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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
To call Total Recall an intellectual action film would be going too
far. After all, this is a film with a three-titted whore, a midget
hooker and a body count only Harold Shipman could dream of. Plus it has
Arnie one-liners and tons and tons of blood. But despite all this,
buried underneath the sleazy, bloodstained exterior there's a smart
film trying to get out. Issues of reality and identity are all dealt
with. But they're never dealt with at the expense of someone getting
their head blown off.
Watching it back, it's quite pleasing to remember just how violent action films used to be. Here you have men getting spiked in the neck, people getting axed and a man getting a pole of some sort shoved through his face. And that's just in one scene! The violence here is bloody and over the top, and in my opinion, much better for it. I mean, action films these days have become rather sanitised. There's just a feeling that you've seen it all before. But how many times do you get to see a man have his arms ripped off as he dangles from a lift? And how many times do you get to see that and have Arnie toss the arms away while delivering a quip? Only once.
And then there's the bit where Michael Ironside shoots the three-titted whore in the back. Beautiful! I mean, this is meant to be a bad, bad man. And what better way to generate loathing (and secret admiration) than have him shoot a mutant hooker while her back is turned.
But one of the most delightful bits of insane violence is when the midget whore stabs Ironside's lackey. You have to ask yourself whether you're shrooming your tits off. But no, it happens and then the midget stands on top of the bar and opens fire with a machine gun. Verhoeven is clearly a twisted man mental, but I can't help but admire him.
Also worthy of praise is the shootout on the subway. Arnie is fleeing from the bad guys and tries to haul ass up the escalators. But more bad guys appear at the top. As everyone starts shooting, an innocent person gets killed in the crossfire. Arnie then uses the bloke as a human shield he gets penetrated more times than a pretty boy in a prison shower and tosses the piece of meat into the path of the bad guys below. I can't help but salute the complete utter lack of sentiment.
I also salute the fight between Arnie and Sharon Stone. I mean, usually fights between women and men in action films are death yeah, I can believe than an anorexic model can hurt a man double her size but it at least keeps things relatively believable by having Stone hit Arnie a couple of times in his brain (his testicles). But what makes it a joy is that after the fight, Stone tries to buy some time by offering to tie herself up and let Arnie have his way with her. You know, for old times sake. It's something of a surprise that Der Gropenfuhrer doesn't take her up on her generous offer, but Arnie does knock her out which is even better.
And there's another bit of violence that cracks me up. The evil mutant Benny, in some sort of digging machine, is attacking Arnie. Arnie then grabs a huge drill and rams it through the side of the vehicle while screaming "Screw you!" at the top of his lungs. It's one of the few bits of possible homoeroticism in a film that is remarkably ungay for an Arnie flick.
But there is another little bit of possible gayness in the film. Just take the relationship between Hauser (Arnie's evil alter-ego) and Cohaagen (Ronny Cox). They hug enthusiastically in a video message and then Cohaagen has a big strop when he finally realises that Hauser isn't coming back he kicks a tank of goldfish over. It seems like he's lost more than a friend.
But Ronny Cox is excellent in the film. Sure he's basically playing the same character he played in RoboCop, but he always makes an excellent villain. And I love the scene where he's going to have Quaid turned back into Hauser and have Melina 'fixed'. His dialogue with Arnie is wonderful. "You get to f*** her every night, that's right. She's going to be Hauser's babe." And then when asked what to do with all the people that are suffocating because he's cut off the air, he replies, "F*** 'em." That's a proper movie villain.
However, I don't think the film is in the same class as RoboCop. For one, Total Recall now looks rather dated (look at the 'futuristic' cars) while RoboCop seems pretty timeless, and plus the balance between smarts and action is a bit more even in RoboCop.
But that's not to say that Total Recall is a dumb film. One of the obvious pleasures is trying to work out whether the whole thing is a dream or not. After all, when Quaid goes to Rekall to have his 'ego trip' everything the salesman says in his pitch actually happens the whole plot is given away in one scene. And then at the end you have a white out rather than a fade to black. This could suggest that Quaid is waking up or even being lobotomised. But although it's something that's pleasing to think about, the film is more concerned about action than ideas. And so that makes the film a minor success rather an overwhelming success like RoboCop.
