Not to be confused with the upcoming remake, this week’s pick is Paul Verhoeven’s classic sci-fi action film Total Recall (1990). It is based on Phillip K. Dick’s novel We Can Remember it for You Wholesale and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a man trying to piece together who he really is on Mars in the year 2084. Noted for his unique blend of violence, extreme sexual situations, and gore, Verhoeven pulls no stops with Total Recall.
In the film Schwarzenegger stars as Doug Quaid, an everyday guy who has nightmare visions concerning the planet Mars that for some time has been colonized by humans. Disenfranchised with his work and everyday grind, Doug decides to visit a company called Rekall that sells memory implantations that makes you feel as if you have really taken a vacation without actually going anywhere.
While at Rekall, Doug is persuaded by the manager to purchase what is referred to as an “ego trip” where you assume the role of a particular individual. Quaid is intrigued and selects the persona of a secret agent who is on a mission to save Mars.
Quaid is sedated and undergoes the memory implantation only to wake up in a dazed and violent state where he is convinced that those at Rekall have blown his cover. Much to their amazement, the staff at Rekall finds out that Quaid has actually been to Mars and that the portion of his ego trip as a secret agent hadn’t been implanted yet.
Quaid wakes up in an automated cab and is taken home not knowing how he ended up in the cab. Upon arriving home, Quaid is quickly ambushed by his friend Harry from work who warned him not to go to Rekall and that he never should have blown his cover. Quaid very effectively and violently kills Harry and several others and flees back to his apartment where his wife Lori (Sharon Stone) is waiting for him.
Quaid tells Lori that he went to Rekall and that people are trying to kill him. Lori believes that he is having paranoid delusions and she offers to call someone who can help, unbeknownst to Quaid, Lori turns out to be a plant who was assigned to him to make sure his implantation took. Hot on Quaid’s trail is a violent agent named Richter (Michael Ironside) who is charged with bringing Quaid back to Mars alive, yet Richter tries to kill Quaid every chance he gets.
This is the first half of the film that kicks off many of the great chase scenes where Arnold outsmarts the henchman at every turn. In one particular scene, Quaid makes his escape through a subway station and he has a violent standoff with Richter and several other henchmen who try to trap him on an escalator. Quaid uses an unsuspecting commuter as a human shield and then makes a daring escape onto a speeding subway car.
After his narrow escape, Quaid receives a package from a stranger who tells him that they were friends in the agency on Mars and that he had special instructions to deliver the case to Quaid if he ever went missing. Quaid discovers from a monitor in the suitcase that he is actually a covert agent named Hauser who worked for Mars intelligence and had a change of heart after he fell for a woman working with a group of freedom fighters trying to free Mars from the tyrannical rule of Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox).
Cohaagen runs a corrupt mining company which has plundered precious minerals and has denied many on Mars their freedom. Quaid arrives on Mars and more action ensues as he and Melina (Rachel Ticotin) fight together to bring down Cohaagen and to liberate Mars and bring about a revolutionary change to the planet forever.
When I first heard that not only Robocop was being remade, but also Total Recall, I cringed a bit and asked myself “how can you top such classics”? Verhoeven’s direction, the late great Jerry Goldsmith’s score, and incredible one liners from Arnold can not be duplicated by any stretch of the imagination. Total Recall is unique in that a lot of the technology you see in the film is rather outdated like the cars, technology, clothing styles, yet it offers a sense of optimism for the late twenty-first century and what the future was going to look like from the far off yesteryear of 1990.
Where I think the remake will fail, is in the lack of Verhoeven’s over the top violence that has made such an indelible mark on American cinema within the last thirty years. Total Recall has one of the highest body counts of any other action film before or since. Arnold is brilliant with his over the top puns and razor sharp humor which is why I’m dreading sitting in the theater this summer hoping to be entertained by someone trying to pretend to be Arnold on screen.
Much to the success of Robocop and the pioneering makeup FX created for that Verhoeven classic, Rob Bottin steps in and creates some outstanding work that has made Total Recall the classic it is today. One of my favorite uses of his amazing work is towards the end of the film, when (and if you’ve never seen it, I won’t go into too much detail) one of the bad guys is sucked out of an air lock and finds himself on the surface of Mars exposed to the elements like no oxygen and being burned by solar radiation. Bottin’s FX are nothing short of disgusting and brilliant throughout the scene.
Some of my favorite lines from the film include Quaid tearing off Richter’s arms as Richter meets the dead end of an elevator lift. Quaid throws his arms down the elevator as Richter screams while falling to his death. Quaid yells down “see you at the party Richter.” The second most iconic line is when Cohaagen plans to turn Quaid back into his former spy self. Cohaagen punishes some of the Martian civilians by cutting off their air supply. Quaid yells out “Damnit Cohaagen you got what you want. Now give da people some air!” I think Total Recall has more of my favorite Arnold quotes than any others when I now think about it.
Total Recall is available on DVD and Blu-Ray through Lionsgate Home Video. Check it out on either Netflix or Vudu on demand.