Join him, won’t you? Before the Colin Farrell/Kate Beckinsale remake opens next week, take a return trip to the 1990 blockbuster with Lionsgate’s new “Mind-Bending Edition” on Blu-ray. And if you’ve never seen the sci-fi hit, then — to quote another character — “Get ready for a surprise!”
(Oh, there are more classic lines to be had …
• “If I’m not me, who duh hell am I?”
• “Take dis thing out of duh case … and stick it up your nose.”
• “Consider dat a duh-vors.”
… but I won’t quote any of those.)
Starving for adventure, construction worker Quaid (Schwarzenegger) really, really, really wants to go to Mars, which has been colonized, but his wife (Sharon Stone) doesn’t share his obsession. Luckily, this being the future, Rekall Incorporated offers the next best thing: two weeks worth of memories of such a trip, ready for implantation. Quaid even chooses a package that lets him play secret agent.
Only thing is, when he awakens, he’s being chased down by guys who want him dead, his wife isn’t really his wife, and his name is now Hauser … and Rekall wasn’t even able to proceed with implantation! While he’s running for his life, he has to figure out just which identity is reality and which is fantasy, assuming those are the only options.
While the effects are still spectacular, the art form has leapt light years ahead ever since. Therefore, with the visuals not wowing the audience to the nth degree as they once did, the focus shifts more to director Paul Verhoeven’s satiric intent; he found the perfect balance between the two a few years earlier in the brilliant RoboCop.
With the spectacle holding lessened importance, it also makes the violence — a firestorm of controversy upon initial release in the sweltering summer of ’90 — seem cartoony. I mean, in one scene alone, you have a dwarf prostitute stabbing a bad guy! In the crotch! With a knife bigger than her arm! And her name is Thumbelina! Gruesome realism is not at play here.
For me, Total Recall is half a great film: the first half. By the time we’ve swapped Stone for Rachel Ticotin (Man on Fire) in the female lead, and introduced the tummy alien, the movie loses some of its specialness. By then, the most memorable and imaginative scenes — Quaid’s bulging head in his broken helmet, the automated cab driver, the full-body X-ray wall shootout, the fat woman’s head bomb — are long in the past.
My criticism is somewhat seconded by Verhoeven who, in a bonus interview, mentions he was worried when he noticed that the script he first read was version no. 42 because no one had been able to craft a good third act. (Verhoeven, however, feels they solved it; for a fascinating history of the film’s tortured history, you should read David Hughes’ recently re-released Tales from Development Hell, which devotes an entire chapter to it.)
In short, anyone who believes Total Recall can’t be improved upon either hasn’t seen the movie in ages, is in denial or is named Paul Verhoeven. And I mean significant improvement — not just erasing the now-ancient Curtis Mathes logo from the TV monitors.
The “Mind-Bending Edition” offers many — but not all — of the extras from previous DVD releases that never claimed to bend any brains. The best of these is a half-hour documentary on Total Recall‘s making; the worst is a restoration demonstration whose “before” image is so bad, so bright, it strikes me as genuine as a three-breasted hooker. —Rod Lott