Director Paul Verhoeven is the director you love or hate. Above anyone else in Hollywood, he is a man known for filmed violence and controversy. His films never get past the MPAA without an initial X or NC-17 rating. These violent films are usually Science Fiction, and generally intelligent. "Robocop," "Total Recall," "Basic Instinct," "Showgirls," "Starship Troopers" and "Hollow Man" is not the resume you would expect from a man with a doctorate in math and physics.
After creating a number of award winning films in his native Netherlands, such as "Soldaat van Oranje" and "Turks fruit," Verhoeven hit it big with "Robocop." "Robocop" became a cultural phenomenon, despite the violent nature of the film and inherent gore. That film poised Verhoeven for a bigger follow up project.
One day, Arnold Schwarzenegger came calling. He had wanted to work with Verhoeven for quite some time, and he had been interested in the screenplay "Total Recall" for an even longer time. After falling through the hands of David Cronenberg, Richard Dreyfuss, Patrick Swayze and a bankrupt Dino DeLaurentiis, Schwarzenegger talked Carolco Pictures into purchasing the story and with he and Verhoeven's recent successes, "Total Recall" would finally make it to the big screen. Swayze and DeLaurentiis had went as far as having sets built and production began, but when DeLaurentiis' company went bankrupt, production was halted.
With director and star attached, "Total Recall" began production in 1989. The film was one of the last big budget spectacles to utilize miniature effects and other classical means of special effects. Afterwards, computers began to monopolize the industry. Verhoeven resorted to using the old technique of projecting filmed sequences onto miniatures for many of the effects through the film. "Total Recall" would go onto win an Academy Award for its special effects.
Upon release, "Total Recall" quickly gained notoriety for its record setting body count. Verhoeven easily outdid the gore and violence of "Robocop" and set a new standard for body counts. Many cuts had to be made before the MPAA would allow the film to be released with an R rating. Verhoeven, of course, defends the violent nature of the film and the scenes that were trimmed. A remarkable amount was preserved, and scenes involving Arnold using an innocent as a human shield and a scene where a villain's arms are removed at the elbow were retained for the final release.
"Total Recall" is a benchmark of modern science fiction films. The film possesses an incredibly intelligent plot that leaves the viewing guessing whether or not the main character was dreaming or the film took place in reality. The effects were stunning and to a degree, hold up well today. Without a doubt, this is Arnold's best picture and arguably Verhoeven's best American outing. The film successfully meshes action and (yes) violence with a great story and outstanding acting.
The basic premise of "Total Recall" is that Quaid (Arnold) keeps having dreams about Mars. His wife (Sharon Stone) keeps telling him that he does not want to visit Mars and tries to get him away from those dreams. One day, Quaid decides to go to Rekall, a company that sells artificial memories of vacations or exciting adventures. Quaid is then either put into a Rekall session that makes him a superskilled agent who must save all of Mars, or has Quaid suddenly remember that he is actually a superskilled agent that must save all of Mars.
This dual possibility of final outcome is what makes "Total Recall" special. One view is that Quaid dreams the entire events that happen during the film, as part of the Rekall program. In the end of the dream, he is lobotomized, because he cannot be woken from the Rekall session. The other possibility is that his visit to Rekall restores parts of his memory and the reason he dreams of Mars is that he was actually an agent who was fighting for either the bad or good guys.
The main story for "Total Recall" was taken from Philip K. Dick's short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. Dick was also responsible for the novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? This novel was later brought to the big screen in the form of "Blade Runner." Dick also wrote a short story that was to be the sequel for "Total Recall," but is now the basis for Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report."
"Total Recall" is the epitome of a Science Fiction classic. It combines top-notch special effects with a powerful story and great acting. Verhoeven was on top of his game when he filmed "Total Recall" and garnered the best performance ever given by muscle-bound hero Arnold Schwarzenegger. There are so many reasons why you should watch this film. There are not many reasons as to why you should not.
This is the second trip to DVD for "Total Recall." The previous DVD was considered an atrocity to the film. It was spread over two sides and the video transfer was plagued with pink skinned actors and more film grain than desired. This Special Limited Edition DVD boasts a new transfer for the film. Comparing this new DVD to the previous DVD shows many significant differences. In summary, the new DVD is far superior. The first thing that becomes apparent in an A-B comparison is the colors are different. Color correction has been made to the new transfer, and now the disc looks similar to the previous LaserDisc release. Specifically, red and green levels were dropped a few notches.
To move away from the horrible grain ridden transfer of its predecessor, "Total Recall" has been softened a bit. This softer image delivers a smooth and consistent look for the film. The previous transfer showed more detail, but also introduced grain and was extremely inconsistent. There were scenes in the first DVD that were sharp one minute, soft the next and so on. Detail has been lost in the new DVD, but the overall effect is that of a more pleasing picture.
