Total Recall Ultimate Rekall Edition Blu-ray Review
“For the memory of a lifetime … Rekall! Rekall! Rekall!”
StudioCanal’s remastered transfer for this Ultimate Rekall release is definitely better than what we’ve had on DVD and on the earlier BD. There. I’ve said it. Now, get your ass to Mars with your own copy of it.
Restored from the original negative under the approval of Paul Verhoeven, this marks the film’s second major arrival on the format in the UK. Now, to be honest, I don’t actually own the previous incarnation that StudioCanal put out, because I wasn’t much impressed with it. For reference, I have looked back at the Region 1 Mars tin limited edition which this, ahem, blows clean out of the water. Although that’s not coming as a surprise to anyone, is it? I did see the movie a couple of times upon its initial theatrical release but I am not going to sit here and claim to remember how the image looked splashed across the big screen of the original Odeon in Liverpool back in 1990.
But, to me, this looks very nice and essentially very film-like.
The 1.85:1 image hails from a healthy AVC encode that doesn’t betray elements of egregious digital tinkering. The picture is clear and clean, not too soft-looking, but far from razor-sharp. Grain is well resolved, with no clumping or frozen instances. As you would expect, it can spike a little during the process shots. I noticed a couple of very small frame jumps that I couldn’t locate on the DVD – but then again, I’m watching a PR copy of the film, so it is conceivable that this may be down to the disc, itself. Trust me, though, if you weren’t looking for such things, then you’d never see them. There is no edge enhancement on show, which is immediately beneficial. Only the most minimal of artefacts pop up, and these do not distract. The massively saturated reds of the Martian landscape and sky don’t bleed or smear, but there is, however, at least one instance of banding that fuzzes and wobbles about for a second. The main occasion when this appears is just before the Martian shuttle passes over us. I’m sure some defenders might like to insist that this is just part of the downward blast of heat causing a mirage. But they’d be wrong. It’s banding.
Close-up detail is excellent, folks. There is often finite separation in hair and eyelashes, good facial texture – pores, wrinkles, a bit of food or spittle in the corner of the mouth, etc - and some sharp clarity on eyes. You can see dirt behind fingernails and even little nibble-marks on them. There are wayward ear and nose hairs on display too, for those who love that sort of thing. I’ve got to say, I was really amazed at the level of clarity this transfer now provides on the smaller things. I’ve always loved Arnie’s work-shirt in this – and he wears it throughout most of the movie – but this is first time that I’ve seen the fine weave-lines in the material. Likewise the actual texture on Melina’s khaki leggings, or the pattern on the flash of Lori’s stockings as she retrieves her hidden blade. We can clearly the see the designs on Lori’s earrings too. And some cellulite in a hooker’s bum. Shards of glass are crisp and clearly rendered, especially the Johnny Cab window that sprays the road – it looked like splashing water to me in previous incarnations. Computer readouts are sharper and cleaner, as is the footage frequently seen on the TV monitors. The blinking lights that surround Doug as he enters the Rekall chair. The lashings of loving detail in the mutant flesh and the chunks of meat blown out of bodies. All of these things are distinct and appreciable. Some background information is also more apparent now. For instance, I’d never spotted the knucklehead by the door to The Last Resort who is dancing away to no music as Richter and his men storm the place. Resolution on these more distant images is always keen, making it fun to peruse the extravagant sets and crazy characters.
You still can’t see the spit that Melina yicks into Cohaagen’s face, though!
Contrast, to my eyes, is higher than I’ve been accustomed to. Some shots can look a little hazy, such as the moment when Doug awakes from his Martian dream at the start, but overall the image seems to possess a fair balance. You can see the level adjust itself as Quaid turns on the lights during his fight with Lori in their apartment – the light comes on and the contrast becomes too high, falters slightly, and then balances out. And there are other minute fluctuations too. Now that’s nitpicking, folks. However, the blacks aren’t spectacular, I’m afraid. They lack depth and vigour and shadow-play is unavoidably compromised. The mystery down in the caves and tunnels of the Martian pyramid is muted and infiltrated by grey. The surrounding shadows in Doug’s nose-picking sanctuary in the old factory appear more hazy and flattened. Then again, when I look back to the old DVD, they are just as inadequate.
The most obvious recipient of this restoration is the colour-timing. Skin-tones are now more natural than I’ve seen them appear before. The primaries are nicely saturated and help bestow the film a comic-book appeal. The various livid shades of the mutant flesh – lots of purples and lilacs – are more apparent and weirdly entrancing. The pink of Lori’s lipstick and little sports bra is now possibly even more captivating. The neon of Venusville, and the gaudy attire of the locals, is also brighter and more energised. Blood is never missing from the screen for long … and it is luxuriously thick and dark and nasty ... especially that big raspberry jam splash that the rat makes on the monitor after Richter finally hits what he’s aiming at! The heavy, dominating reds of Mars are presumably now precisely how Paul Verhoeven always wanted them to be. And they are thick and heavy, yet they look intentional and smooth, with no degree of smudginess at all. The midnight blue seen in Cohaagen’s room is also smoother and more appealing. The new (or original) colour scheme is great I’m happy to report.
