Total Recall (1990)

Score : 82 / 100

Watchable Minutes: 100 / 113. There’s some minor fluff and extra run time added to account for the action scenes cuts. Overall, there aren’t many wasted moments. 

Trailer Comparison : I think this is the proto-90’s action movie trailer. It’s got the rubbery looking CGI and the more refined voiceover plus a few one liners. I think that this trailer gives it a little darker tone than what is actually in the movie, which is a frequent issue even today. 

Movie or Film : Total Recall, like many action stories, belongs in the movie category. It’s a purely entertaining thrill ride based on a really neat concept. 

Info : 

  • Run time : 1 hr 43 minutes. 
  • Studio : Sony Pictures
  • Director : Paul Verhoeven
  • Where to Watch : Netflix

Summary : 

Douglas Quaid lives what he perceives to be a normal life on Earth. He works construction during the day and comes home to his loving wife Lori at night. Wanting to experience more of what life has to offer and longing for a fresh start, Quaid wants to move to Mars. Life on Mars isn’t easy, with revolutionaries fighting with the government but it would be worth the change of scenery. After Lori says that she is firmly not interested, Quaid visits Rekall instead. Rekall is a memory implantation service designed to give the customer memories of experiences they’ve never actually had. Upon waking from his memory implant, Quaid’s reality is blurred as he can’t tell what is real and what is not. 

Review : 

Total Recall is a super interesting concept to base a movie on and it’s nice that it isn’t overly dramatic. I love the whole guessing game that Quaid goes through to figure out if he’s living with his memories or if it’s the implanted memories. The story has great pacing and just keeps moving on to the next situation without an over reliance on fluff. It’s not an overly complex movie and provides enough explanation for the audience to fill in the gaps. There isn’t a huge level of disbelief required to watch this movie either, even in 2021. It seems totally plausible that an advanced society with Martian colonies would be struggling with revolutionaries and that we would have rudimentary memory implant technology. I think Elon needs to take some notes on what not to do from Total Recall, like charging for air and building cheap domes. The timeline is also very easy to follow so long as you can watch with minimal distractions. I was watching this movie with 9 dogs running around the basement and was able to follow it well enough. To put a bow on it, the story is very strong and only loses a few points for some slightly weak character development 

The more technical aspects of Total Recall, like sound design and visuals are where the most points were lost. Total Recall was shot in 1989 and released a year later and boy, does it show. There is one shot in particular where Schwarzenegger bashes these two goons up against the wall and you can literally see the wall shake if you look closely enough. That’s the type of thing that shouldn’t make the final cut. I also thought that the guard outfits and most of the other costumes looked a little cheesy, but it’s not the end of the world. I rather liked the suits that they wore on the surface of Mars though. Now to address the CGI and practical effects. I have tremendous respect for practical effects, but these looked like they were ripped out of John Carpenter’s The Thing, from way back in 1982. It looked practical, but it didn’t look great which cost it a few more points. In the audio department, the score is well done and meshes well with every scene. The overall sound design deals with the rubbery effect I’ve mentioned in some other reviews so I won’t harp on it too much here. 

The acting and directing for Total Recall was another highlight for me. Arnold delivers another great performance as Douglas Quaid. The charisma that he’s known for and the one liner delivery skills are on full display in this this movie. I also really liked Sharon Stone and Rachel Ticotin as Lori and Melina respectively. I’m sure the characters were written with less depth than Quaid, but both actresses succeeded in keeping their characters interesting and developed. I did some research on the development hell that Total Recall went through and I think that Paul Verhoeven was a great choice to bring this project to fruition, especially after the success of RoboCop. 

I think I watched Total Recall for the first time when I was about 14 or 15 and didn’t really like it all that much. I remember thinking the same thing about Blade Runner, which I watched around the same age. I mention Blade Runner because while I was watching Total Recall yesterday afternoon, I felt that it was really similar. There were beats and tones from the story that just felt very familiar. After watching some of the credits roll for, because I was too lazy to grab the remote (and this might be totally obvious, but I had no idea) , I saw that it was based on a Phillip K Dick novel, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” and it all clicked in to place. I think that Rekall could be some sort of Joint Venture for Tyrell Corp. in Blade Runner. I know I wasn’t the first to come up with this idea and after researching it for a bit, it seems to be a hotly debated thing. I don’t think that it’s worth arguing over, but it’s a neat thought, nonetheless. Total Recall is an awesome movie, just don’t be expecting modern special effects. 

If you like this, check out : 

  • Blade Runner
  • Blade Runner 2049
  • I, Robot

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