Wow, it seems that I have Mars on the brain today! How else am I to explain the constant deluge of Mars-related news and my insistence on publishing Mars-related posts? Not to mention the fact that a few nights back, my wife and I finally sat down and watched Total Recall together. the original, not the remake. And interestingly enough, the whole reason we watched it, aside from my insistence that it was a classic, was the fact that she expressed some desire to see the new one.
As for myself, I had little interest paying theater prices to see the remake. But I figure I’ll have to catch on DVD (or download) sooner or later, if only so that I can provide a comparative review. My compromise with on this with el wifey was that she watch the original first, just so she’d know what she was missing when we finally did get around to seeing it 😉
Word around the camp fire is that the remake has made its share of money (it’s purpose from the get-go) but that the critical response has been pretty iffy. In fact, it received a 29% “rotten” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.com and was generally panned for lacking all the elements that made the original a hit. Of my friends and fellow armchair critics, the consensus seemed to be that it boasted cool action sequences, but lacked originality and depth.
So to be fair, and in preparation for my eventual exposure to the remake, I thought I’d give the original movie an official review. I mean, you have to know what makes an original movie awesome before you say that a remake fails to deliver right? Of course you do! And I apologize in advance for all the terrible puns, but this is an Anry movie dammit! They are to be expected. Okay, here goes. Cue the Arny noises:
Total Recall (1990):
Loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”, the story deals with the subject of false memories, identity, and free will. Although Dick’s original story did not take place on Mars, much of the plot had to do with Mars, Martians, and the fact that the main character was a hero who was in possession of secrets even he didn’t… (ahem) recall. In the end, the movie adaptation was faithful to the spirit of the story, if not the letter, and managed to expand on it greatly.
The film was a box office success, grossing over 250 million dollars and receiving largely positive reviews. In addition to its classic sci-fi themes and motifs, it boasted some very cool and cunning set designs, special effects, and action sequences. Plus, it possessed that rare and awesome Anry quality, where everything had a certain comical, cheesy element to it, even the somewhat gratuitous violence. but of course, much of this was due to the directorial style of Paul Verhoeven, director of such gory over-the-top cinematic splatter fests as Robocop, Starship Troopers, and Showgirls!
The story opens on the apartment of a blue collar worker named Douglas Quaid (Arny) who is unhappy with his workaday life. At night, he dreams of being on Mars with a strange woman he doesn’t recognize, and interprets this as a latent desire to move there and become something more than he is.He asks his wife about moving to Mars, which she promptly shoots down given the violence between a mutant resistance faction and the Mars government, which is led by a man named Cohaagen (Ronny Cox).
Eventually, his desire to experience a trip to Mars leads him to seek out a company called Rekal, an organization that specializes in false memories. After hearing the sales pitch, he decides he wants to live out a fantasy where he is a secret agent who is sent to Mars, a scenario which resonates with him for some reason. Unfortunately, things go awry when Quaid begins his “implant procedure”, as it seems that he begins acting out his fantasy even before its been implanted in his mind. Naturally, the company is frightened and decides to dump Quaid in a cab and erase all traces of his visit from their computers.
When he returns home, a work friend finds him and asks about his visit, which he does not (ugh!) recall. The conversation then turns ugly as thugs grab him and his friend pulls a gun, telling him he must die because he “blabbed about Mars”. Quaid has no idea what he’s talking about, but quickly kills him and all the thugs with ease. Running back to his apartment, he tells his wife Lori (Sharon Stone) about what happened, insisting that it’s not a delusion. After washing the blood from his hands, he is shocked to find that another gunman is trying to kill him. This time it’s his wife!
After disarming Lori, he learns the truth. His name is not Douglas Quaid, and he and Lori were never married. His true identity was erased for reasons she does not know and she was to keep an eye on him, posing as his wife. When he realizes she is stalling and men are on the way to get him, he knocks her out and runs. He is pursued by an agent named Richter (Michael Ironside) who is apparently Lori’s boyfriend and works for Cohaagan. He is determined to kill Quaid, something which Cohaagan doesn’t want. He reveals that he is the one who erased Quaid’s memory and dumped him on Earth, and asks that he be returned to him alive.
After escaping, Quaid ends up in a dingy hotel and is contact by a man claiming to be his contact from Mars. He warns him that he has a trace bug in his skull, and tells him how he can muffle the signal. He then leaves Quaid a case with various items, such as money, ID cards, a device for removing the bug in his nose, and holographic device which projects a mirror image of himself. On top of all that, there is a laptop-like device that contains a recording which he made for himself, which begins to explain the situation…
Turns out his real name is Hauser, and that he was working for Cohaagen up until a few months ago. Then, he defected and joined the resistance, a move which prompted Cohaagen to erase his mind and dump him on Earth. The recording tells him to go to Mars and find the resistance, and that his mind contains enough info to ruin Cohaagen forever. Quaid escapes mere seconds before Richter and his men show up, and does as the recording tells him and gets his ass to Mars!
