Total Recall – Mind Bending Edition (BluRay Review)


I just want to start off by saying I haven’t seen the recent remake from Director Len Wiseman so this won’t be a comparison type deal. My main impetus for this review comes from the fact a new Blu Ray edition of the original, directed by one of my favorite furious filmmakers Paul Verhoeven was coming out so I wanted to go back and revisit it.

Total Recall Thai theatrical poster

I actually got to see this film in the theater upon its release and I recall it being a very entertaining experience. I was around 16, and wasn’t quite the film geek I later became so I didn’t know much about Paul Verhoeven besides him being the director of Robocop (1987), which had been a favorite of mine. When Total Recall was released in 1990, Arnold was right at the height of his superstar status. Before this he’d done such films as The Terminator (1984), Commando (1985) and The Running Man (1987), all of which were huge hits with his fans, so this sci-fi action-adventure fit right in with his ouvre. It really was another perfect role where he could do his trademark thing, that being kicking mucho ass and delivering memorable one liners.

Doug locked into the REKALL machine

Arnold plays Douglas Quaid, a construction worker who is happily married to a blonde haired, blue eyed knockout named Lori (Sharon Stone). We learn that for awhile Doug has been having reoccuring dreams of being on Mars with a mysterious beautiful brunette woman and it’s starting to bother Lori. When he watches the local news on TV he also becomes deeply interested with the distant planet which has, by 2084, (the year the story takes place) become inhabited by Earthlings. Mars is being run by Governor Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) and his dictatorship-like rule has been causing violent protests by guerilla fighters, many of whom are humans that have been exposed to Mars’ poison atmosphere and have developed bizarre bodily mutations.

Meanwhile, Doug hears about a new business called REKALL that specialize in creating completely cerebral vacations in which clients can not only travel to exotic destinations but can actually become another person and he decides to try it out. After taking some simple tests and picking his choice of a “Secret Agent” persona and the type of companion he wants (brunette female), Doug gets ready for the new experience. Suddenly, while being readied for the process, a problem arises when he suffers a rare “schizoid embelism”. The doctors find out he has already had some kind of implant in his brain thus causing an adverse reaction to the REKALL injection. After causing a violent outburst, Doug is sedated, sent away and his records are immediately erased to prevent any further trouble.

The colony structure loses pressure

On his way home Doug is confronted by his friend and co-worker Harry who is accompanied by several thugs and they pull him into a secluded area. Luckily Doug finds out he now has some type of secret agent fighting abilities and takes them on and ends up killing them all. When Doug gets back to his apartment, he’s in shock at what happened and tries to explain the situation to Lori. He is again surprised when she is also out to kill him. He’s able to knock her out and get away once again after a quick fight. Following the confrontation, another Cohaagen agent named Richter (Michael Ironside) and his men show up revealing that he is in fact Lori’s lover and they set off to find Doug.

While on the run, Doug is contacted by a mysterious man who explains he has a briefcase to give him. It turns out this problem was forseen by Quaid’s former self, “Howser” who explains his current predicament on a recorded video message. The case also contains money and passports so he can stay on the move with no problems. Quaid must first remove a tracking sensor from his brain, so he uses a special device to cram up his nose and yank it out. The special FX here by Rob Bottin are just excellent and comical. Bottin had previously worked on The Howling and The Thing, and you can even see a sort of similar look to his creations especially in the trademark facial expressions which often have the character in excruciating pain.

Melina is armed and dangerous

Quaid then travels to Mars and wears a special disguise as a hefty old woman. When the electronic apparatus he’s wearing malfunctions, he is found out by Richter and his men who are nearby looking to spot him. This is one of the most memorable and humorous scenes in the movie as the fake head Quaid was wearing is also a talking timebomb (“Get ready for a surprise!”). Doug continues to follow the trail of breadcrumbs left by his former self to try to piece together the puzzle of his life as Howser. He finds out that the woman he dreamed of every night was in fact an old flame, Melina (Rachel Ticotin) a prostitute in Mars’ red light district he contacts. Along the way, he also begins to learn more about the guerilla organization who are trying to overthrow Cohaagen to take back the planet. Quaid is introduced to the mastermind behind the resistance who it turns out isn’t a human but a strange mutation named “Kuato” that is attached to a man named George (Marshall Bell). Kuato has a kind of clairvoyant perception and learns through the meeting with Quaid that his past holds an important secret. There is a way to create a healthy breathable atmosphere on Mars by implementing a massive alien reactor which would melt the icy core beneath the red planet’s surface releasing oxygen into the air thus transforming it into basically another Earth. Doug and Melina finally realize that they must infiltrate Mars’ core without being killed by Cohaagen and Richter…

Looking back at Total Recall today in this newly restored edition, I was extremely impressed at how inventive and visually brilliant the makeup and intricate Special Effects looked. Of course since 1990, Hollywood has progressed in all areas of FX technology etc but that still doesn’t take away from the artistic mastery that was needed to bring the futuristic alternate world of Total Recall to life and it’s in every frame. Add to those elements the charm of the characters, the action and constant forward momentum of the story which all keep the it from sinking into a rut. Of course when you pair a bigger than life character like Arnold Schwarzenegger with a bombastic filmmaker like Paul Verhoeven, it’s a recipe for some very thrilling, visceral cinema.

