“Now whoever you are, and whatever your name is … get ready for a big surprise. You are not you. You’re ‘me’!”
Exciting dreams of adventures on Mars with a beautiful woman by his side. Waking up to find an even more beautiful woman in his bed every morning. A good hard-working physical job that allows him to show off those mighty arms. Just why does future construction worker Doug Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) want to go and mess things up by having memory implants put into his head of a bogus ego-trip to the Red Planet? Because that is precisely what happens when he pays a visit to Rekall Inc. to have a fake two-week vacation-cum-adventure downloaded into his skull, in which he becomes a super-spy on a mission to free Mars from tyranny and oppression whilst on-the-run from an army of gun-toting bad guys. Suddenly, the amicable Quaid doesn’t know who he is anymore and people really are trying to kill him everywhere he goes, including his workmates and his sexy wife Lori (Sharon Stone).
With paranoia setting-in and the bodies piling-up, Quaid realises that the answers to this deadly and ever-deepening mystery lie somewhere beneath the downtrodden colony out on Mars … and somewhere even deeper inside his own confused skull.
Following a trail of clues that he has apparently left for himself, Quaid gets his “ass to Mars”, literally meets the girl of his dreams, hooker-with-a-heart Melina (Rachel Ticotin), encounters the mutant underground led by the mystical Kuatu, joins the rebellion and finally overthrows the despicable despot ruling the place with an iron fist and saves the day.
“Now, you tell me … isn’t that worth a measly three hundred credits?”
As pulpish as that sounds, Total Recall is actually a bit of a rarity in the intense and jam-packed SF genre for, as action-packed and gratuitous as this punishing thrill-ride is, it also celebrates all the wonder and spectacle of hugely ambitious fantasy with a full-blooded desire to catapult you far into the future and then off to another planet. Where Alien and Blade Runner and Outland tried to muster as much realism as possible in their imaginative worlds, Total Recall injects colour and comic-book mayhem, a sense of hyper-reality/absurdity and all the grit, gore and thunder of a Sam Peckinpah macho bloodbath, courtesy of makeup deity Rob Bottin. But, even as we flinch from the welters of grue that frequently explodes across the screen, the film seeks to engage a few more of the grey cells than you usually require when enjoying mainstream Science Fiction. Or an Arnie Schwarzenegger flick.
We are challenged by mindgames from start to finish. The plot pulls the rug out from under us so continually that we have to virtually run after it. Is Doug Doug, or is he actually bad-boy assassin Hauser, chief henchman for the Mars dictator? Are the mutant rebels the good guys or possibly even the bad guys? Who, exactly, can we trust? Or is all of this madness just a hallucination rampaging through Doug Quaid’s chemically implanted brain? And how on Earth can Arnie wrap a big thick towel around his head and still look cool?
“Harry, you’re making a big mistake. You got me mixed up with somebody else!”
“Uh-uh, pal. You got yourself mixed up with somebody else!”
Based on Philip K. Dick’s speculative short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, Quaid is transformed from an overweight accountant who dreams of being the hero to the larger-than-life action-superstar of Schwarzenegger and, under the typically bloodthirsty direction of hard-hitting satirist Paul Verhoeven, Carolco unleashed a rollicking Sci-Fi adventure that smothered its often tremendous ideas and concepts with jaw-dropping gore and wacky prosthetics in a global blockbuster that landed like a sizzling thunderclap at the dawn of the nineties. With Len Wiseman unveiling a different interpretation of the literary source this year in the remake starring Colin Farrell as the identity-crisis-stricken Quaid, it is a wonderful opportunity to now revisit the lurid and bludgeoning original in all of its nonstop, helter-skelter-ride of crowd-pleasing wit and mega-violence. And, as you’ll no doubt expect, we’re going to do it with a whole heap o’ spoilers!
