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  • Stefan Riedlinger

Total Recall - Jerry Goldsmith - Soundtrack Review

„Total Recall“, the original one by Pau Verhoeven, and not the remake, is a hell of a movie!

The movie

"Total Recall" is a 1990 American science fiction action film directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, and Michael Ironside. The film is loosely based on the Philip K. Dick short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale".

The film tells the story of a construction worker who suddenly finds himself embroiled in espionage on Mars and unable to determine if the experiences are real or the result of memory implants. It was written by Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Jon Povill, and Gary Goldman, and won a Special Achievement Academy Award for its visual effects. The original score, composed by Jerry Goldsmith, won the BMI Film Music Award.

With a budget of $50–60 million, "Total Recall" was one of the most expensive films made at the time of its release, although estimates of its production budget vary and whether it ever actually held the record is not certain.

I remember this movie very well because it was one of the first Arnold Schwarzenegger movies I saw in the movie theatre. At that time of my life, I was not such a big fan of Arnie, I preferred Sylvester Stallone with his “Rocky”-series, and also liked the first Rambo movie very much, and not only because of Jerry’s music.

Therefore, the decision to watch “Total Recall” in a movie theatre, was first of all driven by the fact that Jerry composed the music, and Paul Verhoeven was the director. I had the music CD received a few days ago, but had some trouble with the score. The music sounded very repetitive, even violent in musical terms, was highly-action driven and not very lyrical, but also very enjoyable. At the same time, I also received the music to “Gremlins 2”, a music I liked more than “Total Recall”.

Looking back at “Total Recall”, you can argue if this is perhaps Arnie’s best movie except “Terminator”. Critics compared “Recall” with “Rambo III”, and said that people should go and see Arnie because this movie is worth every dollar you spend on your ticket because you will have a lot of fun and will be greatly entertained. In my memory, this movie is also the first time I prefered an Arnold movie over a Stallone movie.

Based on the story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick, a still enjoyable read, “Alien” writers Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett wrote a screenplay, but it was given from studio to studio. Finally, Dino De Laurentiis, took on the project. De Laurentiis who also produced “Conan” was not very interested to cast the Austrian Oak for this movie. He wanted Richard Dreyfusss; Patrick Swayze was also considered, and Bruce Beresford (“Driving Mrs Daisy”) as director. Even David Cronenberg was later attached to direct, and he wanted William Hurt in the leading role.

There is a great comment about his work from Cronenberg: “"I worked on it for a year and did about 12 drafts. Eventually we got to a point where Ron Shusett said, 'You know what you've done? You've done the Philip K. Dick version.' I said, 'Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing?' He said, 'No, no, we want to do Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars.'" When the adaptation of Dune flopped at the box office, De Laurentiis similarly lost enthusiasm. Now Schwarzenegger stepped it. He persuaded Carolco to buy the rights to the film for $3 million and negotiated a salary of $10–11 million (plus 15% of the profits) to star, with an unusually broad degree of control over the production.

The first thing Arnie did was recruiting Paul Verhoeven as director because Arnie was impressed by “RoboCop”. Verhoeven brought Gary Goldman in to develop the final draft of the screenplay, and also many of his collaborators on “RoboCop”, including actor Ronny Cox, cinematographer Jost Vacano, production designer William Sandell, and special effects designer Rob Bottin.

With Verhoeven on board, the film became highly violent, rude and shocking brutal. There are so many scenes with death and violence in this movie that Verhoeven again had trouble to get a rating lower than X. Furthermore, this movie is one of the last major Hollywood blockbusters to make large-scale use of miniature effects rather than computer generated imagery. And, of course, Verhoeven was again attacked by feminist critics, especially because of one scene between Arnie and Sharon Stone and the comment “Consider this as a divorce.”

You can also find a lot of people discussing if the movie is all a dream or reality for Quaid. The white light at the end is taken as an example of the dream theory – Quiad will be lobotomized, and also Jerry’s last track is called “End of a Dream”. You can decide what you want to believe and look for proof in the movie, there is enough for both theories, and it is one sign of Verhoeven’s genius that he created the end in this style.

The music

Jerry Goldsmith said about this score in an interview: “"Total Recall" was some of the best music I’ve written for a film. I was impressed with myself, even though I rarely listen to what I’ve finished. I’d written enough notes in that score for a Bruckner symphony! After that, I wanted a change from all of the action films I’d been doing. I realized that I wanted to do “people” pictures again, and held out until I got "The Russia House", "Sleeping with the Enemy", and "Love Field", movies where I could get lyrical again. "The Russia House" is now my favourite score, while my work for "Medicine Man" has some very lyrical moments.”

To save money, the producers sent Jerry Goldsmith to Germany to record the music with a Munich orchestra. Goldsmith was not very happy with the performance; the orchestra was not familiar with his complex style of composing and orchestrating. Therefore, the recording was brought to end and Goldsmith went back to London to record the score with the National Philharmonic Orchestra which was more used to Goldsmith’s style. YouTube features the track Clever Girl performed by the Munich Orchestra, so this version can be compared with the later version on the CD. I could not find this track on YouTube anymore, so I have to deleted the link here.

Goldsmith also admitted that the powerful main theme was a reminder of the Conan motif. I found a great live version here:

And here you can find the version from the score - "The Dream", with the electronics

The score consists of a lot of action pieces, and there is even more music on the Deluxe Edition that lasts nearly 74 minutes. The best action tracks are Clever Girl, The Big Jump and The Hologram (I especially like the electronics here which sound like a metronome clicking).

What makes this score unique is the balance between the straightforward action-packed tracks and the more lyrical tracks such as A New Life. One of the best of these lyrical tracks is The Mutant when rebel leader Kuato psychically invades Quaid’s mind and reveals the true function of the machine buried beneath the mountain that will finally bring air to the Mars. This track is a perfect example of visual storytelling in music!

In some tracks, Goldsmith uses a composing technique to transform the punches into music; not a new idea, but highly effective when watching these scenes with the music. Because of the high amount of chase scenes, the score is massively action driven with a dominance of the brass and the percussion sections. What makes this score very special is again Jerry Goldsmith’s ability to combine the sound of the traditional symphonic orchestra with modern electronics.

“Total Recall” is the beginning of the very inspiring collaboration between Verhoeven and Goldsmith, and it is so sad that these two craftsmen did not work on more projects together. Jerry died, and Verhoeven seems to be not very welcomed in Hollywood anymore, but I am still sure that Hollywood could need a director like him because of his sense of visuals and drama and his ability to create highly action packed movies.

The best action track of the score is the second last one, “End of a Dream”. This track, now 25 years old, is still one of the best action tracks ever written, and after listening you will understand my critical comments about the action tracks in “Jurassic World”.

Copyright © Stefan Riedlinger, 2015, all rights reserved. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Stefan Riedlinger.

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