Total Recall (1990)

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*. Released in 1990, but you can still feel the suck of the ’80s in your eyeballs. So let’s return to the future that was.
*. Check out all that product placement. Pepsi may have been the worst historical offenders when it came to this, and they’re all over the place here. Other prominently displayed logos include Coca-Cola, Coors Beer, Miller Lite, Sony, Fuji Film, Best Western, and USA Today (oh-so-cleverly repackaged as Mars Today).
*. Sticking with the ’80s dance-party theme, glory in the nightmare that was big hair, and the girl-band music video clothes. Even a glistening Sharon Stone can’t quite make that leotard outfit work (though she rocks her silver power suit). Oh well. Nothing dates like sexy.
*. Still, I find this an intensely watchable movie — even more so than the 2012 remake, for all its even sexier women and more up-to-date effects. Sure it’s just one long chase scene, but it works.
*. Let’s also return to the day when the terrorists — and these aren’t just rebels like in Star Wars, but honest-to-goodness bomb throwers — were the good guys. See also: Brazil.

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*. Michael Ironside and Sharon Stone. Damn. There’s an odd couple. And yet I buy it. Both are decent actors in the right parts, and here they are well cast as a matching pair of cool psychos.
*. Ironside is, of course, bald. Is this one of the biggest taboos in Hollywood? Some years ago the media critic Neil Postman observed that there could never be a bald president. He just wouldn’t be able to sell. Hence the frequent references to the “network hair” of candidates (meaning a style of hair that can sometimes look pretty silly). But the same prejudice holds true in the film business. How many bald leading men have there been? Off the top of my head I think of Bruce Willis, but he usually has it cut down to stubble anyway. As a bald man I find this disappointing. So congratulations to Ironside, who may be a heel but at least gets a hot girlfriend.

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*. The script went through many revisions (over 40 drafts before Verhoeven even got a look at it). It wasn’t originally imagined as an Arnold vehicle. At one point Richard Dreyfuss was considered, with the character of Quaid being an accountant (as he is in the original Philip K. Dick story).
*. It had a very big budget, but looks a bit tacky today. Especially Venusville, which might be a set from the original Star Trek series. On the other hand, it was one of the last big-budget SF films to not use CGI, and I think the blue-screen work, miniatures, and matte paintings for the Martian landscapes and alien reactor sequence came out well.
*. I think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s acting as being sort of like a dog’s. His limited range of facial expressions can show thoughtfulness, or what might be thoughtfulness, anger, confusion, exuberance . . . and that’s about it.

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*. When the bad guys are shooting at the hologram of Quaid, why don’t their bullets go through it and hit the guys firing on the other side? That’s what happens later in the scene when Melina uses the device.
*. Personally, I think it most likely that the whole thing is in fact the implanted memory of an adventure, but you could go either way. Of course, you want it all to be real because that’s what you paid your money for. The audience is in the same position as Quaid, and has a bias toward seeing what it came to see. And the dream of an action movie isn’t going to look any different from an action movie. So we enter the infinite regress.

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