Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Ronny Cox
Director:  Paul Verhoeven
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Artisan
Features:  See Review
Length:  113 Minutes
Release Date:  September 18, 2001

“Welcome to Mars, man!”

Film ***1/2

Set a seemingly simple story about a man whose memory was stolen against a futuristic background of interplanetary revolution, throw in lots of action, violence, special effects and eye candy, and add one mega movie star, and you’ve got one helluva spectacle.

That movie is, of course, Total Recall, and the star is Arnold Schwarzenegger.  To be fair, I should say, he’s one of the stars.  He’s the man the audience identifies with as he travels across space in hopes of finding out who he is and why he’s become so dangerous to so many.  The other star is the film’s fantastic look, which is a colorful, imaginative world of unforgettable visuals.

Arnold plays Doug Quaid, a simple construction worker with a beautiful wife (Stone) living a modest existence sometime in the next century.  He dreams about Mars and a woman unknown to him, and lately, these thoughts have begun obsessing him.

He opts for a solution:  a company called Rekall that offers an alternative to expensive and dangerous vacation travel.  They simply implant in your brain the memory of a vacation, complete with details and souvenirs, exactly set to the customer’s specifications.  With Doug choosing a role playing option as a secret agent, he decides to try and experience the Mars trip he’s always dreamed about.

But something goes wrong.  It turns out, Doug’s memory had been wiped out and replaced with a new one.  The Rekall procedure temporarily awakened part of his old self, and now, his whole world is turning upside down.  People he thought were friends are trying to kill him.  People he never met are trying to help him.  His only solution:  go to Mars for real and find out who he really is, and what his role might be in an interstellar revolution.

To say more would be wrong, as the movie is filled with surprise twists and a playful sense of is-it-real-or-not scenarios.  Director Paul Verhoeven, suffice to say, has delivered a classic mixture of science fiction and action that’s like a relentless roller coaster ride from beginning to end.  Arnold is in top form here, providing the perfect action hero and protagonist for his audience, as well as getting to kill a lot of people and blowing a lot of stuff up.

One of the last effects movies shot before the dawn of CGI, Total Recall used tradition means of creating special effects in extraordinary ways.  The picture earned a special achievement Academy Award for its efforts, and even a decade later when we’re used to the idea of computer aided design in movies, the effects hold up well…most importantly, they contribute to the story and characters, fleshing out a detailed world in which strife and violence are the norm.

I saw this movie on opening night back in 1990, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.  My friends and I knew very little about the picture going in, other than it was the latest Schwarzenegger movie, and we were all blown away by what we saw.  I’m going to stop talking about it now, in case you happen to be one of the lucky few who haven’t experienced this film yet…you deserve to see it with your guard down and your sense of wonder completely intact.

Video ***1/2

The opening shots of Mars look terrific, followed by a very unpromising sequence with Schwarzenegger and Stone in their apartment that looks horrible:  dry, grainy, and with edge enhancements producing distracting shimmers.  However, the transfer picks up immediately afterward, and the rest of the film looks quite good, getting better as it goes along, in fact.  By the time we arrive at Venusville on Mars, the imagery is completely spectacular, with a wide array of colors and pristine, sharp details that bring shot after shot to vivid life.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack is a real treat, too.  Some scenes that are dialogue only are a bit thin sounding, but thankfully, there aren’t many of those in the picture.  The action scenes reign supreme, and the digital remix doesn’t disappoint, opening up the experience across both stages with smooth crossovers and plenty of discreet effects, as well as good low punch delivered by the .1 channel.  The dynamic range is spectacular, especially during the film’s loud climactic scenes.

Features ****

I guess I should start with the case, which is a rather clever gimmick:  the disc is in a round, red metal case shaped like Mars with raised markings on the top (including the famous face).  It sits on a cardboard mount, making it about the same height and width as a double DVD case, so fitting it into your collection shouldn’t be a problem.

There are many extras on the disc itself, starting with a commentary track with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven together…a fairly entertaining listen, but both men are masters at stating the obvious.  “This is a special effects shot,” Verhoeven says as we look at the Mars exteriors…just in case you thought it was location shooting…that kind of thing.

There is also an “Imagining Total Recall” documentary, featuring interviews with Verhoeven and his crew, plus Arnold.  It’s a good piece that details the ten year history of the project and how and why it changed hands over the years.  There is a “Visions of Mars” featurette that details the actual Mars exploration efforts, storyboards, photo gallery, production notes, conceptual art, theatrical and teaser trailer with numerous TV spots, plus talent files.  As an added feature, there are three “virtual vacations” from Rekall that you can pick from…they’re kind of like screensavers, but made somewhat interesting by the use of 5.1 sound for all three of them.


Total Recall is one of the best offerings from both Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven.  Imaginative, fast, furious, bloody and explosive, it’s a movie that kicks into high gear early and never slows down.  By mixing stunning science fiction with dynamite action, this film has remained a fan favorite for more than ten years now, and with this sleek new limited edition disc from Artisan, it should continue to be one for a long time to come.