Film reviews

Total Recall (1990) – Blu-ray Review

New from Studiocanal is a 4k-remastered 30th anniversary release of the 1990 Paul Verhoeven-directed, Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring Total Recall.  Based on a story by Philip K. Dick, Total Recall tells the story of Douglas Quaid (Schwarzengger), a construction worker in the year 2084 who is flooded by dreams of a colonised planet Mars.

Visiting “Rekall,” a company that implants false memories into people, in order that they can have memories of experiences they cannot afford, or expect to have, Quaid seeks to have his dreams of Mars converted into such memories.  During the procedure, an error leads to Quaid discovering his entire life and persona are both actually false memories, and that the people who implanted them now seek to kill him.

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A flawless new transfer cannot disguise the dated nature of this film.  Overuse of primary colours (red in particular), and possibly the last big Hollywood blockbuster not to rely heavily on CG (with Terminator 2: Judgment Day changing the game the following year) Total Recall is a film that screams late-80s/early 90s, without having the timeless satire of Verhoeven’s superior RoboCop.  That said, it is a distinctive, well-played, exquisitely-written work, which stands amongst the highlights of Scwarzenegger’s career.

As a two-disc release, disc one’s presentation of the film is accompanied by an audio commentary from Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Recorded in 2001, this is a friendly two-hander, with the two-way conversation helping them to keep each other on track, as Arnold does have a tendency when recording alone simply to say what he sees.

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‘Open Your Mind: Scoring Total Recall’ is a 20 minute feature on the Jerry Goldsmith score, featuring contributions from music journalists and film writers and producers – along with plenty of examples from the score.  It contextualises Goldsmith’s fame, his reputation at the time, and his background in sci-fi – with references to his excellent work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  It comments on the effect of the music, its aims, the building of the score by layers from a simple series of ideas, along with its growing drive and momentum.  It discusses how Goldsmith complements the integration of satire in a less stop-start fashion than RoboCop, for example.  It is a thoughtful piece, and good value for its short running time.

‘Dreamers With the Dream: Developing Total Recall’ is a new, eight minute piece focusing on production design sketches.  As with this disc as a whole, despite being new, it feels like an extra from a very basic release from the early days of DVD, where the very existence of bonus features elevated them over the VHS era.  One wonders why they made the effort for such an insubstantial work.

Disc two kicks off with the best of the bonus features: ‘Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood’.  This is a 57 minute-long new feature discussing the production company led by Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna that specialised in the “A of the B” – the high quality B Movie.  This well-paced piece takes us through the Rambo series (pulling a troubled production around with First Blood), Angel Heart, Air America, Jacob’s Ladder, The Doors, Total Recall, Terminator 2, Basic Instinct (with its $3 million script), and Cliffhanger, and leading to high budget failures such as the NC-17-rated Showgirls, and Cutthroat Island, with a mix of huge budget and underperforming smaller films.

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It is a fairly chronological work, documenting the rise and fall, with Rambo III, as ambitions got larger and costs started to run out of control.  It’s as in-depth as anything of this length can be. Well written, well-sourced, well-paced, it’s an interesting look at a studio that produced so much in the 80s and 90s.  It charts the growth in budgets, with a range of creatives – Oliver Stone and Paul Verhoeven amongst them – telling us that they had never been granted such lavish budgets and creative freedom.  Carolco were an invention emblematic of the excessive spectacle of the 1980s.  Whether such a fine extra is enough to draw in – specifically – fans of this film is debatable, but it is an illuminating documentary.

     
     
     
     

‘Total Recall: The Special Effects’ is another new feature.  At 23 minutes this is a documentary that accepts that the effects for this film were the best that could be done at the time, and that it was the biggest project ever attempted by the companies involved.  It’s fine, with some behind the scenes footage of motion capture work, along with some stories from the set, and – in basic terms – how some of the shots in the film were accomplished.  The problem is that all features here (with the exception of the Carolco doc) are like this – short and throwaway.  Such a technical exercise should be the centrepiece really, but it never is.

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‘The Making of Total Recall’ is an eight minute standard definition legacy featurette.  It is cheap looking, very basic, and just not worth it – this is a “featurette” in the most pejorative sense of that word. ‘Imagining Total Recall’ is a half an hour legacy bonus feature in SD from early days of DVD – and looks like it belongs on the other disc – i.e. not new, and not that interesting.  It is fine, as far as it goes, but there was a time in the history of DVD when a 30 minute extra seemed lavish.  Arguably this changed somewhere between the Lord of the Rings extended editions and, probably, ‘Dangerous Days’, the 2007 three-hour plus Blade Runner documentary.  So, this is like stepping back in time to an era where standards in these things were far lower.  A “making of” by any another name, it is fine; with Arnie, Paul, Sharon Stone and others all there to comment on this film.

Finally there is the obligatory trailer – though as with the Blu-ray release of Breathless it is created for this anniversary release.  It is short, but clean, tidy and well put together – if full of spoilers.  In short, it is hard to see why this gets a two-disc release.  Bonus features are decent enough, but nothing special, and in service of a film that, although, memorable, may not be as good as you remember.

Total Recall is out on 23rd November on Blu-ray, DVD, Steelbook, Digital, and 4K Ultra HD Collector’s Edition.

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