Three decades later, Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall remains a terrifically engaging sci-fi spectacular starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the working-class everyman on a mind-bending heroic fantasy on Mars. Celebrating its 30th Anniversary, the action-packed cult classic lands on 4K Ultra HD with an impressive Dolby Vision HDR video, a highly-engaging Dolby Atmos track and a great selection of bonus material. Overall, the three-disc UHD edition of this Verhoeven favorite is Recommended for hardened action fans everywhere.
We have also reviewed the 2012 Mind-Bending Blu-ray Edition HERE.
"Sorry, Quaid. Your whole life is just a dream."
As the score makes abundantly clear, I absolutely love Paul Verhoeven's wildly bonkers, Total Recall. In fact, I love most of the films by the Dutch filmmaker, and this now-classic actioner has been dearly beloved ever since I first watched it in cinemas. And in case you're wondering, I'm also a Phillip K. Dick nerd, so that could have something to do with my cinematic love-affair with this flick. The box-office hit of 1990 may not be up to the sheer brilliance or as intellectually perceptive of the human condition as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, but this ultra-violent sci-fi spectacular still comes with a good deal of smarts and even plays an important role in the history of filmmaking.
"See you at the party, Richter!"
Watching it again for the n'teenth time, I'm always reminded of that bygone era of wonderfully gory R-rated movies from the 80s and the early 90s. These types of actioners aren't made nearly as often anymore, or at least not to the extent that Verhoeven exaggerated and relished in the violence. The current slate of comic-book adaptations aimed at adult audiences falls embarrassingly short of some good-ole Verhoeven gruesomeness. Take the escalator scene, for example, fairly early on after Arnold Schwarzenegger's Doug Quaid learns his comfortable middle-class life is a sham. Some poor schlub is used as a human shield by our soon-to-be hero, and the blood squibs are massive, leaving behind big gaping holes in the clothing of the stunt performers.
"Consider that a divorce!"
We can laugh at the gleefully cartoonish sequence today, but Total Recall originally released at the peak of a public outcry concerning the amount of violence in movies. This is when the hesitation from major studios for big-budgeted, ultra-violent, hard R-rated movies started growing. Even more significant is the film erupting on screens right at the cusp of the CGI furor, completely revolutionizing the filmmaking industry forever. At the time, the visual and practical effects by Rob Bottin were thought of as ground-breaking and excitedly innovative. From being one of the last to see large-scale use of miniatures to lifelike animatronics like Schwarzenegger's memorable disguise at the Mars terminal, Total Recall is ultimately one of the last great Hollywood blockbusters to be made in what we can now affectionately call old-fashioned or classic practical effects, which ironically includes the gruesome violence.
"You are what you do. A man is defined by his actions, not his memory."
Aside from the nostalgic fondness, the script by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the same pair that penned another sci-fi classic in Alien, also landed with some highly intriguing concepts. Most fascinating are a class struggle theme and secret desires for a meaningful life cleverly underscoring the violent mayhem moving the plot. Quaid is a regular Joe suddenly growing apathetic at the monotony in his bourgeoisie existence, possibly feeling it's all just an illusion. Arguably, the visit to Rekall, a company that implants fake memories, accidentally makes him conscious of this illusion. Investigating its origins reveals the manipulation of a major corporation by the wealthy elitist Cohaagen (Ronny Cox). He wields his power to suppress the lower class by controlling the basic essentials for a decent life, like oxygen, all of which is represented by the mutants of Mars, a lovely David Cronenberg contribution. In Quaid's fantasy for creating purpose out of the mundane, he is the ultimate working-class hero, defeating those who profit from the lives and material labor of others.
"Who told you to THINK? I don't give you enough information to THINK!"