Once there, he has a bit trouble getting through security, as the disguise he brought begins to malfunction. Richter is in the vicinity and realizes it is Quaid, and a firefight begins. Quaid narrowly escapes thanks to a stray shot which shatters the dome, causing decompression. When the emergency doors begins to close, he manages to slide underneath one and make it away.
He then travels to the Hilton Hauser told him to seek out, where he finds a message in a safety deposit box written in his own hand. It tells him to go to a club called “The Last Resort” in the red light district (“Venusville”) and ask for a woman named Melina. A newfound friend named Benny, a cab driver with “five kids to feed”, picks him up in the midst of a resistance attack and explains that this is commonplace. Once in the “Last Resort”, which appears to be a front for the resistance, Quaid meets Melina; who as it turns out, is the woman from his dreams. They have a brief reunion, in which she slaps him and tells him they thought Cohaagen killed him. He replies that he doesn’t remember who he is, to which she replies that he was only ever using her to “get inside” and kicks him out.
Back at his hotel, Quaid receives some strange visitors: Rekall’s President, Dr. Edgemar, and his wife, Lori. He explains to Quaid that he is dreaming his experiences and never left Rekal, which makes some sense since everything that has happened to him is what he specified in his travel package. He offers him a way out by presenting a pill, which he claims is a symbol that will allow him to wake up from his self-sustaining dream. Quaid is about to comply, but notices that Edgemar is sweating and shoots him. Lori then attacks him with the help of some more thugs, and Quaid is beaten to near-unconsciousness.
However, Melina shows up to rescue him, and the two kill the thugs, shoot Lori, and then make a getaway. Once again, Richter shows up and is unable to capture them before they slip away. They run to the Last Resort and escape through a series of underground tunnels which lead to the resistance headquarters. Meanwhile, Richter and his men attack the club, but are told to pull back by Cohaagen. He then shuts down the ventilation shafts, slowly depriving Venusville and the mutant population of air.
In the resistance HQ, Quaid is taken before Kuato, leader of the resistance, who apparently lives within the stomach of one of his lieutenants. He helps Quaid to remember what he saw that made Cohaagen erase him memory, which turns out to be an underground reactor built by aliens millions of years before. He wakes up to discover that Cohaagen’s forces have found them and are coming through the walls. They escape into a airlock, but Benny betrays them and shoots Kuato’s host dead. With his final words, Kuato tells Quaid to start the reactor.
Captured, Quaid and Melina are brought to Cohaagen’s facility where he tells them the last of the story. It turns out Hauser was not a double agent at all, but a loyal member of Cohaagen’s inner circle who volunteered for the memory implant procedure so he could get close to Kuato and lead their forces to his lair. They knew that Hauser would not be able to fool Kuato unless he sincerely believed himself to be a double-agent, hence the implanted memories and feigned cover up. Quaid does not believe it, until Cohaagen shows him another recording where Hauser tells him himself that he’s been played.
Cohaagen orders them both placed in memory-implant chairs where Hauser will be restored and Melina will be turned into a willing supplicant of his. He then leaves with Richter, and Quaid manages to break his bonds and kill the scientists before the procedure can take effect. He pulls Melina out, who also appears unaffected, and they begin to fight their way to the reactor. Benny tries to take them out using a drilling machine, but Quaid manages to disable the machine and kill him with a drill!
Once they reach the reactor assembly, Richter attempts to stop them with a small army. But relying on the holographic device and some kick-ass shooting, Quaid and Melina manage to take them out. Richter tries to escape using the underground lift, but Quaid jumps aboard the and the two fight it out. Quaid manages to overpower Richter and tosses him over the edge. Richter grabs hold of Quaids arms and threatens to take him with him, but he loses his arms when they are crushed against the shaft, and he falls to his death.
Quaid reaches the reactor room where Cohaagen tries to stop him, telling him that the reactor will detonate the planet’s precious minerals. However, Quaid doesn’t believe him, and Melina arrives shortly thereafter to shoot Cohaagen. However, Cohaagen indicates that he has planeted a bomb on the device, which Quaid narrowly manages to toss down a shaft before it goes off. Once it explodes, it breaches the room’s seals, causing decompression and sucking Cohaagen out onto the surface where he dies of asphyxiation. Quaid manages to activate it mere seconds before he and Melina are sucked out as well and begin to suffocate.
The reactor fires up and begins to plunge a series of red hot rods into Mars’ core. This causes the ice core at the heart of the planet to melt and explode in plumes of air to the surface. This air leads to the creation of an atmosphere and a blue sky within seconds, saving Melina and Quaid from asphyxiation and destroying all pressure domes on the surface. The Red Planet has now become a habitable world, which is apparently what the Martian aliens had intended all along.
