A Look Back at Total Recall (1990)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from watching the movie and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

I miss the old days when an R-rated action-packed science fiction movie can be passionately made with exceptional directing, clever writing, great camera work that’s consistently steady, solid performances from the actors, action that was not too choreographed, and visuals that heavily utilized practical effects and optical effects.

I’m talking about Total Recall, the 1990 sci-fi action movie that starred a much younger Arnold Schwarzenegger supported by Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Rachel Ticotin and Ronny Cox. Directed by Paul Verhoeven (who directed the 1987 classic RoboCop) with a screenplay (based on the Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale) by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Gary Goldman, Total Recall was a tremendous hit in the cinemas grossing more than $261 million worldwide with a production budget of over $60 million. To date, the film remains a favorite not only with fans of Schwarzenegger but also with people who love action movies, sci-fi movies, movies of the 1990s and geeks.

But before looking back at this movie, it is important to take note that Total Recall took several years of development before it finally got produced. The very first screenplay was written by O’Bannon and Shusett in the 1970s (after securing the film rights to Philip K. Dick’s short story when the author was still alive). Eventually prolific movie producer Dino De Laurentiis took the project for development. Years later, De Laurentiis’ company collapsed (due to failed projects) which provided Schwarzenegger the golden opportunity to get Total Recall by persuading Carolco to secure the rights for a few million dollars. After many screenplay drafts written and the hiring of Verhoeven as director (note: Schwarzenegger approached him personally) plus Gary Goldman, the rest became history.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside and Ronny Cox in a memorable scene.

Now, here is a look back at Total Recall.

Early Story

The story begins at the surface of planet Mars where a man and a lady (both wearing space suits) travel on foot. Suddenly, the man slips down and breaks the frontal shield of his helmet exposing himself to Mars’ air. It turned out to be an intense nightmare for Douglas Quaid who was in bed with his beautiful wife Lori. Lori asked him about the unidentified woman who appeared in his dreams, but Quaid expresses his love for her. On his way to work, Quaid saw a TV ad inside the train about Rekall, a company that sells holidays and adventures in the form of memories. At work, his fellow construction worker discouraged him from availing of any services from Rekall. After work, Quaid visits Rekall and decides to avail of an ego trip as a secret agent. Just as the memory trip was about to start, Quaid wakes up violently…

Quality

This movie is still great to watch. Let me start first with the creative team of Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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A great action scene about to start…

When it comes to the synergy between the director and the lead player, Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger make a great creative team that made this movie very special! When asked during an interview what it was like for him to work with Schwarzenegger, Verhoeven said:  Arnold is great. Switching from Rutger Hauer to Arnold is not that big a step. It’s strange to say that, because he’s this crazy Austrian, with an accent—but, for me, Arnold is the American Rutger. I think if I did a few movies with Arnold, I could do as much with him as I did with Rutger. Now, this movie was the wrong thing . . . But I think you can do much more with Arnold, explore more possibilities, than was necessary for this movie.

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Sharon Stone as Lori.

Now, it is a fact that Schwarzenegger lacks versatility when it comes to acting. Even so, Verhoeven succeeded in getting a deeper-than-expected performance from the star in this movie. Sure, we get to see Schwarzenegger fight bad guys with really rough action, fire guns, run and jump around here but what really stood out here was his portrayal of a man who discovers that the life he knew was all a lie and goes on to find the truth about himself. This role remains a standout role of Schwarzenegger’s among all the characters he played in his many other action films. What is also notable with Douglas Quaid is that the protagonist is always in danger and never invincible, very similar to how Bruce Willis played John McClane in Die Hard. If you watch this film after seeing Schwarzenegger play his invincible icon in the Terminator movies, you will feel his pain, tension and curiosity here! As if that was not enough, there is also the other role Schwarzenegger played in this movie that you should see.

Of course, Total Recall also drew greatness and depth from Verhoeven who also got strong performances from Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside, Rachel Ticotin and Ronny Cox. Sharon Stone is the beautiful wife who will shock you. Michael Ironside is the henchman who will make you root for Schwarzenegger even more. Rachel Ticotin is the brave woman who is believable with the cause she is involved with.

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Rachel Ticotin as Melina.