Doug Quaid keeps getting recurring dreams about a visit to Mars. In
spite of his friends warnings, he decides to have a memory implanted
Mars holiday. But during the implantation he remembers being a secret
agent who is fighting evil Mars boss Vilos Cohaagen. Things are about
to go very intergalactic bonkers indeed.
Total Recall finds director Paul Verhoeven on particularly OTT form, with the often maligned director cranking up the action and violence to the max. So then, who better to play out the carnage than the big Austrian oak himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger? It was actually Schwarzenegger who brought Verhoeven into the picture. The idea for the film had been kicking around for years, a number of director's came and went, David Cronenberg famously worked on a screenplay for a year only to have it jettisoned for being too close to the P. K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale". The makers wanted a high energy sci-fi blockbuster, a star vehicle for Schwarzenegger, and Verhoeven was only too happy to oblige.
Total Recall is a fascinating concept as we find ourselves wondering what in fact is reality? Quaid himself is never quite sure as the film takes a delicious twist at the midpoint to further compound the confusion, but in true Verhoeven style, it all comes crashing together in a giant ball of bangs, crashes and explosions. It should be noted that the film is far removed from the cerebral essence of Dick's story, and really when one saw that Schwarzenegger was to star in a Verhoeven directed adaptation, one really should be prepared for the high octane brain dumb down that Total Recall is. Something which was beyond some highbrow critics who are still baffled by the gargantuan financial success of the film (it made over $260 million worldwide).
Fleshing out the cast are a stoic reliable bunch. Rachael Ticotin, Ronny Cox, Sharon Stone & Michael Ironside deliver the expected tongue in cheek professionalism. While the effects prove to be a mixture of the poor and the decent; tho it's nice to see the often lost art of model work being of a pretty high standard. All of which leaves me personally with a film that I find to be a hugely enjoyable piece of uber violent popcorn fodder. 8/10
"Total Recall" might not be timeless as far as filmmaking goes, but
it's certainly a hard movie to forget. "RoboCop" director Paul
Verhoeven's take on the Phillip K. Dick story "We Can Remember it For
You Wholesale" serves as the perfect snapshot of what late '80s America
thought the future would look like -- a "Mad Max" society on Mars and
lots of communicating video screens. Part of this memorability comes
from cheap methods such as gross-out visual effects and three-breasted
prostitutes, but credit also belongs to a story full of roller coaster
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Douglas Quaid, a man with a seemingly loving wife (Sharon Stone), who has vivid dreams about Mars, a planet that has been colonized by America and is at the center of a military controversy. Quaid becomes intrigued by a service that offers the implantation of vacation memories so that one can recall having been somewhere and experienced something without having to take the time to go through it. But instead of getting a nice vacation, the process goes wrong for Quaid and suddenly his friend at work and his wife are not who he thought they were -- and neither is he.
Turns out Quaid was a skilled operative who had his memory tampered with previously and his "former self" sent him a message to go back to Mars because he has memories that hold the key to the undoing of the evil General Cohaagen who is oppressing those living on Mars.
Mars is a circus sideshow in Las Vegas in this film. There's prostitution and horrendously scarred individuals. Oh, and dwarfs. Needless to say, the vision Verhoeven has for the future is not a very politically correct one and a bit excessive on vice and strangeness only for the sake of being just so. The meat of "Total Recall" lies not in the sci-fi future world the story takes place in, but more in the mystery of who Quaid (or Hauser) actually is.
Schwarzenegger is still best suited for playing a machine or straight-up action hero not to be taken seriously, so "Total Recall" might not be the best fit, but he's probably better than most would give him credit for. He doesn't really hurt the film in any way.
