Why does Hollywood hate Paul Verhoeven so much? Oh, right... Showgirls. Well... why can't they remake THAT instead of his great movies that SO don't need remaking? Is it really THAT hard for Hollywood to think of original ideas for a movie where a guy shoots other guys? Rhargh!
Anyway, Total Recall. It's not an all time great film like Verhoeven's Robocop, but it's still definitely a much beloved sci-fi classic that was doing JUST FINE ON ITS OWN! It's one of those films that had an incredibly troubled production on its journey to the big screen, which is usually the kiss of death for many a film.
After several debacles from its original studio, the film fell into the hands of Arnold Schwarzenegger and legendary studio Carolco. Arnold was given almost complete control of the movie, getting COMPLETE say over the filmmakers and actors involved. This was highly out of the ordinary, but it was the late 80s and this is ARNOLD we're talking about here. His first act was to bring Dutch director Paul Verhoeven onboard, as he was a huge fan of Robocop and really wanted to work with him.
Verhoeven was considering going dark with the film as it had a pretty dark script, as it was written by the guys who wrote Alien and that's their trademark. But then he took one look at Arnold and was all “fuck that!” and gave up the monstrously fun and insanely over the top film we were blessed with. Yes, Arnold is the only actor whose LACK of range and acting chops actually made a movie BETTER.
Enough backstory, let's see how this film holds up against its inevitably joyless and dreary remake. GET YOUR ASS TO MARS for A Ghoul Versus Total Recall (1990)!
The film starts with the much missed TriStar Pegasus logo giving way to the DEARLY missed Carolco logo. R.I.P. Carolco, you KICKED SO Much ASS! We open on the red skies of Mars, as we see two figures in environmental airsuits walking along a rocky cliff. One is Arnold, the other is a woman with a very depressing IMDB resume. Things go south literally, as part of the cliff breaks and Arnold falls down it. The fall shatters his helmet and the exposure to the Mars atmosphere starts making his eyes bug out like he just saw Courtney Love naked.
Oh, just kidding, it was all a dream. Arnold, playing a construction worker named Doug Quaid, wakes up next to his wife Lori, who is played by Young Sharon Stone which in 1990 was probably the best way in the world to wake up. We learn this is a recurring dream for him as Lori gets upset he keeps dreaming of another woman, but Doug is able to win her over with some of that classic Schwarzenegger charm.
“Chmon baybee, yew know yuir the gihrl of meh dreems!”
Later Doug makes breakfast while he watches the news, as the film uses the news to fill us in on all the exposition we need to know about this movie. This is something of a trademark in Verhoeven movies, certainly a lot less clunky than having the actors say something out loud that they already know just for OUR benefit.
The administrator of Mars, a named named Vilos Cohaagen, is locked in a struggle for control of Mars by a group of rebels who demand independence. The rebels are led by a man known only as Kuato, whom no one has ever seen. Kuato seems really interested in gaining access to the sealed Pyramid Mines, where alien artifacts were rumoured to have been discovered. Despite the fact that Mars looks like a TOTAL hellhole, Doug wants to move there but Lori ain't having it.
As he heads to the subway to go to work, Doug goes through a total body x-ray scanner which was the movie's ONLY CGI shot. Everything else was done with makeup effects and miniatures because this movie is AWESOME. On the train he sees a video ad for Rekall Incorporated, a company that sells implants that can give you memories of anything you want. One of the scenarios they show is climbing Mars, which catches his attention. This has nothing to do with anything, but my subtitles always call it “Recall” whereas anytime the name of the company is shown, it's “Rekall”.
We see Doug at work, which always bugged me because this is the far future where man is capable of interstellar travel and yet they do construction work the old fashioned way with jackhammers and other equipment we use today? Where's the robotic laser drones that can teleport rock? Doug asks his friend Poor Man's Danny Devito what he knows about Rekall, Danny telling him to stay far away because they lobotomize people. But Doug goes anyway, because you are NOT telling Arnold what to do in his own movie. He meets with a doctor who sets him up with the Mars package, which includes a scenario called an Ego Trip that will make him a secret agent. I'll let him explain it to you:
“You are a top operative back under deep cover on your most important mission. People are trying to kill you left and right. You meet this beautiful, exotic woman.... you get the girl, kill the bad guys, and save the entire planet.”
Doug is DOWN for this. He sits in the memory implantation device with one of the happiest looks on his face ever recorded by a camera. He could all stand to be so happy in our lives. One of the attendants asks if he'd like “alien stuff” added to his memory implant, the preview screen showing a two-headed alien which Doug scoffs at. We also see images of some long hallways and some giant columns of some sort mixed in among the preview. Remember this, if you would.
The other attendant starts keying in the program, remarking it features “blue skies on Mars” which is new to him. They next program in the exotic woman, who of course looks exactly like the one from Doug's dream. They inject Doug with a sleeping drug, and he dozes off. We return to the doctor, who is meeting with another client as he gets a call from the attendants to get down to the implantation room ASAP. We see Doug is going berserk, screaming that they've blown his cover. The doctor yells at his aides for botching the procedure, but the female one says it's not their fault they hit a memory cap. The three manage to subdue Doug and knock him out with multiple tranquilizers
Female attendant says the way Doug's been going on about Mars means he must have been there, but the doctor dismisses this as part of the memory implant. The woman takes the wind out of his sails when she reveals they hadn't begun the implantation process yet. The doctor orders them to erase any traces of Doug's visit to Rekall and dump him in a cab, which is where he wakes up later on. Cabs in the future are driven by robots straight out of your nightmares.
