Jerry Goldsmith's Total Recall soundtrack (1990) was released the same year as his "Gremlins 2" and "The Russia House" scores. The soundtrack was nominated for “best music“ (Saturn award), but even such a significant prize was to be an understatement. Acutally, it is safe to state that Total Recall is probably one of the best action-movie scores ever composed, and deserves to be shelved next to Goldsmith’s Alien (1979) and Basic Instinct (1992) scores. Goldsmith introduces such a powerful orchestration into Verhoeven’s movie that it becomes clear that both artists are inseparable from the experience as a whole. It almost sounds as if Goldsmith had managed to cannon his orchestral clashes through machine-gun turrets, fiercely spitting metallic clanging, electronic drones, and heart-pounding instrumentation; although Verhoeven's movies work on a higher level than most action films because of their manipulative satire, Total Recall would not have that special "edge" if it wasn't for the help of Jerry Goldsmith's music.
Total Recall's opening track "The Dream" scores both the opening credits and the first scene of the movie. It is low-key compared with the rest of the soundtrack, but establishes Total Recall's mood with its percussive clanging, soaring horns, and high-pitched synthesized theme. This main theme is repeated in small patches throughout the entire soundtrack, such as in tracks "First Meeting", "Secret Agent", and "Lies". However, the theme is never replicated using the same time signatures or even the same instrumentation; composers scoring action movies should take note. Goldsmith also employs an array of quirky electronics; these almost sound like old 8-bit patterns from the classic computer game Doom (1993), and help create that strange atmosphere required for the film’s locations. Although this may sound peculiar, it works wonderfully alongside Goldsmith's orchestral resonance. Tracks "The Implant", "The Aftermath", "The Nose Job" and "The Space Station" introduce dark and seductive pools of sinister instruments; these have more in common with Goldsmith's latter Basic Instinct score.
"For Old Times' Sake" and "Clever Girl" are monstrous chase-scene themes; energetic and ferocious, as well as subtle and contained, they illustrate the depths of Goldsmith's imagination, with criss-crossing time signatures, blazing horns, trembling violins, fleeting electronics, and tireless percussive patterns. It is no small wonder that Goldsmith has such a reputation for chase scenes among the musical press. “Remembering” and “The Mutant” are the emotional backbone to the movie; “Remembering” sways between heavy brass horns and dreamlike keyboard sequences, while “The Mutant” is a beautiful choir of wind instruments and ambient drones, symbolic of the main character’s plight and all of the mysterious questions and fascinating concepts that arise from his adventures. The spellbinding “End of a Dream” track is yet another example of Goldsmith’s vision, providing us with both the thundering orchestration of his earlier chase scenes, and the surreal beauty of tracks such as “The Mutant”; all of this comes together into 6 minutes of electrifying intensity, before giving way to a romantic sunrise of string sections and soft harp: “A New Life”.
Total Recall is a little gem of a soundtrack and comes highly recommended for those who appreciate both Verhoeven’s movie and powerful scores in general. This review is based on the “Deluxe” edition, a.k.a the 10th Anniversary edition, which can be found at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.