For All Mankind: Season 4

STREAMING REVIEW:

Apple TV+;
Sci-Fi;
Not rated.
Stars Joel Kinnaman, Krys Marshall, Coral Peña, Cynthy Wu, Edi Gathegi, Toby Kebbell, Tyner Rushing, Daniel Stern, Svetlana Efremova, Wrenn Schmidt.

One fascinating aspect of the alternate history series “For All Mankind” is tracking how much more the show delves into its science-fiction elements as the stories move further away from the fictional timeline’s divergence from our own reality.

The original “what if” premise of the series was to explore what would have happened with the American space program had the Soviet Union somehow won the race to land on the moon. The first season, taking place primarily in the early 1970s, pushed forward an answer that we simply would have raised the stakes of the Space Race, to not just land on the moon, but establish permanent bases there. The result was a sort of “Mad Men” in space that featured a mixture of fictional characters and real historical figures, while providing subtle social commentary by using the speculated changes in world events and political attitudes to shine a light back upon our own reality. The depiction of technology wasn’t too far astray from what actually existed at the time.

Season two, set in the early 1980s, and season three, set in the mid 1990s, continued to put this formula to excellent dramatic effect. Season two transferred escalating Cold War tensions to each side expanding their presence on the lunar surface, leading into season three’s race to be the first to land on Mars. In the show’s timeline, advancements in space sped up technological innovation by years if not decades, while ship and space station designs reflected ideas that in our reality never made it past the drawing board due to funding cuts.

But with its space hotels and Martian landers, the “For All Mankind” reality began to resemble what sci-fi movies and TV shows from 50 years ago such as 2001: A Space Odyssey had imagined the future would look like.

Season four thus gives the show a chance to pay off not only three seasons’ worth of story and character development, but 30 years of in-universe historical advancement. Set in 2003, the season finds the various spacefaring nations of the world and the mega-corporation Helios involved in a cooperative effort to manage Happy Valley, the first human settlement on Mars. The discovery of a mineral-rich asteroid passing through the solar system spawns an objective to attempt to capture it, but the intricacies of planning the mission expose years of dormant tensions between numerous factions on both planets.

Culture on Mars has developed a social hierarchy separating the administrators and the labor force, giving the season something of a Metropolis vibe.

The strength of the show’s writing is how it presents a situation, and then throws its established characters into the room to bounce off each other to see how the plot finds a resolution. It makes for compelling drama that pays off in a number of unexpected ways.

The season finale, which becomes available Jan. 12, provides not only a satisfying capper to the first four seasons of the show, but sets up exciting possibilities for the series should it continue into season five and beyond.

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Total Recall

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 12/8/20;
Lionsgate;
Sci-Fi;
$22.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Michael Ironside, Marshell Bell, Roy Brocksmith.

The latest edition of the 1990 sci-fi classic offers a new Ultra HD transfer and some engaging new retrospective bonus features that should please fans.

Based on Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story ‘We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” the film that eventually became Total Recall went through dozens of script revisions before ending up in the hands of director Paul Verhoeven, who had just had a massive success in the sci-fi/action genre with RoboCop.

At one point Richard Dreyfuss was attached to star, playing a meek accountant who awakens hidden memories that he is, in fact, a deadly secret agent. When Arnold Schwarzenegger signed on, the character was changed to a construction worker, as the writers felt a character played by the famed muscle-man would not be believable having a number-crunching desk job. (Interestingly, four years later in True Lies Schwarzenegger would play a secret agent pretending to be a boring family man.)

Verhoeven’s version, set in the late 21st century, involves Schwarzenegger’s Doug Quaid attempting to break from the monotony of his life by visiting Rekall, a company that specializes in implanting memories of exotic vacations. However, Quaid’s attempts to implant a trip to Mars seems to trigger a dormant memory that he’s actually a spy named Hauser working with a revolutionary movement at the colony on the red planet. The unsurfacing of these memories prompts the Martian administrator (Ronny Cox) to send a security team to subdue Quaid, who manages to stay one step ahead thanks to clues his alter ego left himself, but who also wonders if this whole adventure might be nothing more than a dream.

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Even after 30 years, the film holds up as a pulse-pounding actioner with sumptuous visuals, snappy quips and a fair share of laughs.

