TOTAL RECALL (1990) Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside and Ronny Cox. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Screenplay by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Gary Goldman. Based on story by Philip K. Dick. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. Produced by Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna. Run Time: 113. Color. U.S. Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi, Fantasy.
As with any Hollywood summer, 2012 has its fair share of remakes, sequels and reboots. The latest in this is a remake of Total Recall, starring Colin Farrell. While I’m not planning on seeing this remake, I did think it would be an opportunity to take a second look at the original.
Prior to being Governor of California and fathering kids with the family maid, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a body-builder turned actor. A savvy businessman, Schwarzenegger built his muscles into becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. By 1990, Schwarzenegger was big enough to demand and receive $10,000,000 and 15% of the gross, as well as approval over the production team, screenplay, cast and promotion for his part in Total Recall.
I remember at the time I saw this in a theater that I liked it and I was a little disappointed at how poorly it seemed to age in twenty-two years. To begin with this was one of the last major films to rely on miniatures for the special effects, something that is now predominately done with CGI; hence the long credits at the end of any big budget movie nowadays. There is also a lot of nightmare fuel in the film thanks to the makeup and prosthetics used for mutants. Again, some of these effects are frankly done better these days and again with CGI.
But what actually has held together better is the story. Douglas Quaid (Schwarzenegger) is a construction worker living in the year 2084. Things seem to be going well for Quaid. His job, though menial, lets him take advantage of his huge muscles and allows him to live comfortably with his hot wife, Lori (Sharon Stone). Things are good, too good. At night Quaid keeps thinking about Mars, a planet that he has never been to. Lori tries to get him to stop thinking about it, but Quaid can’t shake it.
On his way to work one day, he sees an ad for a service called Rekall, which will plant memories in your mind, so that you can remember vacations that you actually never take. Quaid is fascinated by the idea and discusses it with one of his friends at work, Harry (Robert Costanzo). Harry tries to dissuade Quaid from going to Rekall, but he is still curious. One day after work he goes and signs up for a trip to Mars with espionage bent to it. But while they are planting the memory in his brain, he becomes violent. Rekall manages to sedate him, wipe out his memory of coming there and sends him home in an automated cab, called a Johnny Cab in the movie.
But as soon as Douglas gets out of the cab, he is confronted by a gun toting Harry and a couple of goons, who plan on killing him. However, Douglas manages to turn the tables on them and kills them all. Back home, Lori also turns on him, telling him that their eight year marriage was only a memory implant. She tries and fails to kill him. He knocks her out and escapes just ahead of Richter (Michael Ironside) and other armed men. Richter turns out to be Lori’s real husband and is working for Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), the governor of Mars. It is clear that Richter is able to track Quaid, but Quaid doesn’t know how.
He runs to a hotel, where he is almost immediately contacted by a mysterious man who advises him to wrap a wet towel around his head and who leaves a mysterious suitcase for him. Quaid picks up the suitcase, but is only steps ahead of Richter. Stealing a Johnny Cab, Quaid drives out of town to an apparently abandoned cement factory. There he goes through the contents of the suitcase, which contains money, food, gadgets and a video player.
On the video, Quaid, calling himself Hauser, instructs himself on how to remove the tracking device, which he pulls out of his skull through his nose. This is also the first visual effect that didn’t age well, as there is obviously a prosthetic make up being used, since the tracking device is obviously too big to be pulled out through a nostril. Hauser explains to Quaid that he used to work for Cohaagen, but has information about a Martian artifact that forced him to wipe his own memory to protect himself. Hauser’s advice for Quaid is to get to Mars and meet Kuato, the leader of the Mars resistance against Cohaagen.
Per Hauser’s instructions, Quaid checks into the Hilton hotel and follows clues left by Hauser to Venusville, a red light district filled with clairvoyant mutants and a three-breasted hooker (Lycia Naff), as well as a Jack-in-the-Box restaurant. Quaid is taken by Benny, a cab driver with five children to support. At the bar, he meets Melina (Rachel Ticotin), the woman literally of his dreams. Melina was Hauser’s girlfriend, but she wants nothing to do with Quaid now.
Back at his hotel, Quaid is first approached by Dr. Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith), who claims to be the President of Rekall. He tells Quaid that he is not on Mars, but is living out the memory implant, even with the espionage side-story. He tries to use Lori, who is just outside the door to convince Quaid to take a red pill to get him out of the dream state he’s in. But Quaid notices that Dr. Edgemar is sweating, so he kills him. Richter arrives with more armed thugs and they manage to subdue Quaid. But Melina arrives and saves Quaid and kills Lori.
Benny takes Quaid and Melina back to Venusville just ahead of Richter’s men. They escape into the tunnels. When Richter can’t find Quaid, Cohaagen orders the ventilation be turned off in Venusville to force cooperation. Quaid, Melina and Benny are taken to a rebel complex and Quaid is taken to see Kuato. Kuato is, naturally, a mutant, attached to the stomach of his brother George (Marshall Bell). Kuato is also clairvoyant and reads Quaid’s mind. He tells Quaid that the artifact is a reactor that, if activated, will turn the turbinium in the mines into breathable air. Coohagen’s men, led by Benny, burst in and kill Kuato and most of the resistance.
Cohaagen takes Quaid and Melina under his control and shows them a video of Hauser revealing that this has all been part of the master plan to get close to and to kill Kuato to end the resistance. He orders that Hauser’s memory be reimplanted into Quaid, but before that happens, Quaid and Melina escape. They run and hide in the mines, where they fight off and kill Richter and his men. But Cohaagen is waiting for them in the control room of the reactor. There is a gunfight, which blows out one of the walls sucking Cohaagen, Quaid and Melina out into the vacuum of the Mars atmosphere. But on his way out, Quaid manages to set off the reactor. While Cohaagen dies of asphyxiation, Melina and Quaid last long enough to breath in the fresh air of Mars. And every one in Venusville is saved.
Not a bad story, really, though the science doesn’t really hold water or in this case air. While asphyxiation is shown as we expect it to look, this isn’t what would happen in the vacuum of space. But then again, what would you expect from a sci-fi movie.
There is a cheap feel to the movie, as if a $50 to 60 million budget didn’t go very far back then. Maybe it’s the aging of the movie itself, but the sets look flimsy and the mutant make up a tad overdone, as if more was better than good. The prosthetic make up doesn’t look believable, either. In the scene where Quaid goes to Mars dressed like a woman, when the fake mask malfunctions, the head underneath it looks like a prosthetic Schwarzenegger. And the cars of the future look poorly designed. Why would a car driven by the torso of a robot need a steering wheel and accelerator?
Some of the special effects are pointless, as when the electric Johnny Cab blows up and catches fire when it crashes. It doesn’t appear that anyone really tried too hard to think about what the world and Mars would look like in 2084, other than a slightly more advanced and cheaper looking present.
Jerry Goldsmith’s score doesn’t seem to be quite right, either. The prolific composer tries too hard to make you think this is an important movie and therefore the score is too over blown for this piece of sci-fi fluff. The acting’s not bad, but there isn’t really anything remotely approaching Shakespeare here, though there are a few good lines sprinkled throughout.
For the most part, the movie is like cotton candy; enjoyable while it melts away in your mouth, but when it’s over there was really not much to it.