Total Recall (UK - BD RA/B)
Chris Gould reviews the Optimum BD release of the classic Arnie action flick
Set in the not-too-distant future, Total Recall stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Douglas Quaid, an average guy with a steady job in construction and a beautiful, loving wife (Sharon Stone). For reasons unknown to him, Quaid is having recurring dreams about Mars, strange alien artefacts, and a mysterious woman. In spite of warnings from his wife he takes a trip to Rekall Incorporated, a company that specialises in artificial memory implants. Along with the memory of his dream vacation on Mars, Quaid decides to go for the latest in virtual vacations, the 'ego trip'. This little optional extra 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 the elaborate head-trip?
Total Recall is a refreshing blast from the past. At its heart it's an out-and-out action movie, but thanks to talented Dutch director Paul Verhoeven it is actually more intelligent than you might expect and repeated viewings will reveal hidden depths to the story, after which you begin to question the events in the film. Is Quaid's reality all it's cracked up to be, or is Quaid just cracking up? It's also an extremely violent movie, some would say excessively so, but this is to be expected from the director of such films as Robocop, Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers. The film is also famous for its many fantastic set-pieces, and once the action starts it doesn’t let up until the planet-shattering climax.
Acting is competent from most of the cast, especially from Ronny Cox (who is basically reprising his bad guy role from Robocop) and Michael Ironside. Ironside is one of those guys who is just, for want of a better word, cool. Arnie himself is on top form, spitting out corny one-liners while dispatching an army of evildoers without breaking a sweat. Total Recall is an effective antidote to the style-over-substance action films of today, and still holds up remarkably well almost two decades after its original release. The film’s slightly ambiguous ending is nicely done and helps set it apart from other examples of the genre. It is, in my opinion, the most enjoyable Schwarzenegger film of them all.
Total Recall arrives with a 1080p VC-1 encoded 1.85:1 widescreen transfer that looks better than any of the previous DVD releases I've owned (three of them to be precise). Apart from the obvious benefits of the increased resolution, which reveals previously unseen detail in almost every shot and brings real depth to the image, the thing that most impressed me about this transfer was the colour rendition. In the past the DVD releases have looked a little drab (more so Momentum's PAL DVD than Artisan's NTSC effort), but the Blu-ray release is a dramatic improvement. The Martian reds always presented a problem for the DVD versions, but here they are positively vibrant and without any nasty compression artefacts. Flesh tones are accurately reproduced, or at least as closely as is possible within the stylised medium of film, and the various locations all look bright and colourful. Blacks are also nice and deep throughout, but without sacrificing shadow detail.
Mild grain is present throughout, but it's a natural part of the image and is never distracting. The image is also very clean, without a hint of edge enhancement or other digital nasties. I did spot a little bit of telecine wobble during the opening credits, but this disappeared once the film began. The image also appears to be framed differently than the DVD releases, with slightly less information on the bottom and left, but more at the top. You'd probably never notice unless you were comparing images side by side though. If I had to make one criticism it would be that the image is a little on the soft side, but to be honest that probably has just as much to do with the source material as anything else. All things considered this is a pretty great presentation that's a notch above most catalogue releases in the quality stakes.
Given that this release seems to be a port of the Studio Canal HD DVD, I was expecting to hear the infamous 'pitch shift' effect as reported on that disc. For those of you not familiar with this phenomenon, the soundtracks on certain Studio Canal HD DVD titles apparently sounded more like PAL DVDs (which run four percent faster than film) than the original tracks. I don't think anyone ever got to the bottom of whether this was a conscious decision by Studio Canal, or if it was a technical error, but it annoyed the hell out of some people.
Not everyone is sensitive to such a small change in pitch, but those that are can be driven mad by it. Actor's voices can sound like 'chipmunks' and music sounds very odd indeed. Many moons ago I used to DJ, so I find that I am usually able to detect speed/pitch differences in soundtracks, especially ones that I am familiar with. For example, the PAL releases of the Star Wars DVDs are all-but ruined by the sped-up John Williams scores, and the Burly Brawl in The Matrix Reloaded sounds like someone put it on fast forward (which technically I guess they did).
When reviewing this track I wanted to be as thorough as possible, so I compared the it to both my NTSC and PAL DVDs. Obviously such tests are far from scientific and entirely subjective, but I came to the conclusion that the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack on this disc was a closer match to the NTSC release than the PAL disc. There wasn't a lot in it, and it's possible that Momentum's PAL release was pitch corrected, but it still seemed a little quicker to me. I don't claim to have perfect pitch, so there's always the chance that my ears are deceiving me, but as far as I can tell this soundtrack isn't going to be like fingernails down a blackboard for the majority of people.
As for the DTS-HD track itself (of which I could only extract the Core element), well it's not bad, but it's not going to set the world alight. It's a front-heavy affair with easy to discern dialogue and some neat stereo panning effects, but dynamic range is slightly lacking resulting in a bit of a flat experience. Surround utilisation is, quite frankly, disappointing, with the rear speakers remaining silent for much of the running time. The situation improves towards the end of the movie, but the rears are still overpowered by the frontal array and are mostly used to enhance the presence of Jerry Goldsmith's score. Bass is relatively punchy for a film of this age, although it is hampered by the aforementioned lack of dynamic range. Once again, things improve as the film progresses, with highlights including the arrival of a rocket ship and the frequent explosions during the last act. I seem to remember the DVD versions having more aggressive sound design, so I was slightly disappointed with this track, but it gets the job done.
Well this is easy. Zip. Nothing. Not a sausage. There is a bonus menu, but all it contains is a video and audio calibration tool, which isn't really an extra in my book.
Total Recall is probably my favourite Arnie film, even surpassing stuff like Predator and the Terminator films in terms of sheer thrills and spills. Unfortunately this Optimum Blu-ray release misses a trick by effectively porting the Studio Canal HD DVD release. People aren't going to make the leap from DVD to Blu-ray when the latter contains zero bonus material, so studios really need to start offering more. I realise it's financially difficult for smaller distributors to compete with the big boys, but we're all struggling at the moment so distributors are going to have to offer more to compete for our attention (and money).
Although flawed I think this is probably the best Blu-ray version of Total Recall available. Lionsgate's US release apparently has an inferior video transfer (by quite some margin) and although the lack of bonus material on the Optimum disc is disappointing, it does at least contain a lossless soundtrack (even if it's not up to the standards set by the video transfer). The disc can be picked up very cheaply if you shop around, so if you're just looking for a technically competent version of a great action flick this should make a nice addition to your high-definition library.
Addendum: After I had finished writing this review I came across a forum post with audio examples of the the DVD and HD DVD releases that demonstrated the differences in pitch. After comparing this Blu-ray release to those samples I am confident that the track does not suffer from the pitch issues associated with the HD DVD release. If you would like to check the results yourself, simply click the following links to download the relevant .mp3 files (all files are under 106KB): Blu-ray, DVD, HD DVD.
* Note: The above images 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.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 4th August 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 French, DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 German, DTS-HD High Resolution 5.1 Portuguese, DTS 2.0 Spanish
Subtitles: Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Norwegian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish
Easter Egg: No
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger,
Genre: Action and Sci-Fi
Length: 114 minutes
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