still a bit of grain to be found, but somehow it looks more normal and part of the movie as opposed to something that couldn’t be removed. Flesh tones vary, depending on the scene but the detail in faces looks stunning. It’s nice to see this movie look as good as it does…finally.
Audio: How does it sound?
Not to be outdone, the soundtrack has been given a new DTS-HD Master Audio mix that really brings new life to what was a fairly dull mix on the original Blu-ray. Jerry Goldsmith’s score resonates through all 5.1 channels. Dialogue sounds improved as well and we get to hear plenty of “Ah-nuld’s” pseudo-English as he tries to save the world again. Directional effects are use often and add some depth to some of the scenes. The ending third act sounds particularly improved as the mix immerses the viewer in the action. The LFE seem more active as well, again during the final scenes. It’s nice to see that the audio got a bump as well.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The only supplement on the original Blu-ray was the “Vision of Mars” featurette taken from a previous DVD. That’s been fixed. No doubt the re-make of this film spurred Lionsgate to dig out some supplements and finally, yes finally we get what we’ve been waiting for all these years! Though not new, the commentary track between Arnold and director Paul Verhoeven has been included on this disc. It’s a good track and though I wish they’d have done a new one, it’s nice to have this one on this disc. There is a new interview with Verhoeven in the aptly-titled “An Interview with Director Paul Verhoeven.” He talks of the shoot, the problem with it, multiple drafts of the script and the mess that was the last third of the movie. A vintage featurette is also found, running around eight and a half minutes. More interesting is “Models and Skeletons: The Special Effects of Total Recall” as we get to see some of the effects from the film and some of the special effects guys have some comments to add as well. Another documentary “Imagining Total Recall” is “vintage” as we get some interviews with the cast and crew, they speak of the film and some of the technical challenges. A lot can happen in twenty years and this is proof. A feature I absolutely love is “Restoration Comparison” in which several before and after shots of this new version and the older edition. It really is amazing as to how much better this new version looks. Lastly we get a trailer and a photo gallery.
Of note, this doesn’t include all of the supplements for this title. Some might remember an early DVD edition with a tin Mars planet (there was also one for Basic Instinct which featured an ice pick pen) that had some featurettes that were on that disc but not here. Most of what’s missing is the art gallery, some storyboard comparisons and the Rekall Virtual Vacations as well as “Visions of Mars”, ironically the only feature included on the original Blu-ray of this film. Go figure.