The overshadowing themes of identity, humanity and corporate corruption that were the root core of the classic Robocop spill over into Total Recall’s equally egocentric, power-hungry universe. Quaid may not be as tragically torn and haunted as Peter Weller’s rebuilt cyborg law enforcer Murphy in the earlier future-shock adventure, but his quest to discover his true self, and a righteous sense of duty and belonging, is cut from the same sheet of emotional titanium. Arnie doesn’t do inner-rage and psychological turmoil, though. He breaks heads and makes corny quips.
“Get ready for a surprise!”
By this stage, 1989, when the film was being made, Arnie had pretty much wrestled the box office throne from Stallone. He’d been consistently making hits throughout the decade whilst the Italian Stallion had seen his star begin to go on the wane. Arnie, who was certainly a lesser talented actor, had been able, nevertheless, to straddle various genres, with a particular affection for SF and Fantasy. With a brace both of Conans and Terminators under his belt, he had also tackled the phenomenal Predator and gone all camply futuristic in Paul Michael Glaser’s popular The Running Man. So whilst Sly foolishly toyed with comedy before finally following Arnie into fantasy with Demolition Man and Judge Dredd, the Austrian Oak was certainly stretching beyond the traditional bonds of Earthly he-man dust-ups.
You can’t help but see each Arnie character as being just Arnie in a different set of clothes, and brandishing a slightly different arsenal. And Quaid is no exception. It even seems that the only reason he is a construction worker hefting a huge futuristic drill is so he can then wield a very nasty boring-tool and plunge it through somebody later on. Yet you can feel his giddy sense oozing from the screen. Just look at his face when he first reclines back into the Rekall implant chair – he’s like a little schoolboy and full of cheeky wonder at the potential fun he can have. His drowsy decision-making when it comes to selecting his dream woman is a hoot, too. Athletic, sleazy and demure. Way to go, Arnie!
I love the fact that we are rooting for a guy we simply don’t know. He could be just a nutter having paranoid delusions, after all. And then, ultimately, we learn that he is actually a baddie who, rather akin to the reawakened Jason Bourne, finds that he doesn’t like the man he used to be … and turns against himself, let alone his former employers. Arnie is not a man who can convey depth, or fine layers to a character though, and you would have thought that someone going through such a personality tsunami as Doug Quaid would warrant getting an actor who could deliver precisely that. But the amazing quality that Arnie has in spades is charisma and, for him, it is more than enough to win audiences over. Even as an implacable and emotionless killing machine in The Terminator, he absolutely steals the show. You hang on those nine or ten lines that he has, and you marvel at every move he makes. Of course his range had expanded by the time he came to Total Recall, but it was still this same charisma and supreme confidence that carried him through. His characters before Doug Quaid, barring Conan’s drunken spells, had been largely stoic. Predator’s Dutch revealed genuine fear and dread, which was a wonderful thing to see and worked extremely well – if Arnie was scared, then we were bloody terrified. He played it tough as the Russian policeman in Red Heat, but still managed to show a softer side towards his mismatched Chicago cop partner by the end of their ordeal. He even brought an affecting humanity to his friendlier T800 in Terminator 2. But in Total Recall he is truly having a blast. Even breaking a finger (on the train-window that he smashes) and finally succumbing to Montezuma’s Revenge after he’d thought he’d gotten away with it during the Mexico shoot never dampened his high spirits.
Very notably, Sharon Stone is a massive turn-on in this movie. She honed and toned her body rigorously and took some martial arts training to get into shape for the pulverising duel that she has with Ticotin’s Melina, who’s no slouch, herself, when it comes to getting down ‘n’ dirty with the interpersonal aspects of the ladies’ cat-fight. But Stone swiftly became a poster-babe with this role – coupled with a Playboy spread cunningly timed with the movie’s release, of course. She is good, though. There is real fire in her eyes when she confronts Quaid after his Rekall visit and then, even more so, when she is forced to make the trip to Mars to meet him again. That heel-thump to his already battered nethers is delivered with such conviction that I’ve got tears in my eyes just writing about it!
