Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall manages to cram murder, mayhem, mystery, and romance into a labyrinthine framework that’s often quite fascinating to plumb the depths of upon repeated viewings. With Verhoeven at the helm, it’s über-violent as was quite the custom of movies made during this period, but if one can get past the tons of bodies (quite a few innocent bystanders included) which litter the frame at any given moment, there’s the core of a really mind-boggling idea amid this incessant carnage.
Total Recall: Mind-Bending Edition (Blu-ray)
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 113 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, French, German
MSRP: $ 14.99
Release Date: July 31, 2012
Review Date: July 23, 2012
Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Doug Quaid, a mining engineer who has been having recurring nightmares about a former life on Mars. As he soon learns, he has a previous existence on the Red Planet that has been skillfully debugged from his brain. As these vague memories become an obsession with him, he becomes drawn into a whirling vortex of vice and corruption tied to a civil war now raging on Mars, an excavation planet in the year 2084. Slowly he begins piecing together his true identity with the help of a former girl friend (Rachel Ticotin) and some prophesying mutant aliens who are trying to recapture Mars from a band of viper-like businessmen led by a master criminal played by Ronny Cox.
The quasi-CIA nature of Schwarzenegger’s identity keeps the plot interesting even when things seem to get muddled in the crosses and doublecrosses that are built into the film’s plotting by writers Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, and Gary Goldman. (The film plays better on multiple views as one sorts through his own interpretation of the various dreams and realities that are present.) There are moments when the clever villains (some of whom aren’t obvious at first glance and others who are missing only a mustache to twirl) have us (and Quaid) convinced that what we have previously experienced has been a drug-induced dream, the product of an inefficient laboratory technician. But ingenuity and originality often give way to an almost unending sea of slaughter which director Paul Verhoeven embraces with consummate relish (though his Dutch pictures like Spetters and The 4th Man, while containing violence, kept it better in perspective). But he also handles the elaborate (for their time) special effects of these worlds of 2084 masterfully. And there is some humor: a robot taxi driver is great fun (one wishes there had been more scenes with it before it gets torched) and naturally Schwarzenegger has been given several dead-pan quips with the production team obviously hoping they’d strike gold as James Cameron had done using the actor in The Terminator. They got their wish.
Arnold Schwarzenegger gives off no romantic sparks at all even with two of the screen’s sexiest women (Rachel Ticotin and Sharon Stone) opposite him. He was still inexperienced enough as an actor to have trouble sometimes delivering lines with conviction (though there is definitely improvement here from earlier films), but there’s no denying his street cred in the action scenes, and there are some scenes where he's interacting with an image of himself that are nicely played by the actor. Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside play one-dimensional villains with great gusto. Both Rachel Ticotin and especially Sharon Stone carry off their action parts with impressive aplomb.
The transfer has been framed at the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. As in previous video editions of this movie, bringing it into the home is an inconsistent experience. Sharpness, contrast, and color saturation levels are all erratic throughout with some of it looking reference quality and other parts appearing slightly foggy and indistinct. The reds of Mars are handled quite beautifully with no blooming, banding. or false contouring found in earlier releases. (The press notes state that this is an all-new, director-approved HD transfer, but I wasn’t able to lay my hands on my original Blu-ray copy to do an A/B comparison.) Flesh tones have a disconcerting inconsistency, sometimes appearing natural and at other times almost purplish in tone. Black levels are only average in depth. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix shows its age by the lack of a full-throttled assault on all available channels. Though Jerry Goldsmith’s involving background score receives a fine surround encode, much of the rest of the film is stereophonic in its sound placement across the front channels with very little ambient sound being directed to the rears. The LFE channel is busy but doesn’t quite have the heft that more modern action movie soundtracks possess. Dialogue is always easily discernible and has been placed in the center channel.
The audio commentary is a spirited sit down with director Paul Verhoeven and star Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both men love to talk and often talk over one another getting out their words. Both pretty much narrate the film (also providing upcoming spoilers to later events in the movie) but only rarely toss out some interesting anecdotes about making the picture.
An all-new interview with director Paul Verhoeven runs for 34 ¾ minutes and touches on quite a few aspects of the filmmaking process. He discusses the problems he had with the third act of the script, how much he enjoyed working with the Mexican crew, the storyboards used for the movie, Rob Bottin’s expert help in the film, his insistence on Arnold Schwarzenegger for the movie (Patrick Swayze, Richard Dreyfuss, and others were initially considered), casting the women’s roles for the picture, and his own falling into a sci-fi rut in Hollywood. It’s in 1080p.
The “Making Total Recall” EPK featurette runs 8 ¼ minutes featuring brief interviews with Paul Verhoeven, make-up effects supervisor Rob Bottin, and co-stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronny Cox, and Michael Ironside. It’s in 480i.
“Models and Skeletons: The Special Effects of Total Recall” introduces us to miniatures supervisor Mark Stetson and CGI supervisor Tim McGovern who discuss their two departments in the making of the film. McGovern was one of four men on the special effects team who went home with Oscars for their work on the movie. This runs 23 ¼ minutes in 1080i.
“Imagining Total Recall” is a thorough 31 ½-minute documentary featuring interviews with the director, production designer William Sandell, screenwriters Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon, editor Frank Urioste, stars Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, effects supervisor Eric Brevig, and composer Jerry Goldsmith, all describing their years of work to bring the story to the screen. It’s in 480i.
A restoration comparison shows a very cloudy original film negative and the finished product in a number of split screen segments collected in a montage that runs 5 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
The photo gallery is a 1-minute montage of still images from the film presented in 1080p.
The disc contains promo trailers for Haywire, The Expendables, Termintaor 2: Judgment Day, and Stargate.
4/5 (not an average)
Total Recall: Mind-Bending Edition (as this new Blu-ray issue is billing itself) is an exciting if particularly violent sci-fi adventure tale. There are a couple of new bonus features here, and while the picture quality is not (and will probably never be) reference in nature, the film is still loads of fun to see again. Recommended!