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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Total Recall -- SE (1990)

- Vilos (Ronny Cox)

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: September 13, 2001

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironisde
Other Stars: Rachel Ticotin, Ronny Cox, Marhsall Bell, Mel Johnson
Director: Paul Verhoeven

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (heavy violence, language, nudity)
Run Time: 01h:50m:47s
Release Date: September 18, 2001
UPC: 012236119579
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- BBA- A-

DVD Review

Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall is one of the last, great, summer blockbuster hurrahs before the age of digital effects changed everything. As an in-your-face action film with Arnold Schwarzenegger, it succeeded, but it also surprised many critics with it's surprisingly intelligent plot and attempts at purposeful audience confusion. At the same time, though, it also brought a wave of controversy being one of the most brutal and violent mainstream films made up to that point, refueling the endless "violence in media" debates. Whatever you think of Total Recall, it ushered in a new age of action/sci-fi and left a very deep mark on the medium.

Loosely inspired by the Philip K. Dick story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, Total Recall follows the life of Douglas Quaid (Schwarzengger), your average, everyday construction worker. He lives in a future time when Mars is colonized and, for some unexplainable reason, he dreams of visiting the red planet. Everyone in his life, including his wife (Sharon Stone), try to dissuade him from the dream, but when Quaid learns of Rekall, a company that can create "virtual vacations" through mental implants, he jumps at the chance. He books a virtual trip wherein he'll be a bold, secret agent, but things go very wrong. Rekall uncovers the fact that Douglas Quaid is not actually Douglas Quaid, but someone else who had been using the Quaid identity as a mental cover. Suddenly he finds his whole life dissolving as all sorts of nasty agents from Mars are trying to kill him and he discovers that his whole life never existed; instead, he's the fictional creation of a Martian spy named Howser. As he struggles to survive and make it to Mars, the ultimate question arises: Is this for real or is it his planned, secret agent fantasy?

In a clever turn, Total Recall makes Schwarzenegger the victim rather than the in-control, superman he usually plays. True, he's no master thespian, but it was a different angle for someone who, for the most part, was always the assured hero. Here, he's constantly at odds with confusion and disorientation. This kind of "thinking" action film was probably considered something of a gamble at the time, but it certainly pays off with Arnold in possibly his most sympathetic and human role. Of course, that's not to say he doesn't kick bad-guy butt, because, as you might expect, he does. There's plenty of great action, excitement, and general effects-laden madness. For the time, the effects are surperb and creative as well. Make-up guru, Rob Bottin earns his money, as usual, with some fantastic creations. Great production design helps the whole process as well, with the best "we're on Mars" setting I've seen in any film set on the red planet. But then, I have a soft spot for good, ol' fashioned models, matte-paintings, and set backdrops.

The eventual introduction of larger sci-fi elements, as well some good plot twists makes Total Recall pretty creative, and least keeps you guessing if you haven't seen it before. In typical Verhoeven fashion, the extremes of violence tend to get almost laughable by the end of the film and I think this was probably his intent. It is nice to see some really gory deaths, in an old, pulp-fiction kind of way. And speaking of villains, using Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, and Ronny Cox as the bulk of the 'evil' cast is probably some of the most inspired casting in an action film like this, allowing them to play with the roles a bit. Like any good "ride" of a film, nothing is taken too seriously here, and there's plenty of humor and weird, subtle references to other movies (including some choice nods to the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy book series)