Another beauty is the nagging question of whether or not it's all in Quaid's head. The film never gives a definite answer although some would point to the suspicious behavior of Quaid's wife (Sharon Stone) and his best friend (Robert Costanzo). However, that's easily brushed off as concern for his unhappiness and well-being. In his dreams, his suspicions are justified. Once at Rekall, the lowly construction worker is told the fake memory implants are only a means for kick-starting the outlandish vacation. The rest of the fantasy and the minor details within are controlled by the user. We hear specific words and are shown fairly explicit images that later become part of Quaid's fantasy, such as the weird designs of alien artifacts on the TV screen. The only mention of mutants is Cohaagen's spiteful insult of freedom fighters during a press conference. Also, the best friend plants the idea that later grows into the funnily named "schizoid embolism." And the real kicker is the beautiful Melina (Rachel Ticotin), who is precisely as requested and looks identical to her CG renderings.
"Well, Cohaagen. I've got to hand it to you. That's the best mind-fuck yet."
I can keep going on and on and on about this highly entertaining sci-fi actioner, the type moviegoers like to call a "thinking man's action movie." There's a great deal more happening in Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall, and I can spend hours picking the whole thing apart. My favorite aspect still remains never knowing if it actually happened or if it's all part of Quaid's vacation fantasy. The bright light at the very end could mean something really did go wrong, and he's just been lobotomized. Or, Quaid did indeed get his money's worth by living the most realistic dream of his life, bringing up larger philosophical questions on the dilemma of appearance vs. reality. I could go on, but I'll just stop for now and instead watch Total Recall again because honestly, it's more fun to allow the mind to enjoy the journey through Quaid's possibly deluded fantasy of heroism, which coincidently plays out like an action spy thriller.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Lionsgate Home Entertainment brings Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a three-disc combo pack with a flyer for a Digital Copy. The code can be redeemed via moviesredeem.com or through VUDU where, as of this writing, users have access to the 1080 HDX version with Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio, but this may change on the day of release. The triple-layered UHD100 disc sits comfortably on the last panel while Region A locked, BD25 disc containing supplements is on the opposite pane, and another Region A locked, BD50 disc with the movie rests on a center spindle. All three discs are housed inside a black, eco-cutout case with a glossy slipcover. At startup, the disc goes straight to an animated menu screen with music playing in the background and the usual options along the bottom.
Every few years, Verhoeven's classic seems to implant itself into the latest home video tech, looking ever so slightly better than its predecessors, and that appears the case once more here. Only, this time, the splintered-reality mind-bender takes a schizoid trip on Ultra HD with by far the best video presentation the film has ever enjoyed on any format. Coming from a brand-new 4K restoration and remastering of the original 35mm camera negatives, which was supervised and approved by Verhoeven himself, the HEVC H.265 encode is a massive improvement, making it the definitive way for savoring this Schwarzenegger favorite.
Admittedly, the movie has never been much a looker and probably never will, so expectations should be reasonably softened in order to enjoy the many positives. With a consistent ultra-fine layer of grain present and coming in noticeably thicker in a few darker sequences, the native 4K transfer delivers an attractive film-like quality. From the individual hairs of the cast and the fine stitching of the clothing to the architectural design of each set and the rocky environment of Mars, overall definition is incredibly sharp and detailed, exposing every nook and cranny. It does, however, come with its fair share of softer and poorly-resolved moments, which stand out all the more given how good the rest of the movie looks. But to be honest, this seems likely inherent to the negative and due to the rough, gritty cinematography, making the results faithful to its source.
Arguably, the most impressive upgrade over its Blu-ray counterparts is the richer, more full-bodied blacks throughout, providing the 1.85:1 image with better dimensionality and a winning cinematic appeal sure to please long-time, loyal fans everywhere. Whether it's Melina's and Benny's dark hair or Richter's outfit or the deep ebony shadows of the Martian tunnels, visibility of the finer details in the clothing and the background is excellent. Going back to the deliberate photography of Jost Vacano and Verhoeven creating a dystopic, lifeless and morose future, contrast balance is largely kept in check and somewhat muted for the most part. However, the video nonetheless has a bit more pop and is comfortably bright with cleaner, more brilliant whites in the various light fixtures. Specular highlights offer the more notable improvement, as the hottest spots appear crisper, narrower yet more radiant without ruining the finer aspects or the blooming suffered in previous releases.