Ticotin, who sounds like a headache tablet, is eminently likeable as the renegade Melina and Hauser’s former lover. She’s hardly given to any moments of depth or even any actual warmth, but you have no problem at all buying her as a goddess of action. All she has to do is run and shoot and fight … and jump. And she takes the knocks bravely on the chin – or right on the back of the head as those polystyrene rocks come raining down on her. At least I hope they were polystyrene, I mean you can never tell with Crazy Paul Verhoeven calling the shots, can you?
Verhoeven gets to indulge his fascination for exposing corporate fascism with the shady and decidedly corrupt Agency, with its glaring affiliation to the sinister sounding Northern Block, personified by regular evil bureaucrat Ronny Cox’s imperious head-the-ball Cohaagen, who lords it over the troubled Martian settlement, charging the lower classes for the very air that they breathe and clamping down viciously on the highly justified rebellion that is taking place there. His big secret is that Mars can be made breathable without the population having to live inside big sealed domes – a development that would, obviously, bite deeply into the huge profits that he makes from selling oxygen to the masses. He comes from the same family as Peter Boyle’s nefarious mining administrator in Outland’s Con-Am 27, and anybody who works in Weyland Yutani’s management chain. He is also clearly affiliated to Cox’s own former character of OCP’s unscrupulous director, Dick Jones, in Verhoeven’s Robocop. This far-reaching and not at all unjustified hatred of corporate greed is always dealt out in totally unconcealed broad brush-strokes, and it makes for instantly contemptible villains that we can all identify with. Cox, who once paddled up destiny’s river with Burt Reynolds in Deliverance and took on an automobile demon alongside James Brolin in The Car, is extremely good at delivering a character to you, lock, stock and barrel, in the very first second that you see him on-screen. Often foul-mouthed and profoundly irritable when things aren’t going his way, it would be great to see him as a more comical yet hugely more realistic Bond villain. I mean there’s only so many schemes that Blofeld can see going up in smoke at the hands of 007 before he’s going to start kicking that damn cat all over the show. He’s superbly childish and skin-crawlingly, hysterically inconsiderate as the overtly nasty Cohaagen.
But what would the chief baddie be without his subordinate scumbags to do his dirty work?
On Cohaagen’s side is the volatile, hyper-violent and incredibly hopeless Richter, played by one of my all-time favourite genre character-actors, Canadian-born Michael (Scanners) Ironside. Almost always playing somebody with a hidden agenda, Ironside has the air of a more serious Jack Nicholson. He was terrifying and sympathetic as the evil telepath in Cronenberg’s Scanners, and just damn terrifying in the slasher, Visiting Hours. He was cold-bloodedly ruthless as the renegade Special Ops major in Walter Hill’s ace Extreme Prejudice. He had one of 80’s television’s best scraps in the alien invasion series V, and he even brought a degree of menace to Top Gun as the deadly grave dogfight instructor, Jester. And he was amazingly sinister, even with only one arm and a beer-belly, in Brad Anderson’s awesome mysterioso of The Machinist. This ability to convey single-minded eeee-viiiil is perhaps crystallised by his voicing of Darkseid in the Justice League animated show.
Here, as the trigger-happy Richter, he is a buffoon. A bloody dangerous one … but a complete buffoon. Escorted into action by his trusty geek sidekick, Helm, (played by Michael Champion, who looks likes Mr. Magoo in those coke-bottle glasses) he relentlessly pursues Quaid across the solar system, shooting at him and completely missing him almost every step of the way. Ironside must have it in his contract that if he is to use a firearm it must be an Uzi – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen him blasting away with one! His hatred of this memory-addled adversary is compounded by that uncomfortable fact that Quaid’s fake wife, Lori, is actually his own good lady, whose job for the Agency, and Cohaagen, is to pose as deep-cover watchdog over the burly, but befuddled beefcake … which also means sleeping with him. So, nothing personal then? While his men drop like flies around him, their bullet-chewed bodies resembling chopped liver, Richter just blunders on after Quaid, recklessly ignoring innocent passersby – in one controversial scene, Arnie uses a poor, backpack-wearing bystander as a human shield, his body ceaselessly blasted to pieces on the longest escalator in movies until Pacino went for an eventful ride on the one in Grand Central Station at the end of Carlito’s Way – and simply spraying bullets all over the place. He’s an idiot, of course – even blowing a hole in the Mars customs protective dome and nearly getting everyone sucked-out into scarlet-tinted oblivion - but what makes him so memorable is Ironside’s utter fury and frustration each time his quarry gets away. His enraged roar as Quaid makes a lucky leap through the smashed window of a leaving subway train, and then constipated expression of pure “SCREW YOU ALL!!!!!” as his prey gets safely away is almost worth the price of admission alone. And, he actually convinces when he starts laying-into Schwarzenegger ... which is more than most screen-baddies can do.
