Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a construction worker having dreams about walking the surface of Mars with a mysterious woman before dying through massive eye bulging trauma. Having been convinced by his wife Lori (Sharon Stone) not to visit the planet, he instead opts to have a memory implant giving him the experience without going. However, something goes wrong with the procedure and a hidden part of his brain is unlocked and he discovers he actually had his memory wiped and he is in fact Hauser, a secret agent trying to bring down the regime of Cohagen (Ronny Cox), the man who runs Mars.
I’m not someone who immeadiately scorns the idea of remaking something. If something different can be brought to the table and pulled off successfully, it can stand up next to, or even better, the original product. What they also do is inspire renewed interest in the film on which it is based and that certainly seems to be the case with Total Recall with two podcasts I listen to having focused on the film in recent weeks (hello to Chin Stroker vs Punter and Film Junk). With the impending release of Len Wiseman’s remake, StudioCanal bring us a new edition of the original film to Blu with a spit-shine and new extras, and it is a worthy set indeed.
Onto the film itself though, and what struck me about it on this watch is just how much it is essentially a happy accident. I have recently been reading David Hughes’ highly entertaining book Tales From Development Hell and in it, he speaks about the multiple attempts to get a sequel off the ground. One of the major sticking points for that never coming into being is the fact that Arnie knew his audience and they didn’t want anything too cereberal, therefore he didn’t either, and so many interesting takes on the material were nixed. The fact that Total Recall is as smart as it is excessive then is a minor miracle, and most of this is likely down to director Paul Verhoeven.
Verhoeven was pretty much at the height of his powers when he made this film and with Arnie backing him all the way (something mentioned in the disc’s extras) he was able to make a film where by the end, you have no idea as to what was “real” and what wasn’t. Either interpretation of the material works perfectly, little nuggets of suggestions for things which play out later in the film are placed in the narrative in the pre-synaptic embolism section, seeming to suggest that Quaid is taking in this information and playing it out in his mind, but by the same token, this all could well be a plot “against” him, the plot we as an audience are basically trained to believe in wanting a heroes story to play out despite how ludicrous it is, something actually acknowledged within the film itself!
This is still an Arnie film made in his heyday though so there’s still a fair bit of comic gold and primal entertainment to be had here. Verhoeven does have his rather more base sensibilities and in Arnold he finds someone who can play them perfectly on screen so we get inflating, bulging heads and eyes to kick proceedings off, an unfortunate by-stander being used as a literal human shield in a moment which very much recalls the famous death of the boardroom member in Robocop and many rather amazing one-liners, indeed I was surprised that many of his most famous ones were actually from this film, in my mind’s eye it was more serious than it actually is but by the time we get “consider this a divorce” we’re in a perfect world of smart and knowingly dumb.
The film also still succeeds as what was essentially the last big scale film which didn’t use all that much CG. There is a little bit here, most prominently the x-ray scanning sequence, but the rest of the film is practical magic, big sets, fantastic make-up effects from Rob Bottin (including the famous 3-boobed woman) and tons of explosions all give a real feeling which you know won’t be replicated in the remake. This film does look dated that much is true, but the film is aiming for the slightly skewed, surreal feel anyway and works magnificently.
Total Recall is essentially a bit of alchemy, a film which has its cake and eats it. Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger come together to make an intelligent and wildly entertaining blockbuster which deserves all the love its been given.
Moving onto the disc itself and StudioCanal have given us quite the treat here. The 1.85:1 transfer is a substantial step-up from the original Blu, which came out in the early days of HD and looked better than DVD but not by much. Here though, the print has been cleaned up with a great deal of love and unlike previous Arnie release Predator, has not been scrubbed of all the grain with an image which retains brilliant detail and has little in the way of dirt and scratches. The varying colours of the film, moving from the steely, harsh greys and blues of Earth to the browns and reds of Mars are presented brilliantly and represent one of the best catalogue release pictures I have seen this year, marvellous stuff. The audio provided is a cracking DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack which isn’t as impressive as the picture but still works well. Early on in the film, the soundscape is largely kept to the front two channels but as soon as our asses are on Mars things change as the action moves over to the surrounds and some serious bass action also.
Extras on the disc are pretty substantial starting with a new half-hour long interview with Verhoeven himself who talks about the challenges in getting the film made and how his star helped him out while also talking about the difficulties of working in Mexico with illness all over the place. It’s also interesting that he’s quite charitable towards the remake as he talks about how he is intrigued by the prospect of Colin Farrell, more of an “everyman” taking on the lead role and how he isn’t adverse to it. Moving on, we also get a commentary with Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger which is an entertaining listen just for Arnie’s constant telling us of what is happening on-screen and not really coming up with any original thoughts, listening to Verhoeven then saying “exactly” maybe 30 times through the whole thing. Verhoeven gives us some production background also (and says “guerillas” in a fantastic way) and the two obviously have a great deal of respect for each other, resulting in a commentary which is a mixed bag but worth a listen certainly.
We also have a couple of featurettes focusing on the world of Total Recall, most specifically the rather pioneering effects and the production design which make this Mars just so bloody memorable. Both features are solid enough with lots more production info and a wide variety of crew members featured including Verhoeven and Jouney 2 director Eric Brevig who worked on the visual effects. Finishing off is a short restoration comparison demonstrating just how good the new transfer is and the theatrical trailer. All extras are worth a go and make for a wonderful package.
A fantastic film, brilliant video and audio along with thorough and entertaining extras make for one of the best releases of the year. Get your ass to Mars.