Refresh your memory (or is it really your memory?) with this impermeable classic before Len Wiseman’s remake comes to town.
“It’s a thinking man’s action movie,” according to screenwriter/producer Ronald Shusett.
For once, this isn’t extras hyperbole. Combined with the paranoid psychology of Philip K. Dick’s original short story, Total Recall’s switchback plotting and crunching action sequences made it a standout in the early ’90s, a golden era for action cinema, and it still towers over most of today’s offerings.
Director Paul Verhoeven’s second American outing, it’s similar to RoboCop in its fascination with identity crises and corruption, but chiefly in its social satire, gunning for corporate commercialism as enthusiastically as Arnie does for bad guys.
Verhoeven admits freely in a useful new interview that its lightness of tone was tailored for the Big Guy, who submitted cheerfully to 20, 30, or 40 takes to get his performance right: “He doesn’t have to act, he has merely to be.”
Around him, Sharon Stone’s purring, petulant wife and Michael Ironside’s raging baddie Richter keep the drama up, but it’s still utterly Arnie’s movie.
Its strength, like his, is the punchy comic-book quality Verhoeven weaves from ultra-violence, a strong use of black humour (“Consider this a divorce” was originally planned to be Doug’s gag before he shoots Lori, not after, but it was amended for being too chilling) and that sly, supra-real world view, aided by Jerry Goldsmith’s brassy score with its edgy synth themes.
The action still seems astonishingly violent, recalling the furore that those human-body-shield, Benny-boring highlights created on release, when The Washington Post described it as “like wading through hospital waste”.
But 22 years later, Verhoeven’s gleeful ironies seem more visible among the gore. As does the script’s sheer ambition, a skilful genre-mix that blends spy and sci-fi plotting while painting Mars as a wild-western frontier town.
Its looks hold up too, those neo-brutalist concrete corridors and red rock landscapes positively popping on Blu-ray.
Total Recall was one of the last non-digitally composited movies: analysing three different scales of Academy Award-winning Martian miniatures, the Making Of makes you nostalgic for the on-screen solidity and craftsmanship of modelmaking, and for Rob Bottin’s peerless prosthetic mutants.
Improving on Arnie’s descriptions-for-the-blind commentary contributions, Verhoeven’s teasing interview insights into the dream-vs-reality question (it’s all about the final light and a music cue, natch) will keep the debate raging for another 20 years.