Thursday, January 18, 2018

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Total Recall (1990)

A few weeks ago for Myopia: Defend Your Childhood, we watched the 1990 science fiction/action film Total Recall starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had never seen the movie before, although I'd seen stills of people's eyes popping out of their heads and had heard of the legendary woman with three breasts.

Well, here's the link to the podcast. Now onto the review...

The Plot

In the late 21st Century, humankind has explored and settled much of the solar system, including Mars. The Red Planet is used as a resource base for waging a war on Earth, with the colonists there exploited like a company town on steroids--they even have to pay for their air. Bored construction worker Doug Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been having dreams of Mars and a mysterious dark-haired woman and would like to visit, but his attractive wife Lori (Sharon Stone) tries to dissuade him. Instead he purchases memories of a trip to Mars, including a secret-agent fantasy, to be installed in his brain.

Then things go wrong, very wrong. Hunted by secret agents led by the villainous Richter (Michael Ironside) and guided by a videotape of...himself, he ultimately travels to Mars to see just what's going on.

The Good

*The movie is action-packed and never dull. Although in many films I find myself going for my phone out of boredom, in this one I only looked at my phone once or twice during the entire film and that was because I was keeping tabs on some discussions I was involved in on social media, NOT because I was bored. Seriously, it was a lot of fun.

*Although Arnold's often over-the-top reactions and mannerisms are often mocked (go down to the Memetic Mutation entry on this TVTropes page to find a few of them), I didn't really have a problem with them here. In many cases (pulling something out of his nose, having his mind messed with), they were quite appropriate.

*I liked the supporting cast. Sharon Stone does a good job handling both aspects of her character, one of which is clearly a mask for the other. And Michael Ironside puts his intensity to good use. I liked how they developed Richter and Lori as more than just a couple thugs working for Cohaagen. Finally, I really liked Mel Johnson Jr. as the mouthy cab-driver Benny.

*There are plenty of memorable minor characters. I liked Benny quite a lot as a character--he was really funny. There's also a midget prostitute nicknamed Thumbelina (Debbie Lee Carrington) that's rather memorable.

*I liked a lot of the visuals, particularly the exterior shots of Mars.

The Bad

*In economics terms, air for most of a space colony would be a nonexcludable good. The air supply to an individual household (if homes are individually sealed) or an individual section of a town (since it's a big plot point that sections can be sealed) could be cut off for nonpayment, but in most places (like a job site, a public street, etc), payers and non-payers would be mingled and it would be impractical to exclude non-payers. It would make more sense if the Martian colonial government charged high taxes on the general public for air, ostensibly to maintain the colony's life-support but in reality simply enriching the administration. Although the aesthetic they were going for was a company town in the vein of coal-mining Appalachia, Cohaagen seems to be a political leader rather than a company boss and the settlement is described as the "Martian Federal Colony," not a big oil rig owned by a major corporation.

*Mars does not have a vacuum that would suck people's eyes out or cause them to suffer other decompression injuries. Mars has a thin atmosphere that's impossible for humans to breathe and is too cold for humans to survive on most of the planet. Someone sucked out of the dome due to, say, a gunshot smashing a panel, would suffocate, but they wouldn't suffer as ridiculously. Speaking of domes shattering, WWII bombers often returned to bases with lots of bullet holes, but that didn't decompress the plane in the vein of the A-Team episode about the skyjackers. Even if that were the case (handwave the settlement as being in a region or altitude where the atmosphere is thinner), one would think a future Martian colony would be more durably constructed. The fact it's not could be a plot point--the construction was done by a private corporation eager to exploit Mars' minerals at the lowest possible cost or the government wanted it built as quickly as possible to start mining for the war effort--but that never comes up.

(I'm imagining a more aware goon getting sucked out through a hole in the dome yelling, "DAMN LOWEST BIDDER!")

*There's a completely random scene where a large woman coming to visit Mars turns out to be more than she seems. It was amusing to watch, but I wasn't sure what exactly was going on.

*Mars' gravity is also 38% Earth's gravity. There's some missed opportunities in terms of physics--you could have a real little guy pick up and throw Arnold Schwarzenegger because he'd weigh a lot less, you could have Arnold punch a guy and he flies hundreds of feet, etc. It could look like an early version of The Matrix. :) It'd make the film rather comedic, but given the genre, a little of that wouldn't be a problem.

*I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here for reasons of spoilers, but the process that takes place at the climax of the film would realistically take months or years, not a few minutes. And unless other issues are taken care of, I don't think it would be sustainable.

The Verdict

A fun movie despite the silly accents and the flawed science. 9.0 out of 10.

1 comment:

  1. Far superior to the remake. I regret spending money on that one.