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Reviewed October 21st, 2001 by David Nusair


There’s something quite glorious about watching a movie like Total Recall in this era of toned-down violence and political correctness. As directed by legendary mayhem-meister Paul Verhoeven, Total Recall is completely over-the-top in virtually every respect – the violence is incredibly vicious (and comedic), the one-liners grotesquely cheesy, and the special effects enjoyably garish.

Set in the future, Total Recall stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid – a seemingly happy and well-adjusted blue collar type with a beautiful wife (played by Sharon Stone). He’s become somewhat bored with his life, though, and decides to take a “virtual” vacation – which basically means he’ll have all the memories of a real vacation after a (supposedly) simple procedure. He chooses an adventurous jaunt to Mars – complete with villains and a sexy girl – but something goes awry during the implantation. To give away any more would be criminal, but suffice it to say, Arnie gets in a whole mess of trouble and has to kick some serious ass.

In the hands of a director like Verhoeven (who, if you asked him, would feign complete ignorance of the word “subtle”), Total Recall takes off as soon as the opening credits finish and never looks back. What makes this movie so enjoyable (and where it succeeds where so many others have failed) are the amazingly brutal action scenes and the surprisingly fleshed out characters. By the time the end rolls around, Arnie has created a character that not only do you root for, but you identify with as well. It’s sort of the James Bond thing – women want him and men want to be him.

Another great thing about Total Recall is its unabashedly relaxed attitude towards violence. There’s a sequence in the film where Arnie is being chased by bad guy Richter (played by Verhoeven staple Michael Ironside) and some goons, when their chase leads them to a crowded escalator. The baddies open fire and Arnie uses the poor schmo in front of him as a human shield. When the thugs start shooting at him from behind, he turns the long-since-dead hapless victim around and props him up for further protection against the flurry of bullets heading his way. Is it excessive and over-the-top? Of course. But is it also funny and exhilarating? You bet.

Total Recall received a lot of flak upon its initial release for its excessive violence, which is unfair. Yeah, there’s a lot of death and needlessly gory scenes of brutality, but all that adds up to the fun. Throw in some great performances into the mix (Schwarzenegger has never been better playing a human) and a surprisingly satirical screenplay (which lambastes everything from commercialism to the dangers of exorbitant government control), and you’ve got one of the best action flicks to emerge out of Hollywood.

Audio: Total Recall is presented with a DD 5.1 soundtrack and it’s rockin’. This is a track that never slows down – your surround speakers will have their work cut out for them. From quieter scenes such as the introduction of Schwarzenegger and Stone, to balls-out action sequences such as... uh... everything else, this track performs exactly as you’d expect.

Video: The previous DVD of Total Recall had an incredibly grainy transfer and while this one is still a little on the grainy side, it otherwise blows the other transfer right out of the water. This anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 transfer is crisp and sharp, and handles the deep reds of Mars astonishingly well. Bleeding was not evident, nor was any sort of DVD or film related artifacts. A solid transfer. Extras: The most prominent extra here is a newly-recorded commentary track with Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger. If you’ve ever heard a Verhoeven commentary before, you know what to expect here. He talks... a lot. He talks about everything from the initial casting of Jeff Bridges to the themes of anti-commercialism he felt strongly about. Schwarzenegger interjects here and there mostly with agreement to whatever Verhoeven was talking about – this is primarily Verhoeven’s track. But it’s always interesting, despite a few occasions of “let’s just describe what’s happening on screen.” Up next is a 30-minute documentary called “Imagining Total Recall.” Despite its relatively short running time, this doc is almost worth the price of the disc alone! It is astonishingly informative and incredibly interesting. This covers everything from the initial purchasing of the short story upon which the screenplay is based to its rough journey towards development to the arduous task of building the mammoth sets seen in the movie. Most of the major players are here in new interviews, though co-stars Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin are seen through footage from the initial release. This is certainly an excellent model for how to put together a making-of featurette. Next up is a completely useless and entirely gimmicky section entitled “Rekall’s Virtual Vacations.” All this features is three separate 30-second clips of the dunes on Mars, a mountaintop on a foreign planet and an oceanside view of children playing. Why they even went through the effort of putting this together is beyond me. Slightly less useless is a five-minute featurette called “Visions of Mars.” This features a scientist talking a little bit about the history of Mars and the possibility for investigating the planet further. This is incredibly dry, but if you’re into astrology it could float your boat. Next up are three storyboard-to-film comparisons (of the opening Mars scene, the initialization of the alien device, and the device being put into action). This is fairly straight forward and pretty interesting. Next up are galleries of conceptual art and promotional materials. Rounding out the package are the teaser, trailer and five commercials, along with fairly redundant production notes (after that fabulous documentary and the commentary, there’s not much left to learn) and some extensive cast/crew bios and filmographies.

Conclusion: If you own the previous DVD release of Total Recall, you may want to upgrade if only for the stellar documentary that’s included. If you haven’t even seen this movie, don’t even bother renting it – just buy the sucker. Trust me.


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