All in all, I’m very happy with the way that Total Recall looks on this BD. It is unlikely to blow your socks off until you actually have a proper gander at those close-up details, but this is definitely better than I’ve seen it appear on home video before, and we have its maker’s stamp of approval on it. You can’t say fairer than that really.
Total Recall gets the BD we wanted and, as Richter would say, “It’s about goddamn time!”
A strong 8 out 10 from me, folks!
“Well, Cohaagen … I’ve got to hand it to you. This is the best mindf*ck yet.”
Well, now we get a lossless mix for Verhoeven’s bombastic movie. But don’t go expecting to be blown away by this DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. What it does, it does reasonably well and enjoyably … but this is not a mix that offers up oodles of rear support, engagingly immersive whiparound sonics, or a highly dynamic, room-filling experience. That’s not the fault of the audio transfer, though. The source just doesn’t provide too much of this sort of material.
Personally, I expected – well, hoped – that Jerry Goldsmith’s powerful and percussive main title theme (called The Dream, incidentally) would immediately pound out of the speakers with the sort of reassuringly dominant aggression that would smack you in the face and make you realise that you were in for a real treat. Well, basically, it doesn’t. And, strictly speaking, you aren’t. The bass is welcome, but when the brass kicks in, it sounds less forceful. Total Recall hasn’t sounded better than this on home video – there’s no question about that. But for such a hugely violent and action-packed romp, this mix is somewhat restrained and certainly front-heavy.
Total Recall is a ball-busting movie. It is full of gunfire, shattering glass, things getting blown-up, people getting hurled about, massive drilling vehicles chewing-up the Martian rocks, metallic objects being smashed into, or rammed straight through flesh. But the original elements are now quite dated and they are nowhere near as exciting as you might have liked. Gunfire barks with a sort of organic belch – something of a Verhoeven trait – but it carries little actual heft. The stereo spread arrayed across the front has some decent instances of smooth movement, but there is little in the way of cross-channel action, and only one diagonal switch, as we hear Richter’s car speed through the tunnel from rear left across you to the front right. The soundstage does have some depth to it, picked up especially in the crowd scenes and usually as Quaid is running for his life from Richter doing his Stevie Wonder impersonation.
Surround activity is scant if you are hungering for that sort of detail. What is served up is mainly score-bleed and a smidgeon of ambience. Oh, some occasional material is sent across the room and picked up by the rear speakers – explosions, the movement of vehicles, including the overhead passage of the Mars shuttle which hovers over you and you can almost feel the hot down-draught on the back of your neck, and such like – but this is not a mix that you are likely to ever totally recall as being sonically surrounding. But, in its favour, actual detail within the mix is very good indeed. Listen out during the scene when Doug’s bogus pal, Harry, and his cronies set upon him. The fantastic bone-crunching (actually the amplified sound of celery being twisted and broken) and bodily thuds as characters are smacked into walls (that wobble, if you look) or have their faces bashed-in, as well as the skittering of the bullet-casing upon the floor, are quite marvellously reproduced. Skirmishes are dealt with consistently in this manner throughout, so it is likely that there will be plenty of little things that you’ll notice for the first time and appreciate as the film goes on. Nice sharp and gleaming metallic ka-ching as Quaid shoots the knife out of Lori’s hand, and a terrific shattering of the window as Richter makes that awesome dive through it. I still love the electro-echo as Quaid jumps through the X-ray barrier and it was an effect that I was especially looking forward to, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t still a tad underwhelmed by it. Sounds great, don’t get me wrong. But I’d actually hoped for even more sizzle and bass assault.
Ahh, the bass.
Well, on the whole, these levels can be very good, but I don’t feel that they are consistently utilised. Some explosions pack a punch, such as when the wall to Doug’s Martian apartment is blown open, and there are some fine passages of extended low level throbbing, such as the climactic release of the atmosphere on Mars and its subsequent impact upon the colony, and the thundering passage of the shuttle. I like the machine noise of the implant rooms, and this is dealt with a delicious SF drone. When vehicles crash, there may be some decent bass afforded one impact, but not the next, such as when Benny’s cab ploughs through several walls. Again, this isn’t a fault of the transfer or evidence that it isn’t quite doing its job properly – it’s merely an observation about the limitations of the original sound design. Overall, there’s bang for your buck … but then you aren’t really spending all that much.
Dialogue is always intelligible, but it does sound a little muddy on occasion and it is unmistakably positioned lower down in the mix when things go ballistic. Again, I would say this is all in accordance with the original source elements.
This is an authentic sounding track that hasn’t been unnecessarily tampered with. As much as the war-junkie inside me wishes that it had more oomph, more dynamics and more surround activity, I don’t think it is at all fair to complain about what is a fine transfer of a limited and now relatively vintage audio source.