Quaid and Melina walk up to the nearest hilltop and look out at the sky. Quaid wonders aloud if he is in fact dreaming, to which Melina replies that he had better kiss her before he wakes up. The movie ends with the sunshine becoming a blinding flash of light, leaving viewers to wonder if it was all a dream, or actually happened.
To cut straight to the chase, I really liked this movie. I saw it back when I was a surly teen, and appreciated it for what it offered – action, guns, and plenty of creative nudity! Remember that scene in the Last Resort with the three-breasted hooker? Scarcely a boy who grew up in the 80’s doesn’t know about her! But as I got older, I came to see the plot as something rather creative and complicated, which inevitably drew me back to the story again and again over the years.
Of course, the number of twists and explanations might seem a bit contrived, and even I thought so for awhile. But that was before I saw it again recently and actually thought them through. Basically, Hauser was himself when he found the resistance and posed as a defector. But Melina didn’t let him in, thinking his intentions weren’t pure. It was Cohaagen’s attempt to remedy this by staging his capture, circulating rumors of his torture and death, and then planting false memories and dumping him on Earth and setting him up to find his way to Mars and the resistance. It was only in this way that his sincerity could be seen as genuine, and the psychic Kuato wouldn’t be able to detect his true intentions. For all intents and purposes, he was Quaid when he met him, and his desire to learn the truth and help the resistance was genuine.
Sure, the overall twists, turns, and explanations for them all still present some degree of confusion, but that’s part of what’s good about this movie. Even after multiple viewings, audiences still debate whether or not everything was just a dream or real. They cite various tidbits of evidence, like the fact that Dr. Edgemar was sweating, that the story was exactly what Quaid asked for, that this coincidence was due to the fact that Quaid was looking to reclaim the life he lost, or that he had dreams of Melina before he went to Rekal. It all makes for a cool debate.
The plot also managed to make some rather cool commentary on the nature of identity, memory, false consciousness and free will. If it were possible to implant memories in a human being, then would they really cease to be who they were and become someone else? Would this be a possible remedy to the problems of criminal behavior and psychosis? Kuato offers a resolution to all this when he says to Quaid, “a man is defined by his actions, not his memories.” This is then thrown for a loop when Quaid discovers that his true and original self was an agent of Cohaagen’s, but he responds to this by embracing his new identity and fighting to free Mars.
And of course, the special effects and sets were all very well done. Sure, there are plenty of people who would say that they looked cheesy, especially the animatronic heads that were used for the asphyxiation, robotic head, and bug-removing scenes, but they were pretty state of the art for the time. The mutants were also very well done, molded plastic imitating the effects of radiation quite well. And the animatronic limb that Benny showed and Kuato’s body-within-a-body was also pretty convincing! And this was done without the benefit of any CGI.
What’s more, it was original, which is a claim the remake can’t possibly make. though I have yet to see the movie, one thing that I hear from just about everyone is how the sets and effects seemed very much borrowed. The robot forces look like Storm Troopers and droids, the flying cars look like something out of Minority Report, and the cityscape seemed ripped from Blade Runner. In the case of the original, there was a latent cyberpunk 80’s feel to much of it, but nothing had been copied or borrowed, much as I can tell.
It was also well cast and ably acted. Cox and Ironside brought their usual awesomeness to their villain characters, Stone was convincing as the assassin/seductress, and the supporting cast was pretty solid. And let’s not forget, it was an Arny movie, which meant that it was automatically fun, cheesy, and full of hilarious one liners and his signatures “Hlalalalalalal!” And seriously, some of the lines he said: “Consider that a divorce”, “You blew my covah!”, and “See ya at the party, Richter!”. They rank right up there with “Get to tha choppa!”
The only real weaknesses were the many cheesy scientific implausibilities. For one, the scene where he removes the bug from his nose was impossible, as it would have broken his nose. Second, there’s no way anyone could create an atmosphere on Mars by simply evaporating water. Sure, it might be a good step in the right direction, but there’s no guarantee it would work, and it would take centuries, not mere seconds. Last, if you were already asphyxiating due to exposure to near-vacuum, you wouldn’t be instantly saved once breathable oxygen started pouring out. But of course, all of this could be dismissed by saying that it was all a dream. Or it can be simply written off as part of the cheese factor.
Overall, I’d say this movie deserves to be placed in the sci-fi classics section, between guilty pleasure movies and the films that actually have something to say and will make you think a little. If you haven’t seen it, then do so! And if you’re planning on seeing the remake, or already have, then get your ass to the video store and ask for Total Recall! And until next time, here’s a three-breasted hooker to keep you company! See ya at the party! Halalalalalalal!