June 14, 1990

Total Recall

I originally went to see this with my girlfriend Meridith at the Assembly Square Mall in Somerville. However, she had to go home at the last minute- she was 16 or 17 at the time (I was 18) and she belatedly called her mother to check in. Her mother ordered her home, so we had to reschedule. Her mother and I knew and liked each other- It's possible Mom didn't want her daughter watching a very violent and swear-laden movie?

In 1990 I was a big Schwarzenegger fan. Terminator, Predator, and Commando were three very important movies to teenage me, the most exciting (non-Lucas/Spielberg) movies I loved. Even in 1990, Total Recall felt like an overdone, overproduced production to capitalize on Arnold's superstardom. Terminator, Predator, and Commando all had a no frills, lean and mean patina. In Total Recall, you could almost hear the air conditioned trailers and smell the chilled shrimp cocktails just off-screen.

I re-watched this movie on TV in 2011 and was appalled, amused, and surprised. Released in 1990, it's the swan song for 1980s-style "action": fights with lots of crotch abuse, dismemberment, and ridiculous gun battles. Everyone shoots dozens and dozens of bullets at each other, and no one reloads, In contemporary action movies, bullets leave a tiny hole in the front of the victim. In Total Recall, Robocop, Starship Troopers, and other Paul Verhoeven films, bullets apparently explode on impact. Verhoeven tries to make the movie seem "futuristic": everyone drives electric cars, and there's nifty videophones (which still haven't happened yet), but I was struck by the cheap plasticky feel of all the gadgets. Arnold should be the "object" of the movie, he's all the visual gimmickry we need, but instead we're distracted by all the junk surrounding him- it's like Arnold stumbled into a Sharper Image store.
totalThe receptionist at the "Rekall" clinic changes her fingernail polish with the click of a stylus (a very neat effect) but she also has what appears to be an electric typewriter + CRT monitor. Very embarrassing!
The worst is when Arnold is strapped into his memory implant chair, and the doctor showcases his vacation options- on a 19" tube set mounted on a giant steel articulated arm. She grabs a giant handle and yanks it over, like she's installing a dashboard in a Toyota Celica. I literally laughed out loud when she swung in this 100 pound monster.

The prosthetic heads are all terrible. Arnold is replaced with a latex head at least three times: when his face explodes in the thin Mars atmosphere, when he pulls the "bug" out of his nose, and when he removes the "fat lady" mask at the spaceport. All are equally fake-looking.

This is all a shame, because the premise is terrific: Arnold is the ultimate mole: a evil secret agent who had his personality replaced so he could sneak into the underground Martian resistance. Ancient Martians built a atmosphere-generating reactor under a mountain, but the evil CEO of the Mars government (Ronny Cox) won't let go of his power over the planet. I hear they're filming a remake. This is good news- I always say it's better to remake bad movies than good ones.