Total Recall (1990)
Last night, I found myself watching an episode of Cinematic Excrement, a YouTube show I watch which reviews bad movies, as the title implies. I happened to see the episode dedicated to Conan the Destroyer, and that put me in the mood for watching an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. I looked to see what I can find on Netflix, and was happy to see Total Recall, a movie I’ve been meaning to see for a while, was on.
Arnold plays a construction worker named Douglas Quaid. In 2084, Quaid is a construction worker who dreams of going to Mars. When his wife (Sharon Stone) is unable to budge about making a trip to Mars, Quaid decides to go to Rekall, a company that sells memory implants for vacations. Upon getting implanted, Quaid finds himself in a conspiracy much larger than anything he could have imagined.
Total Recall was another movie directed by Paul Verhoeven. Verhoeven’s body of work included science fiction classics like RoboCop as well as the infamous Showgirls. It’s clear science fiction is much closer to Verhoeven’s comfort zone.
The thing I noticed second (the first being Arnie’s presence) was the movie’s special effects. In 1990, when the Academy was capable of making good judgement, Total Recall won the Academy Award for special effects, and I could see why. As a 1990 film, computer graphics was still in its infancy. While some CG was used, almost all the effects were practical and it looked amazing. Most of the movie took place in a very believable Martian society, populated with mutated humans with horrifyingly believable disfigurations. Unsurprisingly, Total Recall is considered one of the most expensive movies made at its time of release.
Once you get past Arnold’s acting (let’s face it, he’s never turned in an Oscar-worthy performance), you will find Total Recall is also a surprisingly thoughtful (albeit extremely violent) story. It’s a loose adaptation of the Philip K. Dick story “We’ll Remember It For You Wholesale”. What I liked was how the movie intentionally left a lot of its story ambiguous. I’m trying not to spoil anything, but the movie intentionally makes it hard to decide what the audience is supposed to believe. All the while, the movie acted as a commentary on perception versus reality.
I’ve firmly believed that studios simply don’t make science fiction like they used to. With computer graphics, it’s become too easy to mass produce special effects at the expense of a thoughtful story. I’ve been watching a lot of science fiction in theaters this past year, so Total Recall is the first older one I’ve seen for a while. Even after having seen Interstellar recently, I will go as far as to say Total Recall is the best science fiction movie I’ve seen in a while.