Likewise, the Dolby Vision HDR presentation also lands with an improved array of colors, especially the reds ranging from the candy rose pop of neon lights and various shades of lipstick to the ruby scarlet of blood and the deep, crimson cherry glow of Mars. Remaining true to the filmmaker's creative aesthetic, the teal-orange palette is made all the more apparent in this UHD edition, particularly well-lit interiors constantly bathed in turquoise, sapphire tint, adding to the thematic dreary atmosphere. Meanwhile, Melina's outfit pops a vivid, buttery yellow, Venusville comes with lively splashes of royal purples and spirited lavender, and many articles of clothing are a rich, cotton-candy pink. Compared to previous releases, facial complexions are another notable upgrade, looking significantly healthier with a rosy-peach tone in the entire cast while also remaining highly revealing with lifelike textures in close-ups.
All in all, this UHD edition of the sci-fi classic delivers a massive improvement over its HD SDR predecessors and is the best the film has ever looked in any format. (Dolby Vision Video Rating: 78/100)
UPDATE: According to some internet chatter, the 4K presentation suffers from minor compression issues during one brief scene. After revisiting said scene, there does appear to be some visible macroblocking at around the 43-minute mark when the spaceship lands on Mars. It is fairly mild and easy to miss even on a big screen, but it nonetheless is there with two or three frames looking the most severe, which again, are only apparent when pausing on that specific moment. Thank you to one of our readers for bringing this to our attention.
Continuing with the upgrades is an excellent and highly-satisfying Dolby Atmos soundtrack that makes the high-rez tracks of previous Blu-ray releases a distant memory. It may not be the sort for putting one's system to the test, but this object-based option surprisingly feels fuller and more energetic than ever before without also seeming exaggerated or needlessly inflated.
Largely remaining true to its original design, much of the action is a front-heavy presentation with fluid movement of background activity across the three channels and into the top heights, creating a convincingly broad and spacious half-dome soundstage. While delivering crystal-clear dialogue at all times, imaging comes with a great deal of presence and fidelity, exhibiting outstanding, room-penetrating acoustical details, giving each gunshot and explosion striking clarity without the slightest hint of distortion. Jerry Goldsmith's memorable score benefits most thanks to the extra breathing room, providing the visuals with a wonderfully robust feel while maintaining superb fidelity and accuracy in the instrumentation.
The surrounds and ceiling channels are, for the most, silent and non-existent, save for Goldsmith's music lightly bleeding all around and creating a pleasing, enveloping soundfield. Occasionally, minor effects subtly travel into the top heights and sides, but not to any notable or convincing extent. However, combined with an appropriately responsive and hearty low-end, the Atmos mix sounds terrific, providing a long-time action favorite with a wider and fullers sense of presence that audiophiles will love. (Dolby Atmos Audio Rating: 80/100)
This Ultra HD edition arrives with a few new and much-welcomed surprises on the UHD disc while the two Blu-ray discs pack some familiar bonuses along with the new material.
Ultra HD Disc
Blu-ray Disc 1
Blu-ray Disc 2
Aside from the nostalgia and the action-packed excitement, Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall is the sort of sci-fi spectacular some affectionately refer to as a "thinking man's action movie." With Arnold Schwarzenegger as the working-class everyman Doug Quaid, the movie has its place in cinema history and offers its audience something to think about while enjoying the ride through another man's heroic fantasies. To celebrate the film's 30th Anniversary, Lionsgate brings the beloved action favorite to 4K Ultra HD with an impressive Dolby Vision HDR presentation that delivers a satisfying improvement over its HD SDR predecessors. The 4K transfer is also joined by a highly engaging Dolby Atmos soundtrack and some familiar supplements mixed with a few welcomed surprises. This three-disc UHD edition of a Verhoeven classic is recommended for hardened action fans everywhere.