Total Recall (Columbia Tristar) (1990)

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1990
Running Time 108:19
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (54:32) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Paul Verhoeven

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger
Rachel Ticotin
Sharon Stone
Michael Ironside
Ronny Cox
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $36.95 Music Jerry Goldsmith

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None French MPEG 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English MPEG 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish MPEG 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles French
Smoking Yes, occasionally
Annoying Product Placement Yes, mildly
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    One of the joyous things about being a collector of films is that after a long absence from one's player, the films themselves are never boring, unless they happen to be something truly insipid. In the case of a fine piece of work such as Paul Verhoeven's execution of Total Recall, they are more like a fine bottle of wine that just gets better with every passing year. Loosely based upon Philip K. Dick's short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, Total Recall is a film that showcases home theatre at its very finest.

    Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is troubled by dreams of another life on Mars, dreams that often have him waking with a scream. After another short conversation about his troubling dreams with wife Lori (Sharon Stone), Quaid departs for work, and encounters a display unit en route that shows him an ad for a company called Rekall. Rekall's main trade is that they sell implanted memories of a paying customer's ideal vacation, taking all of the hassle out of holidaying. In spite of being advised by one workmate not to do it, Doug gives Rekall's services a try, and soon finds himself the centre of an intriguing plot involving Mars and a lot of gunfire.

    Pursued by Richter (Michael Ironside), Quaid eventually learns that he was originally a Mars Intelligence agent called Hauser, but that he switched sides and the boss managed to get to him first. Said boss goes by the name of Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), and old Vilos plans to use Quaid for his own ends. Meanwhile, Quaid is ably assisted by Melina (Rachel Ticotin) and Benny (Mel Johnson Jr.), both of whom provide some interesting little quirks that keep the viewer in wonder as to whose side they are on. It should come as no surprise to those who have already seen the film in some form that Arnold Schwarzenegger rallied to get this film made when the screenplay passed his way, as it is far and away the best thing he has ever done.

    Aside from an intriguing, fast-paced story, Total Recall also offers some hilarious moments, numerous references to The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and some rather amusing blunders. I can watch it again and again, finding a new thing to enjoy about it with each subsequent viewing, but the most enjoyable thing about it is that it does not set out to do anything other than entertain.

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Transfer Quality


    Due to my profound interest in Paul Verhoeven's work, Total Recall is one of the first DVD-Videos that I ever collected (it was given to me as a birthday present, in fact). When I first viewed it, I was blown away by the increased detail that the DVD-Video specification brought to the film. Over time, my opinion of the transfer has changed somewhat, especially as I became more familiar with artefacts and how they come about, but I still find that the good outweighs the bad.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and it is 16x9 Enhanced. Although Paul Verhoeven did shoot this film on a negative with an approximate 1.33:1 ratio, he clearly had 1.85:1 in mind the whole time, as the Full Frame version demonstrates during several sequences.

    The sharpness of this transfer is generally excellent, with more than enough detail for splashes of blood and other such details to register with the eye during the brief second that they generally appear for. The shadow detail is sometimes lacking, especially during the sequence at the cement factory, but since this is inherent in the source material and the film is mostly very brightly lit, it can be forgiven. There is no low-level noise.

    The colours in this film, which were clearly intended to be a collection of dull hues with bright saturation, are well-represented for the most part, with blood and bright neon lights figuring prominently throughout the film. Some colour bleed is occasionally evident, but not enough to become a distraction. This can partly be blamed on the fact that the colours were deliberately made to appear extremely rich and vibrant, possibly even being souped up a little in post-production.

    No specific MPEG artefacts were encountered during the feature, which is unsurprising given that this is essentially a bare-bones 108-minute transfer spread over two layers. Aliasing and moire effects were frequently evident, especially on windows in the background, but they were for the most part so quick that one could blink and miss them. Film artefacts were frequently evident, with numerous black and white nicks on the picture, but these were small enough in size to only be a mild problem.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change taking place between Chapters 12 and 13, at 54:32. This is during Quaid's first visit to the Last Resort, and it sticks out like a sore thumb, but better there than in the middle of an action sequence.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are four soundtracks present on this disc: the first is a French MPEG 2.0 surround-encoded soundtrack, then there are English soundtracks in Dolby Digital 5.1 and MPEG 2.0 with surround-encoding. The last soundtrack is a Spanish MPEG 2.0 surround-encoded effort. I listened to the English and Spanish soundtracks.

