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Total Recall (1990) Reissue


Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Mel Johnson Jr, Michael Champion, Marshall Bell

Director: Paul Verhoeven

If there’s one thing Hollywood really, really admires, it’s a talented Dick. And they don’t come much more talented than science fiction writer Philip K Dick on whose short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale Verhoeven’s still thrilling genre piece is based. (And should you need further evidence that Dick still rules in Tinsel Town, his short story Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which was immortalized on film by Ridley Scott as Blade Runner is scheduled for a sequel/remake, also to be directed by Scott).

Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (who maybe recalled the 1957 science fiction B feature, IT! The Terror From Beyond Space when they came to write Alien), are among the credited screenwriters here.

The year is 2084, Mars has been colonized and construction worker Schwarzenegger is haunted by constant dreams of his ‘other’ life on Mars. There’s a problem. He has never been to the Red Planet. And his wife, Stone, does not want him to go. This leaves Arnie agreeing to take a ‘virtual vacation’ with the help of Rekall, who set out to implant his brain with ‘memories’ of a holiday on Mars. (He finally settles for the premium personally tailored ‘Ego Trip’: perfectly named for Hollywood personalities)

After which he ends up fighting for his life on Earth and on Mars… and when the Bad Guys tell him “Your whole life is just a dream’, he reacts violently and turns their lives into a living nightmare…

The 1990 film has weathered well (perhaps a tad better than Arnie?). Verhoeven creates strong suspense, maintains a highly effective fast pace that drives the story over narrative lacunae and makes dramatic use of the still effective special effects (memorable among which are a three-breasted hooker in a Martian brothel and a grinning robot cab driver who doesn't wear a seat belt) which won a Special Achievement Award at the 1991 Oscars.

The casting works too. Schwarzenegger adds extra beef to his beefed-up role and dominates the proceedings as a prime action star, even upstaging the special effects by his presence. Stone, recipient of Arnie’s classic line “Consider that a divorce” when he shoots her, adds venal glamour while Ironside and cast-against-type Cox as the crooked ‘ruler’ of Mars shine.

What makes Total Recall even more interesting right now is that a remake starring Colin Farrell is about to be released. Which make this version the only film I can remember that’s being used by one distributor (StudioCanal) as a ‘trailer’ for its remake due for release by another distributor (Sony).

Now that’s Show Business!

Alan Frank

USA 1990. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Technicolor.
113 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 07 Jul 2012