Total Recall (1990) – 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Review

Total Recall

 Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall encompasses what a typical Carolco film was like back in the day. It’s a big-budget film that features plenty of bloody action, cutting-edge special effects, and stars one of the biggest actors in Hollywood. The independent production company threw a lot of money at their films, and Total Recall was no exception. The film still plays well nowadays as a nostalgic action film, but its age certainly shows.

Based on the Philip K. Dick short, We Can Remember It for You WholesaleTotal Recall follows Douglas Quaid, an ordinary construction worker who believes he’s more than that. Through his vivid dreams of Mars, he decides to go to Rekall, a company that can implant the memories of any vacation you want — even changing who you are as a person.

This plotline is where the film takes a compelling turn. One of the things that make Total Recall so versatile is the various interpretations of the film. Do you look at Total Recall at face value and believe everything is real, or do you think it was all a dream created by Rekall? The more you watch the film, the more you realize that it can go either way. You can make a case for either side, but the fact remains that this is a deeper film than your typical 80s and 90s action extravaganza. 

Yet director Paul Verhoeven can’t help himself with the amount of gratuitous violence in the film. Reportedly Verhoeven’s first cut of the film received an X-rating because of its violence, so he had to tone it down to reach that R-rating. The extreme violence adds to the cartoonish nature of the entire film — it’s not just the three-boobed lady. 

The film ends on an ambiguous note, so you’ll never find out if Total Recall is real or not. Yet, most audiences won’t mind because the film is a quintessential example of a big-budget summer popcorn blockbuster from a bygone era. It’s big, loud, and full of extreme violence. Sometimes, that’s all you need in a summer blockbuster. 

Movie Rating: 3.5/5 atoms

Total Recall - Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone

Video

Total Recall hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with an HDR transfer and a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The new 4K release of Total Recall comes from a brand-new 4K restoration and remastering from the original 35mm camera negatives, which was supervised and approved by Verhoeven himself. The film has never looked better, but because of the ultra high-definition format, the film also accentuates it’s dated effects. A perfect example of this comes very early in the film. In the scene where Arnold and Sharon Stone are in the kitchen with the TV in the background, the picture looks overly sharp and has high contrast. On the other hand, when blue screen work isn’t involved, the picture is nice and crisp. Yet these discrepancies are forgivable because no amount of remastering can improve these dated effects. 

In the grand scheme of things, the rest of the picture looks damn near perfect with visibly ultrafine film grain. The HDR lets the brightness beam off the screen while giving the shadows richer and bolder blacks throughout. It also improves the look of Verhoeven’s rich color palette, especially the reds. From the crimson red of Mars to the deep ruby red of the blood, the reds pop off the screen. Overall, this is the definitive release of an Arnold classic. 

Video Rating: 4.5/5 atoms

Total Recall - Arnold Schwarzenegger

Audio

Total Recall hits Ultra HD Blu-ray with a Dolby Atmos and a core 7.1 Dolby TrueHD Master Audio track. This review will reflect Total Recall‘s Dolby Atmos track. The new Dolby Atmos mix of the film may not be the best out there, but the mix is still a significant upgrade over previous releases. The film uses the audio format to give viewers a fuller and more energetic mix that puts the viewers right into the film. The audio mix brings the cities of Earth and Mars to life with audible atmospheric effects that envelop the viewer. Not to mention, several scenes have sound effects that seamlessly move across the soundstage. However, the action sequences are mostly relegated to the front and overhead channels — creating a half-dome soundstage. Yet the use of overhead effects is of the subtle variety. You won’t hear them come to life until the finale when the Mars environment starts to change. Jerry Goldsmith’s score sounds layered and robust throughout. Despite the chaos of the film, the dialogue is still audible. Overall, this is a fantastic audio mix.

Audio Rating: 4.5/5 atoms

Total Recall - Rachel Ticotin and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Special Features

Total Recall‘s Ultra HD Blu-ray disc has the following special features on the disc:

  • Audio Commentary with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven
  • Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood
  • Open Your Mind: Scoring Total Recall
  • Dreamers Within the Dream: Developing Total Recall
  • Trailer

You can find the above special features plus the features below split between the feature film and special features discs:

  • Total Recall: The Special Effects
  • Making of
  • “Imagining Total Recall” Featurette

The audio commentary from 2001 is ripe with a lot of information that you may not know about the film. It includes Verhoeven’s argument that Total Recall is mostly a dream, and Quaid gets lobotomized at the end. Not to mention, Verhoeven talks about how several key scenes were created. Schwarzenegger’s input is mostly relegated to reminiscing about his time in the film. “Open Your Mind” has several experts analyze and break down Jerry Goldsmith’s score in Total Recall. “Dreamers Within the Dream” has concept artist Ron Miller gives an in-depth retelling about his involvement in the film. At the same time, the featurette features a lot of concept art from the film.

“Total Excess” is a feature-length documentary discussing the history of Carolco. The documentary tries to be like a higher budget documentary but ends up looking like a fan-made documentary instead. The framerate of several scenes in the documentary are lower than the film itself, so it creates a stutter effect. Not to mention, the audio recording of Michael Douglas doesn’t sound crisp either. However, the history of Carolco is something that you must check out. Their legacy has left its mark on Hollywood and created a filmography that most independent studios can only dream of. 

“The Special Effects” featurette has Mark Stetson, miniature effects co-supervisor, and Tim McGovern, CGI director, talk in-depth about the challenges of filming these effects and the work that they did on the film. The making of featurette is a legacy 4:3 aspect ratio featurette that, as you can guess, takes a look at the making of the film. Yet, this featurette from 1990, is used mostly as a promotional tool for the film, so it doesn’t quite go in-depth as you might expect. “Imagining Total Recall” is another legacy featurette from the DVD release of the film which, unlike the 1990 making-of featurette, does go in-depth into the film’s development.

Special Features Rating: 4/5 atoms


Overall, Total Recall is an Arnold classic that is deeper and more versatile than what’s on the surface. The video and audio presentations are both excellent, while you’ll find a comprehensive array of special features in this Ultra HD release.

Overall Rating: 4/5 atoms

This Blu-ray was reviewed using a retail/advance copy/unit provided by Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

Facebook Comments

About author

Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1700 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.

View all posts by this author →