Total Recall
Special Edition

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: 18
Available 13 June 2005

In the year 2084 Doug Quaid, a construction worker on Earth, is haunted by dreams of another life on Mars. Obsessed with the red planet, he visits Rekall Inc to have artificial memories implanted into his brain, but during the process another personality comes to the surface. Who is he? What happened on Mars? And why is everyone trying to kill him...?

As a self-styled "intelligent action movie", Total Recall is a curious mixture of the intellectual and the mindless.

The script, based on story by a Philip K Dick, raises questions of identity and the reliability of memory. Though the latter part of the film is conventionally viewed as a traditional "good versus evil" story, there are clues to suggest that, as Dr Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith) claims, Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is experiencing a paranoid delusion. Years before The Matrix came along, Edgemar offers the hero a red pill, symbolising reality. The events that transpire on Mars are prefaced by subtle references before Doug undergoes his Rekall treatment. The white light at the end of the movie could denote the dawning of a new age for Mars, or it could signify the brain death of the lobotomised Quaid.

Whichever way you look at the film, its hero is a fiction. Either Quaid is real but is dreaming that he is the hero, or he is a false identity grafted on to the mind of Hauser.

However, perhaps such nuances are too subtle for the average viewer, and they are offset by various factors: a cheesy closing line; the fact that there are several scenes in Quaid's supposed dream that do not feature Quaid himself; Schwarzenegger's limited acting range; and director Paul Verhoeven's love of ultra-violence.

What with the human shield in the escalator scene, the metal bar in the technician's neck, the mining machine that gouges chunks out of Doug and Melina (Rachel Ticotin), and various characters' eyeballs bulging out, Total Recall can turn even the hardiest of stomachs, and is not to be watched during your evening meal.

Some of the gore and visual thrills are also just plain silly. When Quaid returns home after being attacked for the first time, he switches off all the lights and then grabs his wife Lori (Sharon Stone) by the shoulders. Then he shows her that his hands are covered in blood. Why didn't he leave bloodstains on the light switches or on Lori's shoulders? When he removes the bug from his brain, how can a sphere that big possibly pass through his nostril? Contrary to popular belief, depressurisation does not make the body expand and explode. And even if Mars was given a breathable atmosphere, its sub-zero surface temperature would be too cold for Quaid and Melina to survive unprotected.

Perhaps the alien reactor also heated up the air. On the other hand, maybe this is all just evidence for the "dream" theory!

Despite my earlier criticism of Schwarzenegger's acting ability, he does have his moments. After he has killed several people hand-to-hand for the first time, you can see the "What have I done? What's happening to me?" look on his face and in his posture. He is well supported by Ronny Cox, who virtually reprises his villainous role from RoboCop, Michael Ironside, who would work with Verhoeven again in Starship Troopers, and Sharon Stone, whose breakthrough performance here led to the director casting her in Basic Instinct.

There aren't that many special features on this so-called special edition, certainly not enough to justify two discs. Just over an hour of documentary features plus two audio commentaries all tread much the same territory (such as the excellent use of the Mexican location and the fact that the script had been knocking around for years with various actors and directors attached to it) without a tremendous amount of detail. And none of these features is less than four years old (reflecting the release date of the Region 1 edition).

It is clear that the commentary by Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven was recorded prior to Arnie's retirement from acting to focus on politics. However, you can detect a hint of his political loyalties when he remains conspicuously quiet during some environmental anti-Bush comments by Verhoeven. The other commentary is by the Dutch cinematographer Jost Vacano, though English-speaking viewers will need to watch the subtitles to follow that.

Despite its relative lack of extras, this DVD is good value for money. The film itself is a landmark of technical genius, with a story that bears repeated viewing.

Richard McGinlay

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