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Feature


Set in the not-too-distant future, Total Recall stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Doug Quaid, an average guy with a steady job in construction and a beautiful, loving wife (Sharon Stone). For reasons unbeknownst to him, Quaid is having recurring dreams about Mars, strange alien artefacts, and a mysterious woman. In spite of warnings from a colleague he takes a trip to Rekall Incorporated, a company that specialises in artificial memory implants, and undergoes a procedure designed to implant his dream vacation on Mars. In order to spice things up a little Quaid decides to go for the latest in virtual vacations, the 'ego trip', an optional extra that allows a person to change the one thing about their vacation that is always the same: themselves. Opting for the persona of secret agent Quaid settles back for his trip, but he doesn’t bargain on something going wrong with the process...

After waking up in the back of a robotic cab with no memory of how he got there, Quaid finds himself the target of all manner of unpleasant characters. His construction co-workers try to kill him, and when he turns to his wife for help even she tries to do him in! On the run, not knowing whom to trust, he travels to Mars in an attempt to discover the truth about his past – but is Quaid really who he thinks he is, or is it all just part of an elaborate head-trip?

Video


I first reviewed Total Recall on Blu-ray back in 2008 in the form of Optimum's (as they were then known) VC-1 encoded disc. At the time I was very enthusiastic about the image quality, largely because high-definition was still in its infancy and standards weren't what they are today. It was such a major step up from any of the previous DVDs that I gave it a very positive review, and while I stand by that opinion things have obviously moved on since 2008 – as has my understanding of what constitutes a good image – so it's not unreasonable to expect more from this release.

So how does this new effort stack up against the old one? Well those of you expecting a dramatic increase in the level of detail are going to be disappointed, because things are generally the same across both versions. However, the new edition definitely has the upper hand in most other areas. For one thing, grain isn’t as clumpy as the old release, so the viewing experience is more ‘cinematic’ than ever before. I performed some very quick, unscientific comparisons between the two and I now suspect that noise reduction was employed on the old release to remove some of the heavier grain, before the image was artificially sharpened to offset the effect. The newer release doesn’t exhibit any particularly obvious signs of this sort of tampering, and indeed the grain is actually heavier throughout (particularly in scenes that utilise rear-projection, such as the video walls in Quaid’s house).

Another major improvement – perhaps the major improvement come to think of it – is the colour rendition. As much of an improvement over the DVDs as the older Blu-ray was, this new version is yet another leap forward. Although not particularly egregious the colours and overall contrast of the old BD (and UK Special Edition DVD come to that) are incongruent with most other home releases of the film. At times the image is entirely too bright and at others the contrast is quite flat, resulting in some sickly flesh tones. Thankfully this release remedies that and the palette is now far more natural, while brightness and contrast have also been improved. On VHS and (to a lesser extent) DVD the prominent Martian reds bled terribly, and while the older BD didn’t suffer from this problem the reds were actually more of an orange hue and were a little too vibrant. Thankfully they have now been restored to their original glory, just as Verhoeven intended (and anecdotal evidence suggests he had pretty strong opinions about the use of red in the film).

The image is pretty clean for the most part, with only the odd film artefact popping up now and again. If any noise reduction was applied it was done so judiciously and digital nasties like edge enhancement are nowhere to be seen. Actually, truth be told I did spot some minor banding in one or two scenes but other than that the compression is solid enough. Comparing it to the older disc also reveals slight differences in image geometry, but they’re nothing to get worked up about. Overall this is a respectable catalogue release that offers the best looking version of the film yet available on a home format. Sure the differences are subtle and I can see the general public shrugging their shoulders and wondering why we have yet another version of the film on Blu-ray, but enthusiasts will (hopefully) be appreciative.

Audio


Right, first thing's first. Some of you may remember that the soundtrack of the old HD DVD (remember those?) release of the film a pitch issue that the UK Blu-ray release corrected. (If you're interested I went into it in a lot of detail in my previous review.) I'd like to state for the record that this disc also retains the correct pitch, just in case anyone was wondering.

Now that's out of the way I can move on to the track itself. Like the previous release it's not a bad effort, if one that's unlikely to win over those more accustomed to modern soundtracks. For starters it sounds very much of its time, so expect slightly hollow dialogue, narrower dynamic range and a lack of fidelity compared to more recent films. With that said, dialogue is well-placed in the mix and always perfectly intelligible, except perhaps when Arnold's accent is at its thickest. It's a front-heavy affair, with most of the action limited to the left and right speakers during the first act, but there are some very neat stereo panning effects. Thankfully things open up as we move further into the film; you'll hear gunshots, breaking glass, screams and Jerry Goldsmith's score in the rears, but surround action is still limited when compared to a modern production. Bass is relatively punchy for a film of this age, with the numerous explosions, the arrival of the rocket ship on Mars, and even the humming of the machinery at Rekall all packing a decent wallop at the low end.

