Several years ago I wrote a piece praising the audaciously irresponsible and grotesque action film 'Total Recall'. It was a product of its time, which would never be made today as it was then. Well, now we DO have another 'Total Recall', which makes these cinematic reflections even more interesting (not having seen the new film yet):
From June 19, 2008:
I wonder if we’ll ever see a film like Total Recall again. The film was a major Hollywood blockbuster starring the biggest international movie star at the time. In today’s cinema environment Total Recall would be a tent pole film, written for the widest possible audience and designed to generate a sequel or two, a TV series and a theme park.
Let’s go back in time. According to Wikipedia, Total Recall had the largest authorized production budget for a Hollywood film. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a major star, but not yet at his height of stardom (the following summer's blockbuster T2 would confirm that). Director Paul Verhoeven was coming off Robocop – a sci-fi/action/satire and one of the most violent films ever made. Despite no stars and an R rating, the unexpected success of Robocop allowed him to make Total Recall.
1990 is different than 2008, and a filmmaker like Paul Verhoeven would rarely be given carte blanche with the biggest star and biggest budget in Hollywood to make one of the most eye-popping, over-the-top violent, politically incorrect, lewd and in-bad-taste films ever made. It was a different time then; politics were different, prevailing cultural attitudes were different. Look at some of the films made in the late '80s and early '90s – perhaps the glory days of action violence – Robocop, Rambo III, Commando, The Last Boy Scout, Extreme Prejudice and all those Steven Seagal films. It was a different era. In today’s Hollywood cinema it’s rare for a mainstream film to show even a blood squib (a bloodless Iron Man helped it succeed at the box office).
The original Total Recall deserves to be celebrated. We will certainly miss out on the classic moments:
"Baby, you make me wish I had three hands!"
When Quaid first enters "Venusville", the redlight district of Mars, he is approached by perhaps cinema's most audacious sexual fetish - a three-titted lady.
One of the mysteries of the story is Kuato, the mythical leader of the Martian revolution. Kuato is dramatically revealed to us to be a mutant growing out of Marshall Bell's body.
Cudos to our hero Quaid, who uncaringly uses an innocent bystander’s dead body as a human shield to protect himself against rapid gunfire. Come on - that is totally awesome. Would Jason Bourne even attempt that? No way!
After the dramatic elevator fight between Quaid and Richter, Quaid ultimately wins out by crushing his opponent to death under an elevator platform leaving Richter's two maimed arms in his hands as souvenirs. "See you at the party, Richter!"
Special effects designer Rob Bottin was part and parcel with Verhoeven's ultraviolent streak from Robocop to Basic Instinct. He was a master at organic body and creature effects. And Kuato's 'bullet to the head' slo-motion close-up must surely be on his reel.
Arnie shooting Edgemar in the head
Again, when would a hero so callously blow the head off an unarmed man without pause? In fact, Quaid does pause, thinking he's not a human - but kills him because he is.
Dwarf brandishing a machinegun
OK, it's not crass, but even dwarves and mutants can kick ass in Verhoeven's films. How awesome is that!
Stepping on a Dead Body
After the awesome escalator shootout, Quaid escapes and the bad guys run to follow. Paul Verhoeven takes the time to shoot and edit a cutaway of Richter actually stepping on the bullet-ridden chest of a dead body - presumably that poor sap that Arnie used as a human shield.
Total Recall would go on to earn $120 million at the US box office, good for seventh best that year. But what if the film was made today? Well, it would likely turn out to be Minority Report, which interestingly enough was originally written as Total Recall 2 with Quaid as the cop who solves crime in the future.
Total Recall is now available in a newly packaged Blu-ray/DVD Special Edition from Alliance Films in Canada. It contains virtually the same special features, but here the attraction is a much better HD transfer, digitally cleaned up, improving on the vastly disappointing previously issued Lion's Gate Blu-ray.