It seems like "Total Recall" was Verhoeven's attempt to make a visual effects spectacle because he simply had the money thanks to Arnold's star power. Although the story intrigues beyond a doubt, this is not the sci-fi thinker that "Blade Runner' was. Why else would there be so many special effects shots of people's faces puffing up in the vacuum of space?
"Total Recall" would easily land on my list of decent films that could be remade and done better, particularly in terms of themes and social relevancy. In the late '80s, these effects were all the rage. Now that cinema has grown up and the average filmmaker with a bit of cash could make the effects of the film happen, it could actually survive as more than a thriller. Hard to blame a film 20 years outside of its context for doing something like that, so I think it just shows the potential for Dick's story to endure as a film.
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILERS, SPOILERS, SPOILERS
If I had to rank the ten best science-fiction movies made in the nineties, Total Recall would appear. Not only, is it one of the best science-fiction movies of the last decade but it's also one of the most original movies ever made. The film-maker, Paul Verhoeven made a masterstroke. His movie is a studied mix of science-fiction, horror, and detective film. It's of course based on a rich but complicated screenplay. Indeed, during the movie it's nearly impossible to distinguish dream from reality and to define Schwarzenegger's state of mind. The screenplay is also skilled because it aims at getting the spectator lost by leading him towards wrong tracks. Moreover, Verhoeven made of Mars, a dangerous and dreadful planet where you have to mistrust everyone and where everything can happen, especially the unexpected.
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays with conviction his role of a worker in search of his real identity. Little by little, we're quite sure that he puts himself in the place of an hero who must release Mars in the grip of the dictator Cohaagen.
The movie is also worth seeing for its outstanding special effects and its fantastic sceneries. It's also a well-regulated movie between the (bloody) action sequences and moments that encourage reflection.
At last, Verhoeven showed feats because he succeeds in sustaining the interest of the spectator during all the movie in spite of its difficult story. Besides, you follow the movie with a great interest hoping that Verhoeven will give us a rational explanation about Scwarzenegger's state of mind. But it's not really the case. In spite of an "happy end", the film-maker is careful not to reveal the truth. So, doubt about dream or reality remains.
At the end, this is indisputably Verhoeven's best movie and Schwarzenegger's best performance to date
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Arnie is Doug Quaid, a simple construction worker who is bored with his
uneventful life and wishes to be more and to do something meaningful.
He's fascinated with going to Mars and meeting the mysterious woman of
his dreams (that would be Melina) despite the civil war brewing withing
the colonies. His wife Lori (Sharon Stone, looking gorgeous) is
appalled with all things Martian and quickly nixes that idea. The only
way Quaid is going to come close to the red planet is if he takes a
Rekall vacation, a company that literally offers you a 'dream' vacation
memory implant. Quaid wishes to go as a secret agent and all seems well
until they send him to sleep.
As soon as he's unconscious Quaid seems to wake up in a rage, claiming his name is not Quaid but Hauser. And it's not just the dream going wrong since the Rekall technicians have not even implanted the dream yet. Blacking out again and waking up in a cab, Quaid has totally no recollection of anything that has happened and is confused to find his life turned upside down. His wife and colleagues are trying to kill him, dozens of armed henchmen are after him, he seems to have acquired lethal killing skills from nowhere and he apparently has some unfinished business back on Mars, despite the fact that he's never been there. Or has he?
Once on Mars for real (or is it?) he finds himself involved with the beautiful Melina (Rachel Ticotin, even prettier than Sharon Stone), the underground resistance and battling their arch-nemesis Vilos Cohaagen, a bureaucrat who has the entire planet under his control. It seems that Hauser was Cohaagen's right hand man and left clues for the fabricated Quaid persona to topple Cohaagen's regime.
Total Recall is certainly one of Arnie's and Verhoeven's most imaginative and creative movies. The Mars town of Venusville is basically Amsterdam's Red Light District with booze, drugs and sex everywhere, the violence is so ridiculously over-the-top that one cannot help but laugh at it (despite a lot of the gorier bits being censored by the evil MPAA), the vision of the future is incongruously bleak but colorful and fanciful yet primitive. The contrasts between Earth and Mars are similar to Western and Third World comparisons.
