April 8, 2014

Preview: Paul Verhoeven at Cornell Cinema, Apr. 11

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This Friday at Cornell Cinema, world-renowned filmmaker Paul Verhoeven, director of Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, and RoboCop will introduce his 1990 sci-fi cult classic Total Recall. The film was produced in the haze of Arnold Schwarzenegger glory, after the former bodybuilder and future California governor was at the zenith of his star-power in the Terminator films and other action shoot-em-ups. It’s based on the story by Philip K. Dick, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, and features interplanetary exploration, a corporation that sells implanted memories, and an evil agency that can be thought of as a precursor to the agents in The Matrix.

Set in 2084, the plot centers on Doug Quaid (Schwarzenegger), who is haunted by memory-like dreams of his being a secret agent stationed on Mars and a mysterious dark-haired woman. He buys a memory implant from Rekall Inc. but wanders into some information that prompts other members of the agency to hunt him down. There is a revelation later on in the plot that somebody close to him also happens to be working for the organization. Sharon Stone also stars as Quaid’s wife, demonstrating much of the effortless allure she would later become famous for in films like Casino and Verhoeven’s own Basic Instinct.

Verhoeven’s films are great guilty pleasures — many of them classics from the ’80s and Æ90s. They blend social satire and surprising depth with blood, gore, and ironic comedy. A strong example is RoboCop, in which the detestable villain — played by the always enjoyable Kurtwood Smith — and his henchmen, riddle the hero with bullets before he is resuscitated into the robotic cop of the film’s title. It’s one of the few movies in which we really hate the bad guys; they are mustache-twisting evildoers who delight in causing mayhem and destruction, and we want to see them die terrible deaths. When they get their comeuppance at the end, we are only too glad to watch. There’s also the weirdly funny and grossly violent death of a corporate member at the hands of an enforcement droid. Blink and you can easily miss the stinging satire the film is affecting.

Courtesy of TriStar Pictures