World of Bile

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

'If I'm not mee.. den who da hell am I?'

Mark (et al),

A review of a film that used to be very close to my heart:

Total Recall (1990)
113 mins
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Rachel Ticotin, Ronnie Cox, Michael Ironside.

Ah, the memories..

On the morning of my 15th birthday, I received this on video as a gift from my parents and I was thrilled. Over the previous couple of years, me and my friends had been introduced to the likes of everything from The Terminator to Twins. We loved the one liners, our imaginations were fired by the violence and our burgeoning ideas of masculinity were coloured by Arnie and his movies. I even took pleasure in having a haircut like him and a padded lumberjack similar to what he wears in Total Recall..except I doubt HIS had padding in it, of course…

Anyway, I digress. Totall Recall is a film which features towards the end of Arnie’s 80s hot streak of Box Office success. Terminator 2 followed, then a string of soulless big budget turkeys like Last Action Hero and True Lies which effectively torpedoed his megastardom for good. With hindsight you could say he reflected American sensibilities about their place in the world at the time: invulnerable and righteous. When he started playing roles with frailties in them, Arnie became yesterday’s news.


(the start of it):
Being based on a Phillip K Dick short story titled ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’ (the bloke who wrote ‘Bladerunner’) you can be sure the plot isn’t going to be simple. Unlike the typical Schwarzenegger premise of:
(a) Arnie is looking for something.
(b) Arnie kills everyone who gets in his way

‘Total Recall’ is a lot more labyrinthine. The year is 2020. Arnie plays Douglas Hauser, a construction worker who has little in his life besides his job, his buddies and a very hot wife (a break out role for Sharon Stone). He dreams of something more and discovers a company called Rekall, a company who specialise in selling implanted memories. These can be memories of a holiday never taken, or something more fantastic like being a secret agent on Mars. Trying to escape the mundane, our hero opts for the latter. However there can be a cost: Quaid is warned implantation can be a risky process, as failure can result in unconscious trauma and clients being lobotomised, but he goes on with the procedure anyway.

However, things do not go to plan. Halfway through the implantation, Hauser lashes out – shouting about people trying to kill him before the doctors barely manage to sedate him. It seems Hauser is acting out the spy portion of his memory – however as it hasn’t been implanted yet.. that isn’t the case! Hauser IS a spy but isn’t aware of it; someone powerful erased his memories erased and Rekall uncovered them. So, Hauser’s mind is tidied up, and the doctors bundle him into a cab home. Unaware of his trip, he bumps into some of his work buddies who are aware of what has transpired. They turn on him, but he ends up slaughtering them with his bare hands. And so it continues, Hauser’s hot wife turns on him, he does a runner to Mars and gets involved with the Resistance there. The man on the run theme develops from there, Arnie’s character fights through great adversity – and wins out in the end, of course.

Being based on a Phillip K Dick story, the plot takes many twists and turns which I can’t do justice to here, a lot of ‘what happened but the focus is on our hero – is he workaday construction worker Doug Hauser who is in the process of falling apart or secret (double?) agent Doug Quaid whose deeds will affect the destiny of a people? Is our hero fighting a shadowy organisation bent on destroying him and keeping something hidden, or is his mind just falling apart?


This is a departure from the usual for Arnie. Of course Total Recall still depicts him as being a human extension of the weapons he wield. He maims and incapacitates his foes with the same finesse as the guns and sharp edged weapons do. The film is violent and bloody, with visual effects some will find unnecessarily grotesque (example: Michael Ironside’s demise on the lift near the climax of the movie). Schwarzenegger gurns like a horse and mangles his lines with his usual effectiveness, the wisecracks are there in abundance, and they’re pretty good wisecracks too. The thing that used to get me in stitches is the fact that someone can be so witty in what is patently NOT their native language. Granted, the rest of the cast get some pretty punchy stuff to say, but are we SERIOUSLY expected to believe our hero is an Austrian Oscar Wilde, delivering death and dismemberment with a pithy comeback?? It's all pretty laughable. Acting wise we aren’t talking about Hauser being cool and collected under pressure, he is no Cary Grant in North By Northwest: our hero has feelings of doubt, pain and fear which Arnie emotes surprisingly well.. for Arnie. Of course a shop mannequin could match him for acting chops most of the time, so really isnt saying much. The prosthetics and special affects take this movie well into fantasy territory compared to the conventional guns n’ gore of the genre – in fact Total Recall won the Oscar for visual effects in 1991. Nonetheless the film now has a very dated look about it, the near(ish) future shown here has a similar look to Blade Runner (1982) another Phillip K Dick story, the story is equally enigmatic.
The cast has an alpha male (and female) quality you’d expect from an Arnie film. Sharon Stone stands out as the blonde and beautiful Lori, Hauser’s wife (or is she really what she seems?) – full of sweet, velvety words but a match in combat for any man. Rachel Ticotin plays Melina (laughably pronounced ‘MelEEna’ by our hero), a feisty brunette involved with the Resistance who Hauser falls in love with (as Quaid did before him?). Ronnie Cox and Michael Ironside line up as the villains and are suitably stern and vicious. Ironside plays Richter, unique in the action movie genre for being a psychopathic goon with a haircut like Terry Nutkins.
Being a Jerry Goldsmith score the soundtrack is as surging and epic as you’d expect. During the pivotal scenes of the movie you can almost visualise the 50 piece orchestra playing, generating the suspense on such a scale that a conventional soundtrack would not be able to match. Suprisingly he was nominated eighteen times for an Oscar during his career (winning just once) – Total Recall didn’t get him into consideration. Paul Verhoeven is renowned for his glossy and violent movies and Total Recall is a prime example. The violence is very frequent and has a comic book quality to it: innocent bystanders are mown down with high calibre weaponry like an afterthought and the action continues unabated. However the multifaceted story will keep viewers on their toes. Take away the guns, the girls and the gore and the suspense will keep you interested. Total Recall is essentially ‘a man on the run’ film in the vein of ‘The Fugutive’: fast paced with many unexpected plot turns. If you can disregard the adolescent violence and the cheesy dialogue – you might enjoy this one.


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