Doug arrives outside his apartment to find Danny waiting for him, saying he knows about his visit to Rekall. Before Doug can protest three giant goons grab him and drag him away, Danny pulling a gun on him. Danny has obviously never seen a Schwarzenegger movie, as Doug BRUTALLY kills everyone with some of the finest neck snapping ever captured on film. Doug goes to Lori, filling her in on everything that's happened. She's enraged he went to Rekall, saying it's all their doing and Doug imagined everything. He shows her his bloody hands, going into the bathroom to wash up while she calls Michael Ironside on the video phone. You can pretty much guarantee your movie is going to rock when Ironside plays your villain.
When he exits the bathroom he gets shot at, discovering the shooter is Lori. She goes kung fu on his ass after she runs out of bullets, in the process creating our drinking game where you take a drink every time someone takes a shot to the balls. He subdues her as she reveals their marriage of eight years was just an implant, and she's only known him for six weeks. The Mars Intelligence Agency is behind everything, and this was just a job for her to watch Doug and make sure his memory erasure worked.
Doug notices via a video monitor Ironside and crew are approaching his apartment, escaping the building before they can get him. What he doesn't know though is they have a tracker on him so they can follow his every movement. We also learn Lori and Ironside are lovers, which must make this whole mission TOTAL HELL for Ironside. Once you've gone 1990s Arnold, it's physically impossible to go back.
The goons take off in pursuit of Doug, who runs through the x-ray machine again. The gun he picked up from Danny shows up, and he gets surrounded by security in what was an AMAZING shot back in the day. And still is, actually. He gets away though, boarding a subway train to escape from everyone. Ironside gets a call from Cohaagen, who is infuriated they're trying to kill Doug. And I suppose this is as good a place as any to address one of the film's bigger legacies.
There is a highly popular fan theory that everything in the movie from the moment Doug sits in the Rekall is ALL IN HIS MIND. There's a lot of credible evidence to support this: the alien images on the monitors, his exotic girl matching the one from his dream, the comment about blue skies on Mars, it goes on. The problem with that theory is scenes like the one we just saw, or any scene where characters that aren't Doug are interacting. No memory implant is going to implant OTHER people's memories in your head, that makes no sense on multiple levels.
Just keep this in mind when watching non-Doug scenes. Cohaagen wants Doug captured alive for re-implantation and put back in place with Lori, which upsets Ironside to the point he does the ol' “we're having interference on this call and I can't hear you” bit. Doug hides out at the Hotel Ritz where he gets a video call from a guy who warns him he has a tracker in his skull. He has him wrap his head in a wet towel, which muffles the signal and makes Ironside unable to track him.
The stranger has Doug look out the window, where he's on the street below on a payphone. He leaves a suitcase on the ground and takes off, never to be seen again. As Doug gets the case, Ironside spots him and we get ourselves a chase scene! Doug jacks a Johnnycab and once again manages to lose the bad guys, hiding out at a standard issue Hollywood Abandoned Factory. When he gets out of the cab, it drives into a wall and explodes because this movie is AWESOME.
Inside the suitcase he finds all kinds of goodies including a ton of fake IDs, a weird claw device, tons of money, a watch that makes a hologram of himself that mirrors what he does, candy bars (Mars Bars in the movie novelization, but I guess they couldn't get Mars onboard for the movie), and a smaller suitcase. The smaller suitcase is actually a video screen that has a prerecorded message from Doug on it, who introduces himself as Hauser. He worked for Cohaagen doing his dirty work until he met a woman who convinced him he's been on the wrong side of the Mars conflict.
First though, they need to deal with the bug in his skull. This leads to Arnold shoving the claw thing up is nose in one of the most DISTURBINGLY AWESOME SCENES IN MOVIE HISTORY! The claw extracts a golf ball sized implant from his head, somehow not ripping his nose off in the process. I live off human brains and this scene still makes me cringe!
Unknown to Doug, this puts him back on Ironside's radar as he and his goons race to the factory. Hauser tells Doug to “GET HIS ASS TO MARS!” because if there's one thing Schwarzenegger is the master of, it's creating one liners that'll outlive us all. Somehow I suspect the remake is going to clumsily try to use this one, but in the worst way possible. Remakes have a sad history of that.
Doug spots Ironside's crew, putting his tracker inside a candy bar and feeding it to a rat to buy him time to escape. This fools the men for a bit until Ironside figures out what's going on and shoots the rat, which splatters more blood than is possible for something that small. We jump to Mars, where the camera focuses on a woman making her way through a security checkpoint as Ironside walks past her. The woman starts spazzing out, which draws everyone's attention. Ironside SOMEHOW realizes she's Quaid and 24 years later I still have no idea how.
This scene is (big shock) completely awesome but honestly I have no idea what's going on here. Arnold is wearing this giant prosthetic woman-suit that begins to malfunction and say the same thing over and over again so he tries to tear his face off, but then gives up and just stands there in the middle of everyone. THEN this impossibly giant rod bursts out of the side of his head. THEN the face splits in half to reveal Doug, who takes off the fake head in a brilliant special effects shot. Ironside and his men are all obviously impressed too, as they just stand there watching instead of y'know, opening fire.
Doug throws the head at one of the guards, who catches it. The head looks up at him and says “Get ready for a surprise!” and EXPLODES because this movie is AWESOME! Doug starts to run as the bad guys open fire, accidentally hitting a window and opening up the vacuum of Mars which starts sucking people out to their doom. Gosh, you think they'd build some stronger windows just in case something like that happened. This leads to yet another of the movie's more memorable shots, as Doug holds on for dear life trying not to join them.
Click here for Part 2!