Film Notes

Film Notes #12: Total Recall (1990)

Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi actioner is Number 12 in my Film Notes series

SPOILER ALERT: Plot details will be revealed!

Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi actioner is Number 12 in my Film Notes series.

For those not familiar with this series of posts, it involves me watching a film every day for 30 days.

The following rules apply:

  • It must be a film I have already seen.
  • I must make notes whilst I’m watching it.
  • Pauses are allowed but the viewing must all be one session.
  • It can’t be a cinema release.

The point is to capture my instant thoughts about a movie and my overall film diet for 30 days, as well as curate interesting links to the film in question.

Here are my notes on Total Recall (1990) which I watched on DVD on Monday 2nd April. Give these people air!

  • Wonderful trailing opening titles that suggest SUPERMAN (1978)
  • Pounding title music by Jerry Goldsmith that recalls another Schwarzenegger film – Basil Pouledoris’s main theme to CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982)
  • Love the intensity of the opening Mars scene – Verhoeven really knows how to sell visceral violence (e.g. You really feel those eyes are popping out of his head)
  • Slightly disappointed that he chose to go for the ‘it’s only a dream’ edit in which Arnie sits bolt upright. Has anyone ever woken up from a dream like this?!
  • Note that Sharon Stone is actually pissed off and jealous at the dream – a sign of things to come
  • Verhoeven got his Hollywood breakthrough with ROBOCOP (1987), which blended 80s action movie with surprisingly sharp political satire
  • TOTAL RECALL (1990) continues the trend with its social commentary blended within the framework of a sci-fi thriller.
  • Films like THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998), THE MATRIX (1999) and INCEPTION (2010) played around with similar concepts
  • Nice touches: fingernail polish, x-ray machines and video walls
  • The x-ray machines are now standard in US airports!
  • Production design is great – clever blend of sets and Mexican subway system.
  • Love the recall salesman / travel agent – he’s actually selling me on this holiday
  • Arnie’s line “don’t bullshit me” seems ADR’d
  • The scene where Arnie explains what kind of woman he really
  • Like the pacing in this film – no dicking around. 15 minutes in and we’re off.
  • Sharon Stone is at her glamorous best in this film – you can see why Verhoevan cast her in BASIC INSTINCT (1992)
  • The videophones are basically Apple FaceTime (they even have a portrait screen)
  • Fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed by Vic Armstrong – we really feel every punch and crunch.
  • Michael Ironside is a genuinely great villain. Charming, ruthless and we get the vibe he doesn’t mess around.
  • Subway shoot out is brutal fun. Think they had to make cuts for the theatrical release.
  • Notice how this is really a continuation of the previous chase (which hadn’t really ended).
  • The tracking device predicts the current debates about the surveillance society
  • Love the dryness of Arnie’s lines.
  • Verhoeven has been deftly handling action and narrative now for about 20 mins
  • Sound design and Rob Bottin’s make up work are A-grade in the bug removal scene
  • Good miniatures for the spaceships on Mars. Although this was made on the cusp of the ILM revolution ushered in by TERMINATOR 2 (1991) and JURASSIC PARK (1993) it still stands up for the most part.
  • Kuato is freedom fighter who in this film we are expected to sympathise with but I wonder how the remake will play around with this idea in a post-9/11 world.
  • Rob Bottin’s make up is excellent in the airport scene.
  • Note the use of a vertical set to simulate zero gravity (a trick Vic Armstrong
  • Cohaagen is to Mars what NCP was to Detroit in ROBOCOP (1987).
  • Sets are believable because Mars is an indoor world anyway.
  • Cab driver: “I’ve got five kids to feed!”
  • Apparently during filming the crew all thought Rachel Ticotin was going to be the big star, not Sharon Stone
  • The hotel room scene was almost certainly a big influence on INCEPTION (2010).
  • Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is a sci-fi starring Arnie – this is very good genre writing
  • Lot of product placement in this film (Sony, Fuji Film and Miller Lite)
  • Great female fight, expertly arranged by Vic Armstrong who really wanted to stage a memorable scrap
  • The pacing is brilliant during Quaid and Milena’s escape – back when action was cleanly edited and featured smooth camera work
  • Rob Bottin’s make up work is outstanding – especially the cab drivers arm and Kuato
  • The villains have a devilish wit which gives the film a pleasing light touch.
  • Obligatory ‘explanation scene’ is actually an interesting exercise in making the audience uncertain
  • Even by modern torture porn standards, the brainwash scene is brutally violent.
  • Quaid’s line “Give these people air!” was referenced in Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP (2007).
  • Even the goldfish die.
  • Quaid: “Screw you!!!”
  • Slightly dated rear projection work with the reactor
  • The pace in the second half of this film is absolutely tremendous
  • Sound design also excellent. You can really hear guns and punches.
  • The fight on the lift is another corker – notice the foley on
  • I’ve always loved Ronny Cox’s line about being “home in time for cornflakes”
  • Climax also features great use of vertical sets
  • Satisfyingly visceral gore of Cohaagen’s eyes popping out. More brilliant work from Rob Bottin.
  • I think the VFX crew used the old milk in tank trick to simulate to clouds on the mountain. Also used in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) and POLTERGEIST (1982).
  • Nicely ambiguous ending which allows different interpretations (Verhoevan’s is considerably darker than Arnie’s)
  • Cameras by ARRI