Total Recall Review

Total Recall (1990) Movie Retro Review By Stephen McLaughlin

Director: Paul Verhoeven
Writers: Philip K. Dick, Ronald Shusett (screen story)
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox, Rachel Ticotin

Paul Verhoeven only gone and done it again. After the massive success of Robocop (1987) the Dutch Director turned his attention to a short story written by Philip K. Dick named “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” and from that spawned the 1990 Schwarzenegger classic “Total Recall”. This movie was part of a long run of successful films for Arnie in this period in his career and a period I consider his best and arguably at his peak a year later in Terminator 2.

Verhoeven once again is a fantastic world builder and creates a look and feel into a used future. Just like “Delta City” in Robocop, this time it’s a seedy and gritty world we live in. Relying on technology a little too much (Hologram Tennis and Johnny Cabs spring to mind.) Dreams of living on Mars and going to a little memory implant service called “Recall” that create and embed in your mind wonderful memories. It’s fair to say Verhoeven created a living breathing and believable bleak future for the human race to look forward to.

Schwarzenegger plays Douglas Quaid. A construction worker who yearns for a better life with his wife Lori (Sharon Stone). Quaid dreams of one day going to Mars and fulfill his destiny. Lori on the other hand appears to want the simpler things in life and doesn’t really have any ambition other than to live an ordinary life. Without consulting Lori and previously being advised to stay away from “Recall” by Lori and his work buddy Harry. Doug decides to have a memory implant designed so that he can become a secret agent on Mars as a little memory present for himself.

Things go wrong when Doug breaks into a full psychotic episode ranting and raving about being double crossed and claiming to already have been to Mars. Trouble is the implant wasn’t even installed into Doug’s brain at this point. In a panic, Recall knock him out and dump him in a cab. It’s fair to say that Doug isn’t having the best of days. In fact as the story progresses he realises that his friends aren’t his friends, his wife isn’t really his wife and his life as Douglas Quaid was never real but in fact a memory implant to hide the secrets of Mars and its atmosphere. The man behind it all is Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) who dominates control over Mars selling oxygen to the contained environments within the colonies on the red planet.

I saw this movie perhaps a year after its release as I was just about 1 year too young to see this in the cinema as the BBFC gave this movie a 15 certificate. Not to worry though as when I did see it I loved it from the beginning. The characters were larger than life. Almost comic book. The sets although mostly interior, for its day was pretty impressive and gave the audience a good look and idea of this world and worlds that the Director gave us. The storyline as well was surprisingly well thought out and prolonged justifying for its duration. A few twists along the way kept it fresh and the humour was of the same tone as Robocop.

I’m deliberately avoiding any comparisons with the remake from a few years back starring Colin Farrell. So no more talk of that. I’ll keep that for another day. Schwarzenegger and Stone work well together from the kick off. You’ll be convinced they are a happily married couple and within the hour you will be convinced that they are bitter enemies is the talents and abilities of these too fine actors. The chemistry good or bad works for Doug and Lori, “Consider that a divorce”. Michael Ironside as Richter is the man Cohaagen wants to track down Doug and bring him in to have his mind erased again. Ironside is a great villain here. Almost dastardly with a hint of humour who in the end has a grizzly end, “See you at the party, Richter”

Overall Total Recall is quite a layered film that can be enjoyed time and time again. How much of Philip K. Dick short story is utilised I’m unsure of and he deserves the credit for Total Recall being made in the first place but Paul Verhoeven brings the story to life with great pacing, excellent sets, character development throughout the cast and a plot that will have you mesmerised. This is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s finest films of the time, which is sandwiched in between Twins, Kindergarten Cop and as I previously mentioned Terminator 2. He definitely was on fire at this time and it’s interesting to find Verhoeven originally wanted Schwarzenegger in the role of Robocop initially but with Arnies massive frame hampering him wearing the metal suit that role would go to the leaner Peter Weller. Verhoeven was clearly a fan of Arnold and must have had him in mind very early on for the role of Quaid. If you haven’t seen this movie yet I urge you to give it a try, you might be surprised how well it hold up to today’s standards. Recommended.

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