“And what about the girl? Sleazy, athletic … and demure?”
“Now, she’s real. I dreamed about her before I went to Rekall.”
“Oh, Doug, listen to yourself. She’s “real” because you dreamed her …”
We’ve all had a great time, lately, dissecting and ridiculing the BAD SCIENCE of Ridley Scott’s ham-fisted Prometheus, but Total Recall has more than its fair share of techno-howlers. The difference, of course, is in the mood, the delivery, the purpose and the overall ambition of the project, and in the sheer sense of colourful, speculative fun … and Total Recall positively bathes in the radiant glow of silly what-ifs and cheeky conjecture, its clever twist is that instantaneous nail-painting, holograms for sports practice or for combat, memory implants, animatronic disguises, robot taxis that will try to kill passengers who forget to pay, space travel and terra-forming are now hardly revolutionary ideas. They seemed pretty feasible and even workable to us back then and strangely less outlandish and comic-book as Verhoeven’s colourful visuals would seem to imply. We can definitely mess with peoples’ minds enough to have them believe that they are a secret agent on the run from Martian assassins! But what I always had a problem with and, annoyingly, still do, are the more physical elements of Doug’s quest. Look at the size of the tracking-bug he extracts from his latex hooter! I mean, come on. You squeeze a little tiny pimple on the end of your nose and suddenly you’ve got a bright red and bulbous snout that even Jimmy Durante would poke fun at. But Quaid’s schnozzle just shrinks back to normal straightaway. And, hey, what about the sensationally eye-popping, tongue-stretching, facially mutating finale in the oxygen-starved Martian atmosphere? Oh sweet Jeezus, this looks gorgeously astonishing and is tremendously icky fun all right, but, trust me, no matter how quickly that terra-forming apparatus gets to work (and, man, is it quick!) you’re not going to get your eyeballs back into your head once they’ve bulged out like steroidal goose-eggs unless you have Superman on-hand to spin the planet backwards in time. AND LET’S NOT EVEN GET STARTED ON THAT PARTICULAR FEAT! But, in Verhoeven’s and Bottin’s future, we have flesh that remembers its precise physiognomy and swiftly returns to its former beauty no matter what horrific trauma it has received.
Oh, I know it’s still several shades of awesome, and just a load of extravagant nonsense that you are not supposed to take too seriously, but these bits still rankle me.
Verhoeven plays a blinder with the sequence when Rekall’s Dr. Edgemar (played with nervous excellence by Roy Brocksmith) turns up at Doug’s apartment in the Mars Hilton in an attempt to convince him that he is, in fact, still sitting in the implant chair back on Earth and that everything that has been happening has all been a part of a schizoid embolism he suffered. With Lori in tow, playing all luvvie-duvvie again, to help him to persuade Doug that all is fine back in the “real” world, he insists that Doug swallow a suspicious looking red pill (referenced in The Matrix at the end of the decade) as a symbol of his willingness to return to his life as a lowly construction worker with an adoring wife. Suddenly, we are confronted with the best structured mindf*ck that the screenplay has up its sleeve. Edgemar’s explanation sounds totally plausible, yet we simply don’t trust Lori. But, once again, Edgemar makes it all so damn conceivable and, in fact, likely … especially when he then informs Doug of what will happen if he doesn’t take the pill and, indeed, pulls the trigger on the gun pressed against his head. “Won’t make the slightest bit of difference to me, Doug. But the consequences to you will be devastating. In your mind, I’ll be dead, and with no-one to guide you out, you’ll be stuck in permanent psychosis. The walls of reality will come crashing down. One minute you’ll be the saviour of the rebel cause, and the next, you’ll be Cohaagen’s bosom-buddy. You’ll even have fantasies about alien civilisations, as you requested … but, in reality, back on Earth, you’ll be lobotomised!” In a superb conceit, Rekall’s promotional doctor actually gives away the rest of the plot, filling out our hero’s mission parameter. This is stunningly well done and vigorously audacious … and something that has the power to question your perception of what is actually happening.