Total Recall’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix gets a strong 7 out of 10 from me.
“Hey, man … I’ve got five kids to feed!”
StudioCanal’s Ultimate Rekall Edition is released as a Triple Play package, with BD, DVD and Digital copies.
Retained from the previous R1 Special Edition DVD is the amusing audio commentary featuring the gregarious, heavily accented and energetic tonsils of director and star. I say “amusing” because the pair don’t really provide all that much in the way of production trivia and anecdote, or even a great deal of personal insight. They tend to chatter along with the action, telling us what is happening and where we will be going next rather than discussing the film’s themes or its controversies. This sort of thing does get mentioned, but to be honest, the track isn’t the most informative. But you can simply get off on the wacky accents.
We also have The Special Effects of Total Recall which runs for 23 minutes and lets us hear from Mark Stetson and Tim McGovern who worked on the visual FX, miniatures and opticals. With some agreeable anecdotes, this feature concentrates on the Martian landscapes and how live-footage was incorporated into the train as it rolled across the red desert, and the shot of the mutants coming out of the wrecked windows to survey the new world as the camera pulls back, and also how the security X-ray scanner material was created and shot. Great image of the German Shepherd guide-dog stopping to do its business on the other side of the barrier!
There’s a rather naff EPK Making Of that hails from the time of the film’s release, and there’s the altogether more informative and enjoyable Imagining Total Recall, which lasts for half and hour and incorporates Arnie, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Ron Shusett and Paul Verhoeven amongst others, who discuss the production of the movie, the reception it received and its lasting legacy.
But the major new carrot dangled before us is the brand new interview with Paul Verhoeven. Called Total Recall 20 Years After, but slyly subtitled Get Ready For The Bonus Feature Of Your Life, this terrific addition lasts for an ear-bashing 34 minutes. Populated with clips and stills and artwork, this is an absolute blast with the Dutchman on fine, flamboyant and massively over-the-top form. To be honest, you may find yourself pausing this from time to time as his delivery is so loud, energised and in-yer-face that you, yourself, sometimes feel the need to come up for air. Verhoeven still delivers the goods though. From receiving the script to the endless takes with Arnie to cruising around the cinemas to see if his film has, indeed, busted any blocks, this is infectious stuff.
StudioCanal have been releasing some of the Hammer films lately, which I have been relishing the opportunity to review, and each disc has carried a Restoration Comparison that I have had cause to question. Well, the label has put something very similar on this Total Recall disc as well … and once again I find myself wondering whether my machine is at fault, or whether I am just not seeing what I’m supposed to be seeing. The “before” elements are so washed-out, pale and hazily contrasted that it is impossible to consider that the original film ever resembled them in any way. Then the screen-wipes and split-image reveals the same element “after” restoration and, hey presto, doesn’t it look gorgeous? I’m misinterpreting what I’m looking at, folks, or this is just lousy trickery to make fence-sitters suddenly realise just how good this transfer actually is.
We also get the film’s Theatrical Trailer.
Not a bad selection of the old stuff and the new, but I miss the animated menu screens of the DVD!
“Open your mind …”
Full of uber-violence, dazzling imaginative flights of fancy, anarchic wit and satire, and a hint of mutant sexuality, Paul Vervoehen’s Total Recall was the first great SF film of the nineties – and the best … until the Wachowski Brothers gave us the most outrageous mindf*ck of them all when they took us inside The Matrix, although even they nicked a few notions from Doug Quaid’s bloody brain-bamboozler.
As I’ve said, the film is part Bourne, part Manchurian Candidate, part space-age Hitchcock, part 2000 AD, but it all coalesces into one rather uniquely exhilarating experience. The macho excess of the 80’s greets the invention and diversity of the 90’s in a collision of high-concept and even higher bodycount. You can have your cake and eat it too with this movie. It engages the essence of intelligent SF. It wows the eyes with gonzo futurism. And it showers the screen with enough human offal to satisfy a dozen wannabe Rambos.
Fans will almost certainly have their hopes set very high indeed for a new transfer of Arnie’s trip to Mars and, for the most part, I think they will be very satisfied indeed. I was impressed with the newly invigorated colour palette, although I will concede that such tinkering may incur a bit of initial resentment from some viewers. But the film-like texture of the image is a definite boon, the lack of artefacts a pleasing development, and the level of detail highly rewarding. It is only the slight intrusion of fuzzy banding in the red Martian sky causing any irritation. Of course, the lossless audio is a necessary improvement and will be worth the upgrade in many opinions, although I still think the film remains a touch underwhelming in the audio stakes.
A lean, mean, twisting-turning SF-thriller that boggles the brain, stimulates the senses and kicks your ass! If you don’t want Total Recall in your BD collection you need to have memory erased!
“We hope you enjoyed the ride! Ha ha!”
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99
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