More notably, Ronny Cox is the all-powerful and ruthless executive who will get on your nerves and make you root for Schwarzenegger a lot, very similar to how his villainous role in RoboCop made moviegoers root for the cyborg policeman. It should be noted that the evil executive-henchman duo of Cohaagen (Cox) and Richter (Ironside) here is a directorial trademark of Verhoeven’s and it should bring back memories of the other evil duo in RoboCop. More than that, Ronny Cox succeeded in selling the concept that Cohaagen really had been the administrator of the colony in Mars exploiting the resources and the people for a long time.

More on getting the most out of the actors, Verhoeven and his team crafted a memorable hand-to-hand fight scene between Lori (Stone) and Melina (Ticotin) actually taking part in the action and stunts. Sharon Stone clearly got athletic in this movie and her efforts paid-off nicely, complete with another fight scene with Arnold Schwarzenegger (she actually even threw two high kicks at Schwarzenegger’s head) early in the film. Beyond the hard battle with Stone, Ticotin went on to take part in further action scenes in the film and she sure is believable as an action performer. To put things in perspective, Stone and Ticotin are not action stars but they excelled nicely in their work here and this also made Total Recall special.

When it comes to storytelling under the direction of Verhoeven, Total Recall moved at a medium-to-fast pace and there was never a single moment of rushing, nor a single boring moment at all. The film just kept going smoothly complete with true unpredictability which results lots of twists and surprises. I should also state that the dialogue from the finalized screenplay is still excellent, and they were nicely delivered by the actors. Verhoeven also added depth to the film by using mystery while also getting good performance from Schwarzenegger as Doug Quaid finds out that life is not what it seems. I should state that the sci-fi elements of altering (and adding) human memories with the use of computers and the business of selling virtual holidays and ego trips were strongly emphasized. These also add to the film’s mystery which should engage you to wonder and analyze as the story moves on.

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The best view from an office on planet Mars.

On the spectacle, Total Recall is heavily loaded! The action is violent, plentiful and carries that particular aesthetic that only director Verhoeven has. It’s hard to explain in words but once you watch the action in this movie (plus comparing it to RoboCop and Starship Troopers), you will realize it. Even so, the action never turned this movie into a brainless affair. The action worked nicely to balance the mystery and suspense.

The visual effects here were mostly done by practical and optical ways. Special effects specialist Rob Bottin, who famously worked in John Carpenter’s The Thing and worked also with Verhoeven in RoboCop, came up with very memorable animatronics to simulate facial and physical changes on characters on key sequences involving sci-fi elements. The team also crafted really freaky looking makeup works on the Mars mutants, which really gave this film a strong sci-fi look. I also like the use of miniatures and physical sets that visualized the colony in Mars. By today’s standards, this movie’s visual effects still look great and I can only wish that filmmakers today would rely less on computers and go back to using practical effects (note: physical stuff) and, on certain occasions, optical effects.

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Really great movie makeup work by Rob Bottin.

When it comes to the physical environments, this movie was filmed a lot in Mexico, specifically on key locations and on the sound stages in an established movie production studio there. Years ago, when I first learned for the first time that the trains used in the film were real-life trains that actually operated in one of Mexico’s real-life transportation systems, I was astounded! Paul Verhoeven himself confirmed that the train sequences were not only shot on location with real trains (note: monitors were added by the filmmakers to achieve a futuristic look) but the place’s architectural design were very unique and fitted nicely with the sci-fi concept of the movie.

The Mars colony set does not look fake to me. In fact, it really looks like it has long been lived in by people and the filmmakers nicely designed it. The Venusville set looks very convincing and, within the story, it got decayed due to long-term businesses, constant vehicular traffic and people who always flocked the place. The Mars hotel meanwhile has that cleaner, nicer look with tourists who paid good money for pleasure and discovery.

I should mention that the cinematography here done by Jost Vacano is excellent. The set-ups of the camera to get great angles of the actors is special, and the same can be said about the capturing of the spectacle that happened on-screen. The flashback of Mars inside Quaid’s mind had great, floating views of the location complete with perfectly smooth movement! Vacano also worked with Verhoeven in RoboCop.

Finally, the musical score by the late Jerry Goldsmith is very memorable and this is my favorite among all his works. The music provided gave this movie a strong sci-fi feel and when suspense plays, the tunes added nicely to it. The most memorable music tracks here are the opening credits music (which is immersive) and the foot chase between Quaid and Richter on Earth (the music really keeps the pace high).

Conclusion

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Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid in a key scene.

