Wether you know the name or not, Phillip K. Dick is responsible for many of the science fiction stories that you all know and love, especially the ones that have been turned into blockbuster movies. Do titles like A Scanner Darkly, Minority Report, and Blade Runner ring a bell? Those are just a few examples. One of Dick’s most popular stories was published in 1966 and was titled We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, which was later adapted to the 1990 sci-fi/action classic Total Recall. Now, Phillip K. Dick’s stories have a penchant for being smart and highly conspiratorial, so it would be nice if the movies adapted from his stories had that same style. Luckily, Total Recall is one of those movies.
Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) lives an average life with his average job as a construction worker and shares a home with his above average wife, Lori (Sharon Stone). As life on Earth continues as normal, life on Mars is filled with violence and revolution as a so called terrorist named Kuato fights for the rights of the lower class colonists. All of the reports about Mars makes Quaid want to take a vacation there and escape his everyday life but his wife is not into that idea at all. This prompts Quaid to take a ride down to “Rekall,” a company where memories can be implanted into your brain and make you think you had the vacation of your life. Unfortunately for Quaid, the entire procedure goes terribly wrong and a massive manhunt for him, led by the ruthless Richter (Michael Ironside), begins and leads him to the very surface of Mars where he learns of his real identity and begins fighting for the survival of every colonist living on the planet’s surface…or is he?
This movie had the chance to just be a regular, run of the mill Schwarzenegger movie filled with lots of action, but no real ideas and no intelligence to speak of. What made matters worse was the idea for this movie was being tossed around Hollywood for years before it actually got picked up. To give a point of reference, the writers for this movie got Alien made in 1979 before the got Total Recall made in 1990, even though they began working on the latter first. In a way though, this actually worked out better because the right director and actors all became attached during the process, and an excellent movie was eventually created.
One thing that not only struck me but also struck audiences at its release 24 years ago was the amount of insane violence in this movie, although I’d like to just call it action since it’s so abundantly ridiculous. Believe it or not, Total Recall was actually slapped with an X rating for Verhoeven’s first cut of the movie, but he negotiated it down to an R rating and edited some of the scenes in the movie and changed some shots around. There’s still plenty of gunplay, bone crunching, and gore to be had here so it isn’t a total loss. Then again, people who saw Verhoeven’s 1987 film Robocop will know all about that. Also like Robocop, Total Recall takes place in the distant future so some work had to be done to make it look appropriate. Close to 70 different stages were built which to a really long time, and a lot of this movie was actually shot in more modern parts of Mexico. This worked very well since Total Recall does have a good sense of space and design.
Probably one of the main draws for anyone to see Total Recall is the amazing special effects, which I could say ranks in the top 5 best of film history. Sure, today they look dated, but at the time the effects were really a marvel. I still do find them incredible because this was one of the last movies to do everything with practical effects and no digital composites. There are some exceptional scenes on the Martian surface that was all built by hand over periods of time. Another great use of practical effects are the animatronics that are used for people exposed the the vacuum of Mars, and also the prosthetic make up used for the mutants. This is a really great looking movie that won an Academy Award for visual effects while all of the other movies in the category were runner ups and not nominees. Pretty much, Total Recall was in a category all its own.
To put it simply, Total Recall is one of those movies that perfectly blends all of its various pieces together to make one hell of a fun movie. The action is outrageous, the humor made me laugh, and the psychology was well worthy of a Phillip K. Dick science fiction story. Sure there are many differences between this and the original short story, but I gotta hand it to Paul Verhoeven. He definitely knows how to makes top notch action films.