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Total Recall, 1990.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox.


Total Recall was remastered in 4K for this new edition that also includes a digital code, as well as a copy of the movie on Blu-ray. Three new bonus features, including a comprehensive look at the history of the ill-fated Carolco Pictures, were commissioned for this edition, and several past bonus features were ported over too. It’s a worthwhile purchase for fans of the film.

It’s a shame that Philip K. Dick didn’t live to see many of his works turned into movies, TV series, radio dramas, and comic books. While Blade Runner flopped at the box office, only to find new life on home video, Total Recall was a hit upon its release in 1990. Directed by Paul Verhoeven, who was coming off another triumph, RoboCop, and starring 80s action star Arnold Schwarzenegger, the film was adapted from Dick’s story, “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale.”

Set in 2084, Total Recall tells the story of Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger), a construction worker who has recurring dreams of Mars. He wants to go there but can’t afford the trip, so he opts to visit the company Rekall, which promises to implant memories of any vacation you want so you can trick yourself into thinking you went there. Douglas asks for memories of a trip to Mars as a secret agent, but the situation goes awry when it turns out he really did go to Mars as a secret agent.

Douglas is quickly pulled into a situation where he doesn’t know who to trust, not even his wife (Sharon Stone), who professes her deep love for him. He goes to Mars to find out the truth and finds himself in the middle of a revolution led by the mysterious Kuato, who wants to overthrow the local government. Douglas discovers he was previously involved in the Mars government, which deepens the mystery.

Total Recall is a big, loud action movie, which made Schwarzenegger the perfect star for the role of Douglas, but I can easily see a different version of the film in which the main character is an everyman who survives with his wits, rather than his muscles. In fact, Richard Dreyfus was considered for the part several years earlier, when Dino De Laurentiis was shepherding the project. Imagine what that movie would be like – I think it would have been pretty cool, and I have a feeling it would have been closer to what Dick wanted.

That said, Total Recall is also a movie that, underneath all the shooting and explosions, has some comments on political corruption and rigid class systems, much like Verhoeven’s RoboCop had a lot to say about crass commercialism and the militarization of the police. The film depicts Mars as a place that has quickly turned into a world of haves and have-nots, where the rich keep getting richer and the poor are kept in their place by a leader who literally has power over the air they breathe.

Total Recall was remastered in 4K for this release, which includes a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc as well as two Blu-rays, one with another copy of the movie and one with bonus features. A code for a digital copy was tossed in too. The film looks like it was first shown in theaters yesterday, with little in the way of digital artifacts and compression elements. However, one of the downsides of the 4K world is that old school practical effects often look worse because the higher resolution creates a sharper contrast between real people and the special effects. There’s not much anyone can do about that, though, nor should they.

The bonus features are spread across the three discs, with some repetition between the 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray platters, although everything is contained between the two Blu-rays. StudioCanal commissioned three new bonus features for this release, so I’ll start with those:

  • Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood (59 minutes): Where Cannon Films (also the subject of a great documentary that you can find online) cornered the market on schlocky low-budget action films, Carolco occupied the more rarified air of big-budget movies. This documentary covers the company’s modest founding, its resounding success in the 1980s and the 1990s, and its fall, which was exacerbated by a desperate need for hits that culminated in the 1995 flop, Cutthroat Island.
  • Open Your Mind: Scoring Total Recall (21 minutes): The esteemed Jerry Goldsmith composed the score for the film, and this featurette gives him the many posthumous accolades he deserves, not just for Total Recall but also for his rich career.
  • Dreamers Within the Dream: Developing Total Recall (8.5 minutes): In addition to the aforementioned Richard Dreyfus, David Cronenberg was originally attached as director, but that version eventually fell apart, which gave Schwarzenegger an opening. That’s covered a bit here, but most of this featurette discusses the development of the film Verhoeven made.

Everything else was ported over from previous editions:

  • Commentary with Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger: Dating to 2001, this is a must-listen for fans of the film. Verhoeven is the kind of guy who enjoys talking about his work and the thought process behind it, and he does a good job of keeping Schwarzenegger from falling into the trap of describing what he’s seeing on the screen and commenting on it.
  • Total Recall: The Special Effects (23 minutes): This is a fun look at what at the time were state-of-the-art special effects. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of “Today, we could do that really easily with computers” kind of comments.
  • Making Of (8 minutes): The full fake ad for Rekall opens what looks like one of those short promotional pieces the studios used to send to theater owners to convince them to book their movies. Behind-the-scenes shots and film clips are interspersed with interviews with Verhoeven, screenwriter Ronald Shusett, members of the effects crew, and others.
  • Imagining Total Recall (30 minutes): This one looks like it was likely created for one of the old DVD editions. Verhoeven, Shusett, fellow screenwriter Gary Goldman, Schwarzenegger, and others look back on the making of the film, complete with more behind-the-scenes footage. The movie’s early development is covered in more depth here, with Shusett discussing how he optioned Philip K. Dick’s story for $1,000 and co-wrote it with Dan O’Bannon before the pair collaborated on their famous Alien screenplay. He has a funny story to tell of how the version under De Laurentiis came together and later fell apart.

The theatrical trailer rounds out this edition.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★

Brad Cook