It begins with a dream of Mars and a construction worker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) with aspirations for another life waking up in bed in a cold sweat next to his beautiful wife (Sharon Stone). Director Paul Verhoeven‘s 1990 adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” might feel a little corny in spots (especially after more than 20 years) but it remains one of Schwarzenegger’s best films.
Despite warnings from a friend (Robert Costanzo) about rumors of lobotomized patients, Doug Quaid’s (Schwarzenegger) obsession with Mars leads him the Rekall, a company that uses memory implants to give its clients experiences of fabulous vacations including the chance to improve the fantasy by living out his vacation as a secret agent who will save the entire planet and fall in love with the woman of his dreams. Of course it doesn’t make too much arm-twisting to get Doug to buy the whole package. And that’s where the adventure really begins.
From that point on everything that occurs is up for interpretation. Does Quaid wake in the middle of his Rekall treatment when his “memory cap” is exposed before being sedated and waking up in a cab finding friends are now enemies and everything he believes, including his identity, is a lie? Or does Quaid remain at Rekall and live out the exact fantasy which he paid for, getting his money’s worth and much more?
In Doug’s new reality his real name is Hauser, his wife (who is really a spy put in place to keep tabs on him) and her real husband (Michael Ironside) are trying to kill him, and he alone knows the greatest secrets of Mars. With the help of a care package he left for himself and a resistance fighter (Rachel Ticotin) from Mars, Doug tries to piece together his past and seek out the rebel leader Kuato (Marshall Bell) who alone can answer Doug’s most burning question – who exactly is he?
Total Recall is one of the few Schwarzenegger films where the action star isn’t in control and spends most of his time reacting to what his new reality throws at him. Stone, Ticotin, Ironside work well in their supporting roles and Ronny Cox is terrifically fun as the movie’s over-the-top late 80’s bad guy. Fans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s should also keep an eye out for Marc Alaimo (who played Gul Dukat on the show) in a small role as one of the Martian soldiers trying to kill Quaid.
The script by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Gary Goldman is incredibly well-written, complex, and layered (especially for a Schwarzenegger film) involving half-truths, lies, virtual reality, space travel, alien artifacts, double-agents, espionage, and betrayal. And although the plot is far different from Dick’s original short story the themes are honored rather than subverted (as in Steven Spielberg‘s misguided and disappointing Minority Report). In fact, with the possible exception of A Scanner Darkly, Total Recall is probably the most true vision of Dick’s (admittedly often insane) original work.
Although it might seem corny at times Total Recall is also pretty damn violent (the high body count Total Recall racks up originally earned the film the dreaded X-Rating). It’s also just as much fun today as it was more than 20 years ago. It’s also one of the last big budget sci-fi flicks that relies almost entirely on old school practical effects (there’s less than a minute of CGI wizardry here). I’d recommend the film to fans wanting to go back and watch the film again before the release of the 2012 remake starring Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel (come back for that review on Friday) as well as those viewing it for the first time.
To coincide with the remake’s theatrical release the original has been re-released on Blu-ray in a “Mind-Bending Edition.” Extras include a new 35-minute interview with Verhoeven, and other extras from previous editions including commentary with Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven, featurettes on the making of the film and its special effects, trailer, photo gallery, a 30-minute documentary looking back on the film, and a featurette on the film’s restoration.
[Lions Gate, Blu-ray $14.99]