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Soundtrack review: Total recall (expanded) (Jerry Goldsmith – 1990)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Total recall (expanded) (Jerry Goldsmith – 1990)


“Total recall” is one of the 40 or so movies I claim are in my all-time top 10. If I narrow it to Sci-fi movies it’s probably right up there. I remember seeing it as a kid when it first came out and my mind was blown. My dad took me to see it and I remained impressed with the story and with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s personification of the hero. I loved Sci-fi as a kid (I still do) and the premise of the Philip K. Dick story was fascinating. I always watch it again with pleasure and I think I watch it at least once a year.

The music for this movie about a construction worker who is having troubling dreams about Mars and a mysterious woman there before finding out they were actually deleted memories of his life as a secret agent was written by Jerry Goldsmith. It’s Jerry, it’s 90s, it’s action; in fact it’s one of the most appreciated Jerry Goldsmith action scores ever. The problem with this is that I have almost never been able to connect with the 90s Jerry action sound. I found it too cold, too military and somehow devoid of emotion. Having recently listened to and enjoyed the expanded release of “Executive decision” I decided it was time to give “Total recall” which also received the expanded treatment at the end of 2015, another chance.

Since I watched the movie so many times I remember the music from it. I remember I liked the opening theme “The dream”. It’s Jerry’s usual military style but with an added melody that smoothes the edges and helps me enjoy the cue. Also I’ve heard this theme a lot and it’s familiar to me. As I listen more carefully to the score I slowly get sucked back in the unique and familiar atmosphere of the movie. The woodwind sections bring something special to the music, that question mark about reality versus dream. I am having an interesting reaction: I realize that my rejection of Jerry’s 90s action style doesn’t appeal to movies I love. The music makes sense. The music doesn’t need its own emotions as it borrows them from a story I know so well.

It’s unfair though to only attribute my enjoyment of the score to the connection I have with the movie. This is the composition that started that sound and it wasn’t yet very focused. Jerry Goldsmith played with ideas under the guidance of the story and the dream moments are paneled with care and intelligence. Cues like “Where am I?” and “Aftermath” illustrate perfectly the confusion of those sequences and basically include a secondary main theme for the movie.

Dreaming is but a small part of the ensemble. The score is all about the action and thrills and the use of the brass section is spectacular. The music is frantic and lively and I remember the relentless pace of the chase sequences from the movie. My favorite is “The massacre”. I like how almost every cue connects for me with the movie. It’s not as if I’m listening to separate pieces of music that would work very well on their own; no, I’m listening to the sound of “Total recall” with its highs and lows, its doubts and testosterone filled moments. I am listening to a musical story and I am enjoying both its power and subtlety.

Whenever people talk about this score and praise it they most often mention “The mutant” as their favorite cue. It’s rightfully so since this is where the emotion I was looking for resides. The wonderful melodic build up, the feeling of metamorphosis and even the sadness in this theme come together into a memorable cue. The musical explosion at the end marks a point of no return and as soon as it’s over I need to listen to it again.

Even for a non-believer like me “Total recall” is a masterpiece. I am happy that we get the chance to hear the expanded version and further explore this wonderful creation.

Cue rating: 88 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 39 / 77

Album excellence: 50%


The Dream

First Meeting

The Implant

Where Am I?

The Aftermath

Old Times Sake

A New Face

The Mountain

The Mutant

The Massacre

The Reactor / The Hologram

End of a Dream

A New Life

End Credits

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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