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Whether Total Recall is an implanted truth or reality to Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), his journey begins by doubting himself. He’s buff, sleeps with Sharon Stone, and he chews through concrete for a living, but it’s not enough. That’s not manly. Working on Mars is manly. Vacationing there, shooting terrorists there. Advertising emasculated Quaid even though he’s a romance novel cover star.

Unlike other action heroes Schwarzenegger played in the ‘80s and into the early ‘90s, in Total Recall, the script asks him to grow into the role. He can fight, sure. Schwarzenegger takes down four guys after being jumped, but Quaid is cautious, unsure even. This is what Quaid asked for, and he’s finding out the fantasy is terrifying. It’s one thing to see someone look cool on screen, mowing down bad guys, it’s another to do it himself.

Total Recall is ruthless in its attack on gross profiteering

That hesitancy instills Total Recall’s uncertainty. It’s unusual to watch given how readily Schwarzenegger stared down an alien in Predator, or mowed down villains in Commando. In Total Recall, he needs help – from a woman no less, a true rarity in genre films from this period. From where Quaid begins to where he ends, the arc makes him consistently question himself, and what, exactly, it means to exude masculinity.

Of course, this is pure Paul Verhoven too, only a few years removed from a police state satire in RoboCop, moving into capitalist dark comedy here. In a nod to Spaceballs maybe, the script casts Ronny Cox as Mars’ ultimate ruler who sells people the air they breathe. In the final twist, Cox does so because the element allowing Mars to terraform makes him money. Why waste that on letting people fill their lungs when he can profit on both ends? Total Recall is ruthless in its attack on gross profiteering, and released only months before the Gulf War began over oil disputes. How timely.

Arguably too often, Total Recall gorges on the weird. Little people turn into props, there’s a three-breasted woman, and the Martian backdrop pushes distinctive surrealism. To the script’s credit though, mutants become heroes, not targets to shame. They join in fighting their oppressive ruler, becoming empathetic rather than stock movie freaks. That brings Total Recall together, making the star attraction secondary. Still a hero, still fighting for right, but lucky in having help.

If Recall sold this fantasy to Quaid, it’s not a particularly good one.

Total Recall (1990) 4K UHD screen shot

Video

Gorgeously sharp mastering gives this release a definite jump from the Blu-ray. Visible detail in the environments makes this akin to watching Total Recall for the first time. Same with facial texture, ridiculously defined. No surprise things like clothing stick out brilliantly too.

There’s slight loss stemming from the compression. Chroma noise becomes a too-frequent occurrence. A minor imperfection, but a bother. Preserving the grain intact comes at a cost which Lionsgate’s encode can’t sort.

Organic color reproduction lacks full splendor, a little dry in comparison to other material, if true to the film stock/intent. Mars’ red pops though, even spectacular. Stitch that together with the HDR for a proper alien glow. Total Recall doesn’t make massive gains in range, but does benefit when projecting headlights, neon, or Martian sun. Black levels though fail to nail their end, murky and lean. Dimensionality is slight at best, if again, accurate.

Audio

A refresh into Dolby Atmos doesn’t change much. Total Recall is one of those catalog discs Lionsgate pushes out whenever there’s a chance to do something new on a home format; there’s not much left to do. Small accentuation grazes the rears, only loosely engaging them when wind picks up or ambiance is required. Bars and crowded streets fill each speaker. Action plays around with gunfire, rears and stereos notable. Positioning matches the visuals accurately.

Loose low-end stubbornly outputs material. Music kicks a bit. Not much, but enough to feel something. Explosions flail. Earthquakes during the climax weakly rumble.

Extras

On the 4K disc, director Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger team up for an accent-heavy commentary track. A fantastic feature on Carolco comes up just short of an hour, exploring the studio’s full history. Open Your Mind looks into the score’s creation for 21-minutes. There’s a brief featurette on the development running eight minutes.

Over to the Blu-ray, the commentary, score featurette, and development repeat.

On the special features Blu-ray, the Carloco doc again. A vintage making-of featurette has long since been eclipsed, but it stays here for posterity. The 23-minute Models and Skeletons is a little dry in execution, while the explanations for how the effects were composed is fascinating. Imagining Total Recall is a 31-minute documentary that’s floated around home video releases while remaining no less relevant.

Total Recall (1990)
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

Total Recall sells a wild, space-faring fantasy, but makes its star almost secondary to the heroics as he saves the world.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 62 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: