Do you recall TOTAL RECALL (1990) and its memorable trailer?

In anticipation of the remake of Total Recall (2012), starring Colin Farrell and Kate Beckinsale reprising roles immortalized by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, I reviewed the official trailer for the 1990 release, suspecting that that expensive, influential and critically acclaimed film would have had an interesting trailer. It does.

Next week, I’ll review the trailer for this summer’s remake (also memorable), and then–perhaps in a 3rd post–compare the high-profile, big-budget, distinguished and spectacular previews, released 22 years apart.

The trailer opens with the Carolco logo which morphs into the brightest star in a star field backdrop, into which the apparently disembodied head of Arnold, first seen supine and in profile slowly turns toward and then down away from the viewer, with whom his eyes engage until the angle breaks the connection. Beneath him, the red surface of Mars appear as we fly toward a black triangle just over the horizon. As this happens, a restrained and measured narration intones: “Your mind / it is the center of your body / it is everything you hear / everything you see / everything you feel. /It is everything you are. / How would you know if someone stole your mind?” We don’t see this kind of copy much anymore, lines that pose the “idea” of the film in terms that are at once “metaphysical” and deeply personal.

These first 30 seconds appear to be an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a bit of a parody, given that Arnold’s head stands in for the rotating bone / space station. However, the film, as represented in the trailer, is not the sublime and sober sci-fi vehicle that this opening predicts, but an unapologetically action spectacular with an involved and involving plot, comic beats and memorable punch lines.

AFter the graphically ambitious and philosophically portentous opening, we fall into the kinetic, incrementally futuristic world of the movie, featuring animatronic disguises, 21st century gadgets and technology, a Martian colony, a confused hero and a couple of relevant existential questions thrown in for good measure. Depicting the frustrations of Quaid’s situation and the emphasizing the conflicts to which it gives rise, consumes the rest of the trailer. Although resolution is not-specified, armed and active resistance appears to be Quaid’s best hope.

After the opening V.O., there is no further copy, until Schwarzenegger’s credit and the (two–count ’em) “Total Recall” title cards. Thereafter, filmed dialogue explains the plot: Doug Quaid’s (Schwarzenegger) memory has been erased and that of another man–one with an incredible set of skills and abilities–has been uploaded into him, with unexpected and significant repercussions.

Dialogue also transcends its story telling function to address the audience, marketing the film and explaining how to understand and consume it: “Get ready for a surprise,” says the disembodied head of the full-body disguise worn by Quaid, just before it explodes, producing a diversion that allows him to escape his pursuers. Later, an animatronic cab-driver, utters the programmed remarks, “We hope you enjoy the ride,” which works literally in the scene and figuratively, to position the film as an event and an adventure.

At 2:30, this trailer plays long. Even with the quick cutting, there is a lot of plot to cover (this trailer is tell-all, it appears, especially with respect to Quaid’s unhappy choice of mates, a woman who deceives, betrays and attempts to kill him.) and a few good lines to deliver. Before “I’ll be back,” became his trademark, Schwarzenegger was known for his quip, “Consider this a divorce,” pronounced over the corpse of his beautiful and cunning wife.

What we see in the shot select is Quaid on the run and repeatedly under attack. Choreographed fight scenes, it is indicated, will feature prominently in the film. He will also take up with another love interest, Melina (Rachel Ticotin), a resistance fighter, who knows her way around a machine gun.

As is common in trailer editing, elements of the film story are re-ordered to serve the interest of the marketing story, such as when one of Quaid’s trackers affirms, “got him,” before we’ve scene him insert the chip into his brain that allows such remote monitoring. Then, when an ally warns him that, “the bug is in your skull,” the next shot is of Quaid running in front of an x-ray screen, but it’s his gun, worn at the hip, rather than anything visible in his head, that “tips off” his assailants.

Quaid’s experience in the trailer is one of confusion, stress and physical torment. There are 3 significant scenes of him screaming, his face convulsed with pain. These extend the earlier shot of the distraught woman who literally “comes apart” in public, revealing Quaid concealed within her cybernetic bulk.

The editing, sound and graphic design are all sophisticated; though no longer cutting edge, they remain contemporary, if not in technique than certainly in style. Regarding the edit decisions, apart from the opening star-field and the subsequent Mars exterior, the shot selection comprises closeup and medium views of blandly interior locations and characters with bad 90’s haircuts and clothes, suggesting, it would seem, the physical, psychological and historical constraints on our protagonist. Faces, dialogue, and explicit images of what’s being discussed and described support the articulation of a complex storyline while developing the larger conceptual problems of identity, memory and agency.

Jerry Goldsmith
‘s symphonic soundtrack opens the trailer, with a heavy cosmic hum, punctuated by atonal eruptions, and complicated by menacing strings. It runs beneath the trailer, swelling into full orchestration –suitable for pretentious, big-budget, sci-fi epic– in the back end. The opening sequence, mentioned above, and the title design–accomplished by strobing laser lights– are bold, exhilarating and impressive, advertising the quality of visual artistry the audience may anticipate.

In tone, The trailer, like the film it represents, is playful, nearly campy in sensibility. With witty putdowns, clever quips, and extraordinary martial skill, Quaid navigates a hostile and faintly dystopian future, where technological advance conceals an atavistic political reality With the right woman–Melina, a resistance fighter–at his side, Quaid’s survival seem likely, while his confusion and trial delivers the vicarious thrill of a stressful ordeal destined to end well.

The trailer, like its film and the short story that inspired it (Philip K. Dick’s “We can remember it for you wholesale,” is complicated, confusing, violent, unpredictable, ironic, knowing and really, really cool.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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One Response to Do you recall TOTAL RECALL (1990) and its memorable trailer?

  1. Pingback: Total Recall (2012) Trailer: Anxieties of Influence | REVIEWS OF PREVIEWS

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