Sunday, 22 March 2015

Total Recall (1990)

THE 'thinking man's action movie'
On the surface Total Recall seems like a regular sci-fi action adventure movie. Sure it was the most expensive movie ever made at the time and starred the biggest action movie star ever but for many people this would be just another Schwarzeneggerfest of gratuitous, visceral violence, this time in space. Everyone knew physical action was the Austrian oak's forte.

My name is not Quaid.
However, if you do pause to delve deeper and look beyond the relentless chasing, shoot outs, holograms, robotic heads, wisecracks, triple boobed mutants and blood and guts you may come to realise there's a lot more to it. For me Total Recall is THE 'thinking man's action movie'.

The woman! Get him-- her!
The basic plot, based on a short story by Philip K Dick, is about a guy who dreams about going to Mars. visits a company called Rekall that can give you artificial dreams which make who you are and where you are seem like reality, pops something in his mind that makes him aware that his dreams are actually reality and takes it upon himself to kill all the bad guys, save the planet (Mars) and get the girl.

You got a lot of nerve showing your face around here, Hauser. Look who's talking.

I saw it on it's first week of release in the summer of 1990. I'd been waiting months and months to see it ever since I first read about it in a movie magazine. I hid myself away from all the trailers and all further details about the movie. I thought it was going to be the perfect movie for me. I didn't want to spoil it. After seeing the movie it not only lived up to my expectations, it surpassed them all.

I’m sorry to tell you this, Mr Quaid, but you’ve suffered a schizoid embolism.. BULLSHIT!
I heard that originally the main character of the movie, Doug Quaid, was to be played by Dennis Quaid. The character was supposed to be an ordinary average guy thrown into an extreme situation, a bit low on originality, until you realise that it's quite difficult to decide whether this extreme situation is fantasy or reality.
Open your mind,.... Open your mind!
Somehow Schwarzenegger bagged the role instead. Hardly the model of an average guy but still it was a good fit for him, especially the physical action and violence that littered the movie along with enough glib one liners in the script to keep his fan base happy.

Is he gonna remember any of this? Not a thing. Oh, really?...... See you at the party.
Now for the thinking part. By the end of the movie it's pivotal question remained unanswered. Was Quaid really a super spy running around Mars, avoiding the authorities and joining a bunch of rebel mutants. A man whose old memories had once been erased but now sparked back to life thanks to his visit to Rekall OR was it a dream fantasy and Doug Quaid was sitting in the same chair back in the lab about to be lobotomized.

Screw you!

Whilst I watched the movie many not so subtle clues kept appearing which were leading me to believe that amongst all the regular action stuff was the story of a man trapped inside his own dream indefinitely. Characters regularly seem to let you know the whole plot of the movie before it actually happens. The salesman at Rekall tells Quaid what will happen on his 'Dream Vacation' and it turns out to be true.

He's got a hologram!
The doctor who appears half way through the movie to convince Quaid he is trapped within a dream also gives away a lot of plot information all of which turns out to be true. The movie never actually reveals it's hand. We never find out if it was a dream or not.

You think this is the real Quaid? It is.
I'm also a big fan of Jerry Goldsmith and his score for Total Recall has to be one of his best. The 'Clever Girl' track really does bring images of Quaid running for the train whilst being chased by the bad guys to mind. The other track I love, the name escapes me right now, is when the camera hovers around inside the alien mine finally showing the alien hand centre piece used to turn on the blue sky. I was really astounded by that sequence in the cinema. The music made me feel like I was flying.

See you at the party, Richter.
The final thing is about the time this movie was released. Complaints about movie violence were at an all time high and film studios were starting to cut down on their violent action movie output. CGI in movies was starting to take over special effects. This movie used all manner of innovative effects, miniatures and animatronics along with the new CGI stuff. It felt like the end of something at it's peak and the start of something exciting and new.

I'll blow this place up and be home in time for corn flakes.
For me it's for these reasons and many more that this movie has a special place in my heart and also what makes it so memorable and re-watchable. Verhoven nailed it, and I'm pleased to say it wouldn't be his last time either.

I just had a terrible thought. What if this is a dream?
If you've never seen the 1990 Total Recall, you simply must, and if you have, then watch it again. You will smile and probably catch a few new things you missed the first time round. If you're thinking of watching the 2012 Colin Farrel remake, DON'T, the originals satirical humour has been surgically removed from this version, lobotomised you might say.

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