Total Recall (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: Jan 13, 2021
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Total Recall (4K UHD Review)


Paul Verhoeven

Release Date(s)

1990 (December 8, 2020)


Carolco Pictures/TriStar Pictures (StudioCanal/Lionsgate)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B+

Total Recall (4K Ultra HD)



Initially stuck in development hell, at one time with David Cronenberg at the helm, Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall is one of the more entertaining sci-fi actioners of its era. Loaded with over-the-top carnage, iconic make-up and special effects work, and a dazzling Jerry Goldsmith score, the film struck a chord in pop culture and eventually spawned a middle-of-the-road remake. It was also one of the last successful films produced by Carolco Pictures before the company imploded in the mid 90s. Remembered by most as an Arnold Schwarzenneger vehicle, the film explores ideas established in Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, though the script—by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett of Alien fame—is not entirely faithful to this source material. Total Recall was immediately profitable upon its theatrical release and eventually became a genre classic, as well as a home video favorite.

In the late 21st century, construction worker Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenneger) has dreams of being on Mars, and hopes to one day move there and leave Earth behind. His wife Lori (Sharon Stone) dismisses the idea whenever it comes up due to the civil unrest on the planet under the rule of mining mogul Cohaagen (Ronny Cox). So after seeing an advertisement for Rekall Industries, which specializes in implanting fake vacations into people’s minds, Quaid decides to go to Mars virtually instead. But the procedure fails when it’s discovered that Quaid has suppressed memories of actually being on the Red Planet. It seems that he was once a secret agent for Cohaagen there, who defected upon learning that his boss was concealing alien technology that could bring a breathable atmosphere to the planet’s surface. Now on the run from Cohaagen’s other agents, including the relentless Richter (Michael Ironside), Quaid returns to Mars to unlock the secrets in his brain. And it’s there that he meets Mileena (Rachel Ticotin), one of the leaders of the resistance against Cohaagen, who he somehow already knows from his dreams.

Total Recall was shot on 35 mm Eastman photochemical film using Arriflex cameras with Zeiss spherical lenses (some of the visual effects were also shot in VistaVision format). It was finished photochemically for theatrical exhibition in 35 mm and 70 mm (blow-up) at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. For this Ultra HD release, the original camera negative was scanned in native 4K and the image was graded for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 options are available) in a process supervised and approved by Verhoeven. The result is a dramatic improvement in image quality over any previous home video presentation. Save for titles and optical transitions (which exhibit the usual softness) and the odd shot that’s slightly out of focus, image detail is spectacular. Grain levels are medium but organic looking. The HDR grade is restrained, but offers more saturated and natural colors than ever before. Black levels are excellent, with deep shadows (shadow detail is occasionally a bit lacking, but that’s in the source), while the highlights are pleasingly bold. The Dolby Vision has a slight edge in color fidelity, but it’s not a huge difference. There is a bit of compression artifacting visible in a brief series of shots at about 43 minutes into the film (as the passenger spacecraft lands on Mars)—but it’s nothing egregious. All in all, this is a significant visual upgrade.

Primary audio on the 4K disc is presented in a new English Dolby Atmos mix that’s also an improvement over previous sound options for this film on disc. It’s not what one would call a reference-grade experience, but the Atmos offers a notably fuller tonal quality and a more immersive soundstage, all while retaining much of the film’s original sonic character. Dialogue is clear and clean, with sound effects that move around smoothly in the surround channels (and occasionally into the overheads as needed), as well as moderate (and occasionally robust) bass. What’s more, the Goldsmith score exhibits lovely fidelity. Additional audio options include English and Spanish 2.0 in regular DTS format, as well as French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional subtitles in English for the Hard of Hearing, Latin Spanish, and French.

The 4K package also includes the film in 1080p on a separate Blu-ray, mastered from this same 4K transfer, as well as an additional Blu-ray of extras. Here’s a breakdown of the special features included on each disc:


  • Audio Commentary with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven
  • Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood (HD – 59:22)
  • Open Your Mind: Scoring Total Recall (HD – 21:24)
  • Dreamers Within the Dream: Developing Total Recall (HD – 8:26)
  • 30th Anniversary Trailer (HD – 1:30)


  • Audio Commentary with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Paul Verhoeven
  • Open Your Mind: Scoring Total Recall (HD – 21:24)
  • Dreamers Within the Dream: Developing Total Recall (HD – 8:26)


  • Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood (HD – 59:22)
  • Models & Skeletons: The Special Effects of Total Recall (HD – 23:15)
  • Making Of (SD – 8:03)
  • Imagining Total Recall (SD – 30:12)
  • 30th Anniversary Trailer (HD – 1:30)

The audio commentary with Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven dates back to the DVD era, but even so it’s fun and informative. Total Excess is an excellent hour-long documentary on the history of Carolco newly created by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures, interviewing the likes of David J. Moore, Michael Douglas, and Mark Goldblatt. Open Your Mind features film journalists and authors Daniel Sweiger, Jeff Bond, Lukas Kendall, and Robert Townson, who discuss the score in relation to other sci-fi scores of the era. Dreamers Within the Dream features an audio interview with Ron Miller about his conceptual art for the film. Models & Skeletons explores the work of Stetson Visual Services with miniature effects co-supervisor Mark Stetson and CGI artist Tim McGovern. The Making Of is a vintage featurette from 1990. Imagining Total Recall is the original making-of documentary from the Artisan Entertainment DVD, featuring interviews with many members of the main cast and crew.

It should be mentioned that several features from previous home video releases have not been included here. The original Artisan Entertainment Special Edition DVD included three Rekall Virtual Vacations, the Visions of Mars featurette, three Storyboard Comparisons, two still galleries, a set of production notes, cast and crew information, and the original trailer and TV spots. The previous Lionsgate Mind-Bending Edition Blu-ray included a 2012 interview with Paul Verhoeven, a restoration comparison, and an additional still gallery. It’s also worth nothing that the overseas 4K release of the film includes two CDs of Jerry Goldsmith’s expanded score for the film, a 48-page booklet, six art cards, and a double-sided poster. In addition, the original teaser trailer is also missing. So in order to retain everything, you’ll want to hang onto any and all of those releases.

In any case, Lionsgate’s new 4K presentation of Total Recall presents the film looking and sounding better than we’ve ever experienced it before at home. Combined with a solid batch of extras—and especially the new Total Excess documentary—this Ultra HD release is a no-brainer for fans of the film. Recommended.

- Bill Hunt with Tim Salmons

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