This new transfer is an anamorphic transfer that is framed at 1.85:1. It is noteworthy that this new transfer shows a minor increase of detail to the right of the frame. It is my guestimate that the previous DVD was not correctly compressed and was stretched a bit from left to right. Now, everything is in its right aspect and we get more picture as a result. Most importantly, as mentioned, this is now an anamorphic transfer and it will look good on newer widescreen televisions and the film is no longer spread onto two sides. Another flipper bites the dust.
"Total Recall" features a new Dolby Digital 5.1 channel multi-channel surround mix. There is also a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix that works better with equipment not equipped with Dolby Digital. The soundtrack delivers some powerful and deep bass that will easily push the limits of your subwoofer. The range of the soundtrack is very wide and the volume level is significantly higher between dialogue scenes and the numerous action sequences. A notable scene where a bomb goes off in the mutant red light district pushes the soundtrack to the limits and everything holds up well.
Jerry Goldsmith's score is delivered nicely. The score is well done, but it is not of the memorable type. The score adds to the picture, but does not try to be a character or sell CDs. Unlike "Jurassic Park" or "Indiana Jones," you will not find yourself humming the theme afterwards.
Compared to the previous DVD, the soundtrack sounds to be slightly cleaner and with a little more rumble to the bass. Overall, there are not many differences between the two. A very astute ear will be able to tell improvements here and there, but without an A-B comparison, the two will sound nearly identical. This probably goes to show that Artisan did a decent job the first time around with the soundtrack. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is entirely new.
This Special Limited Edition DVD comes in a peculiar package. The disc is contained in a round metal tin that has a raised lid and is painted and formed to resemble the surface of mars. Of course, Mars isn't really flat. This tin is packaged with a square bottom sleeve that allows it to be held onto display racks. You will probably want to hold onto this bottom piece. It was not meant to be held onto, but to keep this disc on a shelf with others, you will need it. Inside the "Mars Tin," the disc comes packaged with a booklet of promotional offers and a short booklet with a letter from Paul Verhoeven, chapter stops and other odds and ends. The packaging is certainly different and attractive, but not very practical.
As far as value added content, "Total Recall: Special Limited Edition" will not set any benchmarks for its content. A commentary track and documentary are included, alongside a number of smaller supplements that do not add any great value. Of these smaller supplements, the theatrical trailer and five minutes worth of thirty second TV spots are included, twenty to thirty production photographs, a collage of conceptual artwork for the picture, detailed cast and crew biographies/filmographies and a very detailed and informative set of production notes. Rounding out the smaller supplements is a five-minute featurette called "Visions of Mars." This has a NASA expert give information on Mars and layout some plans for the eventual exploration of the red planet. These minor supplements will run for a total of around thirty minutes.
The meat of the DVD is the commentary between Arnie and Paul. This commentary was freshly recorded for the "Special Limited Edition" and has the two principles discuss their experiences making the film and they share in on some laughs. The two men come across as having good repertoire for each other. They get along well and sound as if they thoroughly enjoyed putting the commentary track together. This commentary is not as good as the Paul Verhoeven "Basic Instinct" track, but it is entertaining and very informative.
The final supplement of the package is a new documentary entitled "Imagining Total Recall." This documentary funs for half an hour and offers up additional information on the film, some of what is not covered in the commentary. Schwarzenegger, Verhoeven and others are present to include their input on this talking-heads style documentary. The documentary is definitely worth checking out, if not just for the purpose of hearing Paul Verhoeven talk about his love of violence and his view of it. Personally, I'm becoming of the mind that any documentary or commentary with Verhoeven has to be entertaining. He is not a man to bore his viewer/listener.
I must admit that I am certainly a fan of Paul Verhoeven. The man has a style that is all his own. He is not afraid to accept risk and his love of violence and sex are well documented. "Total Recall" contains more violence than any of his other pictures. "Total Recall: Special Limited Edition" offers an insight into the film, but it also delivers more time with Paul Verhoeven through a commentary and a documentary.
"Total Recall" is the cream of the crop for the action/sci-fi genre. Ten years later, this film still holds up well and never fails to entertain. Schwarzenegger has never made a better film than this picture, and he owes most of his success to the success of "Total Recall." He claims this is the film he is asked most about. After watching the film, it is easy to understand why.
Artisan has delivered a nice package for "Total Recall: Special Limited Edition." The packaging itself is not the most practical, but it is (alongside its sister DVD, "Basic Instinct: Special Limited Edition) the most unique DVD packaging yet released. The range of supplements is nice, but narrow. The documentary and commentary are nice, but there is not much contained that truly documents the making of the film in a technical sense. For those that do not own the original DVD, this is certainly worth picking up for a number of reasons. Whether you like Arnie, Paul, the movie, action movies, or sci-fi movies, you should own this disc. For those that already own the first DVD, keep the packaging and put this disc in there.