Total Recall (1990)
“What would you do if someone stole your mind?”
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside
Synopsis: When a man goes for virtual vacation memories of the planet Mars, an unexpected and harrowing series of events forces him to go to the planet for real, or does he?
While Total Recall will probably always rate highly for entertainment value, it has to be said that, after more than 20 years, it’s starting to look just a little bit old. The most expensive film ever made when it was released, The movie has suffered from arriving just as computer-generated special effects were about to come into their own. Ironically, this will probably work in Total Recall’s favour in the long run, fostering nostalgic memories in much the same way that the special effects of, say, Jason and the Argonauts or the first The Time Machine generate feelings of a warm and fuzzy nature in overgrown kids of a certain age.
Arnie Schwarzenegger plays Doug Quaid, a construction worker with a loving wife (Sharon Stone) on a future earth who is haunted by dreams of Mars, a colonised planet he has never visited. Quaid feels compelled to sign up with a company called Rekall Inc., which specialises in implanting fake memories of holidays to faraway places for those who can’t afford the real thing. However, something goes wrong, and the procedure resurrects dormant memories in Quaid suggesting that he really has been to Mars. The company hurriedly wipe all these revived memories – and any memory of having been to visit them – and throw him in a cab. But then a former workmate and three heavies abduct Quaid and try to murder him. Suddenly, he can no longer trust his own memories and is unsure of just exactly who he is and who he can trust.
Branded an intelligent action movie by some, Total Recall does present its audience with an enjoyably teasing plot which not only has its hero unsure of what is reality and what is a drug-induced dream, but also keeps its audience guessing as to which reality is authentic and which an elaborate fabrication. The mind-bending aspect is garnished with the usual Verhoeven ingredients of graphic bloody violence, a breathless pace, colourful visuals and a deafening soundtrack. While the violence is as over-the-top as you’d expect from the Dutch director – he also has equally bloody sci-fi epics Robocop and Starship Troopers on his CV – the choice of Schwarzenegger for the part of Quaid is actually quite an inspired one. He can’t act for toffee, of course, but has immense screen presence, and is very good at projecting an air of bewildered vulnerability. He’s also up against the evil Michael Ironside, who was the ultimate movie villain of the 1980s. Too good and too popular to qualify as a guilty pleasure, watching Total Recall does for our brains what chocolate ice cream does for our waistlines: we know we should be subjecting them to something more healthy, but we just can’t stop ourselves from indulging…
(Reviewed 5th July 2012)