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🎬 #44 Paul Verhoeven's Brutal Body.
I have vivid memories of me asking my brother to say when a scene was over so I could look back at the screen. And 90 percent of the time, that reaction was because it was a Paul Verhoeven film. Few filmmakers dominated the late 80’s and 90’s like Paul Verhoeven. His mix of action, brutal violence and sweat glistened, manipulated, bodies made him a force to be reckoned with when it came to the box office.
None more so than the two films this week.
Happy choosing, happy viewing.
FILM ONE: TOTAL RECALL
1990 Dir Paul Verhoeven
Quaid, played by Arnold, disguises himself in a kind of bio-mech woman mask to get through Mars immigration control, before the elaborate disguise malfunctions - then transforms into a bomb which he uses to make his escape. That moment alone, while embedded very clearly in our collective imagination… ‘two weeks,’ is reason enough to revisit Total Recall. It’s this mesh of bodily distortion, action and ground breaking practical visual effects [from Rob Bottin’s team] that makes the film such an iconic meld of science-fiction and action. This underpinned with a rising Martian rebellion and the thread of false memories and their role in identity gives the film more cerebral pause than you might expect or remember.
It’s the mix of practical puppetry and performance, with full scale duplicates of the key performers that makes Verhoeven’s particular blend of body horror stand out. From the above ‘open your mind’ scene, to Quaid removing a tracking device from his nostril to the dramatised effects of the Martian atmosphere on a human face - the director and his team pushed the boundaries of what was possible with moulds, latex and lots of lubricating jelly.
There is a visceral brutality to the way he treats the effects on the body. The tracking device pulled from a nostril isn’t just uncomfortably large, it’s face morphingly big. The globe shape pushing and protruding through Arnold’s prosthetic animatronic head. And Arnold’s trademark groans help to sell the pain of removing such a device. The theme of memory/identity manipulation totally lines up with the manipulation of skin, bone, tissue - the idea of who we are is as easily contorted, changed and disfigured as the physical shape of the body that holds these ideas in the first place.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 53 mins of my precious life watching this? Verhoeven’s iconic martian adventure puts Arnold through his paces as a man trying to remember who he really is while encountering some of the wildest prosthetic effects this side of The Thing.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon, YouTube, Sky Store and Apple TV.
Fact: Dan O’Bannon, writer of the original Alien, is credited for screen story. The film is adapted from the Philip K Dick short story ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.’ Bonus: The film also features a young Dean Norris as a member of the Martian colony.
FILM TWO: STARSHIP TROOPERS
1997 Dir Paul Verhoeven
Next up is Verhoeven’s satirical-fascist-space opera-coming-of-age-body-horror romance-extravaganza. A bunch of young idealists near the end of high school join the crusade to protect the earth from various forms of alien bug attacks. Casper Van Dien’s high school sweetheart leaps to a new social strata as a trainee pilot while he enters the titular infantry. Once there he and his gang of roughnecks come of age together, their bodies battered by the bugs plasma the way hormones might attack the typical teenagers.
They even have a mentor in the form of Michael Ironside’s hardcore Mr Rasczak, who leads them as a teacher in the classroom then later as a commander in the battle field. He’s there to guide them on their way to adulthood navigating their way via bodies changed by the war, bug-ooze soaked uniforms, and the kind of shared shower rooms that make up the location of the fantasies of many teenagers.
Verhoven, now 7 years after Total Recall, combines practical effects with CGI, for a startlingly violent vision of an almost postcard perfect world ravaged by war. There’s a quality there, the glossiness, the cleanness, neatness and the diffusion of light that makes it feel like a teenage soap opera. A very specific choice by Verhoeven to give us the aesthetic of a coming of age teen drama before its rocked by the gruesome reality of the war. It’s the clash of idyllic ideas of patriotism with the harsh guttural cries and the smell of boiled blood and torn bodies. Do you want to know more?
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hr 9 mins of my precious life watching this? Verhoeven’s brutal satire remains as fun and ghastly as it was on first viewing - giving a tale as old as time new vigour with the addition of a bug war.
*Available for free on Amazon Prime and Disney Plus and for a small rental fee on Rokuten TV and Sky Store.
Fact: This is reportedly Verhoeven’s favourite of his own films, and he was so committed to getting the actors comfortable with the nude shower scene that he and his DP also got naked.
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