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Vault: 'Total Recall' (1990) Dir. Paul Verhoeven

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox, Mel Johnson Jr., Marshall Bell and Roy Brocksmith


The summer blockbuster treatment is given to the 1966 Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" with the Austrian Oak at the helm...

Construction worker Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is haunted by dreams about Mars. He decides to take a virtual trip via a memory implant. However, Quaid reacts violently as a suppressed memory comes to the surface of a former life as an undercover agent seems to be a reality.

Quaid is suddenly attacked by those who believed were close to him, including wife Lori (Stone), who reveals that Quaid has been living a lie, a life fabricated by corrupt Mars governor Vilos Cohaagen (Cox).

Fleeing to Mars to discover the truth for himself, he tracks down freedom fighter Melina (Ticotin) leading the fight against Cohaagen. Quaid and Melina soon find themselves racing against time to stop Cohaagen and save the entire planet…

One of the high points of the sci-fi genre, action films and Schwarzenegger's career in general came along in the package of this imaginative, violent and visually exciting blockbuster. Fresh from his debut of 'RoboCop', director Paul Verhoven carries on his winning team of visual effects designers, editors and assistant directors to bring another gritty and uber-real utopian future plagued with fantasy and crime.

The first thing that struck me watching this, not even 40 minutes in, is the violence. Not that it's a bad thing - but it just looks, sounds and feels real like action films used to do back before CGI enhancement. The sound of bones cracking, flesh being shot away and the thick, crimson blood adds to the overall gritty and adult tone we miss so much nowadays in action films, and ones that weren't afraid to label an 18 film to sacrifice ticket sales. Nowadays in the action genre, this practical element is dangerously close to being lost amid balletic CGI enhancement, CGI characters and CGI blood. Thankfully, the winning partnership of Schwarzenegger and Verhoven is to be full-frontal, practical and effective.

'Total Recall' is one of the rare films that reminds us how much bolder and braver studios were in delivering material for mature audiences back in the day to really create memorable movies. No pandering to younger audiences just for lower certification.

Reality can never be replaced for glossy CGI, and this proves it. Everything feels more intense and real backed by a pulse-soundtrack, the proof of this is Quaid’s battle through the train station against Richter and his men; brilliant x-ray scanners, brutal deaths and loud, frantic music to accompany a stand-out sequence that we don’t see enough of today. And it’s made more brilliant by REAL classic genre bad guys, who dress in black, talk tough and shoot innocents to get what they want and don't even blink. Great fun, especially when the bad guys are led by dastardly cinematic duo Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside. These two really are the epitome of nasty - they look great doing it, and have no qualms in putting people at risk to fuel their own greedy gains. They're real bastards, and they make the confrontation across the film much more enjoyable to see happen.

Yes, some of the visual effects in terms of blue-screen/ matte art looks a little dated now, but still looks brilliant with the set design, miniatures, models and clever action sequences. It's well shot, with sweeping camera angels showcasing the complex landscape of Mars, mixed with the urban utopia of Earth. The visual effects are used to create and enhance Mars itself and the sprawling cities and starships seen on screen to add real depth to locations, all tinged with that hazy deep red. Thankfully, the actual stunt work and action is very refreshing to see carried out with practical effects and without CGI.

Arnie has a great bunch of stars alongside him like the beautiful Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin, alongside the aforementioned Ironside and Cox who put their all into their meaty roles trying to kill or protect, deceive or fight with our muscular hero. This is a big popcorn based pleasure trip for all Arnie fans, and action / sci-fi fans alike. It's full of classic moments everyone who grew up with Schwarzengger will never forget like the ever memorable thre breasted woman, the freaky looking Johnny Cab, Quaid’s faulty Mars disguise, the gratuitous use of violence and, of course the, puns. "Consider this a divorce."

If you've not seen this, which I doubt, then please check it out and forget all you know about the turgid Colin Farrell 2012 remake which has proven that you can't remake certain films of yester-year, such as this sci-fi classic.

'Total Recall' is now available on a gorgeous looking 4K transfer on Blu-ray to celebrate it's 30th anniversary year in 2020. Bonus features include:

  • Total Excess: How Caralco Changed Hollywood

  • Audio Commentary by Paul Verhoeven & Arnold Schwarzenegger

  • Open Your Mind: Scoring Total Recall

  • Models and Skeletons: The Special Effects of Total Recall

  • The Making of Total Recall

  • Imagining Total Recall

...and much more!

'Total Recall' proved that nobody did it better than a Schwarzenegger / Verhoven combo for pure sci-fi/action. Get your ass to Mars now!

'Total Recall' is a Carolco Pictures production

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