TOTAL RECALL (1990) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Saturday, 4 August 2012


In conjunction for the opening week of Len Wiseman's remake of TOTAL RECALL (review coming soon!), here's my in-depth review on Paul Verhoeven's original 1990 version of TOTAL RECALL:


Riding on the success of his Hollywood directorial debut in 1987's ROBOCOP, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven hits jackpot again with another sci-fi blockbuster, TOTAL RECALL -- which was one of the most expensive movies ever made (at an estimated $65 million) up to that time. But fortunately TOTAL RECALL was a solid box-office hit (grossing at $119 million in the U.S. alone) when the movie hits theaters in the summer of 1990 with lots of fanfare. That amount of fanfare, was of course, thanks largely to the commitment of action superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his most memorable roles ever seen in his career.

But back then, TOTAL RECALL was originally conceived as a very different movie altogether than what we had come to know for. The movie was first noted when Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, writers of ALIENS (1986), bought the rights to Philip K. Dick's short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale and wrote the original script. But they were unable to find investors for the project and subsequently being passed over from studio to studio.

Until in the mid-1980s, producer Dino De Laurentiis took over the project and attached either Richard Dreyfuss or Patrick Swayze in the lead role. It was then David Cronenberg (THE FLY, DEAD RINGERS) was attached to direct but wanted to cast William Hurt in the lead role instead. When Cronenberg was still attached in the project, he had written about 12 drafts but eventually dropped out after creative indifference with Shusett. It was reported that Shusett wanted a more action-packed feel of TOTAL RECALL while Cronenberg's several drafts were more cerebral-type and close to Philip K. Dick's version.

However this was the stage where De Laurentiis himself had lost confidence on the project especially after the adaptation of DUNE (1984) flopped miserably at the box-office. At the same time when De Laurentiis was still attached in the project, director Bruce Beresford (DRIVING MISS DAISY) was also considered to direct the movie as well and he had even constructed a complete set.

The production went totally haphazard when De Laurentiis's company filed bankruptcy following from a string of unsuccessful movies, and subsequently provided a golden chance for Schwarzenegger who had been eyeing the project for a while. He persuaded Carolco to buy the rights to the movie and also obtained a near-complete control over the production. He even personally handpicked Paul Verhoeven to direct the movie, having been impressed by ROBOCOP (in which Schwarzenegger was ironically considered for the title role but eventually lost to Peter Weller). At this stage of the production, there were already a whopping 42 drafts had been written. Of course, the rest was history.

Set in the year 2084 where Mars has become a colony of Earth, the movie centers on an ordinary construction worker named Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) who has a beautiful wife, Lori (Sharon Stone) and live in a perfect home. Despite a fairly perfect life for Quaid, he always had a vivid dream every night finding himself in the Mars with a mysterious woman he has never met. So he decides to pay a visit to Rekall Inc., a virtual "travel" agency that specializes in implanting artificial memories of vacations into its customers' brains. Quaid ended up purchasing a memory of a trip to Mars with a special package of an "Ego Trip" which allows him to take his "trip" as another person -- which is a "secret agent". When the doctors begin the implant, the procedure goes horribly wrong. Even before the memory is implanted, Quaid has gone bizarrely insane and claims that he's the secret agent from Mars. The doctors ended up tranquilize Quaid and release him. From there, things goes out of hand when Quaid is subsequently attacked by his co-workers and also surprised to find out that his wife is actually an agent assigned to fake a marriage life with him. Not long after, Quaid is on the run as he is being pursued by the ruthless Richter (Michael Ironside) who works for the Mars dictator Cohaagen (Ronny Cox). He is subsequently hooks up with old flame Melina (Rachel Ticotin), the mysterious woman of his dream who reminds him of his past life and his importance on the rebellion currently happened on Mars.

Despite the whodunit-like plot, we never really comes to know the true identity of Quaid. Is he actually a secret agent or the whole thing is just a dream? If you are expecting the more cerebral feel of Philip K. Dick's original short story, you'll be disappointed to find out that Paul Verhoeven's version of TOTAL RECALL is more to his outrageous, balls-to-the-wall action extravaganza with all his trademark (read: sex and violence) intact. Forget about the depth of the narrative points here, because TOTAL RECALL is all about action and of course, the never-ending memorable quips from Schwarzenegger himself. 

While such stripped-down manner might hurts the credibility of this movie, it's an absolute surprise that the movie remains highly entertaining. Thanks to the airtight editing by Carlos Puente and Frank J. Urioste, the pace is relentless with exciting action sequences after another. Likewise, Verhoeven's over-the-top direction works well in his favor with all the gleefully violent scenes he's never afraid to show in a major motion picture. Best of all, he made a right choice not to take things seriously and manages to find balance to satisfy die-hard action fans with enough explosive entertainment and memorable sense of humor.

The cast are also part of the success that made the movie so compulsively watchable. Arnold Schwarzenegger is in top form here. He's an absolute joy to watch for, from the way he handles his action scenes to the one he quips all his memorable one-liners in such high enthusiasm. By now, you should know that one of his most memorable one-liners in his movies is none others than "Consider this a divorce". As Lori, Sharon Stone is perfectly cast in a bitchy role while Michael Ironside and Ronny Cox are well-cast as despicable villains. Lastly, Rachel Ticotin is athletic enough as the kick-ass Melina.

While the Oscar-winning special effects are somewhat dated by today's standard, it remains admirable back then. The rest of the production credits are equally top-notch, while Jerry Goldsmith's orchestral music score is certainly ranks as among the most memorable soundtrack ever heard in a major Hollywood blockbuster.

And I must admit this movie demands repeated viewings and frankly I never gets bored watching it. It's a rarity for a major Hollywood blockbuster so gleefully fun and violent, yet the plot is skimpy, manages to stand the test of time since more than a decade of this release.

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