Total Recall


Viewed – 20 July 2012  Blu-ray

Ultimate Rekall Edition

With the prospect of yet another remake of a classic movie on the horizon, I thought it as good a time as any to rediscover one of my favorite sci-f action movies of the nineties.  Around the time (1990) you couldn’t avoid big budget event pictures starring Austrian hulk and now former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger … and one of his best was this adaptation of the novel by Philip K Dick (Blade Runner, Minority Report).

Arnie plays Douglas Quade, a construction worker who is always fantasizing about living on Mars.  Yet when he decides to realize his dreams by having a memory implant done by shady company ‘Rekall’ he soon finds his perception of reality radically altered as a gang of mercenaries and a band of resistance are suddenly out to find him.  This is classic sci-fi … a great, mind bending concept, futuristic technology, aliens and government conspiracies.  Arnie is perfect in a role that gives him a lot more to do than just flex his pecs and mow down bad guys.  Under the direction of Paul Verhoeven this also becomes something else.  Having proved his sci-fi skills with cult favorite Robocop, the Dutch helmsman dresses up proceedings in his trade mark sleaze, unnecessary violence and b-movie excess, but aided by a real Hollywood budget.  The effects still look good, most notably Rob Botin’s brilliant make-up designs that still hold their wow-factor.  Some of the early CGI however looks dodgy, but considering this movie is over 20 years old, that’s an easy thing to forgive.

Supporting cast including a before she was famous Sharon Stone and henchman for hire Michael Ironside are both good, and genre stalwart Ronnie Cox returns with a similarly villainous turn as he delivered in Robocop.  In this age of superb effects and stunning, anything is possible technology, the movie is showing its age and the over-the-top feel and Verhoeven’s style seems a tad distasteful and to an extent, absurd (a machine gun wielding midget prostitute, anyone?).  So a product of it’s time, but this remains a great deal of fun … and worthy of seeking out, even if you’ve watched it a dozen times already (like me).

The Blu-ray, whilst not a disaster image-wise, tends to look a touch too bright in comparison to previous DVD versions and that eighties / early nineties soft-focus look does rear its head.  Close-up detail is good though and overall this is still a very nice looking presentation, free of edge enhancement or noise reduction.  The 5.1 DTS Master Audio track is serviceable without being particularly impressive, with a somewhat hollow sound to the dialogue.  Extras consist of the same commentary from the DVD re-release a few years back with Arnie and Verhoeven, as well as a new interview with the director, archive featurettes and documentaries.  A good package then even if the movie’s treatment in HD could have been better … but for fans its still one for the collection.

Verdict:

(the movie): 4 /5

(the Blu-ray): 3 /5

Minority Report


Viewed – 16 May 2010  Blu-ray

Steven Spielberg’s return to futuristic sci-fi after the luke warm A.I. Artificial Intelligence is probably one of his more underrated movies.  Whatever your opinion of Tom Cruise post scientology madness, he remains one of the most bankable Hollywood stars and teaming for the first time with the most celebrated director of all time will certainly grab an audiences attention.  Cruise plays a Police Officer in the experimental Pre-Crime division where technology and the unique skills of three psychics allow the prediction of violent crimes before they happen, enabling the perpetrator to be arrested before he or she can act.  Naturally this form of law enforcement has its army of ethical doubters, with Cruise’s character also at times troubled by its supposedly perfect system but propelled to believe in it following his own son’s kidnapping.  Yet whatever doubts he may have are soon answered when he becomes a target, and soon he is on the run and must somehow prove his own innocence.

Spielberg’s movie, based like Blade Runner, Total Recall and many other movies on a story by renowned science fiction author Philip K Dick, is an intelligence anti-blockbuster, that although filled with a stunningly imaginative vision of the future and bursts of breath-taking action, spends much of its time in a complex plot, with a bevy of wierd and unusual characters held together by Spielberg’s expert direction and some stand out performances.  Cruise is seriously on form along with a scene stealing Samantha Morton as one of the three psychics at the heart of Pre-crime.  Max Von Sydow also lends commendable presence to proceedings as Cruise’s ageing Boss, and along with stunning cinematography and an exaggerated soft-focus style with overblown whites and a muted colour palette this is as unique to look at as Philip K Dick’s story is to take in and absorb. 

Watching it eight years after initial release, Minority Report remains a rewarding  experience, even if some of the action feels a little stilted and awkward (especially the alleyway fight with the flying cops) and its overwhelming world is a little hard to get into for the first hour, until the plot reveals itself.  Yet these are small gripes to what is otherwise a thought-provoking and well made piece of science fiction.  One I recommend you check out.

The Blu-ray can’t really be faulted, although as mentioned above its use of subdued colours, overblown contrast and soft focus may mean it doesn’t jump out and shout high-def like say, Avatar does but the brilliant cinematography and fine detail still makes it a showcase title in my opinion.  In DTS HD Master Audio this is brash & loud when it matters and full of little details to completely absorb the viewer.  Extras-wise we have a wealth of extras, including concept art, interviews and behind the scenes all thrown together in ‘The Future According To Spielberg’ bonus-view section that brilliantly copies the movie’s style to present its content.  A must-own Blu-ray.

Verdict:  4 /5

A Scanner Darkly


Viewed – 23 October 2009  DVD

Wow.  This was a wierd one.  I rented this as I felt I had been neglecting the career of my favourite actress, namely Winona Ryder, and had heard many positive things about this sci-fi yarn based on a Philip K Dick short story, and co-starring Keanu Reeves and Robert Downey Jr.  Now one of the immediate points of interest in this movie is it’s animated ‘look’, a process where the whole movie is actually filmed with regular actors, locations etc … then given an animated post-processing style to create the look of an animated movie.  This being my only experience of such a process, I have to say it is both startling and bonkers.

scannerdarkly

Keanu Reeves plays an undercover cop in a not-too-distant future who becomes involved with a dangerous new drug and begins to lose his own identity as a result.  This was a difficult film to like for several reasons, firstly it has a group of mostly unlikable odd-ball characters that I guess are meant to be lovable loosers but come off more as annoying loosers, with no direction but screwing each other over, and secondly Keanu wears a wierd disguise that hides his identity, which is an interesting but mind-bending effect showing the character’s appearance changing every second.  Now apart from the obvious visual style that does earn this movie a viewing recommendation, the story is confusing and rather bland, with not much point or purpose, apart from a well warn image of drug-culture that can’t hold a hat to the likes of Trainspotting or Drugstore Cowboy.   The ending is mystifying too.  Acting wise all do a fine job with the material with Keanu and Winona especially standing out, but it’s the visuals here that pack the greatest punch, and some of the imagery and ideas are amazing – but sadly the story they surround isn’t.

verdict:  2 /5