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Total Recall: Special Limited Edition

Arnold Schwarzenegger has perhaps his most (ahem) challenging role in this 1990 thriller as Doug Quaid, an earthbound construction worker whose comfortable, ordinary married life is marred by vivid nightmares of living on Mars, the recently colonized planet upset by mutant terrorists. Although his foxy wife (Sharon Stone) tries to dissuade him from pursuing his fascination with moving to the red planet, Quaid is so compelled to follow his dreams that he pays a visit to Rekall, a high-tech entertainment firm specializing in implanting lifelike virtual memories of vacations never traveled — including an option to remember the trip as a different persona, like say, a millionaire playboy or a secret agent. Without hesitation, Quaid chooses to mentally visit Mars as a secret agent, but when the machine goes haywire, so does Quaid's sense of reality and himself. Is Quaid Quaid? Or is he really a daring spy? And, if so, whose side is he on, anyway? Every time Quaid settles on a reality, a new layer is revealed and the tables are turned. In the form of a high-speed action thriller, as adapted from a short story by Philip K. Dick, Total Recall is not nearly as intriguing or complicated as Christopher Nolan's Memento, but director Verhoeven is a skilled manipulator, pacer, and satirist, and the result is compellingly fun comic book-style material. For its well-contrived twists and turns, the film stands up well against the demands of logic, save for maybe the grand climax which, while triumphant, will surely rile the Martian Green Party. Verhoeven — as he did in his preceding and superior movie Robocop (which also features a hero struggling to recall his identity) — has fun with the futuristic trappings, peppering them with amusing cultural references, sly visual gimmicks, and his usual cavalier attitude toward the sanctity of human life. While some of the pre-CGI make-up effects look dated, most of the other visual effects are excellent. Artisan's special edition DVD (replacing the original version) comes in a round, Mars-decorated tin, and is packed with goodies, although the anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer itself is not ideal. The images occasionally lack sharpness and the source print shows wear, particularly at the final reel change. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is fine, but it lacks the crispness of the simultaneously re-issued Basic Instinct disc. There's a good load of extra material, including a commentary by Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger, which is not illuminative of much beyond Arnold's propensity for stating the obvious. More interesting is the half-hour Imagining Total Recall featurette, which includes interviews with screenwriters Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon. Other features include a few looping special effect landscapes billed as "Rekall's Virtual Vacations," the five-minute "Visions of Mars" featurette about visualizing the red planet, storyboard comparisons, conceptual art, a photo gallery, trailers, and textual supplements.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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