Once again I conducted some unscientific experiments and concluded that this new release has a slight edge over the old one in terms of fidelity and presence (particularly the LFE), but it’s not night and day. While it would have been nice if the feature had received a completely new remix I can’t really find too much to fault given the source (possibly Dolby Stereo SR or 6 Track Dolby Stereo). If nothing else it makes for a fairly ‘authentic’ early nineties listening experience.

Extras


Another area in which this disc triumphs over the previous UK release is that of bonus material, although that's not a huge accomplishment when you consider that the old disc was a bare-bones affair. Still, Studiocanal has actually offered up some pretty decent content for this 'Ultimate Rekall' edition. Early specs made no mention of the Verhoeven/Schwarzenegger chat track, but I'm pleased to say that it is indeed present on the disc. I say pleased, but the track is better known for its comedic value than its insights. Verhoeven is usually an engaging commentator, but here he is marginalised by Schwarzenegger's frequent 'captain obvious' comments and it’s not something I can listen to in its entirety again.

Much better is a lengthy new interview (34:47 HD) with director Paul Verhoeven entitled ‘Get Ready for the Bonus Feature of Your Life’. The director is in fine form as he recounts the story of how he became involved with the project after its troubled history, discusses working with Arnold and the other actors, chats about the special effects and central themes of the movie, and much more. It’s a great interview with the always-energetic Dutchman.
 
‘Models and Skeletons: The Special Effects of Total Recall’ (23:15 HD) is up next and concentrates on the then ground-breaking effects work. SFX maestros Mark Stetson and Tim McGovern and are on hand to talk us through things like miniature construction and motion capture for the innovative x-ray scanner sequence, both of which still hold up pretty well today. I was in my mid-teens when Total Recall was released and I still remember the hoopla surrounding said effects, so it’s nice to see them getting some recognition in the supplements.

Next we have a vintage making of featurette (08:03 SD) of the sort often seen on late night television back in the eighties and nineties. In fact, I think I remember seeing this particular featurette myself around the time of the film’s release. It doesn’t go into a lot of detail, offering only a lightweight look at the production, but it does contain a lot of behind-the-scenes footage and the complete Rekall television commercial.

The ‘Restoration Comparison’ (05:13 HD) is a welcome addition and something I wish more releases included, if only so naysayers could see the benefits afforded by restorative work. The split screen comparisons demonstrate the work that went into fixing colour timing and removing scratches etc, which is nice, but I wish that either Verhoeven or Jost Vacano (or both) had provided commentary.

‘Imagining Total Recall’ (30:12 SD) is a legacy making of documentary carried over from the DVD. Participants include Ron Shusett, Paul Verhoeven, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone and others, who discuss the film's troubled origins, casting, production, special effects, the violence and more. Rounding things off we have the film's trailer (02:02 SD) and a photo gallery.

*Edit*: Since writing this review it’s come to my attention that there are actually a few ‘hidden’ features to be found on this release. While examining the disc using BDInfo I noticed another audio track that didn’t appear to correspond to any of the audio options. As it turns out, this track is actually the audio commentary with cinematographer Jost Vacano that I had wished for! Okay, so it’s a German-language commentary with English subtitles, but I’d rather that than nothing. Along with Marko Kregel, Vacano talks at length about his involvement in the production and the technicalities of shooting a major Hollywood motion picture. It’s a pity that this track wasn’t advertised in the English menus, but the easiest way to listen is to select German menus as the disc loads. It can then be found under the audio/subtitle options.

Additionally, if you speak French you might be interested in two additional featurettes entitled ‘Lecon d'effets speciaux avec Kameleon’ (16:26 SD) and ‘Autour de la litterature de SF et de Philip K. Dick avec Stephane Bourgoin’ (09:09 SD). The first of these focuses on the special effects, while the second deals with sci-fi literature and in particular the work of Philip K. Dick. Neither featurette has English subtitles so I didn’t understand a word. While these surprise bonus features are nice I don’t think they offer enough additional value to warrant revising my original score for the extras.

Overall


As I said in my review of the previous release, Total Recall is an effective antidote to the style-over-substance action films of today and still holds up remarkably well more than two decades after its original release. The film's ambiguous nature helps to set it apart from other genre pictures of the same era, and Schwarzenegger’s charisma goes a long way towards compensating for his lack of acting chops. If you don’t already own the film on Blu-ray this is definitely the version to go far, but if you’re a big fan you might want to investigate this edition even if you have the previous release. It’s a clear step up from the older UK effort in every department, particularly the supplements, so I have no hesitation in recommending it.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.

 Total Recall: Ultimate Rekall Edition
 Total Recall: Ultimate Rekall Edition
 Total Recall: Ultimate Rekall Edition
 Total Recall: Ultimate Rekall Edition
 Total Recall: Ultimate Rekall Edition
 Total Recall: Ultimate Rekall Edition
 Total Recall: Ultimate Rekall Edition
 Total Recall: Ultimate Rekall Edition


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