The visual effects, if slightly dated, are simply amazing. Jerry Goldsmith's awesome score is, at once, atmospheric and action-packed. The set-pieces, especially Quaids vision of the alien furnaces, are just ludicrously entertaining and the 'is it a dream or is it real' premise puts such a wonderfully surreal twist on the whole thing. Sci-Fi has never been so outrageous. What do you expect with mad genius Dutchman directing? And I do believe that it IS real.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I never met Phil Dick, but I did correspond with him 40 years ago. This
was well after he not only believed in parallel realities and truths as
he had all his crazy life. He had chosen to simultaneously live in as
many of them as he could reach. From these folded places, he wrote
stories with woven realities.
It was important to him that Deckard could be a replicant, and be more real than those not born immaculately. And with the story on which this was based, it was essential that there be three possibilities, each as likely and "truthful" as the others. Indeed, the possibility that they ALL are is what made this writer important.
But alas, there are three people involved, among the dimmest in their respective trades. Piers Antony adapted the story. A well known science fiction writer of the time, he wrote stories for kids. Fantasy things that "made sense," instead of what is required here: real things that do not make sense, or rather make quantum sense.
No one needs to say much about how Arnie turns a picture into animated furniture. Mildly more interesting is the shape of the trainwreck that is Paul Verhoeven. He may be a charming man, and seems charming in person. He surely seems to sell tickets. But he seems obsessed with making sense of a story. Here, there is one truth; Arnie's character discovers it and triumphs as a result. Gone is the scintillating ambiguity of Dick's creation.
Verhoeven, if you don't know, at this time somehow inveigled himself into the Jesus Seminar as full, voting member! The Jesus Seminar was a response to the mess that the New Testament presents, having contradictory theology added over time to serve various agendas. The seminar attempted to use best scholarship to discover in this battleground the truth of the historical Jesus, a laudable goal. The method was to collect scholars real scholars and vote.
Verhoeven somehow became a voting member, his presence as a "scholar" allowing ammunition for all sorts of critics. Just take the part of the story where this man was so obsessed with finding the single truth amidst ambiguities that he pulled strings to participate, even at the cost of jeopardizing the enterprise.
He did that here as well.
Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
Total Recall is a fast paced sci-fi action movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat all the way from beginning to end. For a movie released in the early 1990's, it has some very spectacular make-up effects, visual effects and special effects. This movie is sort of similar to Paul Verhoeven's other films. It is violent, bloody, it has some sexuality/nudity and some profanity. This movie has dark humour. Paul Verhoeven really knows how to use visual and special effects and dark humour whenever he is shooting a scene in his movies. This is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's best films, along with Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Predator. Total Recall is also one Verhoeven's best movies to date. This movie is worth a watch.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Doug Quaid is having vivid dreams about Mars. He goes to Rekall, a
company that sells fake memory implants, but has a psychotic reaction
to the treatment. Suddenly, he is being attacked and assisted on all
sides by secret-agents, his wife turns out to be an imposter and he
seems to hold the key to some great secret buried in an ancient Martian
mine. Is he really a spy, or is he suffering from a massive paranoid
fantasy delusion ?
Reportedly the most expensive film ever made at the time, Total Recall is a mind-bending, bone-crunching action thriller set in some vague future, with a great script by Dan O'Bannon and producer Ronald Shusett. In some ways it's a formulaic picture, with the predictable car-chases, fights and impossible escapes every ten minutes, but in others it's a wildly disorienting alternate reality, as Doug is forced to question his own existence. In one of the best scenes, the villains attempt (and almost succeed) to convince Doug he's living in an elaborate hallucination, before resorting to more traditional methods. Even the familiar elements are terrific, due to the futuristic setting (infuriating computerised minicabs, a tricky hologram, a fabulous Martian colony base) and Rob Bottin's gleefully twisted comic-book mutations, which include a fake head within another fake head and a pivotal character who lives in the stomach of another. Big Arnie does his usual likable bluster in the lead, but the best performances are the husband and wife of Stone as a sharp-suited villainess and Ironside as an implacable but uninformed henchman, with Cox managing to be even more vicious than he was in Verhoeven's preceding Robocop. Also noteworthy are Eric Brevig's marvellous visual effects, with some pioneering digital work (the nail-painter, the swooping shots through the huge secret generator), and a top-notch rousing score by Jerry Goldsmith that blasts everything along with booming brass and cracking percussion. Following the success of The Terminator, Schwarzenegger made six big-budget science-fiction films, all of which are good but none of which are quite as good, but this one is topper excessive entertainment and probably the best of the runners-up. Based on the short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, by the highly influential science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Total Recall, is a fine film and must rank highly for every Arnie Fan.
