Though receiving little popular success during his lifetime, Phillip
K. Dick (PKD) was an incredibly talented science fiction author who is
now being recognized for his contributions to the field. Several
of his works have been turned into movies including Ridley Scott's classic
Blade Runner which was based on his novel Do Androids Dream of
Electric Sheep? and Steven Spielberg's Minority Report.
In 1990 director Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Starship Troopers) and
a cadre of screenwriters turned Dick's short story We Can Remember It
for You Wholesale and into a credible action/thriller staring Arnold
Schwarzenegger: Total Recall. This film has now been
released as a Blu-ray disc and while the extras are lacking, there image
quality and sound are very nice.
Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is just an average blue collar
worker living in the year 2048. He has a job and a wife, but something
isn't right. Every night he dreams of Mars. Not just of visiting
the planet, but of having lived there and being close to another woman.
After weeks of this Douglas decides to go to Rekall, a company that will
implant false memories into your brain for a fee. Quaid wants the
Mars package. If all goes well he'll be put to sleep, and when he
wakes up he'll remember a two week vacation to Mars that he never took.
Things don't go well however. When they try to implant the memories
they discover that his current life is all a set of fake memories, and
Quaid starts to remember who he really was, and his old life on Mars.
Or maybe it's all a side effect of a botched Rekall implant.
Whatever the case, Quaid soon finds that people are out to kill him,
though he's not sure why. Even his wife (Sharon Stone) is part of
a secret agency and was sent to keep tabs on him. Quaid isn't sure
what is going on in his mind or who he really is, but he knows that the
key to the mystery lies on Mars. He travels to the red planet where
he finds himself in the middle of a battle between some rebels and the
leader of the planet Cohaagen (Ronny Cox). Is Quaid really the rebel
leader Hauser? Or is that all a false memory too? It's hard
to know what to believe when you can't even trust your own memory.
I enjoyed this movie when I first saw it over 15 years ago, and it spurred
me to track down the original story, which is much superior to the movie.
(No surprise there.) While this film only uses the short story as
a building block, taking some of the ideas and running off in directions
that the story never imagined, some of PKD's most prevalent themes are
still present and you can see his contribution to the completed work.
I won't go into the many differences, but suffice to say that PKD's story
had all of the perplexing "what is reality" questions wrapped up in a much
tighter package with a vastly superior ending too.
Schwarzenegger does a fine job in his role as a man who doesn't know
what is real. Never a great actor, Arnold is fine in this role.
Though he doesn't bring any subtlety or nuance to the role he is convincing
as he goes through the motions. One of Schwarzenegger's advantages
is he's so physically imposing that it's easy for viewers to translate
that into being politically powerful or important, which helps this movie
The movie does have a lot of violence, much of which doesn't work as
well as it should. Seeing people's heads bulging and their eyes exploding
when exposed to the vacuum of space is a bit over the top nowadays (and
it wouldn't happen either. You might get the bends, but your face
wouldn't explode) and many of the action scenes feel a bit too contrived
and excessive. That's the only thing that really dates the movie.
Note: The only Blu Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this
review is the Samsung BD P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design,
and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which
creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this.
The 1.85:1 widescreen image looks very good on this disc. It seems
that companies are finally getting the hang of mastering a film for Blu-ray
release. The picture has a good feel of depth throughout the film
and there are many scenes that pop off the screen. Even some of the
more sedate moments like when Quaid is talking to his wife over breakfast
at the beginning is very three dimensional. The level of detail is
very good and the colors are strong. At some points the colors seem
a bit too strong and almost cartoon-like but this was probably what the
director was going for to add to the unreality of the situation. Black
levels were nice and solid too.
The only problem was that some of the scenes were just a tad soft, mainly
the later scenes on Mars. This wasn't a big deal, but I was surprised
when some of the more impressive images didn't look quite as good as some
of the more ordinary scenes. Even with that slight defect I was very
pleased with the overall look of the picture.
Like all of the Lions Gate Blu-ray releases, this movie comes with Dolby
Digital EX Surround and DTS-HD High Resolution audio tracks. This
soundtrack really packs a wallop in some of the action scenes and is very
pleasing in the plot advancing sections too. The full soundstage
is used throughout the movie, and the battles are very impressive.
There are a lot of sounds that fly from one speaker to another as bullets
are shot around the screen that really put the viewer in the middle of
the action. The sound engineer didn't forget about the rears during
the rest of the movie though which sometimes happens. The ending
sequence really puts the subwoofer through its paces with some nice low
tones that will rattle the windows.
Both soundtracks were clean and clear with a full dynamic range and
a nice volume across the sound spectrum. There weren't any audio
defects, which is to be expected from a movie of this age.
Once again a Blu-ray leaves off a lot of the extras found on earlier
editions, much less offer any new bonus items. It's a bit strange,
but in the past when studios wanted consumers to buy the same movie a second
time they would often remaster it and add a lot of extras to entice buyers
to shell out another $20. Why haven't they continued that practice
with Blu-ray discs? If they want people to shell out $1000 for a
new player, it would be nice if they filled the discs with bonus material.
New, Blu-ray exclusive bonuses would be a great boon to the format.
But I digress…
This disc doesn't have the commentary track that Paul Verhoeven and
Arnold Schwarzenegger did for the previous release nor is the half hour
'making of' featurette present. What we do get is a five minute Visions
of Mars short where a JPL scientist talks about the history of Mars.
It was interesting for what it was, but I couldn't help wondering why they
didn't include one of the more substantive extras instead.
This is an entertaining, though a little violent, Schwarzenegger action
flick. While they manage to capture only part of the mystery and
charm that the original story had, the film does successfully port over
some of Phillip K. Dick's themes. The Blu-ray disc looks and sounds
pretty good, leaving me with little to complain about in either department.