Doug and Lori together again

The idea for Total Recall was based on the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”. It was originally going to be made by the late Italian producing legend Dino DeLaurentiis but after financial troubles it was later obtained by Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar of Carolco. Arnold Schwarzenegger personally chose Paul Verhoeven to direct the film after seeing his sci-fi themed hit Robocop which he was a huge fan of. Once onboard, Verhoeven brought back several proteges from that film including actor Ronny Cox (who again plays the main villain), cinematographer Jost Vacano, production designer William Sandell, and special effects designer Rob Bottin.

Due to its box office success and Academy Awards notice, the film was supposed to have a sequel where Quaid would’ve been working as a special police officer along with martian mutant clairvoyants. The project was never made, but after a major script rewrite it went on to become a film you’ll now know as Minority Report. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Tom Cruise in the main role and was another excellent Philip K. Dick adaptation.


– Much of the filming took place in Mexico City. The futuristic subway station and vehicles are actually part of the Mexican public transportation system, with the subway cars painted gray and television monitors added.

– The film was initially given an X rating. Violence was trimmed and different camera angles were used in the over-the-top scenes for an R rating.

– One of the last major Hollywood blockbusters to make large-scale use of miniature effects rather than computer generated imagery. Five different companies were brought in to handle Total Recall’s effects. The only CGI sequence in the entire film was a 42-second sequence, produced by MetroLight Studios, showing the X-rayed skeletons of commuters and their concealed weapons. Only a year later, James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day, also starring Schwarzenegger, prompted a revolution in special effects with its extensive use of CGI.



VIDEO: Presented in (1:85:1) 16 X 9 Anamorphic Widescreen. 1080p High Definition – The new transfer looks simply spectacular and is the brightest/most clear I’ve seen this film after years of only watching it on TV. Colors are vivid, contrasts are deep, the various red hues seen on Mars are especially beautiful.

AUDIO: DTS 5.1 Surround Sound – The new multi- audio track will have you feeling like you’re on Mars. Turn up the bass and take the ride!

SUBTITLES: French, German


– Audio Commentary with Director Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger – A blast to listen to these two remember working on the film and delivering a constant dialogue of details of their shared journey.

– Interview with Director Paul Verhoeven – The filmmaker behind such classics as Flesh + Blood, Robocop, Basic Instinct and other films discusses his views on the science fiction genre, what his ideas were for the film, what it was like working with Arnold Schwarzenegger and the rest of the cast/crew and his personal theory on being an artist/filmmaker.

– Making Of Featurette – The cast and crew including Director Paul Verhoeven, stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox and Michael Ironside as well as screenwriters Ron Shusett and Gary Goldman take us on a behind the scenes trip to Mexico City where the film was mostly shot.

– Models and Skeletons: The SFX of Total Recall – VFX supervisor Eric Brevig and Main Visual Effects artists Tim McGovern (CGI), Rob Bottin (Make Up) and Mark Stetson (miniatures) talk in detail about creating the mind bending special effects art for the movie.

– Imagining Total Recall documentary – Director Paul Verhoeven, Producer Frank Urioste, Star Arnold Schwarzenegger, Writers Ron Shusett and Gary Goldman talk about the long process of taking the project from its early stages to their own version. The film was actually first set up to be made in the 80s by director Bruce Beresford with Patrick Swayze in the lead role but after Producer Dino DeLaurentiis production company went bankrupt, the project was closed down. Arnold Schwarzenegger then bought the rights and went to Producers Andrew Vajna and Mario Kassar (Carolco) and wanted to work with Paul Verhoeven after he saw Robocop. The rest is history. Composer Jerry Goldsmith is also featured and talks a little about his fantastic, heart pounding score for the movie.

– Restoration Comparison – A closer look at the differences between the original transfer and the current high-definition version.

– Trailer & Photo Gallery

FINAL WORD: For fans of the 1990 classic, you couldn’t ask for a better Blu Ray release. It’s crammed with special features that cover all the bases and the hi-definition remastered picture just makes it sparkle anew. If you’re a Paul Verhoeven or Arnold fan, you surely wont want to miss owning this one! Highly recommended!



Editor-In-Chief of The Grindhouse Cinema Database/Furious Cinema contributor. Pete is a rabid movie geek who enjoys everything from wild n' crazy exploitation/cult flix to big budget mainstream classics. His other interests include: graphic design, cartooning and music.

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