Total Recall (Mind-Bending Edition), Blu-ray (1990/2012)

by | Jul 30, 2012 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Total Recall (Mind-Bending Edition), Blu-ray (1990/2012)
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Ironside, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Studio: Lions Gate [7/31/12]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 1080p HD
Audio: English, French or German DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, German
Extras: New restoration, Commentary track by both Schwarzenegger & Verhoeven, New interview with Verhoeven, Making-of featurette, “Models and Skeletons: The Special Effects,” “Imaging Total Recall” documentary, Photo gallery, Restoration comparison, Theatrical Trailer
Length: 113 minutes
Rating: *****

This was one of the first Philip K. Dick stories to be made into a film, whereas now he’s considered one of the top writers to adapt into sci-fi films. The idea for the film had many ups and downs in Hollywood, and was originally conceived with first Richard Dreyfus and then Patrick Swayze in the role taken by Schwarzenegger. (Our review of the previous Blu-ray of Total Recall is here. More on its “restoration” later.) Shot in Mexico City to save money—though it was still a big-budget movie—the film couldn’t have happened without Schwarzenegger’s promotion of it, which even went to leaning on the studio to provide more money for the production. A sequel was planned but dropped because of Schwarzenegger’s bid for Governor of California. Right now there is a new Total Recall in the theaters, but it’s a re-run of the original story—not a sequel, only without either the trip to Mars or Arny. Boo!
This is Arny’s best action movie and his acting is really not bad at all. (One of the Amazon reviewers gushed that she could listen all day to Arny saying Mahs instead of Mars.) But it’s directed by his pal the crazy Dutchman Verhoeven, so be ready for lots of over-the-top needless gory violence. Instead of the milk-toast type of hero first envisioned for the film, Arny is Douglas Quaid—a blue collar jack-hammer worker with a beautiful wife (Stone). Against her wishes he goes to a company whose TV ads he has seen about implanting artificial memories in clients. They will make him a secret agent on Mars, which is now settled with human inhabitants. But it turns out he really is leader of an underground group there. Or maybe it’s all a dream.
The plot moves on with much violent action as Arny finds ways to escape his manipulators and help the protest movement. It involves a villain who controls everything on Mars, including being able to turn off the breathable air for the protesters under the domes. Also the woman of his dreams, instead of the fake wife installed with him along with his memory having been erased and changed.
This was one of the last big-budget movies to have nearly all its special effects done with various rubber and plastic gadgets, miniatures and appliances rather than cgi. The few outdoor scenes on Mars look OK, and they’re not all miniatures—the director found an area where the earth was all red and they could shoot there. The mutant special effects also came in for criticism, but I thought they were passable. The special effects person working on the JohnnyCab robot got a bleeding ulcer from being browbeat by those in charge for not achieving enough of a realistic mouth movement, but I thought its primitive robotic appearance was perfect. As was the much-labored-over fake woman’s head with its slices. But the problem with that, which I haven’t seen any reviewer mention, is that when the slices all part the real head that is revealed is briefly not Arny’s but some sort of special effect head that is obviously not his! Finally, the popping-out eyeballs when characters are dumped on the Mars surface without air are just plain silly and spoil this otherwise effective sci-fi classic. I’m surprised Verhoeven left all those closeups in.
The extras are much more extensive than they were with the first Blu-ray release of Total Recall. The lengthy interview with Verhoeven is fascinating. And some of the details about the production also, such as the fact they couldn’t have actors running very far outdoors in Mexico City because the smog was so bad they would choke for air. Then we come to what the blurb on the package calls the “Restoration Comparison.” I have never seen such a blatant promotional crock presented to the unknowing public before. There is no narration at all, but the left side of the screen usually displays the so-called “restoration” footage while the right side shows the quality of the previous Blu-ray.  Sometimes the “restored” shot moves across the screen. What a joke! The “previous quality” has been clearly deliberately ruined with misty and off-color filters of some sort to ostensibly demonstrate a hugely enhanced quality of the new Blu-ray. I have the first Blu-ray (as well as the deluxe DVD release in a red metal  Mars can) and although it was not a perfect Blu-ray transfer the quality is nowhere near that poor. There are improvements in contrast and clarity in the new version; black areas are blacker. But that’s about it.
—John Sunier

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