Arnold Schwarzenegger is a very shrewd man. When the former world champion bodybuilder made the switch from weights to movies he knew his acting ability was limited and therefore chose roles in which he could excel. Those men of few words action heroes like the sword and sandals beefcake in Conan The Barbarian, or relentless villains like the robot T-800 Model 101 in Terminator, or mercenary soldiers such as John Matrix in Commando and Major Alan “Dutch” Schaeffer in Predator, or just rogue law enforcers as in Raw Deal and The Running Man. Each of these films made Schwarzenegger the biggest movie star of the 1980s–only rivalled by that other bulging monosyllabic bicep Sylvester Stallone.
Unlike Stallone who rehashed his two most popular action roles time-and-again (Rocky and Rambo), Schwarzenegger opted for slightly subversive storylines and characters–Terminator, Predator, The Running Man. Each of these films had great scripts (or good source material–Stephen King) and were generally filed under science fiction–in an indeterminate multi-cultural future where Schwarzenegger’s thick Austrian accent would not seem out-of-place.
In 1990, Arnie starred in Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall, yet another science fiction movie this time loosely based on the very short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick. It was the perfect vehicle for Schwarzenegger–part action movie, part outsider allegory, part revolutionary tale–and confirmed his status as the biggest box office star of the decade. But Arnie was more than just box office celebrity, he was also the most influential star of the decade as his movies aligned him with the rising generation of geeky, nerdy, sci-fi freaks who found Schwarzenegger’s own outsider status (as immigrant and non-actor) a rallying point.
Of course, this was all fine until Arnie started making those one punchline short of a joke comedies in the 1990s–Kindergarten Cop, Jingle All the Way, Junior. He did, thankfully, return to form with Terminator 2 and the best non-Bond Bond movie ever True Lies.
Total Recall was made in the great era of non CGI movies–for let’s be clear, CGI is shit–when special effects were crafted by artists, when scale models were designed and built, and extras employed for crowd scenes.
Total Recall dealt with “repressed memory”–a highly controversial issue at the time where a variety of (as it generally turned out fraudulent) hypnotherapists claimed to have uncovered hidden traumas in some of their patients’ memories. Schwarzenegger starred as Douglas Quaid, a man who dreams of going on holiday to Mars but cannot afford the ticket. Instead he opts to pay Rekall, a company that offers customers implanted memories of holidays, adventures and, of course, trips to Mars. Unfortunately for Quaid, this implant opens up his memory to the truth of his identity as a former government secret agent Hauser.
Dr. Lull: [after Quaid goes crazy at Rekall] Listen to me, he’s been going on and on about Mars. He’s really been there.
Bob McClane: Use your head, you dumb bitch! He’s just acting out the secret agent portion of his Ego Trip.
Dr. Lull: I’m afraid that’s not possible.
Bob McClane: Why not?
Dr. Lull: Because we haven’t implanted it yet!
Johnnycab: We hope you enjoyed the ride!