Cementing this there is a moment when we are genuinely unsure what side of reality we are on, and whether or not we have just been following the delusions of a madman. Very clever. Very cunning.
Music for the mentally-miasmic. On Mars.
I still can’t work out whether or not the great Jerry Goldsmith was purposely homaging Basil Poledouris’ famous main theme for Arnie’s Conan The Barbarian with his own main title theme for Total Recall (it is only those first two massive brass notes anyway), but one thing I’m positive about – he created one of his boldest and most exciting SF action scores for Verhoeven’s Martian odyssey. And to add to all of the brass-fuelled, ultra-percussive violent set-pieces, he would bring a battery of cool electronics and synth, blended perfectly with the traditional orchestra, to effect the unpredictable future world of 2083 and the diverse madness of Mars. Goldsmith was definitely the composer to go to for this blistering, hi-energy, hi-concept tour de force. Having created vastly unusual, experimental and now iconic scores for Planet of the Apes, Logan’s Run, Alien, Star Trek The Motion Picture, Outland and Runaway (which was his first all-electronic score), he was uniquely gifted in the musical evocation of the otherworldly and the devoutly futuristic. Couple these avant-garde talents with the ability to make the heart pound and the blood surge with ultra-macho mayhem, a la the first three Rambo films, and you had the makings of one of the genre’s most exhilarating and wild scores. But, just to round off this fantastic package of musical exuberance, without which Total Recall would be a profoundly lesser experience, Goldsmith would also imbue the story with a terrific sense of awe and wonder. Even if Verhoeven just wanted to shred innumerable extras in front of the camera, and Arnie wanted to challenge himself with a character who was reacting to such a mind-bending dilemma, Goldsmith would provide dreamy, celestial passages to evoke the mysterious power-source in the pit of the Martian pyramid and the surreal telepathic abilities of Kuartu, as well as bringing in little elements of scintillating, semi-humorous source cues for the Rekall commercials and TV news spots.
Goldsmith would work with Verhoeven (and Sharon Stone) again on Basic Instinct, and later on Hollow Man, providing more outstanding scores. But his music for Total Recall, as well as being a firm fan-favourite, is possibly the most perfect combination of orchestra and electronics ever committed to a film score.
Bottin’s bevy of mutant-beauties!
For the various mutated denizens of the oxygen-rationed enclave of the Martian sleaze-pit of Venusville, as well as the copious bloodletting, Paul Verhoeven turned to accomplished cult demigod of prosthetics and latex, Rob (The Thing) Bottin. The once unstoppable cavalcade of imaginative creation that was the hairy craftsman of monsters such as the werewolves of The Howling, the gruesome guises of The Thing and awesome swamp-hag and demon-lord from Legend, leapt into this off-world panoply of bodily manipulation with typical flair and passion. Whilst it must certainly have been fun moulding a triple set of breasts – “Oh, baby, you make me wish I had three hands!” – he got to work on livid split-faces, spidery, tendril-like limbs, and further quasi-beautiful and exotic deformities that David Cronenberg must surely have admired. Cronenberg had initially been slated to helm the film during its early, and abortive developmental stages, but later dropped out of the process when The Fly buzzed back into his reach. The weird and wonderful Kuatu, who lives attached like some Siamese twin, Frank Henenlotter-style, to the torso of rebel host George (Marshall Bell) is a grotesque baby that resembles the newborn-prosthetic seen in A Serbian Film’s most outrageous taboo-breaking moment. Surprisingly enough, this creature looks very effective, even in close-up. But, being a Verhoeven flick, Bottin’s mystical empath still ends up having half his skull blown away in a callously bloody shot that most directors would have kept off-camera.
