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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 in particular.
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. Recommended.