Total Recall

Year: 1990

Production: Carolco

Director: Paul Verhoeven

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox

Screenwriter: Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Gary Goldman

Based on a story by Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Jon Povill, inspired by We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (1955) by Philip K. Dick

109 minutes, Color


At a purported $60,000,000 budget this was one of the most expensive films ever made (though Terminator 2: Judgment Day would cost even more). Verhoeven, whose sf film debut was Robocop (1987), is a deft, intelligent director good at tough action sequences, but with a strong liking for gratuitous violence which, for all its over-the-top comic-book harmlessness here, still has about it a faint whiff sadism. Exported version were mostly cut to the requirements of the relevant country's censorship code.

Some of the strengths of Dick's original story remain in this tale of a man who, in attempting to purchase false memories of a trip to Mars, uncovers some real ones, and is pitchforked into a heady sequences of exotic adventures, leaving Earth and fighting with rebels against a power-crazed Martian establishment. False memories clash with true ones and, since both look the same on the screen, it is as difficult for the viewer as for the muscle-bound protagonist to tell illusion from reality. Total Recall is entertaining, information-dense and packed with intriguing detail, but has most of the usual faults of big-budget sf sagas: too great a reliance on grotesque special effects (the bugging eyes of victims exposed to vacuum are merely absurb); with-one-bound-Jack-was-free plotting; and in this case a finale of protracted idiocy in which Mars' long-disappeared atmosphere is replaced through vents in a mountain in a matter of minutes. Ideas are "borrowed" eclectically from diverse sources: an air-machine from Edgar Rice Burrough's A Princess of Mars (1917), disfigured mutants from Roger Corman's The Haunted Palace (1967), a two-headed mutant from Walter M. Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960), archaic alien machinery from Forbidden Planet (1956), and so on. It would take a fresh and ignorant viewer to suspend his or her disbelief throughout the film: sf aficionados tend to giggle through the whole second half.

Director Verhoeven's latest sf movie is Starship Troopers (1997).

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

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