Total Recall Review

The Film

The governor of California has taken to giving visiting heads of state a collection of his favourite films as a greeting present. I have not been able to discover exactly what the set includes but it is reported that at least two of the films feature the governor emoting with his own particular brand of lactic acting. If he was including the best film of his career, then I imagine he would risk upsetting his guests as it includes a graphic extraction of something the size of a ping pong ball from Arnie's nose, a three breasted prostitute and a good bucket of rat's blood. Throw in suggestions of S&M, some immolations and eye popping cartoon violence and you get something which is hardly the family movie that the Merkels could be hoping for.

Total Recall is also the best of Paul Verhoeven's American films, a sci-fi comic with spys, gore and sex which satirises capitalism and our most urgent urges. Adapted from a Philip K Dick story by Alien and Dead and Buried writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the tale of a man remembering who he really is or the tale of an implanted fantastical memory is perfect material for someone who has never taken reality too seriously. The director had learnt enough from Robocop to keep the same villain and had cast as his henchman the man he had originally wanted for the title role in that film, Michael Ironside. A pre fame Sharon Stone playing Arnie's wife high kicks and slices our hero, and everyone around him is fake or real grotesques.

What Verhoeven does better than anyone else is to play with the pomposity of the adult world and to delight in pricking its bubble. Here in the future, people's desire for holidays have resulted in an industry of faked, ideal images and a falseness that means no one know what is real anymore. The whole piece is delivered with its tongue firmly in its cheek and filled with outrageous touches - little prostitutes with machine guns, secretaries who paint their nails using hi tech equipment and a hero who uses pedestrians as a human shield in one of the most gloriously amoral chase scenes you may ever see.

There is one moment of genius when Arnie is cornered behind an x-ray screen which turns into high farce as one skeleton with a gun is chased by several more, but the whole design of the film is a wonderfully tasteless comic of excess and irony. The mutants are many and the butt of many pretty awful gags - "I'm surprised you can show your face around here", "Look who's talking". They are the people Arnie must liberate from the power mad Cohaagen, but the film is not above enjoying their disfigurements and revelling in their grossness. Freed from real-life, Verhoeven revels in the dreams, the camp and impossible machinations to deliver a funny and entertaining sci-fi adventure.

The humour is genuinely effective too, with Arnie delivering his few putdowns as well as could be hoped and his antagonists are also allowed to behave gloriously badly. The film's soft appearance and gaudy colour scheme add to a sense of a rather kitsch dream of the future, and Jerry Goldsmith again brings home the bacon with a score that complements the action and gives the whole piece a bit of a majestic sweep. Eventually, the conundrum of whether we are watching an implanted memory or the truth is capitalised upon as Arnie is told when he doubts that he is awake, "well kiss me quick before you wake up". Few films have a better last line and such a wealth of wit backed up by solid construction for a first rate experience.

Total Recall is flighty, far from deep and pretty un-pc, and that is what makes it such a damn good movie.

The Disc

This is presented as a barebones release by Optimum on a dual layer disc and encoded as Region AB. I believe it is a port of the previous HD-DVD release and have chosen to compare the image quality with the Lionsgate Blu-ray. This new disc has a larger filesize(25.5GB) with a similar bit rate in terms of the video treatments(average 20Mbits). I have included two shots to compare below:

New Optimum Blu-ray

Lionsgate Blu-ray

There are clear differences in terms of colour balance and brightness between the two discs especially in the interior scenes. The Lionsgate disc is darker and less vibrant than the new release with more enhanced edges. Given the comic nature of the film at times, it seems more likely that the brighter gaudier look is closer to the director's intended way of seeing the film and consequently this new disc is an undoubted improvement over the previous Blu-ray. Still it isn't perfect with the age of some materials still apparent, and the lack of a clean image worthy of comment. Detail is good but not exceptional and should the base materials ever be restored I am confident that this movie can look better still.

A single DTS HD MA track is provided for the new release and I would have to say that on this score I prefer the DD ex 5.1 track on the Lionsgate disc which seemed deeper and less restrained than this treatment which has the voices mixed quite lowly and needed boosting on my system. The surround effects are rare with scant coverage of the speaker range but with some sound effects astonishingly crisp. This is most definitely a film enhanced by a good surround track and this is merely a competent option which can be improved on by offering more choices and the DD ex 5.1 track in future releases.

Simple A/V configuration wizards are offered as well.


Verhoeven's best US film gets its best visual treatment yet but more improvement is possible with future restoration and the offering of more audio options.

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Category Blu-Ray Review

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