Here’s a surprisingly complex classic from 1990. Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi and action film is great fun—and it features some of the best Arnold noises ever!
It’s 2084 and Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a construction worker. He’s married to Lori (Sharon Stone) and appears to have a happy, mundane life.
However, he has recurring nightmares suggesting he’s had a former life on Mars. It’s colonised by humans, but the planet is facing troubling times due to a rebellion.
Lori suggests he forget about the dreams, but Quaid ignore her and visits a company called Rekall.
It provides video game type escapism through brain implants.
Quaid decides he wants to experience what life would be like as a secret agent. However, during the implant process something goes horribly wrong!
Cue some of the most impressive Arnold noises ever captured on film. Specifics include:
- “Get off… you… arghhh!”
Total Recall from this point enters into a typical Philip K. Dick consideration on the nature of reality.
The sci-fi author was utterly obsessed about what is the real world.
The latter work was adapted into the masterpiece Blade Runner (1982) by Ridley Scott.
More recently, the author’s best work turned into The Man in the High Castle. So, you may not have heard of Philip K. Dick before, but his influence on modern culture is astonishing.
He died suddenly in 1982, so missed much his future influence in Hollywood.
Anyway, back to the film. Quaid is at first confused, wondering what’s going on. But he has superhuman abilities all of a sudden.
He uses those to dispatch of some man blokes. Note the over the top violence, which director Verhoeven often used as satire.
A note on the violence, as blood squibs are used to incredible excess in Total Recall. You’ll also see that in Verhoeven’s RoboCop (1987).
Although that sure slaked the desires of the teenage boys these films attracted, for other film buffs both films offer a mixture of social commentary and satire.
Quaid essentially enters a game of cat and mouse, trying to outdo antagonist attempting to take him down.
Which is where we have the outstanding practical effects from Rob Bottin. In his early 30s at this point, he was already an industry legend.
His effects on The Thing (1982) are legendary. And he’s on top form here, too.
With Bottin’s work, and some more Arnold noises, you have one of the finest cinematic moments from 1990.
As the film progresses, some of the action is quite absurd. As are the situations.
Quaid has to dress up as an odd looking woman to infiltrate the security on Mars (more on this below).
But at this point you can either view the film as a dream… or what’s genuinely happening. The beauty of Total Recall is you can have it either way.
It does seem to hint that Quaid is indeed living out a fantasy. Simply as the source text was from someone who seemed convinced life was an illusion.
And screenplay writers Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, and Gary L. Goldman (no, not Gary Oldman) adapted a slight story and came up with astonishing ideas.
Quaid also meets the attractive brunette Melina (Rachel Ticotin), who looks somewhat like the individual he chose when he visited Rekall for his cyber adventure.
Again, it’s all about whether or not Quaid is dreaming. Yet another of Philip K. Dick’s film adaptations (Minority Report—2002) has the same themes.
It’s perhaps not surprising to learn the author was enormously paranoid. Often too nervous to eat in public—and addicted to many over the counter drugs.
But from his mind came these exceptional concepts. Sadly for him, it was during an era when sci-fi was sneered at.
But from 1982 onward, Hollywood mined his high-concept works to unearth gems.
And the incredible thing about Total Recall is on the many levels it functions. If you want this to be a dumb Schwarzenegger action romp, it delivers just that.
He’s buff, he kicks butt, he makes stupid one-liners, and he dominates proceedings.
But if you want more from the film, director Verhoeven offers a pretty intricate take on everything.
You’re left wondering if Quaid is really there… or not.
The result is a cult classic (if not mainstream classic) with a legion of fans. It’s highly entertaining, but not quite to the surprising standards of RoboCop (review for that coming soon).
Schwarzenegger is good in the role, clearly revelling in the moment. And we got this gem of a facial expression from the film.
But Total Recall is primarily about director Verhoeven’s satirical wit, the special effects (they really stand up, still), and the outright madness of the whole thing.
It’s certainly not for everyone, but hits its target audience full on in the chops.
And it remains another surprising work in Schwarzenegger’s canon. Why did he end up in so many crazed sci-fi romps?
Mr. Universe with character names such as Douglas. Are you sure? Gung-ho American blockbusters with a strapping Austrian geezer with a crushing surname and blitzing voice.
Good. 1980s cinema would have been pretty rubbish without him.
Total Recall was adapted from Philip K. Dick’s We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (1966).
And it was an ambitious project—the most expensive production ever. At the time, anyway.
Schwarzenegger was the biggest star on the planet in 1990. So the circa $60 million budget was A okay. The whole thing went on to recoup $250+ million.
For us, the film is all about quirky director Paul Verhoeven. Now into his 80s, he’s actually only made nine films.
Arguably the best of the lot is the more obscure 2005 effort Black Book. It’s a gritty WWII drama and a specifically Dutch production.
As of now, his last film is Elle from 2016. Again, it was critically acclaimed. So Verhoeven just seems to get better with age as a director.
Even if he’s now focussing on Dutch productions—and will likely have to retire soon (if he hasn’t already).
But he’s one of the great, often misunderstood, modern directors. His name doesn’t evoke the same reverence as, say, Steven Spielberg. But his cult following is vast. And rightly so.
In 2012, for no real reason, a remake came about. Colin Farrell has the lead, whilst Bryan Cranston is the antagonist.
It’s okay. It was also completely pointless—a remake no one wanted and that adds absolutely nothing to the story.