An amazingly prophetic satire that will be seen years hence in a class with Menzies’ Things to Come for sheer accuracy and verve of invention.
The new feudalism (cf. De Tocqueville) of the management revolution is portrayed by pushing the satire to an effective point. The rest hangs (separately or together) on this.
Delta City “on the ruins of old Detroit” is actually being built on the ruins of old Los Angeles, the architect is Enron’s favorite, Frank Gehry.
The poesy of Verhoeven’s film extends in one direction to Norman Mailer’s novel Ancient Evenings, in the other to Mel Brooks’ film Life Stinks.
Total Recall is a Platonic and Borgesian reading of The Martian Chronicles, which opens on a tiny detail in 2001: A Space Odyssey immediately shot through Woman in the Dunes to Deliverance. The McGuffin derives from Mirage and North by Northwest, with borrowings from Fellini’s Roma, the 1939 Hunchback of Notre Dame, Forbidden Planet, Seconds, The Stepford Wives, and The Ten Commandments.
Since Frankenheimer’s metaphor in Dead Bang was developed beyond the critics’ ability and the public’s intuition, Verhoeven turns it back upon itself, back to square one. His authoress is named Woolf like the joke in Albee’s play. His fierce MacGuffin is an ice-pick murder, the victim being a rock-and-roll star in retirement on the board of the Palace of Fine Arts.
Jerry Goldsmith’s score is certainly one of his most acute, genuinely Hitchcockian with a dynamism all his own. In one scene, Sharon Stone as Woolf toys with a Stella Stevens smile, and her Lesbian lover enters like Dorothy Malone, who later appears as the slaughterer of her own family.
Every detail of the suspense-murder format serves the theme in condensing perspectives that narrow down elegantly to a woman with an ice pick.
The film is equally balanced in strangeness between the shock troops of the Federation and the soldier or trooper-level insects of the adverse party, whose physiognomy seems impossible to resolve in motion. This unsettling treatment renders both sides, and both halves of the film (training and attack), visually active continuously, quite apart from the editing plan. Verhoeven uses CGI’s to their limits and even slightly beyond, because profusion is his stylistic aim, tempered by rapid cutting. This gives a complete artistic effect of saturation and continual variety.
The assault on the Federation outpost not only reflects Zulu, but also The Naked Jungle. Mysterious Island is evoked in the bareback ride on the giant beetle, a precise measure of skill in the direction of Harryhausen. Kubrick’s grandeur is a method of slowly realized compositions derived from many sources, Verhoeven works more rapidly but has the same instance of reflection in the character of Col. Jenkins, who in the course of the development appears finally to have an aspect of Pasha/Strelnikov in Doctor Zhivago, an aspect which resumes at the end of the film the strangeness of its beginning, and he is also recognizably an American officer of the WWII type, a vintage seen also in spaceships like destroyers at sea. One of these is cut across in half, a famous image which occurs (longitudinally) on the cover of the August 1929 issue of Air Wonder Stories, painted by Frank R. Paul, who for the July 1926 cover represented a Navy gun-crew at sea attempting to shoot down an incoming giant fly. Star Trek has an episode (“The Devil in the Dark”) closely related to the finale, as well as another (“Turnabout Intruder”) more or less tacitly implied from first to last.