Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Total Lack of Recall

I am not ashamed to admit that I really hate most films directed by Paul Verhoeven. The main reason is similar to the reason I hate a lot of Stanley Kubrik's work, which is that these directors like to take the tools of cinematic art and use them to jerk the audience around just to make a point. This usually involves gross exaggeration, gratuitous sex and violence, and ridiculous attempts at satirical humor. But whereas Kubrik does this with serious intention, Verhoeven just likes to see how far he can take the joke without the audience catching on and then laughing behind their back. He's like the Andy Kaufmann of film directors. Verhoeven pulled this off to maximum effect in Starship Troopers, where his main target was our attitude toward the military and war films (and also Heinlein's book). In Robocop, I'm guessing his target was police action films. In Total Recall, I've recently begun to believe that he was targeting the Hollywood production machine. Before I explain that, let me say a bit about this really bad 1990 sci-fi action film.

I can't just skip over a film that was supposedly based on a Philip K. Dick short story, but I've heard that the film not only diverges from the book but leaves out most of what makes the story interesting in the first place. You can see seeds of Dick's ideas in the whole dream vs. reality themes that are explored, but I've learned that this script floated around Hollywood for many years but never got produced for one reason or another. It went through lots revisions and I don't suppose many directors wanted to get involved. I will guess that this created a situation where Hollywood had invested a lot of capital into trying to get this movie made and was quite frustrated. They were willing to throw a lot of money at it to get it done. I think Mr. Verhoeven saw this as just too tempting. His thesis on this project would be to illustrate Hollywood's tendency to think that the more money you put into a film, the better it will be. He would take a script by a respected intellectual author and turn it into an action bonanza complete with stupid one-liners and lots of explosions. He would get one of highest paid actors in Hollywood at the time, Mr. Schwarzenegger, chosen precisely because of how well he represented the high paid low talent Hollywood star. He somehow managed to have tons of money spent on special effects which more often than not turned out looking like cheap puppetry, toy models, and cartoonish claymation. He got them to pay big bucks for a nice Jerry Goldsmith score. He littered his screen with blatant product placements and lots of gore and violence while leaving a lot of plot points and story details in the dust. All this he did while keeping a straight face, and then laughed it up under his breath as the film debuted as number one at the box office and the Hollywood executives all patted him on the back.

Alight, maybe I'm being a little over the top, but I'll wager not by much. There is really not much worth remembering about Total Recall (no pun intended) except the possibility that its director was pulling a number on the executives, and maybe the audience, just like he did with several other of his films before and after. I'm sure I'll get some flack for this, but at least you can't say my perspective isn't unique.

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