The film is filled with over-the-top violence, a particular trait of Verhoeven’s style. Ronny Cox, who was so effective as the heavy in RoboCop, takes on a similar role here. Legendary tough guy Michael Ironside, who plays the leader of the hit squad after Quaid, had been in line to play RoboCop before dropping out, Verhoeven said, but ended up working with the director here, as well as in 1997’s Starship Troopers. Meanwhile, Sharon Stone, a mainstay of bit parts throughout the 1980s, got a lot of attention playing Quaid’s supposed wife, leading to Verhoeven casting her in his 1992 thriller Basic Instinct, a role that would catapult her to superstardom.

According to Verhoeven on the film’s commentary, a planned sequel to Total Recall would have adapted Dick’s Minority Report and involved Schwarzenegger leading a team of psychics — mutated Martian colonists — to prevent crimes before they happen. Eventually Minority Report ended up a standalone movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise.

The 30th anniversary Blu-ray set of Total Recall features a new 4K transfer by StudioCanal overseen by Verhoeven. The image retains a fair amount of grain to retain that film look, while giving the color palette a bit more pop, particular the extensive use of red on Mars.

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Among the extras carried over from earlier home video presentations are a 23-minute featurette about the film’s innovating visual effects, which won a Special Achievement Academy Award (meaning it received so many more nominations than any other film that there was no point in actually voting for a winner along with the other categories). Also included are a vintage eight-minute making-of featurette that seems to have been produced to promote the film’s original theatrical release, and a 30-minute “Imagining Total Recall” behind-the-scenes featurette that first appeared on the film’s 2001 DVD.

Also carried over from that original DVD is Verhoeven’s commentary, which he shares with Schwarzenegger, making for an accent-heavy affair as they discuss the film’s development, its production tricks, story points, and working together.

Newly added for this Blu-ray release are the new hourlong documentary Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood, about the history of the film’s production company — a fun look back at some of the biggest action blockbusters of the 1980s and ’90s.

Also new is the 21-minute Open Your Mind: Scoring ‘Total Recall,’ a featurette in which several music experts discuss Jerry Goldsmith’s memorable score for the film. Finally, there’s the eight-and-a-half-minute “Dreamers Within the Dream: Designing Total Recall,” a look at the production design of the film from concept sketches to final product.

Not making the cut this time around from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases is a half-hour Verhoeven interview, Rekall vacation vignettes, photo gallerys, storyboard comparisons, and other featurettes, including “Visions of Mars.”

Netflix Cancels Hilary Swank Astronaut Series ‘Away’ After One Season

Netflix’s patience on original programming is wearing thin. The SVOD giant has reportedly pulled the plug on a second season of “Away,” the space exploration drama featuring Hilary Swank as an astronaut juggling family life with a historic mission to Mars.

The series has ranked high on Nielsen’s weekly top 10 streaming chart, topping out at No. 2 on the week of its Sept. 4 debut. Netflix reportedly bases a program’s worthiness on viewership versus cost of production. And “Away” was expensive, reportedly costing $6 million per episode, with the 10-episode first season taking a year to film and produce with partner Universal Television LLC.

Schwarzenegger’s ‘Total Recall’ on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Dec. 8

Lionsgate will release the 1990 sci-fi classic Total Recall on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray for the first time Dec. 8 in celebration of the film’s 30th anniversary.

The three-disc combo pack will include the film on both 4K and standard Blu-ray, plus a Blu-ray of additional bonus material.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven and inspired by the Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale, the film stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a construction worker on Earth in 2084 whose memory implant of a vacation to Mars awakens the dormant personality of a secret agent involved with revolutionary forces on the red planet. The cast also includes Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside, Sharon Stone and Ronny Cox.

Total Recall

The film has been restored by StudioCanal in 4K from a scan of the original 35mm negative. Supervised by Verhoeven, the restoration crew paid particularly high attention to preserving special-effects continuity. Total Recall was one of the earliest films to use computer-generated images for visual effects, winning a Special Achievement Oscar.

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The 4K Ultra HD disc will include the film in Dolby Vision with Dolby Atmos sound, plus commentary with Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven, the film’s trailer, the new documentary Total Excess: How Carolco Changed Hollywood, and the new featurettes “Open Your Mind: Scoring Total Recall” and “Dreamers Within the Dream: Developing Total Recall.”

The second disc will contain the film on regular Blu-ray, plus the commentary and the two new featurettes. Disc three will be a regular Blu-ray with the Carolco documentary, the trailer, and previously released extras including the documentary “Imagining Total Recall” and the featurettes “The Making of Total Recall” and “Total Recall: The Special Effects.”

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A version of the combo pack in Steelbook packaging will be available exclusively at Best Buy.

Best Buy’s ‘Total Recall’ Steelbook