Ultimate 90s Blogathon: Total Recall (1990) by Plain, Simple Tom Reviews

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We’re just about done with week one of the Ultimate 90s Blogathon but we’re not quite there yet.  Today, Tom from Plain, Simple Tom Reviews drops by to give us his review of Total Recall, the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic.  Tom reviews a variety of movies, as well as television shows, so be sure to check out his blog for all of his goodies. Without further delay, let’s get onto his review!


My first blogathon of the year! And its dedicated to the most awesome decade ever: the 90s; back when chocolate bars were bigger, you couldn’t use the house phone and the internet at the same time and videotapes were still a thing. And of course, there were loads of great films and this blogathon, hosted by Tranquil Dreams and Drew’s Movie Reviews, is all about 90s films – an infinitely exciting subject, to be sure!

At first, choosing “Total Recall” was something of a random choice, a film from the 90s that I immediately thought of as one of my favourites (and having placed it fourth in my “Top Ten Films of 1990” post behind “Misery”, “Edward Scissorhands” and “Goodfellas”) but on further reflection, I soon realised that this was indeed an important film of my childhood.

As soon as I started rewatching, I remembered that when I was still in school, I went through something of an “Arnie phase”, getting a kick out of watching his films, learning all about them and having a much-watched videotape featuring films that I had recorded off the TV. I believe that the tape included “Commando”, “The Last Action Hero” and this, “Total Recall” (and I also watched “The Running Man”, “Eraser”, “True Lies” and both Terminator films!)

So yeah, I liked watching my Arnold Schwarzenegger films and this was one of my favourites. While in school, my best friend and I would even have fun reciting some of the more memorable scenes, in particular both of the Johnnycab scenes and the “two weeks” part. And while it may not go down in history as the greatest film ever, this is still one of my favourite sci-fi films, probably my favourite Arnie film and one of the more memorable films of the 90s.

Let’s find out why . . .

The Story

Just in case you’ve never seen it, “Total Recall” is a 1990 sci-fi film, directed by Paul Verhoeven, adapted from the Phillip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale” and is about Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a construction worker who has constant recurring dreams about Mars and feels a compulsive need to go there. So he visits Rekall, a company that sells implanted memories, to get the memory of having vacationed on Mars but after an apparent “schizoid embolism”, previously hidden memories are apparently unlocked in Quaid and faces danger from all sides as he holds the key to saving Mars.

Along with Gary Goldman (screenplay) and Jon Povill (story), “Alien” writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett wrote the screenplay and it is all so imaginative, compelling and exciting. Well, if it’s based on a Phillip K. Dick story, you can’t really go wrong.

Arnie

As mentioned before, this is one of Arnie’s finest hours as he delivers one of his more memorable performances and he is so entertaining to watch throughout.

And of course, he delivers those good ol’ Arnie quips, featuring such classics as:

  • “Consider dat a divooorce”
  • “Give deese people aaaair!”
  • “See you at da paaahty, Richter!”
  • And of course, who could forget: “Get your ass to Mars!”

The Villains

The film has a generous host of antagonists and amazingly, they are all given their moment to shine and are all just so memorable. Obviously the main villain is Cohaagen and Ronny Cox is appropriately snarling and “hissable” but I’ve always thought that above all others, Michael Ironside and Sharon Stone stand out as the film’s most badass baddies; Arnie even referred to Stone as “the female terminator”, given her dedication to physical training.

The Music

A large part of why “Total Recall” is so special to me is Jerry Goldsmith’s magnificent score. Obviously it’s hard to write down just what makes it so memorable but the music that plays over the film’s opening and closing credits is just perfect and its central theme, introduced as soon as the opening credits have finished, is eerie, otherworldly and unique. In addition, the music used during the action scenes is thrilling, exciting and is one of my favourite accompaniments to a film like this.

The music also shines during the very final scene; it is so beautiful, haunting and, for the very first time, it reminded me a great deal of “Star Trek”, which I’m so glad that I noticed, since Goldsmith also did the music for a number of Trek films. Plus, it’s also worth noting that he provided the music for “Alien,” so clearly Goldsmith is a maestro when it comes to scoring sci-fi films.

Apparently, Goldsmith has said that his score for “Total Recall” was probably his best. I wouldn’t disagree.

The Director

“Total Recall” is one of Paul Verhoeven’s best films and, as can be expected from him, there is a fair amount of sex and a massive amount of violence. While rewatching, I was able to appreciate just how outrageously bloody it all is, with backs being broken, technicians impaled with metal rods, innocent bystanders riddled with bullets and arms being torn off. It’s good to see that Verhoeven doesn’t hold back and really lets the bullets (as well as the “effing and jeffing”) fly and the blood spatter in the exhilarating action scenes, something that we are seeing less of in this day and age.

The tone is also perfect as the film is exciting, brutal, funny and emotional; the tone is perfectly balanced, there are many elements to it and ultimately, this is a film with so much to appreciate and enjoy; it is exciting and hilarious in equal measure!

The Ambiguity

A fascinating element of the film is the question of whether Quaid’s adventure actually happened or whether it was all just part of the Rekall memory implantation. Verhoeven includes subtle clues throughout that constantly make us wonder whether it is real or not and even though I’ve seen it a fair few times, I’m still pretty undecided either way and am able to see how both interpretations can be true.

It’s fascinating how at least two characters (Bob McClane and Dr. Edgemar) essentially predict how the story will progress, suggesting that it is all actually a dream and the very last shot may very well suggest that Quaid is actually still in Rekall and is ultimately lobotomised, as Dr. Edgemar predicted.

The Remake

And finally just a few words about the 2012 remake, which I went to see in the cinema: in a nutshell, it’s definitely unnecessary and doesn’t hold a candle to the original but it’s not terrible and overall, I thought it was pretty alright, landing in 12th place out of 13 on my list of films seen in that year (“J. Edgar came last . . .) Colin Farrell makes for much more of an everyman than Arnie did (though I certainly prefer the latter) but Jessica Biel was COMPLETELY forgettable and the remake takes away a lot of the ambiguity that made the original so memorable.

I will say though that Kate Beckinsale, while clearly not having anything on Sharon Stone, was undoubtedly the best thing about it all as she was a wonderfully villainous Lori and I thought about her performance above all others afterwards.

One Final Note

Breaking Bad‘s Dean Norris was in this film. It was only when I chose to represent this film for the blogathon that I finally discovered this!

Also, it’s great to see some “Star Trek” alumni making an appearance, including DS9’s Mark Alaimo and the legendary Robert Picardo, voicing the truly iconic Johnnycab. Seriously, I LOVED re-enacting those scenes with my friend at school!

So I guess that’s it. “Total Recall” remains an important, unique 90s film and also remains one of my favourite sci-fi films. I look forward to reading all the other submissions in this cool blogathon and I thank Kim and Drew for hosting.

So I’ll see you all “at da paaahty”!

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