By Gavin Salkeld
In the final article of Season Five, Cutting Edge will be looking at a particularly rare version of Paul Verhoeven's 1990 action classic Total Recall , starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is quite widely documented that Total
Recall was slightly cut to achieve an 'R' rating to satisfy the MPAA in the United States, thus avoiding the dreaded 'X' rating. This 'R'-rated version would go on to become the baseline theatrical version released throughout the world and as a result
we'll be referring to this version of the film as the "uncut version" going forward, since none of the 'X'-rated footage removed for an 'R' rating has been restored to the film as of 2019. It was this version of Total Recall that was submitted
to the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) in Australia, and the story behind their classification of the film is an interesting one.
New World Censors
Initially, the film was passed by the OFLC's Film Censorship Board with an 'R 18+' rating, which would restrict exhibition of the film to adults only, on June 4th, 1990 for:
"Very frequent violence"
At the time, the Australian censors said they:
"...were of the unanimous opinion that the film warranted the classification of R 18+ for its very frequent and relished acts of impactful violence,
both individually and cumulatively. Throughout the film there are graphic and at times highly realistic depictions of violence including ongoing fight sequences with heavy blows and kicks, the impaling of bodies, many close-up bullet wounds and
post-action visuals of very bloody wounds."
The film's Australian distributors, Columbia Tristar, were unhappy with this restrictive classification, and subsequently prepared a cut version of Total Recall in the hope of attaining an
'M 15+' rating; a rating that was not legally restricted and would therefore allow younger viewers access to the film. This cut version was successfully passed with an 'M 15+' on June 18th, 1990 with the OFLC noting that the film contained:
"Frequent Violence, Coarse Language"
Director Paul Verhoeven
on the set of Total Recall
However, it then became apparent that director Paul Verhoeven had signed a contract with the film's producers that prevented any version of Total Recall being released with cuts or alternations, so the 'M 15+' classification had to be withdrawn.
A New World Appeals Board
The only option remaining was for the distributors to appeal the original OFLC decision, which they did. The Film and Literature Board considered this appeal on June 28th, 1990, noting
"The distributors contended in a submission to the Board that the film's violence was "tongue-in-cheek" and not to be taken seriously... To say that the film is in no way to be regarded as a serious
work seemed to us disingenuous; the director presumably took the film seriously enough to forbid any cuts. But even if Total Recall were a manifestly frivolous film, its violence would still have formidable impact. It is frequent, intense and
Members of the Board of Review were in no doubt that it exceeded the limits of an 'M' classification. All of it was explicit; much of it was highly detailed, and some of it at least was relished. Both
individually and cumulatively the violent sequences contributed to a prevailing tone of ruthlessness and savagery. All members of the Board of Review agreed that Total Recall, in its uncut version, had been properly classified 'R' by the Film Censorship
Board, and accordingly affirmed the 'R' classification."
Director Approved Cuts
With Columbia Tristar refusing to release the uncut version, a second cut version of Total Recall was created, presumably with the approval of director Paul Verhoeven. This modified version removed some footage outright, but in the main utilized
alternate footage and camera angles of contentious shots that had been filmed for American television screenings. This version was submitted to the OFLC for classification on September 19th, 1990 and was passed with an 'M 15+' rating on October 16th.
During this period of appeal and the classification of a new cut version, Total Recall's American distributors disparaged Columbia Tristar's Australian outlet for not contesting the original 'R' rating more strongly, with both Paul Verhoeven and
Arnold Schwarzenegger letting their opinions be known to the OFLC via a series of faxed memos. In any event, the damage had already been done.
Cuts for an OFLC M Rating
What follows is a general
overview of the cuts made to Total Recall for the Australian 'M 15+' theatrical version when comparing it to the uncut 'R' version. The following observations are not intended to be a definitive account but should give an idea of the changes made to
Total Recall in Australia for its original theatrical release.
Cut Scenes: Harry's thugs harried
Firstly, we have the fight sequence between Arnold Schwarzenegger's character Quaid and Harry and his thugs. The cut Australian version reduced the explicit sight of
blood, particularly Quaid's blow to a thug's face and the subsequent bloody shooting into his torso.
Cut Scenes: Escalated censorship
The escalator shootout was another scene affected in the cut version. The sequence was already trimmed in the US, but the cut Australian version further reduced the sight
of bloody impact shots using numerous instances of alternate footage, as well are deleting the sight of Richter stepping on a dead body.
Cut Scenes: Rat splatter
Another scene cut for the 'M 15+' version concerned the shooting of a rat by Richter.
The censored Australian version removed the implicit suggestion of the rat being killed
using alternate footage that doesn't show its blood splattering on a monitor from off-screen.
Cut Scenes: Censorship of the Last Resort
The sight of Quaid unfolding a poster advertising The Last Resort on Venusville was also censored, with the 'M 15+' version reducing sight of the drawing of the
naked woman using careful cutaways.
