Newest Reviews
American Fiction
Poor Things
Legend of the Bat
Party Line
Night Fright
Pacha, Le
Assemble Insert
Venus Tear Diamond, The
Beauty's Evil Roses, The
Free Guy
Huck and Tom's Mississippi Adventure
Rejuvenator, The
Who Fears the Devil?
Guignolo, Le
Batman, The
Land of Many Perfumes
Cat vs. Rat
Tom & Jerry: The Movie
Naked Violence
Joyeuses Pacques
Strangeness, The
How I Became a Superhero
Golden Nun
Incident at Phantom Hill
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City
Maigret Sets a Trap
Hell's Wind Staff, The
Topo Gigio and the Missile War
Battant, Le
Penguin Highway
Cazadore de Demonios
Imperial Swordsman
Newest Articles
3 From Arrow Player: Sweet Sugar, Girls Nite Out and Manhattan Baby
Little Cat Feat: Stephen King's Cat's Eye on 4K UHD
La Violence: Dobermann at 25
Serious Comedy: The Wrong Arm of the Law on Blu-ray
DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery and More on Blu-ray
Monster Fun: Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror on Blu-ray
State of the 70s: Play for Today Volume 3 on Blu-ray
The Movie Damned: Cursed Films II on Shudder
The Dead of Night: In Cold Blood on Blu-ray
Suave and Sophisticated: The Persuaders! Take 50 on Blu-ray
Your Rules are Really Beginning to Annoy Me: Escape from L.A. on 4K UHD
A Woman's Viewfinder: The Camera is Ours on DVD
Chaplin's Silent Pursuit: Modern Times on Blu-ray
The Ecstasy of Cosmic Boredom: Dark Star on Arrow
A Frosty Reception: South and The Great White Silence on Blu-ray
You'll Never Guess Which is Sammo: Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon on Blu-ray
Two Christopher Miles Shorts: The Six-Sided Triangle/Rhythm 'n' Greens on Blu-ray
Not So Permissive: The Lovers! on Blu-ray
Uncomfortable Truths: Three Shorts by Andrea Arnold on MUBI
The Call of Nostalgia: Ghostbusters Afterlife on Blu-ray
Moon Night - Space 1999: Super Space Theater on Blu-ray
Super Sammo: Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son on Blu-ray
Sex vs Violence: In the Realm of the Senses on Blu-ray
What's So Funny About Brit Horror? Vampira and Bloodbath at the House of Death on Arrow
Keeping the Beatles Alive: Get Back

Get Your Ass to Mars: Total Recall on Blu-ray

  The golden age of the R-rated action movie has to be from somewhere near the start of the nineteen-eighties through to the nineties, at which point the studios realised the more people saw their projects, the more profits they could make, hence the plethora of action flicks made with a PG-13 (or 12A in Britain) during the twenty-first century. It didn't matter if the director felt they could only make their efforts with the most extreme imagery they possibly could get away with, those money men were insistent: tone it down so the kids can be taken to see them, or their parents won't mind if they see those movies in a home environment.

This is why it can be jarring to go back to that era and watch action designed to be as bloodthirsty as it could muster, since violence, and to a lesser extent sex and strong language, were considered big draws at the box office. One of the proponents of the big budget action film was the independent company Carolco, backed by Mario Kassar and Andrew Vajna, who followed the model hit upon by lower budget rivals Cannon in the eighties: sell the non-United States rights to as many territories as they could, thus putting the production in the black before a single frame was shot. If anything, Carolco beat Cannon at their own game, throwing countless millions at their releases.

But there's a reason you don't hear about Cannon or Carolco making movies now, and that's because they went too far; for the former, it was a variety of bad (read: insane) marketing decisions, and for the latter it was one big flop, Cutthroat Island, that scuppered their chances of lasting past the mid-nineties. But they had had a pretty decent run, from the turning point of Rambo: First Blood Part II, one of the blockbusters that proved audiences wanted blood and guts in the eighties, through to such famous, runaway successes as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Basic Instinct, Cliffhanger and Stargate that defined commercial cinema in the nineties - for a while.

Right slap bang in the middle of these hits was Total Recall, a movie that has come to represent the excesses of the day, that day being somewhere in 1990 when Arnold Schwarzenegger bestrode the world like a Colossus of action. This had been in development hell for years, passing through such cult movie hands as Richard Rush and David Cronenberg, who came closest to getting it made until the studio organising it, Dino De Laurentiis's went bankrupt. Schwarzenegger, his commercial senses at their peak, knew in his bones this was a perfect proposition for him, so he persuaded Kassar and Vajna to buy the rights and got Paul Verhoeven onboard to direct, having admired RoboCop.

Certainly Verhoeven was no stranger to motion picture sex and violence, and though he dialled back the carnality for Total Recall, he was not about to do the same for the bloodshed, so much so that certain bits had to be trimmed for that precious R-rating (it was an 18 in Britain without more cuts). Yet if it had merely been a gorefest with dunderheaded action throughout, it's doubtful it would have endured in the memory quite as much as it had, for this wanted to play games with you: it wanted the audience to question what they were seeing just as Doug Quaid, the Schwarzenegger character, refuses to. Indeed, he takes everything he experiences at face value, sometimes comically.

This leaves us in the privileged position of being aware that when Quaid goes to buy the future's latest leisure innovation, the holiday memories implanted into your brain to save you the trouble of actually going on vacation, that there may have been a malfunction and all these outlandish events he is going through (half of it set on Mars) might not be happening at all. This was based on a Philip K. Dick short story, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, and although tailored for Schwarzenegger, the rewrites had made something close to the paranoia and weirdness that author had made his stock in science fiction trade, Ronald Shussett and Dan O'Bannon (who had scripted Alien) being the real engines of the production.

But somehow, this was both a Schwarzenegger vehicle and a recognisable part of the Verhoeven canon: the action was plentiful, as if Quaid was living out the fantasies of a fan of the Austrian muscleman's work, but the mindbending, trickster plotting we would see in The Fourth Man or Basic Instinct was present into the colourful bargain. You could describe Total Recall as the director's own North by Northwest, the Hitchcock classic that went on to define the modern action movie for decades afterwards, as they both led with characters embroiled with plots and conspiracies they manage to cope with in increasing ability, plus humour and grand setpieces. Perhaps this is why fans return to both films, there's so much to delve into, whether you appreciate that feeling of being toyed with by smarter than they seem entertainments or you just want to see a story where Ahnold squares off against Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside. Either way, Total Recall is highly rewatchable.

[A brand new 4K 30th anniversary restoration, approved by Paul Verhoeven, is released by Studiocanal with these extras:

Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood
Open Your Mind: Scoring Total Recall
Audio Commentary by Paul Verhoeven & Arnold Schwarzenegger (something of a legendary commentary, this one, nice to see it retained here)
Models and Skeletons: The Special Effects of Total Recall
The Making of Total Recall
Imagining Total Recall.]

Author: Graeme Clark.


< Back to Article list

Untitled 1

Forgotten your details? Enter email address in Username box and click Reminder. Your details will be emailed to you.

Latest Poll
Which star probably has psychic powers?
Laurence Fishburne
Nicolas Cage
Anya Taylor-Joy
Patrick Stewart
Sissy Spacek
Michelle Yeoh
Aubrey Plaza
Tom Cruise
Beatrice Dalle
Michael Ironside

Recent Visitors
  Louise Hackett
Darren Jones
Mark Le Surf-hall
Andrew Pragasam
Enoch Sneed
Mary Sibley
Graeme Clark
  Desbris M


Last Updated: 31 March, 2018