I think it also bears mentioning how Schwarzenegger's recent film The Sixth Day is so closely influenced by Total Recall. There are numerous, close connections between the two movies and I honestly have to wonder if it was on purpose or legitimate coincidence, though I doubt the latter considering the familiar who-is-real themes and even the inclusion of similar scenes. In any case, if you hated Sixth Day, but would like to see a superior, vaguely alike version, Total Recall would be my suggestion. It ranks amongst my personal picks for action films and it delivered one heck of a punch when I originally saw it in theaters. The same will hold true in your living room.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The disc's transfer is something of a mixed bag. While Artisan claims a new remaster, I find it hard to believe. Granted, I haven't seen the original Total Recall DVD, but I can't help think this transfer could have been a bit stronger. While the film is generally free of digital aggravation (artifacts, shimmer, etc.), it has some problems with how clean and detailed it appears. The source print suffers from a surprising amount of speckles, scratches, and dust. Portions of the film (especially early on), that used composite special effects, flicker badly. Since the palette of colors in the film is mainly dominated by red, especially in the Mars sequences, the improvement in general color balance is nice, but a few scenes seem to bleed and muddle a bit. It seems that the transfer brings out the worst flaws in pre-digital effects technology and I'm surprised this wasn't fixed in the new mastering process. Brightness and contrast balance seems pretty solid overall, but some scenes seem to have an inherent darkness to them that goes a bit too deep. Most of my complaints really don't effect the majority of the film and certainly don't deteriorate enjoyment of the film, but they are noticeable. I had really hoped for a powerful, amazing, reference quality transfer and this certainly is not it. On a side note, all versions of Total Recall I have ever seen have had a sort of dark area over the topmost frame edge for the first few minutes of footage (chapter 2, Arnold and Sharon Stone in bed). This is still present, but I don't think it can be attributed to the mastering.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: A newly created Dolby 5.1 mix adorns the film, and it's generally satisfying. There's a lot of enhanced sound effects that use split surround effects, and all sorts of stereo improvement to the front soundstage. The subwoofer gets a few moments of charge from various explosions and heavy gunshots. Everything packs more of a wallop, and Jerry Goldsmith's excellent score is really improved. In a few instances, dialogue tended to get a little drowned out from the power of the other channels, but some slight center channel adjustment improved that. I think a few more surround effects could have been implemented, but in general this is a fun track with lots of activity and energy. The original Dolby Surround track sounds better than it ever has, but it does lack the extensive directionality and back/front imaging the 5.1 has.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 3 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
8 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Paul Verhoeven and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Rekall Virtual Vacations
  2. Conceptual art and photo stills.
  3. Production notes
Extras Review: The most obvious feature of the new special edition is the distinctive packaging. Although Total Recall will be on shelves in a keepcase, the limited edition case is a circular, metal tin. The tin is colored red and the lid is embossed and designed to look like the planet Mars (thought it looks a bit more like a small, stale, pizza). Within, the disc is nestled between some red foam and a circular booklet, which contains some short intro comments by Paul Verhoeven (in which he says "I hope you like this new edition.") and chapter listings. Another booklet filled with advertisements and coupons is also included. Now, I'm sure this case won't sit well with some people, especially since it can't really placed into a shelf collection with other DVDs, but it's certainly original. To the best of my knowledge, the tin case will be limited to the first print run only.

On the actual disc itself, the most immediate feature is the commentary track with Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both of them are together on the track discussing all sorts of elements of production. Verhoeven does very good commentaries and he never seems to lose enthusiasm for his non-stop barrage of anecdotes, effects secrets, and story clarification. Schwarzenegger contributes memories of rehearsals and working with the other actors, and he reveals all of his own, personal favorite moments in the film. Of course, since Verhoeven has a thick, Dutch accent and Arnold has a thick, Austrian accent, one has to adjust accordingly while listening.

Imagining Total Recall is a 30-minute look at the film's production, but is NOT related to the awful, promotional piece that originally aired in 1990; it is newly produced. The best portions are the interviews with screenwriters Gary Goldman and Ronald Shusset who reveal elements of the development from the original Philip K. Dick story, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. It also details the maddeningly complex problems in getting the film made, a process which took years and many directors (including David Cronenberg).

The "Rekall Virtual Vacations" is a bit gimmicky, and could have been much more effective. Basically, it's three, very short 'ambient' loops of locations (beach, desert, forest) with 5.1 sound, but they only last about 30 seconds before looping. It's a cool idea, but a bit mishandled, especially given the quality of real "environmental" DVDs. The sound is pretty good, though.

Running at 5 minutes, Visions of Mars, is a brief look at the planet itself, as done by astronomers and a NASA engineer. Basic information is provided, from past to present, including some details about how future missions may actually bring humans to the planet.

Three short storyboard comparisons are available. Each one is a different scene from the film. The actual movie as we see it now plays in the bottom-right corner of the screen, while the rest of the screen is filled by the original storyboard artwork. The end result is extremely similar to the original designs, more so than most films.

3 minutes of conceptual art are presented in a continuous reel, which unfortunately cannot be paused. Again, the similarities between the ideas and the finished product is impressive.

A great, 2-minute reel of photo stills provides some behind-the-scenes shots and humorous "on break" pictures. There also some good pics of Rob Bottin at work on make-up.

The "production notes" section is an extended, more detailed version of the essay contained in the booklet, detailing some elements of production, but also throwing in a healthy amount of opinion about the film.

There is a large bios section with information on all of the central cast and crew. Interestingly, both Ronald Shusset and Gary Goldman have filmography entries for the long-rumored Total Recall 2, even though last I had heard, the project was about dead. Hmmm?

The original theatrical teaser and trailer wrap up the disc, along with a number of TV spots contained in one reel with chapter stops. On the audio setup menu, there is a link to a brief JVC commercial, but I'm unsure why.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

While the transfer could be better, this new special edition treatment of an instant classic is long overdue. This is a satisfying package that delivers the intensity that never came from the original, barely-hyped release. I wouldn't put it with the top-ranking special editions, but I still recommend it for fans and newcomers alike.


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