Then there’s melt-face Tony (Dean Norris, who would lead the SWAT team against Arnie in T2 and those pesky Gremlins in their own sequel) whose sliding-pizza noggin actually looks like what would happen to a penis if it was exposed to the volatile Martian atmosphere! “You’ve got a nerve showing your face around here, Hauser!” he growls at Arnie in the seedy sex-club, The Last Resort, who happily replies, “Look who’s talking!”
Bottin would also devise the scene-stealing Johnny Cab robo-cabbie, voiced by Robert (The Howling/Star Trek) Picardo, who was actually designed to resemble an all-American gas station attendant from the fifties. Picardo was well used to Bottin’s techniques, having been transformed into a seven-foot wolf man and a boy-eating swamp fiend by him beforehand. And then there is Quaid’s big lady animatronic disguise that he’s hidden inside to get through Mars customs control. Bottin would capture the latex maskery for Tom Cruise in the first Mission Impossible film for Brian De Palma, but this is as warped as they come. “Two weeks ... tooo-whuh-eeeks!” burbles the malfunctioning robot head when the official asks how long the seriously disturbing looking female ogre intends to stay, before it splits apart like an industrial take on The Thing’s dog-head peeling itself back and then reconnects itself into a talking bomb. Classy. And Bottin’s former teacher, Rick Baker, was clearly influenced by some of this invention when he fashioned his bizarre aliens for Men In Black.
And we can’t forget the squib-blasting, limb-lopping, neck-breaking carnage that regularly punctuates the proceedings. Hats off for the close-up skull-shot that puts an end to Dr. Edgemar’s powers of sweaty persuasion – look at that solid gobbet of brain-tissue that falls from the hole – and the poetic bullet that finally silences Sharon Stone’s Mars-hating blonde bitch – “Consider dat a divorce!” smirks Arnie.
Having supplied the gristle and the gore for the first Robocop, Bottin swiftly moved onto providing the robo-suit for the sequel, which came out not long after Total Recall. Although we have seen his work in the likes ofSe7en and Fight Club, and he would aid some of the kills in Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct, this wunderkind has since dropped out of the film industry, with his last actual credit being the Adam Sandler remake of Mr. Deeds in 2002. Rumours were that he’d given up on Hollywood due to the ceaseless trend for CG effects and had turned to selling real estate! Well, I can’t say whether this is true or not, and the monster-man has certainly been seen and even done some Q & A sessions with fans, but when, or if, he will return to the movie-magic that made his name … we’ll just have to wait and see. And keep our mutating fingers crossed.
Quaid’s confused? Well, he sure ain’t the only one.
One of the problems with having a big budget, superstar-headed SF action blockbuster is that the screenplay is in danger of becoming merely a springboard to hurl us from one set-piece chase ‘n’ shootout to another without due consideration to the intricacies of the plot.
A fundamental question mark always seems to hang over the entire convoluted motive for Hauser going undercover to Earth as Doug Quaid in the first place. Whenever I’ve discussed this film, detractors always cite this as an error, but to me the set-up seems fairly simply explained. Since he had already gained the trust of the rebels via his association with Melina, why hasn’t this connection already aided Hauser’s uncovering of Kuatu? Well, quite clearly, as Cohaagen says, their efforts could never get past the mutant psychics who could always sniff them out. Thus, Hauser hatches the mind-swapping tactic that wipes him clean as a slate, gives him an entirely new set of memories that don’t link him to the Agency and allows him to then, having been recognised by his former “associates” in the Underground, regain access to their ranks, who will believe he is not working for the other side as everyone from there keeps on trying to kill him, and thus be unreadable as a threat by the psychics. Aye, it is definitely a messy and complicated scheme … I mean they’re really clutching at straws hoping that Quaid will actually reawaken enough of an interest in Mars to begin piecing the clues together. Or was he programmed to do so? We’re not really informed. But it also follows that Richter, no matter how determined he is to waste Quaid, will continually fail to do so … because he so downright inept. He has clearly been told a different story about Quaid, though, as has Lori. They all know he’s been implanted and is supposed to stay away from Rekall, but the extent of their knowledge and complicity in the plot is never properly made clear.