Cut Scenes: Her cups runneth over
Following Quaid meeting the cab driver Benny, footage showing Benny briefly enjoying the company of the three-breasted prostitute Mary is present in the uncut version. The
cut Australian version simply removed this footage outright.
Cut Scenes: Breaking out in a sweat
Quaid is later confronted by Dr. Edgemar, who attempts to make Quaid swallow a pill that he claims will break Quaid out of his fantasy existence. In the cut Australian
version, the bloody bullet impact shot to Edgemar's head was removed, and a subtle, less-explicit shot of Quaid's bloody mouth after Lori hits him in the crotch was substituted in. Furthermore, after Melina shows up to rescue Quaid, shots of her gunning
down thugs were altered to remove or reduce splatter shots.
Cut Scenes: Quickie Divorce
Moments later, Quaid kills Lori. In the 'M 15+' cut, a few frames were removed from the very start of the shot showing the bullet impact into Lori's forehead.
Cut Scenes: Mutant Triplet Mary
Quaid and Melina flee to Venusville, pursued by Richter and his men. As Richter searches for them, the cut Australian version removed the sight of Mary exposing her breasts
to Richter; a woman in a red dress being shot in the torso; trimmed bloody impacts shots to various thugs; and reduced the sight of Helm's bloody shirt after he is stabbed (with the stabbing having already been reduced for the US 'R' version).
Cut Scenes: The Secret Tunnels of Mars
Later in the film, Quaid, Melina and Benny escape from more enemies into a secret tunnel. In the cut Australian version, edits were made to reduce the sight of bloody
impacts by trimming certain shots and using alternate footage.
Cut Scenes: Mutant Twin Kuato
Shortly afterwards, after Benny has killed George, Richter's killing of George's conjoined twin mutant Kuato removed the callous impact shot to Kuato's head in the 'M 15+'
Cut Scenes: Reprogrammers deprogrammed
Quaid and Melina are then taken to Cohaagen, the ruthless governor of the Mars colony, who decrees that their memories be reprogrammed. In the cut Australian version,
the sight of one technician being stabbed in the neck and his blood spurting onto Quaid's face was removed by using alternative, less bloody footage and the subsequent sight of another technician being smashed in the face by Quaid was similarly altered.
The explicit sight of a pole rammed into another technician's face by Quaid was deleted outright.
Cut Scenes: A bit less bloody
Benny's death at the hands of Quaid had also been trimmed for the MPAA. The 'M 15+' version used some less bloody footage of Quaid holding the drill, which doesn't show blood
dripping from the end of the tool.
Cut Scenes: A holo laugh
A little while later, Richter and his men fire upon a holographic representation of Quaid, before the real Quaid appears and shoots at Richter's henchmen. In the censored
Australian version, alternate angles were once again employed to reduce some of the bloody impact shots.
Cut Scenes: Unarmed combat
Following a hand-to-hand fight between Quaid and Richter on an elevator platform, the uncut version shows Quaid severing Richter's arms. This was another sequence tailored for an
'R' rating in the United States. The cut Australian version went much further and heavily reduced the gorier aspects of this scene by using alternative takes and less graphic camera angles.
Cut Scenes: Shooting the governor
A short while later, Cohaagen is gunned down by Melina. The 'M 15+' Australian version removed a few frames from the start of impact shots that show blood bursts. In other
words, blood is already visible on Cohaagen on each cut to him after he is shot, without the initial explosions of blood being visible.
Cut Scenes: Stalked
The last changes made for the Australian theatrical cut concerned Cohaagen's death on the surface of Mars. The 'M 15+' version reduced the final shot of Cohaagen dying, removing the
explicit sight of his eyeballs protruding horrifically from his skull.
A choice of versions on VHS
The 'M 15+' version
of Total Recall was later released on VHS in Australia, but the uncut 'R' rated version was also made available as well. This at least meant that Australians had a chance to see the uncut version that they had been denied in theaters. One wonders which
version of the film sold the most copies...
A mature compromise in 1993 and an MA 15+ for DVD and Blu-ray
At the time of Total Recall's theatrical classification in Australia, there was a large gap
between 'M 15+' (the equivalent of a 'PG-15' rating) and the 'R 18+' rating for adults. This would be rectified when the 'MA 15+' rating was introduced in May 1993, which legally restricted such films to audiences 15 and over, although under 15's could
attend with an adult. When Total Recall was resubmitted for a DVD classification in Australia in its uncut version, it was awarded an 'MA 15+' rating on December 5th, 2005 with the film's consumer advice noting that the film contained:
The film was also passed with an 'MA 15+' rating for a DVD release on July 19th, 2010 and again on Blu-ray on September 21st, 2012.
Perhaps one day an extended version of Total Recall which restores the footage removed from the film for the MPAA will surface. But as of 2019, Australian fans can own the film on Blu-ray without any of the cuts that were previously made to the
film for Australian audiences in the 1990s.
Cutting Edge Video, Season 5, Episode 61: Total Recall
To fully appreciate the magnitude of the cuts
discussed in this article, Cutting Edge recommends that readers watch the video version of this episode, which can be viewed on YouTube.