I completely forgot that the original “Total Recall” (1990) is still so much fun, until I watched the latest “Total Recall” (2012). The new remake is a very serious, “blast-them-all” ride, lacking characteristics that made “Total Recall” (1990) a fan favorite in the genre. Seeing these two movies within two days, it’s fair to say “Total Recall” (1990) works for only two reasons: Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his dry, expressionless humor. Even though Colin Farrell tries hard to carve out his own style and identity in the new movie, he still cannot match Schwarzenegger’s cult status. Now, I might be trying too hard to speak positively for Schwarzenegger’s acting skills, but, seriously, Schwarzenegger was born to play the role of Doug Quaid in “Total Recall.” Over the years, “Total Recall” has been elevated to a cult status, and some say Schwarzenegger’s performance in the film is one of the best performances in his long career. I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment.
Paul Verhoeven’s “Total Recall” is based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” At the start, we see Doug having dreams of him visiting the red planet, Mars. We also see he is happily married to his wife, Lori (Sharon Stone)–at least, that’s the initial impression we get. Lori is at first dismissive of Doug’s visions, saying that Earth is a better place to live than Mars because of continuous tensions in colonies on Mars. But, Doug wants to find out why he is having these dreams and decides to visit a company, “Recall,” that provides memory implants to give real vacation experience to its clients. Along the way, Doug is contacted by an unknown man, who later leaves a suitcase for him. Upon opening the suitcase, Doug finds out more about himself and why armed men are chasing him. Soon Doug lands on Mars, where he meets a woman named Melina (Rachel Ticotin). Meanwhile, Doug and Melina are pulled into the mess created by Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) in the factions of colonized Mars.
As I said before, Schwarzenegger makes “Total Recall” an entertaining and amusing ride that is worth one’s time. In one scene, armed guys, who think they have taken him down with their bullets, surround Doug. But the men don’t know they have wasted their bullets on Doug’s fake image. Doug soon appears from behind saying, “Do you think it is the real Quaid? It is,” and then laughs and shoots them down. One expects Schwarzenegger to deliver these remarkable one-liners as he has done in his entire career. The spontaneity of Schwarzenegger’s timing, along with his straight-face expressions, works to the film’s advantage because it takes our mind off the visceral violence, reminding us of the fun involved in watching the film. In the performance department, Schwarzenegger genuinely makes us invest in his character, since a majority of the plot revolves around his character seeking answers to his identity. The scriptwriters, using Doug’s married life, have developed Doug’s character by presenting elements of Doug’s internal conflict with reality. Schwarzenegger, at least in some scenes, clearly demonstrates the character’s vulnerability as a result of his disrupted memories. Indeed, we are certain Doug is lost, and we chart the perilous journey with him to find answers.
The action elements are well done, too, but they are bloody violent, demonstrating Verhoeven’s deft hands in effectively portraying violence on-screen. Death by head shots is common in the film, often topped with blood and gore for good measure. Schwarzenegger’s trademark style of holding big guns is often employed, exhibiting the machismo of Doug’s character. The gore might be repulsive for a few seconds, but it surely doesn’t stay in our memory for too long because Verhoeven maintains a rapid pace in the narrative, never slowing down for a minute. Of course, the plot has a lot of energy, mainly attributed to the performances, the mind-blowing sets, the high production values, and the special effects that were top-notch for their time. Through the use of special effects and elaborate set designs, the world of Mars is convincingly imagined, and we believe there can be life outside Earth. Indeed, the red planet looks grand and unconquerable in Doug’s quest.
The film is based on Philips Dick’s story, and Dick was a trippy sci-fi writer. The film is a mind-bending experience, yet much of the plot fails to make any sense. Is it too convoluted? Or is it a straightforward, linear experience? I feel it is the latter as there is no point in dissecting the plot. But I can see how some people might feel the film is twisted because there are a lot of revelations and confusing aspects in the narrative structure. Mainly, the biggest question is separating reality from dreams and visions and providing clues on many interconnections in the story. It is true, however, that irrespective of the opinion one has about the story, the film pushes the envelope in many respects, making us think about the characters and plot at all times. In the end, “Total Recall” excellently combines elements of horror, fantasy, thriller, and sci-fi in an immensely enjoyable and satisfying ride that is still fun today.
Lionsgate in partnership with Studio Canal present a new 1080p transfer in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded using an AVC codec. The new transfer offers better color timing, with deeply saturated hues. The colors are often bold, and the red planet looks beautiful in high definition. The opening shot exhibits a layer of textural grain, making the transfer more filmic. The close-ups are tight, revealing facial details. Since this transfer is remastered, the transfer looks clean and crisp, and there is no trace of specks or damage on the print. The level of detail and sharpness is superb in every scene and stays consistent throughout. Overall, “Total Recall” looks outstanding in this new Blu-ray edition.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is simply outstanding. As expected, the dialogue comes out clean and audible consistently. The dialogue is mainly driven by the front channels. The surround sound gets a good workout in the action sequences, as distinct noises are presented through the rear channels. The bass is evenly matched in the action sequences and never gets too loud. Just like the new 1080p transfer, this audio track doesn’t disappoint.
Starting off the extras, we get an audio commentary with director Paul Verhoeven and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s an informative track in which the two talk about how the story was translated for the screen. Next, we get a retrospective interview with Paul Verhoeven discussing the story in the context of reality and dreams. Up next, there is a “making-of” featurette that shows clips from the film, along with interviews from the cast and crew. Following this, “Models and Skeletons: The Special Effects of Total Recall” discusses the film’s special effects at the time. Next, “Imagining Total Recall” is another old segment ported from the earlier release, highlighting the work of Jerry Goldsmith. Up next, “Restoration Comparison” shows scenes from the new transfer alongside the old transfer, and the differences are remarkable in color timing, saturation, and clarity. Finally, there is a photo gallery and a theatrical trailer.
The latest “Total Recall” (2012) misses the mark on all fronts, in its tone and in its haphazard execution of story elements. On the other hand, the old “Total Recall” implements everything perfectly: the plot, the characters, the script, the performances, and the action sequences, and for these reasons it is still regarded highly by sci-fi fans and other moviegoers. Forget the new remake and watch the original “Total Recall” instead. This Blu-ray edition is a definite improvement over the previous release, and considering the price point, the new Blu-ray release is worth upgrading.