Total Recall is a true, adulterated sci-fi action classic and easily it is still is one of the best ever movies I’ve seen from Schwarzenegger, Verhoeven and Stone. A few visual elements did not age well but its highly engaging story (combined with the strong performances and spectacle) remains its key selling point. There is a lot of ambiguity throughout the film and it will keep you wondering if the story (or at least portions of it) was reality or all a dream in Quaid’s mind. The way the story is structured combined with the excellent spectacle, this is a movie that is worth watching again and again! It remains an effective viewing experience for me until now.

As it contains the directorial trademarks of Verhoeven mixed with Schwarzenegger’s own style of expression and hard action, Total Recall is a very unique move of its own and it’s impossible to replicate nor match. Keep in mind that the 2012 remake of this movie was badly made (even though it had a big budget and highly advanced visual effects involving the use of computers) and ended up being a complete failure.

To put it short, Total Recall is more than just an action-packed thrill ride. It is also a mystery film that will keep viewers on the edge as the search for answers continues. Total Recall also explores the theme of what would you do when you realize that the life you remember turned to be an exceptional lie, and that you are literally caught in the middle of a web surrounded by dangerous, powerful people. I could never forget how my mind got motivated as I focused on the narrative the first time I ever saw this great movie decades ago. Total Recall was a sci-fi viewing experience like no other.

Overall, Total Recall (1990) is highly recommended! I urge you, my readers, to buy the movie on Blu-ray disc or watch it via streaming.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back At Fantastic Four #375 (1993)

When it comes to cinema, Marvel’s Fantastic Four has yet to achieve greatness commercially and critically. Already four movies were made and the last one released in 2015 was so terrible, I felt that the Fantastic Four brand suffered.

Truly the best way to enjoy the stories of Fantastic Four is in the comic books with a long bridge connecting to its past. Through the decades no doubt. Like any other comic book series, Fantastic Four had its high points, low points as well the unusual or intriguing stuff.

Today we take a close look at Fantastic Four #375.

Released in 1993 by Marvel Comics at a prize of $2.95, Fantastic Four #375 came with a foil cover which shines under direct light. The gimmick cover, which was part of the trend of the 1990s, had that “Bling!” visual effect when the brightest light is used on it.

Written by Tom DeFalco and drawn by Paul Ryan, the comic book follows the Fantastic Four with Lyja and Sharon who find themselves suddenly transported into space inside a facility with Uatu, the Watcher. They learned from Uata that their mortal enemy Doctor Doom usurped the power of a renegade Watcher called Aron. Uatu expressed that Doom has grown into a greater threat.

The Fantastic Four and their companions split up in an attempt to find Doom before it is too late.

Storywise, the splitting of the protagonists allowed some notable character development moments to happen. I liked the scene wherein Sharon tries to comfort Ben (The Thing) whose solid face got damaged by Wolverine during a very recent encounter (told in Fantastic Four #374) which makes him vulnerable to excruciating pain when he gets hit on the soft spots. Johnny Storm meanwhile deals with the Skrull woman Lyja whom he has a conflict with. And then there is Reed Richards with wife Sue struggling with some issues as they work together.

Sue said to Richard: I can’t believe that you allowed the Watcher to buffalo you into fighting his battle especially since Johnny is still wanted by the police back on Earth!

When they finally confront Doom, there was this division between them.

Richard: Susan! We must protect the optimizer at all costs!

Sue: Then you guard it! If he’s hurt my brother, Doom is mine!

When it comes to quality, the story can be hard to grasp if you missed out on the previous issues. This was because the conflicts between the characters clearly started from some time back. Also it was interesting to see the Inhumans in the mix.

On spectacle, there is a lot of action to satisfy readers. As this was released in 1993, the 1990s superhero trends were unsurprisingly present such as those large futuristic guns and excess pouches/pockets. While they do make sense in the context of the story, the use of guns by key members of the Fantastic Four (which is reflective of the decade of the comic book’s release) can be alienating to any Fantastic Four fan who has gotten used to seeing the team NOT using such weapons.

Artist Paul Ryan, for the most part, delivered serviceable visuals and clearly tried his best to add impact on the action scenes.

Overall, Fantastic Four #375 delivers some temporary fun. Is it a very memorable Fantastic Four story? Absolutely not. Is it a must-read or a must-buy for new comic book collectors? Not really. In my opinion, the most engaging feature of the comic book is just its shiny cover. Once readers get past the cover and immerse themselves into the story, they won’t got much value in return other than temporary fun.

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The cover with the “Bling!” visual effect under bright light!

 If you find Fantastic Four #375 at a bargain bin for less than $1, then it would be a good purchase. Don’t pay any higher than $1 for it.


Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

A Look Back at Starman

When it comes to science fiction movies of Hollywood, the 1980s was quite an interesting decade. Released during the decade were these epic sci-fi flicks like The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Dune. Not to be outdone were the low-budget sci-fi movies that made an impact on pop culture like The Terminator and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.

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Within the big mix of these kinds of films during the 1980s was Starman which was overlooked.

Released in 1984 to positive reviews (and later an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for Jeff Bridges), Starman was directed by John Carpenter who established himself nicely in Hollywood with 1978’s Halloween. Between Halloween and Starman, Carpenter also directed genre classics Escape from New York and The Thing.

Starman follows an alien creature whose ship (a UFO) was shot down by fighter jets that acted in defense. The alien finds its way into the house of Jenny Hayden (Karen Allen) who is grieving over the sudden death of her husband Scott (Jeff Bridges) watching a personal video of their past and drinking lots of liquor. Inside the house was an album which contained a lock of hair which the alien used to create a clone of Scott instantly from infant to full adult which is the titular Starman (also played by Bridges).

This of course shocks Jenny. She sees her husband return yet it’s not really him. Starman – the alien – clearly is not used to occupying a human body but does his best to communicate with her in English. He also carries with him seven silver spheres that allow him to do special things (specifically manipulating matter) that would appear as miracles to others. Starman wants Jenny to bring him to the Barringer Crater in Arizona within three days in order to be picked up by his fellow aliens. Otherwise he would die.

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Although frightened and hostile towards him, Jenny still was considerate enough to drive him far away.

If there is anything significant about this movie, it is the sheer depth of character development of both Jenny and Starman. Equally significant is the chemistry between Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges who made their characters believable.

Jeff Bridges is excellent in his portrayal of Starman. He’s clearly an alien who is not only struggling on being in a human body but also struggles to learn about the many ways of life and expression around him on his time on Earth. This includes learning gestures, saying words and doing things that people already find normal to do.

Karen Allen delivered a fine performance as Jenny Hayden. In fact when it comes to character development, I see Jenny a more significant character than her counterpart from outer space. While Starman adapts to life on Earth, Jenny’s character is gradually and convincingly transformed from one who is stuck with the past and being bitter into a person who gets renewed by understanding that life does have more to offer, that hope exists, that miracles do happen and finding new love and inspiration to live on.

As a Born Again Christian who went through personal transformation, who gained renewed faith in the Lord, and who left the old life behind to live on with a new purpose in life, I strongly relate with Jenny’s character development a lot. The concept of renewal and personal transformation portrayed by Karen Allen is much clearer to me than ever. Not to be outdone is the element of the healing of the soul of Jenny as a result of learning and understanding Starman.

The movie also has a solid supporting character in scientist Mark Shermin nicely played by Charles Martin Smith. Shermin is the typical sympathetic and willing-to-understand scientist who strives to discover first-hand an actual living alien which puts him into conflict the National Security Agency’s plan to capture Starman dead or alive. His talk with Starman reminds us viewers that humanity is always flawed and has many times resorted to violence as a means of accomplishment whenever a challenging situation (read: the visit of Starman to Earth by space ship only to be shot down due to fear of being invaded) happens.

With regards to storytelling, Starman is a nice mix of genre elements that goes beyond science fiction. It is also a road movie and a romance. At the same time director John Carpenter told the story with a controlled pace that gives viewers ample time to understand what’s been going on and a decent amount of spectacles that highlight Starman’s miracles.

Speaking of which, the film has elements of Christianity and the miracles of Starman are just the start of it. I could emphasize further here what the other elements are but that would mean spoiling the story and that is something I won’t do. You just will have to watch the movie to realize it.

Is Starman a wonderful movie? Absolutely! Is it one of the best works of John Carpenter? Truly it is and it deserves any moviegoer’s attention. How does it compare with other friendly alien movies like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Compared to those two flicks, Starman has the best and most mature character development of its protagonists. Its dramatic performances are also better.

Starman is a true sci-fi classic that deserves your attention even if you are not fond of sci-fi or UFO movies. I highly recommend buying this movie on Blu-ray disc or by streaming it.

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Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to your fellow John Carpenter fans and sci-fi movie fans. Also my fantasy book The World of Havenor is still available in paperback and e-book format. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your project or business, check out my services.

Author’s Note: This article was originally published at my old Geeks and Villagers blog. What you read on this website was an updated and expanded version. In other words, this newest version you just read is the most definitive version.