With more story to chew on than a lot of Arnie flicks, this film is a
lot more than your average action movie.
Quaid (Schwarzenegger) takes a trip to Recall, where you can have a holiday implanted in your mind, and take a vacation from yourself too. When Quaid asks for holiday on Mars as a Secret agent, he begins a psychotic episode before the trip is implanted, and it turns out he really is a secret agent and he is involved in a major conspiracy and has had his memory erased. Or at least that's how it appears?
The great thing about the film is it lets you decide for yourself if it really was a dream, or was Quaid really there?
Danish director, Paul Verhoeven, released his first American film in
1987; this was RoboCop, an action film which has since become situated
in a league of its own. Not only was it a hit in the Western world, but
a global box-office bragger and a critically acclaimed triumph.
Subsequent to the success, Verhoeven was chosen to direct a film
adapted from a novella by Philip K. Dick ("We Can Remember It for you
Wholesale") and turned it into the 1990 action classic, Total Recall.
Two surprisingly intelligent action films made in succession allowed
Verhoeven to become an established film-maker, who was at liberty to
take the content of mainstream films distinctly further.
Arnold Schwarzenegger took leading-man once again for Total Recall, just like the majority of films he starred in during the '80s and '90s. As with The Terminator, Predator and even Commando; his artificial and easy-to-mock acting went centre stage once again. Even though Schwarzenegger is far from being named a great actor, he is certainly situated as one of the most likable and satisfying (from a Blockbuster standpoint). His deadened approach is what makes his roles so true their form, and he is nearly always playing characters with seemingly robotic personalities. Growing up watching "Arnie actioners" is something I have always treasured, which is why his films are cherished memories and also the reason for making re-watches such an electrifying event.
Fusing reality with delusion (in what is essentially a case of identity crisis) is the core theme of Total Recall. Recurring -the now too-close-to-home- ideas of technological corruption reluctantly controlling a man's livelihood is hardly a topic which lacks the option of philosophical debate. In fact, for the action/science-fiction genre Verhoeven works wonders in making what seems to be a relatively stable, easy-going mainstream archetype into something which speaks out on politics and technology. Indeed, with the rapid increase and reliability on technology there is no doubt that us consumers will eventually resort to purchasing faulty, radioactive brain implants. Sadly, I am not joking, as I do believe that the foreseeable future of technology's control over our lives is inevitable.
Total Recall worked wonders for special-effects and make-up during the beginning of the '90s. Lifelike mutants and grand set-pieces, including architecture resembling art-deco and prefabricated design drove the film's ambiance. As with most action films the average shot length (ASL) is visibly short, but is acceptable for a film of its kind and works adequately when put in conjunction with the ultra-violent fight scenes. Villains are stereotypical, heroes sprout graciously eccentric one-liners ("Consider it a divorce!") and the array of characters are befuddling, but these are mere reasons why Total Recall is a cinematic product of its time, which still foreshadowed future possibilities.
If you are a person who takes everything far too seriously, then Total Recall is not appropriate viewing. However, if you are prepared to have an open-mind and realise that action films can still be clever (in this case due to a fantastically wrapped screenplay) you are likely to acquire a barrel of rip-roaring violence and furtive intellect. All too regularly is the film misconstrued as a meaningless American blockbuster, something it actually refrains from potentially becoming.
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