Saturday, March 29, 2014

Total Recall


Things continue to race along for preproduction on my new kabuki musical epic, Bridget Over Troubled Waters, the all singing, all dancing version of The Last Seduction that I hope to have ready for the Pantages Theater here in Los Angeles this spring. Bob Mackie and I had a conference last night on the costumes. The color palette used in the film was so dull. I advised him to think pink and fuchsia and magenta and cerise. Especially for the big number set in the honky-tonk bar where the seduction actually takes place. I want those chorus boys and girls to positively glow in the dark when the follow spots hit. Bob also showed me some sketches of a little green rhinestone and ostrich feather number he thought would be perfect for the murder scene in act II. As long as I can recite my haiku dialog without marabou in my nose, I'll be happy.

In the meantime, I am looking at other career opportunities. One does have to pay the mortgage somehow. I have been asked by the American Dairy Council to be the celebrity spokesperson for their new What A Friend We Have In Cheeses campaign. Madame Rose, my publicist, thinks it's a golden opportunity to get a higher Q rating than limburger or provolone so I have given them a tentative yes. They're sending someone over to the house with the contracts to explain my duties later in the week; then it will be a feta complete.

Exhausted by all this activity, I retired to the home theater for a nice quiet little film which would soothe my jangled nerves. I opted for Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the new deluxe DVD, for no earthly reason, comes in a red pill box that reminded me greatly of a Quaalude bottle Cary Grant once gave to me - besides the copy on the package claimed it was a film about dreaming. It wasn't the quiet little film that I had hoped for.

Schwarzenegger stars as Douglas Quaid, a blue-collar block of wood living in a futuristic society where he dreams of someday traveling to Mars. He has a lovely wife (Sharon Stone), a less than glamorous job in heavy construction, and dreams of Mars haunted by a mysterious brunette (Rachel Ticotin). Not being able to afford a real trip to Mars (which is undergoing political unrest anyway under the repressive governor Cohaggen (Ronny Cox), Quaid visits an outfit called Rekall, which, for a price, can implant memories of a super Mars vacation so real, you'd swear you'd been there. For an additional fee, they can also customize the memories so that you can be a super secret agent. Quaid accepts and is soon off to dreamland but something goes wrong in the memory implantation - Quaid is really agent Hauser, Mars operative, whose memory was erased and who was relocated on earth by Cohaggen for nefarious purposes. Soon, everyone in his life is trying to kill him and he flees to Mars, pursued by a villainous agent (Michael Ironside) where he meets up with the beauteous Melina, the brunette from his dreams who turns out to be a prostitute from the red light district. Then things really turn complicated.

Screenwriters Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon and Gary Goldman have fun with this Chinese puzzle box of a film (from a short story by Philip K. Dick). It can clearly be interpreted in two ways and which is correct is up to the viewer to determine. Either the entire film is Quaid's virtual reality dream or it's Quaid's actual reality. The film very deliberately keeps both explanations open right through to the end. Casting Schwarzenegger helps in this regard. He's brawny enough for either take to be correct where a less physical presence would have made the viewer plunk strictly for the dream interpretation. Verhoeven uses lingering takes and moments on characters to keep the aura of mystery going.

The film is a triumph of production design. 1989-90, when the film was made, was the last gasp of conventional in camera effects before the advent of CGI and the film offers some breathtaking shots of the Martian landscape. The producers also shot the film at a studio in Mexico City allowing them to take advantage of the brutalistic architecture of some of that city's modern public buildings to create a dystopian world of concrete, glass, and subdued humanity. Many of the mars sets have a dreamlike quality to them which helps enhance the question of actual versus virtual reality.

This is Schwarzenegger's film. He's in nearly every scene. He's a genial presence but cannot deliver anything resembling human emotion or connection. At times, it's hard to differentiate between him and the robo-android thing that drives the local cabs. The supporting cast come off better. Stone is competent (although her role is small - she didn't become a star until her next pairing with Verhoeven). Ticotin is quite good as the good bad girl - it's curious that she never had more of a Hollywood career as she puts modern female action wannabes like Angelina Jolie to shame, both as a fighter and as an actress. Her Melina is vulnerable, human, and kicks butt with the best of them. Ronny Cox, as the chief villain, rolls his eyes a lot and delivers exposition in a delightfully hammy way.

The film caused a lot of controversy at the time of its release for its violence. People are shot, stabbed, crushed, and mangled throughout in various gory ways. Verhoeven loves showing stage blood squibs exploding from bodies against white walls and floors. The violence, much of which is gratuitous, is, however, also in line with the dream/virtual reality theme of the film. In many ways the film is a live action version of Quake or Doom with Schwarzenegger standing in for us. And we just love all that blood and guts when we get the bad guy.

The DVD contains a commentary track in which Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven, each in their inimitable accent, discuss the plot with each other. Skip it. There's also a half hour making of documentary that's interesting in showing how the script developed and how they did some of the effects. Other features include the usual talent bios, trailers and apt to roll around your family room.

It's a great looking film, but it's eventually undermined by Ah-nuld's weak acting and the hyperkinetic violence into being an adult Saturday matinee serial.

Jack hammering Ah-nuld. Tennis playing Sharon Stone. Advanced weapon scanning systems. Gratuitous subway machine gunning. Exploding fat lady head. Broken window complications. Psychic mutants. Gratuitous machine gunning midget prostitute. Alien reactors. Narrow tunnel digging machine escapes. Gratuitous machine gunned semi formed alien baby thing.

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