Total Recall 4K UHD Blu-ray Review
Time to get your ass back to Mars! Many of us have fond memories of cinema in the 1980s and 90s, especially the fledgling comic book genre, before there was such a thing, aimed at grown-ups. Lashings of cartoonish ultraviolence and crazy plots that gave the films a mythic quality before you were old enough to watch them. Total Recall was released in 1990 and perfectly encapsulated this grungy aesthetic before it would slip away. While it’s not as potent or tightly wound as director Paul Verhoeven’s masterpiece Robocop, it remains a fun tribute to a bygone era. The best 2000AD film while having nothing to do with the comic.
This new UHD transfer, scanned from the original 35mm negative and given a director-approved HDR pass, is the best the film has looked. Verhoeven has described it as having an almost three-dimensional quality. He's right. It was an ambitious production and always seemed a little flat to me, when compared with his more traditionally shot Robocop or Basic Instinct. The 4K finds hitherto unappreciated depth. That said, it's such an effects-heavy film and makes frequent use of a red filter, that it’s an uneven experience if you focus entirely on the technicalities. Composite shots are a little pasty, such as the opening scenes in Schwarzenegger’s apartment with a large TV screen that doubles as a wall. More so on Mars, but that suits the Verhoeven aesthetic and the nostalgic quality of the era. The restoration shows up a lot of joins in some of the Mars sets but the more down to Earth stuff where Schwarzenegger fights off goons in various locations is superb. The apartment divorce scrap with Sharon Stone is a standout. It's a film that grinds out its fight scenes with dust and sweat, which you really come to appreciate with the new transfer.
It's at its absolute best in character and prosthetic effects, courtesy of Rob Bottin whose peerless work also made Robocop and The Thing stand up to modern CGI. Whenever there is a traditionally lit scene close up on faces, the detail and balance is extraordinary and Bottin’s work always blooms under added scrutiny.
As is so often a joy on restored releases, the audio is phenomenal, with a muscular Dolby Atmos or TrueHD track that performs distinctly, be it the punchy action beats, the dialogue or Jerry Goldsmith’s memorable score, which not only suits this Schwarzenegger film but recalls similarly brazen work on Conan or Terminator.
The story still holds up, especially if you're nostalgic for a time when mainstream movies were entirely predictable and yet not, at the same time. A colourful noir, a rock 'n' roll take on Phillip K. Dick’s short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, the plot is literally a ghost in the machine but avoids clumsiness for the most part and never forgets to be fun. Apart from the third act suffering a cliche of contrivance, Verhoeven’s scrappy classic revels in brutal excess and walking tank Schwarzenegger is the perfect avatar for the director’s vision.
Total Recall as a film is a bit of a mongrel, but it's also an unlikely touchstone in Hollywood history. We're very unlikely to see anything quite like it again and this superb 30th anniversary release captures that. We have the original audio commentary with director Paul Verhoeven and star Arnold Schwarzenegger and a collection of decent mini documentaries that look at the making of the film, Jerry Goldsmith's iconic score and a fun nostalgic piece about Total Recall's place in that brief period where Hollywood lost its sense of decorum for a bit. In retrospect, Schwarzenegger, Stallone et al had their own action equivalent of the MCU; this fantastic release reminds us of what we've lost.
- Audio Commentary with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven
- Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood
- Open Your Mind: Scoring Total Recall
- Dreamers Within The Dream: Developing Total Recall
Total Recall is available on Blu-ray, DVD, Steelbook, Digital and 4K Ultra HD Collector's Edition from November 23.
Total Recall (1990)
Dir: Paul Verhoeven | Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox, Sharon Stone | Writers: Dan O'Bannon (screen story), Dan O'Bannon (screenplay), Gary Goldman (screenplay), Jon Povill (screen story), Philip K. Dick (short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"), Ronald Shusett (screen story), Ronald Shusett (screenplay)