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30 Years Later: Total Recall

8 July 20 words: George White

It's been 30 years since Arnold Schwarzenegger took a trip to Mars, and raked in a box office revenue of $261,317,921 in the process...


Director: Paul Verhoeven
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sharon Stone, Michael Ironside
Running time: 113 minutes 

Total Recall is one of those films that seems to have made a massive impact on pop culture over the last three decades. Whether it is TV shows referencing the ‘three-breasted lady’, new video games and comic books set in the same universe or Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Jake Peralta using the phrase “scrotal recall” to describe his sergeant’s vasectomy, this is a film that has made its mark on the world of entertainment - and it is clear to see why. 

Taking inspiration from Philip K Dick’s We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, Total Recall takes the audience on a mind-bending narrative trip as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Quaid tries to figure out who he really is, and why he’s so damn desperate to get to Mars. To do so, Quaid must notch up a kill count that rivals John Wick’s (on a quiet day, mind you), escape the clutches of a corrupt intergalactic government organisation and have a heartfelt discussion with a mutated stomach-baby (yes, you read that right). It is high-paced, action-packed and manages to spring some genuinely surprising moments on the viewer, making it an absolute thrill from start to finish. 

While this story may sound somewhat complicated, though, at its core this film is a classic game of cat-and-mouse, touching upon the beats of other frantic favourites such as The Fugitive. Director Paul Verhoeven throws a number of thoroughly entertaining action set pieces into the mix, with our hero having to use some unique methods to get away from his pursuers - including feeding a tracking device to a rat and pulling a classic bait and switch with the use of a hologram. 

Total Recall is famously one of the last action movies to build the majority of its action around miniature effects and, in all honesty, it is clear to see why Hollywood moved towards CGI. The world-building is undoubtedly impressive, channeling the grimy, drab architecture from 1982’s dystopian thriller Blade Runner. Jost Vacano’s cinematography is exquisitely executed, too, feeling distinctly futuristic but completely grounded.

Total Recall remains one of the most enjoyable action movies of all time

Yet to say some of the visuals are now outdated is definitely an understatement. Seeing the eyes bulge out of an inanimate Schwarzenegger’s head is truly haunting, but not for the ways intended by Verhoeven - running the risk of ruining any immersion the viewer has in the film. And, despite our protagonist being chased by bloodthirsty government agents with evil intent, it is ultimately an animatronic taxi driver that will leave you truly terrified. Those eyes. Those eyes

On a more positive, significantly less eerie note, Schwarzenegger is an absolute delight in the leading role. It is believed that this was the film that saved the Austrian’s blockbuster career, his ability to play the role of the ‘everyman’ while looking like a Greek god convincing directors that he has more to his toolkit than his intimidating size. While remaining incredibly cool, Arnie underpins his portrayal of the lead character with a sense of vulnerability and wonder, making it one of the most layered performances of his stunning career. 

Fronted by Schwarzenegger, and propelled by an interesting storyline and some original set pieces, Total Recall remains one of the most enjoyable action movies of all time. It may feel slightly outdated in areas, but when you have one of the most famous actors in blockbuster history kicking ass and forgetting his own name, what more could you possibly want?

Did you know? Arnold Schwarzenegger was so impressed by how much dedication Sharon Stone had in training for her character role that he even referred to her as the "Female Terminator". 

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