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Total Recall (1990) (4K Ultra HD)

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // December 8, 2020 // Region 0
List Price: $22.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by William Harrison | posted December 28, 2020 | E-mail the Author


If Dutch Director Paul Verhoeven's name appears in the opening credits, you know you're in for a good time. The master of social satire, violent action and graphic sexuality, Verhoeven is the filmmaker behind such immortal classics as Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers and Showgirls. His 1990 science-fiction film Total Recall is based on Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember it for You Wholesale," and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a construction worker plagued with dreams of Mars who ultimately ends up in a fantastical espionage fight for his life. This $50-million-plus thriller was one of the most expensive films released at the time, and offers impressive practical effects, an engaging performance from Schwarzenegger, and the kind of over-the-top violence rarely seen on screen today. I am a fan of both Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger, and Total Recall is one of both men's best films.

Though I cannot claim Total Recall has the same nuances as another Dick adaptation, Blade Runner, it is such a damn fun movie. The film took forever to actually make it to the screen. Alien writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett took a stab at a screenplay but never found a financial backer; mega-producer Dino De Laurentiis optioned the project with Richard Dreyfuss as the intended star; David Cronenberg ultimately consulted on the Laurentiis-era screenplay; and the script went through several studios and approximately 40 drafts throughout the 1980s. Finally, Schwarzenegger convinced powerhouse production company Carolco to buy the film rights and brought Verhoeven on board. And thus, the Total Recall we know and love was born. Speaking of Carolco, their name is all over some of the biggest films of this era, and viewers interested in the backstory of the studio should check out the documentary included on this set, "Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood."

Douglas Quaid awakens next to his gorgeous wife Lori (Sharon Stone) after a realistic and unsettling dream about conflict on the surface of Mars. Against Lori's wishes, Quaid visits REKALL, a company that promises to offer customers perfect memories by implanting them for a reasonable fee. Quaid chooses to implant memories of a trip to Mars as a secret agent, but the procedure quickly goes wrong. Turns out, Quaid has real suppressed memories of being on Mars, and REKALL employees dump him in a self-driving taxi after attempting to wipe his memory. When he returns home, Quaid is attacked by Lori, who claims their marriage is an implanted memory and that she was sent to monitor him. Quaid flees REKALL agents, including Richter (Michael Ironside), Lori's real husband and cohort of Mars governor Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox). Quaid ultimately uncovers a video sent from himself, in which he learns his true identity: Carl Hauser, a former employee of Cohaagen who wiped his memory after learning of a powerful alien artifact left on Mars. Upon his own instructions, Hauser travels to Mars, where he meets Melina (Rachel Ticotin), a mysterious woman from his dreams.

In true Verhoeven fashion, Total Recall presents a stratified society full of haves and have-nots. In the Venusville red light district, Hauser meets a host of people with various mutations caused by being exposed to radiation. The rich and powerful on Mars have no such problems, and these derelict men, women and children are relegated to a life of sin and poverty. Cohaagen fights a small band of rebels, led by the mysterious Kuato, to retain authoritarian control over the planet, and the aforementioned artifact promises hope for the downtrodden. Those in control fight a regime change, which leads to explosive violence on the planet. There is quite a lot going on below the surface in Total Recall, and Verhoeven and company constantly toy with viewers. Is all this really happening, or is Quaid back in the REKALL lab having his brain fried?

Schwarzenegger turns in an engaging performance here. I have always enjoyed the Austrian-American actor/bodybuilder/politician's work, and he is certainly one of the biggest action stars of all time. Stone is not in much of Total Recall, but it is interesting to see her command the screen here two years before she made headlines with Basic Instinct. Verhoeven keeps the film in constant motion, twisting from one interesting setting and action sequence to the next. The practical effects here are top notch, particularly the mutant appendages and Hauser's disguise at the entry terminal. Jerry Goldsmith's thumping score serves as the film's heartbeat. Total Recall marks the end of an era of sorts. Interest groups and the parenting public began pushing back at the kind of graphic violence found in Total Recall and, over the next decade, studios would begin throwing money at safer, PG-13-rated properties. The film is almost a coda to ‘80s filmmaking sensibilities. Total Recall excels as an intriguing, sci-fi thriller with ambition. It's "the best mind-fuck yet."



Lionsgate brings Total Recall to 4K in the United States with an impressive 1.85:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265 native 4K transfer with Dolby Vision and HDR10. This release and restoration, from the 35mm camera negatives and supervised by Verhoeven, seems to be a collaborative effort between Lionsgate and StudioCanal, and is a marked improvement over the solid 2012 Blu-ray release. Total Recall is yet another example of how fantastic these film-shot ‘90s and ‘80s films can look in 4K when handled appropriately. This transfer is pleasingly filmic, with a steady layer of fine grain that looks fantastic in motion. Fine-object detail is impressive, as are wide and deep-focus shots, which reveal copious details in the interesting sets. Skin tones appear accurate, black levels are solid, and shadow detail is strong. Sure, some of the effects layering does not necessarily benefit from a bump in resolution, but that is a small price to pay for this beautiful new transfer. The HDR pass is very impressive and brings the reds and neons of the Mars surface to greater life. Yes, there are some minor compression artifacts visible, at least in one scene when the spaceship lands on Mars, but these are not far-reaching.


The rollicking Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which I sampled in its 7.1 Dolby TrueHD form, is a nice replication of the theatrical experience. Though much of the track is front-loaded by design, the surrounds get a nice workout in several action sequences. Ambient effects and the Goldsmith score also make use of the entire sound field. The LFE is used occasionally to great effect. Crowding and distortion are never an issue. The disc also includes French, German and Spanish dub and subtitle options.


This three-disc set arrives in a hinged 4K case that is wrapped in a glossy slipcover. A digital copy code is included. The discs appear to be identical to the StudioCanal release, as viewers select their country of origin upon startup. The 4K disc includes the film and select extras, as does the first Blu-ray disc, and a second Blu-ray disc includes additional extras. You get the following content: An Audio Commentary by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven (4K, BD1); Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood (59:22/HD/4K, BD2), an interesting documentary about the rise of the mega-studio [Note: I had audio issues toward the end of this documentary when watching on the 4K disc that were not an issue when watching on the Blu-ray bonus disc.]; Open Your Mind: Scoring Total Recall (21:24/HD/4K,BD1); Dreamers Within the Dream: Developing Total Recall (8:26/HD/4K, BD1); the Trailer (1:30/HD/4K, BD2); Total Recall: The Special Effects (23:15/HD/BD2); an archival Making-Of (8:03/SD/BD2); and Imagining Total Recall (30:12/SD/BD2).


Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall is the type of explosive, entertaining sci-fi spectacle that studios no longer bankroll. Excellent practical effects, a mind-bending narrative, and entertaining performances make this one of Arnold's best films. Lionsgate's new 4K Ultra HD release offers strong picture and sound and some nice bonus content. Highly Recommended.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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