I was 15 years old when "Total Recall" came out, the summer where childhood was saying its final goodbyes and independence was readying itself for an introduction. Going to the movies without grown-ups was still something of a novelty, particularly ones with so much gratuitous sex and violence.
Seeing "Total Recall," however, wasn't just a night out that felt more adult, it was a milestone for me in understanding how something could be both thoughtful and crowd-pleasing at the same time.
See, I was friends with Scott Silverberg, who was a year older anyway, but his older brother Derek had a car. A Volvo, sure, but it was a car, and it was loaded with Black Sabbath tapes and he constantly sprayed this vanilla-almond air freshener that made it smell like a marzipan with wheels. He wasn't a rocket scientist, or even very nice, but it was a car and that meant that he would take his brother Scott places and if you were lucky enough to be friends with Scott, you'd get to go, too.
Scott called me to say he was going to the opening night of the new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie and there was room for one more if I wanted to go. Six months earlier, my mother would have had the clout to say "no way," but she wasn't going to fight the tides anymore. She knew I'd start doing things of which she wouldn't necessarily approve. Not that going to the movies was something she'd have a problem with – quite the contrary. My love of cinema comes directly from my parents, who had a rather progressive attitude toward adult oriented films. If the movie was mature and had something to say, they were cool with me watching it, which is how I ended up seeing "A Clockwork Orange" at the age of 11... so we could "discuss" it.
Schwarzenegger movies, it was determined, had no redeeming value.
I saw their point, but disagreed on one key component: it was a great deal of fun to do an AHHHHNOLD voice. I'd seen "The Running Man" and "Conan the Barbarian" on tape or cable and the idea that this titanic Teuton with a pituitary condition was now going to get caught up in a crisis of paradoxical existences was something that seemed truly thought provoking. Cartesian dualism goes Commando? What could be a better comment on our culture? (Plus it was legit sci-fi, which just added more logs on the fire.)
Yeah, sure, go see whatever garbage you want, Mom said.
A little sheepish, I rode with the Silverbergs to the theater, where another crowd of Scott's older brother's friends (some of them girls!) were waiting. We had a large block of seats and, for one of the first times, I felt cool. Then the movie started and we went to the future.
My love of science fiction (which usually came with the stamp of approval because it involved reading and, once in a blue moon, some actual science -- case in point, a blue moon comes about once in every two-and-a-half years) was even stronger than any desire for adolescent independence. From the first scene, I was hooked.
"Total Recall" is a remarkable melange of nerdery and mindscrabmling big concepts. Giant television walls, x-ray corridors, fingernail colors that change in a flash, homing devices up the schnozz, artificially implanted memory engrams (or ARE they?) and giant heads that you can wear as masks and also use as bombs. Plus mutants on Mars. Oh, baby.
But while the geeky stuff was obviously in there for twerps like me, there was still Arnold, excuse me, AHHHHNOLD, breaking spines and using people as human shields for, how does one say this delicately, the dumb kids.
Also check out: 'Total Recall' Is a Cover Song Gone a Little Wrong
When Arnold beats the hell out of his fellow construction workers and turns one into a smear on the cement wall, all were cheering. After this sequence, there was yet another propulsive plot twist that further revealed "Total Recall" was more of a headscratcher than some were expecting. I'll never forget the sound of Ian Bronstein turning to Josh Cohen (neither of them Mensa candidates) and saying, "whoa, this movie is really GOOD!"
And it WAS really good. Cool, somewhat heavy science fiction ideas and bone-crushing action. It was a helluva pick for something of a landmark night. And when Mom asked me if the movie was good, and I couldn't stop babbling about the details of the sets, and the funny one-liners and the images of a terraformed Mars and how I STILL didn't know if it was a dream or not, she probably thought I really just snuck off somewhere and drank Coors Light in a field.
Not the case, unless I had the memories implanted.
What about the 15 year olds of today? Well, clearly they're a lot less sheltered than I was, what with their Skypes and their Master Chiefs, but cinema transcends the ages, no? Well, sure it does, but I don't see much chance of this one being a timeless classic of the next generation. Not with so many good summer sci-fi and action flicks out there.
Yet the basic premise is still cooked in there. Are we really just the sum of our experiences? Can we be fundamentally changed if new recollections, even false ones, were to be implanted in our minds? Is it just as good to remember something as it is to experience it? These are all heavy topics, and if young people are being exposed to 'em for the first time, who cares if it is in an inferior version of the film?
Of equal importance is the downright fierce performance of one Kate Beckinsale. You've never seen one woman slink down so many hallways as she does in the new "Total Recall." She's absolutely gorgeous and she's got great hair and if anyone other than Milla Jovovich were to roundhouse me to the face, I'd want it to be her. Yes, have late night discussions about the specious present versus memory, but save some room for just how fetching Ms. Beckinsale looks in those boots, okay?
Maybe this movie will be a lasting memory for 15 year olds after all.
Check out an interview with director Len Wiseman:
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