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I had always assumed there was an unspoken feeling of mutual love for Paul Verhoven's trashy, over the top Total Recall. The movie, which was released theatrically in 1990, bears many of the calling cards that made 80s action movies such favourites growing up: bad dialogue, cheesy situations, stories that don't always make sense or are so straight forward a pre-teen could have written it and violence; lots of gruesome, over-the-top action. But reaction to Len Wisemena's remake has been mixed with thoughts on the original and the feelings of love don't appear to be as mutual as I originally thought.

Loosely adapted from Phillip K. Dick's "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," Total Recall was originally going to be a sci-fi movie with a bit of brain but when David Cronenberg dropped out of the production, the entire thing seemed to go to Mars in a handbasket. When Dino De Laurentiis' production company went belly up (I'm sure Dune had nothing to do with that), Arnold Schwarzenegger saw his opening. He'd wanted to star in the movie but had been passed over so when the rights came up for grabs, he convinced Carolco, an indie production company that had seen great success with First Blood and its sequel, to pick-up the rights with Schwarzenegger slated to star. But Schwarzenegger wasn't happy just starring in the movie, he wanted control over the production which Carolco agreed to. Schwarzenegger brought Paul Verhoeven on board who, in turn, brought with him a number of his collaborators, including special effects guru Rob Bottin.

The version of Total Recall as we know it today was born our of development hell, out of an original story which was twisted into an action film and then re-worked by Cronenberg into a mind-bending sci-fi horror and eventually retooled to Gary Goldman. The various story ideas were all melded together and Verhoeven added his personal touches to create a high-octane actioner that occasionally dips into the bizarre.

Total Recall was a commercial and critical success, in spite or perhaps because of Verhoeven's direction which is in-your-face violent (few directors can get away with using an innocent bystander as a body shield but Verhoeven doesn't just do it - he gets away with it). It's been revisited and re-evaluated countless times and with the remake scheduled to open theatrically this weekend, the original is getting yet another release, this time remastered on Blu-ray.

The new release looks and sounds fantastic and a re-watch has revealed that it holds up better than anticipated. Sure, some of the designs look dated (particularly the cars), the product placement seems much more apparent now than it did a few years ago but the key elements still impress: Bottin's effects look great, the chase sequences are still exciting and in today's age of green screening the set-design and locations are impressive. The story itself brings up some interesting ideas about greed and corruption though as is Verhoeven's trademark, these ideas are infused at the core of the story but not dwelled upon.

Which brings us to Len Wiseman's remake. It's unclear if it will cultivate any of the ideas that Verhoeven's movie introduces (highly unlikely), nor is it likely to feature the levels of gratuitous violence Verhoeven managed to infuse but the story does scream for a facelift, including better leads (neither Schwarzenegger nor Rachel Ticotin are particularly likeable though they're both quite good in their respective roles) alongside some shinny new effects. Regardless of how the new Total Recall is received, it will never completely overshadow the original. The two are being made in completely different times and though the action is clearly the selling point of Wiseman's movie, the audience has changed and what was acceptable and even expected in 1990 isn't necessarily going to fly today.

So the question remains: do others share as much love for Verhoeven's original as as I do or has it lost its appeal over the years?

Wiseman's Total Recall opens Friday and Verhoeven's original is available today as the "Ultimate Rekall Edition" hits store shelves. This Blu-ray and DVD combo includes previously released extras (including the feature commentary with Schwarzenegger and Verhoven) along with two new extras: a new interview with Verhoeven and a restoration comparison.

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sean d. (10 years ago) Reply

The original Total Recall is one of the high points of 80's sci-fi as well as Verhoeven (and Arnold's) film work. Like Robocop, Total Recall is an existential headtrip wrapped in a coating of post-cultural decline American excess compatible with the lowest common denominator that has always been Hollywood's stock and trade. Kudos all around. P.S. The remake will suck. Colin Farrell only gets jobs because the velvet Mafia has been trying to recruit him for years. Everything he touches turns to doo-doo. Someday he and Will Smith will co-star and the world will implode under the stress of their combined crapulence.


agentorange (10 years ago) Reply

Who are these people that don't like Total Recall? I pity them.


Ed Korho (10 years ago) Reply

I hope the remake is awesome and does well just so I can laugh at everyone who predicted it will suck


Charles Widmore (10 years ago) Reply

The original Total Recall was a good movie, but Blade Runner is the best of the 11 films made from PKD works (not including the TR remake.)


trogen (10 years ago) Reply

i love the original. I am also one of those who really has no problem with remakes. It just saddens me that they cant keep the violence as real feel as it used to be... thats what makes these types of movies (robocop, predator etc..)

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