Blu-ray Review: TOTAL RECALL

For a time in the late 80s and 90s Paul Verhoeven was the go-to director for witty, bombastic, sci-fi action movies. With Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers he brought a fantastic loopiness to the staid Hollywood action picture, and even found time to coax an iconic performance out of Sharon Stone in 1992's Basic Instinct. Since then, his output's been perhaps less memorable, though with a return to Holland he did turn out the wonderful old school war flick, Black Book

 With the Len Wiseman-helmed remake (yes, remake) of Total Recall appearing in UK cinemas at the end of August, Studio Canal are releasing a digitally restored version of the Verhoeven original on blu-ray so you can relive those Mars fantasies time and time again.

 Featuring a Schwarzenegger in his prime, Total Recall plays with our notion of dreams and reality as 'lowly construction worker' Doug Quaid accidentally discovers the life he thinks he's been leading is actually just a memory implant. A botched trip to specialists in the field, Rekall, leads to him uncover a double life as a secret agent. He's had his memory wiped for various nefarious reasons that end up taking him to Mars for real. Of course the whole set-up, adapted from Philip K. Dick's We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, toys with Arnie and us trusting neither the people in nor the veracity of his increasingly outlandish adventures. 

 Aside from the sci-fi conundrums and quasi-ecological message, Verhoeven's movie is really one enormous chase sequence with pauses every so often for exposition and to give Arnie a chance to look puzzled before pummeling/ impaling/ shooting someone to death and moving on. Propelled by his incredible physicality, Verhoeven really knows how to make the most of Schwarzenegger's particular charms as he dispenses some career-high one liners. There's something about his lumbering presence that elicits sympathy and laughter in equal measures, battling with his own cognition only to give up trying in favour of a well-planted punch. Never has the battle between brain and brawn been observed so viscerally. 

 Never one to shy from a comic aside (hello Johnny-cab) the Dutchman's sly sense of humour keeps things light. Who'd have thought a futuristic tracking device hidden in your skull could be befuddled by a wet towel! The effects hold up remarkably well and whilst some of the technology is a typically 80s version of the future, other more subtle touches, like the Rekall receptionist's automatic nail polish, still feel fresh. Rob Bottin's special makeup effects shine and look remarkably convincing over 20 years on - everything appearing hugely tangible, including Verhoeven's signature pulpy violence, much of which was trimmed for the MPAA. 

 Supporting performances are universally great from a ballsy Rachel Ticotin in full-on ass kicking mode to the evergreen Michael Ironside sneering with glee, and of course Mel Johnson Jr's disingenuous cabbie, Benny ("I got five kids to feed!"). Hell, even the nameless henchmen are memorable. 

Classic Arnie, and classic Verhoeven. I mean, I like Colin Farell, but... you know.

 The Disc 

 This Ultimate Rekall Edition is a mixed bag. The restoration, though, is excellent with the sharpest picture I've seen, doing justice to Bottin's practical creature effects and the superb miniature models used to depict the Martian landscape. That the high-definition picture reveals so few flaws, is a testament to the quality of the effects work here. The only minor grumble some overt make-up in the early Schwarzenegger/ Stone scenes. I could pick up no defects in the sound either, with a great mix throughout. 

Extras

 Total Recall: 20 Years After (35 mins) is a worthwhile new interview with Verhoeven, who's typically enthusiastic, articulate and candid. He talks of working with Schwarzenegger, casting Stone and the context of making the movie. 

 Total Recall: Special Effects (23 mins) from 2010 is a mediocre look into the miniature work and the non-Bottin elements of the effects such as the X-ray scanner. 

 The Making Of is a period piece featurette, whilst Imagining Total Recall (30 mins) is a 2001 mini-doc which has interviews with co-screenwriter Ronald Shusett, Verhoeven, Bottin and Schwarzenegger amongst others. 

The Restoration Comparison is a compilation of scenes with restored and non-restored elements compared. Incidental but worth a quick look. 

The Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger Audio Commentary is dated by the mention of Bush coming to power... and though amusing, it's not as enlightening as you'd hope, with Schwarzenegger tending to simply describe what is happening on screen than provide insights behind the scenes. 

There's also a photo gallery and trailer

Overall it's a worthwhile release for the picture alone, but a lack of new extras is a shame.  

Total Recall: Ultimate Rekall Edition is out on Triple Play (including steel book) and from 16th July 2012 through Studio Canal.


DVD extras: New interview with Paul Verhoeven / Total Recall: Special Effects / Audio commentary with Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger / trailer 

 Blu-ray Extras: New Interview with director Paul Verhoeven: TOTAL RECALL 20 Years After / Audio Commentary with Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger / Total Recall: The Special Effects / Making of / Imagining Total Recall Featurette / Restoration comparison / Photo Gallery / Trailer 

 DVD Tech specs: Cert: 18 / Feature Running Time: 103 mins approx / Region 2 / Feature Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 / Colour PAL / Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 / English language / Cat No: OPTBD1798 / RRP: £24.99 

 BLU-RAY Tech specs: Cert: 18 / Feature Running Time: 103 mins approx / Region B / Audio codec: DTS HD Master 5.1 / Video codec: AVC / Feature Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 / Colour PAL / Audio: DTS HD master / English language / Cat No: OPTBD1798 / RRP: £24.99
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