    The dialogue is almost always very clear and easy to understand, which is extremely important given that this is more a film about the nature of identity and the mind than big men with guns shooting at each other. Arnold Schwarzenegger's accent still gets in the way on occasions, but just as his acting is the best it has ever been in this film, so too is his enunciation. Michael Ironside does all the grunting for him, but this actually adds to the film rather than detracts from it. I encountered no discernable problems with audio sync, at least not subjectively. Unfortunately, there is a major over-amplification in the rear channels at 41:07, during the Mars landing sequence, which is seriously distracting and has the potential to damage speakers.

    The score music in this film is credited to Jerry Goldsmith, who has also worked with Paul Verhoeven on Basic Instinct and Hollow Man. Unlike those two other scores, the score in Total Recall is rather overstated and often obtrusive. During the sequence when Michael Ironside and a squad of Mars infantry are assembling in the reactor, it is wonderfully subtle, but at other times it does more to injure the mood of the sequence than help it. Presumably, Goldsmith forgot that he was working with Verhoeven rather than James Cameron a lot of the time.

    The surround channels are used somewhat variably by this soundtrack. During quieter moments with opportunities for surround channel usage, such as Quaid's trip to Rekall, they hardly make a peep save for the music, while they are aggressively utilised during the action sequences. There are no split-surround effects at all on this disc, and a Dolby Digital 4.1 soundtrack would probably have delivered the same result. Nonetheless, the surrounds are kept busy, and that's good enough for me.

    The subwoofer is heavily utilised by this film, supporting gunfire, bodies hitting the floor, and all manner of bass-heavy effects. It does occasionally call attention to itself, but not in a manner that would be considered unnatural, given the very violent nature of the film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The menu is static, based around the French design common to discs pressed in this period, and it is 16x9 Enhanced.

Teaser Trailer

    This trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and it is 16x9 Enhanced. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack has quite an unnatural reverb in it, but a direct comparison to the version of this trailer found on the new Region 1 version of the disc would lead me to believe that this is intentional.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There is now a "Special Limited Edition" of this disc sold in Region 1 by Artisan Entertainment. It features a new 1.85:1 transfer with 16x9 Enhancement, a new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, audio commentary by Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as a host of other special features that add up to about ninety minutes of viewing. It does not suffer the audio glitch that is apparent on the Region 4 version of the disc, and the video transfer is of noticeably better quality, making it the version of choice.


    Total Recall is by far one of the best films in the science fiction genre, despite being explicitly marketed as an action film, and it is one of my favourite films of all time. Intelligent yet irreverent, confrontational yet humorous, the one thing you can never accuse it of is being boring.

    The video transfer is good, although flawed.

    The audio transfer is good, but more seriously flawed.

    The extras are slim pickings indeed.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Wednesday, January 26, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

Other Reviews
DVD Rent - Paul C (bio)
Michael D's Region 4 DVD Info Page - Michael D (read my bio)
The DVD Bits - Craig M
DVD 4 - Price P
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Ian M (Biological imperfection run amok)
NZHT - Damon B
DVD Net - Steve K
The Fourth Region - Roger T. Ward (Some say he's afraid of the Dutch, and that he's stumped by clouds. All we know, this is his bio.)
DVD-2000 - Daniel B
SpannerWorks - Adam Barratt (symbiosis)
DVDAnswers - Chris G
Jeff K's Australian DVD Info Site - Kevin S

Comments (Add)
Far And Away Verhoeven's Best Work - DarkEye (This bio says: Death to DNR!) REPLY POSTED
Availability - Paul Lee (Bio this way)
Now available again - check JB, Atlantic and Ezydvd -
Re: new 2-disc set (extras) - Neil