"Sorry, Quaid. Your whole life is just a dream."
Watching the movie again for the n'teenth time, Paul Verhoeven's wildly crazy actioner 'Total Recall' always reminds me of that bygone era when these wonderfully gory R-rated movies were more commonplace in the 80s and the early 90s. (Verhoeven was actually threatened with an X-rating when he presented his original vision until he was forced to tone down the blood.) These types of movies aren't made nearly as much anymore, or at least not to the extent that Verhoeven seems to exaggerate and relish in the violence. Take the escalator scene, for example, fairly early on after Arnold Schwarzenegger's Doug Quaid learns his comfortable middle-class life is a sham. Some poor, random bystander is used as a human shield by our soon-to-be hero, and the blood squibs are massive, leaving behind big gaping holes in the clothing of the stunt performers.
"Consider that a divorce!"
We can laugh at the sequence today, but the film originally hit cinemas at the peak of a public outcry about the amount of violence on screen, and the hesitation from major studio productions for big-budgeted, ultra-violent, hard R-rated movies started growing. The actioner also came right at the cusp of the CGI furor, completely revolutionizing the filmmaking industry forever. (James Cameron's 'Terminator 2' released the following year.) At the time, the visual and practical effects by Rob Bottin were thought of as ground-breaking and excitedly innovative. From being one of the last to see large-scale use of miniatures to lifelike animatronics like Schwarzenegger's memorable woman disguise when arriving on Mars, 'Total Recall' is ultimately one of the last Hollywood blockbusters to be made in old-fashioned, classic special effects, which oddly includes the gruesome violence.
"You are what you do. A man is defined by his actions, not his memory."
"See you at the party, Richter!
Another beauty to the whole film is the nagging question of whether or not it's all in Quaid's head. We're never given a definite answer although some would point out the suspicious behavior of Quaid's wife (Sharon Stone) and his best friend (Robert Costanzo), but we could just as easily say they're simply concerned for his unhappiness and well-being. In his dreams, his suspicions of loved ones are justified. Once at Rekall, the lowly construction worker is told the fake memory implants are only a means for kick-starting the outlandish vacation. The rest of the fantasy and the minor details within are controlled by the user. We hear specific words and are shown fairly explicit images that later become part of Quaid's fantasy, and the mention of mutants by Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) is meant as a spiteful insult to freedom fighters during a press conference. The best friend is the one to plant the idea which later transforms into the funnily named "schizoid embolism." And the real kicker is the beautiful Melina (Rachel Ticotin), who is exactly as he requested and looks identical to her CG renderings.
"Well, Cohaagen. I've got to hand it to you. That's the best mind-fuck yet."
I can keep going on and on and on about this highly entertaining sci-fi actioner, the type moviegoers like to call a "thinking man's action movie." There's a great deal more happening in Paul Verhoeven's 'Total Recall,' and I can spend hours picking the whole thing apart, both in the production, the narrative and its place in moviemaking history. (There's the Mars train with little screens showing Schwarzenegger looking out onto the planet as the camera pulls back, and how about the original pitch for a sequel years later that evolved into Steven Spielberg's 'Minority Report.') And best of all is never knowing if it actually happened or if it's all part of Quaid's vacation fantasy. Like I said, I can keep going on and on and on, but I'll just stop for now and go watch 'Total Recall' again because it's more fun to simply enjoy the thrill-ride and admire the awesome special effects.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings 'Total Recall' to Blu-ray for the second time and dubs it the "Mind-Bending Edition." The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside a blue eco-lite keepcase and kicks off with a series of skippable trailers of other flicks from the distributor's catalog. Afterwards, viewers are greeted by a main menu window with full-motion clips and music.
Verhoeven's 'Total Recall' takes another mind-bending trip to Blu-ray, and as promised, arrives with a slightly better-looking presentation, supposedly taken from the original elements according to information from Lionsgate and approved by Verhoeven as the way he intended the film to look.
For the most part, this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) is an improvement over the previous edition, which suffered noticeably from several artifacts. And yet, the picture quality doesn't quite compare to other Blu-ray releases from the same period and doesn't really satisfy our high-def expectations. Then again, the movie has never actually been much of a looker in the first place, so expectations should be reasonably soften in order to enjoy the several positives. Any qualms we may have or find are more than likely inherent to the negative used, possibly making this presentation faithful to its source, and understand the rough, gritty cinematography was never meant to demo one's HDTV.
Immediately apparent are the somewhat poor black levels, creating a generally flat image and making most of the entire movie into a very dreary experience. But to be honest, it's better and truer than the digitized shadows and crush seen in the first release. We can see more of the finer details in the background. Besides, this goes back to the deliberate photography of Jost Vacano ('Das Boot,' 'Robocop') and Verhoeven, wanting the feel of a dystopic, lifeless and morose future. The color palette is severely affected by these artistic decisions, also looking fairly glum and downcast, but primaries are cleanly rendered and stable. Several scenes have sadly not aged well, looking blurry and poorly resolved.
Countering some of those perceived negatives is a well-balanced contrast. The video does lack the sort of punch and pop we've come to expect from the format, but it's comfortably bright nonetheless, allowing for great visibility and doesn't cause any of the blooming seen before. With a consistent ultra-fine layer of grain present and coming in slightly thicker in a few darker sequences, the transfer offers an attractive cinematic appeal, boasting strong detailing in the surrounding architecture and on the rocky environment of Mars. Facial complexions admittedly appear flushed and pale, but they're also pretty revealing and nicely textured.
All in all, the quality of this Blu-ray presentation will be up for debate, but the transfer is an upgrade nonetheless and very likely faithful to its source.
Along with the video, this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is an improvement over the high-rez tracks found on the previous Blu-ray release. It may not be a night and day difference, but this lossless mix feels fuller and a tad more energetic, creating a highly engaging and broad soundstage. Imaging offers a great deal of presence and fidelity, delivering crystal-clear dialogue in the center of the screen with pleasingly fluid movement of background activity that's convincing. Dynamics and acoustics are terrifically detailed and sharply rendered, giving each gunshot and explosion striking clarity without the slightest hint of distortion. Low bass is accurate and appropriately responsive given the movie's age, never seeming boomy or exaggerated. This goes a long way in bringing Jerry Goldsmith's memorable score to life and providing it with a wonderfully robust feel.
The rears are generally silent and non-existent, save for some barely noticeable bleeds of the music to enhance the soundfield. This is a front-heavy mix, as it should be, and it sounds terrific.
Lionsgate corrects the lack of worthy supplements seen on the previous Blu-ray by finally porting over some of the bonuses from the DVD releases. Missing is "Rekall Virtual Vacations" and the "Visions of Mars" featurette.
Aside from the nostalgia effect and the action-packed excitement, Paul Verhoeven's 'Total Recall' is the sort of sci-fi spectacular some affectionately refer to as a "thinking man's action movie." With Arnold Schwarzenegger as the working-class everyman Doug Quaid, the movie actually has its place in cinema history and does offer its audience something to think about while enjoying the ride through another man's heroic fantasies. The Blu-ray might not impress some, but it's a satisfying improvement over previous releases, with a high-def transfer that's true to its source and highly engaging audio presentation. Some supplements from the DVD have been ported over, and Lionsgate throws in a couple more extras for good measure. This is recommended.