Of course, the point of this screenplay is to keep you on your toes, ensuring that you’re never quite sure who is what, or why certain things are happening. In the cold light of day, the film does not stand up to narrative scrutiny. But you’ve been barking up the wrong tree if you really expected it to.
However, one thing that always bothers me is when Cohaagen has Quaid and Melina taken to the Martian implant room to have his buddy’s brain returned to him and the rebel fighter turned into his moll. Why go to the trouble of explaining their strategy, even showing Quaid the mocking video recording that Hauser made before assuming his guise as the construction worker, and then inviting them to a party … if, once he gets back to his chambers a moment or two later, he then reluctantly decides to have them both executed by an elated Richter? Okay, I reckon that what we have here is either a missing scene in which Cohaagen learns that Quaid and Melina have escaped again, or we are simply supposed to assume that he has learned of this development in the interim. As it stands though, I’m afraid this development makes no sense.
Of course, the whole thing could well be just a dream. Verhoeven even seems to nudge towards this eventuality by placing verbal clues – including Dr. Edgemar’s frantic last words speech – hinting at what will transpire directly in Doug’s ear. Predestination? Auto-suggestion? Either way, it is great that such ambiguity is provided because it means that we can all view the film differently, or even view it differently, ourselves, every time we see it.
Importantly, the film was the first proper big attempt to marry-up heavy SF ideas with hi-octane action and a major superstar to spearhead it, and the most thought-provoking entry in the genre since Blade Runner. Unsurprisingly, it proved to be hugely influential with The Fifth Element, Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor and The Matrix all sitting up and taking notes. Even Kuatu’s surreal plea to Quaid to “Open your mind,” became a phrase that wormed its way into pop-culture in song lyrics and advertising slogans.This still isn’t the full X-rated version of the film that Verhoeven originally shot, so there are no extended scenes of Quaid ramming the bore-drill through Benny the traitorous, gold-toothed mutant cabbie, or shoving metal implements through the staff of Cohaagen’s implant room, or Richter’s arms being severed and waggled about. But, rest assured, you won’t find the film wanting in terms of gross antisocial behaviour!
Paul Verhoeven’s brazen fantasy is as big, brash and bold as you’d expect it to be with prime-time Arnie filling its screen. Bodies erupt into bloody chunks of offal at regular intervals and the big man gets to utter some fantastically cheesy one-liners. But the film is also a mind-expanding treat that has some tremendous ideas running in-tandem with its tongue-in-cheek attitude. Although Basic Instinct was a great steamy thriller and Starship Troopers would be a thunderous fascist satire-cum-creature-feature, Verhoeven would never be quite so confident or no-holds-barred ambitious as this again.
An amazing movie, like a muscle-packed blend of The Manchurian Candidate and The Bourne Identity, or even a futuristic Hitchcock mystery, that doesn’t have a single dull moment in its chaotic, hell-for-leather momentum. It is far from perfect but it remains the sort of movie that you can happily watch over and over whether just for the escapist fun of it all, or for some head-scratching shenanigans that possibly get even more confounding and obstinate the more you think about them.
Predator remains my favourite Arnie movie, but Total Recall is usually the one I reach for just afterwards.
Total Recallis totally awesome … and where else do you get to see a midget hooker in stockings and stilettos standing on a bar and letting-rip with a machinegun? Not even in Game of Thrones!
“See you at the party, Richter!"