1990s to 2010s American science fiction and fantasy movies that have been censored for more commercially friendly classifications.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven / 1990 / USA / IMDb
On 4 June 1990, TOTAL RECALL received an R (Very frequent violence). It was said to be:
At 104-minutes, it was around nine minutes shorter than an uncut running time. A PAL VHS was a likely source as the OFLC reported it under ‘Classifications assigned to films for sale/hire’. In addition, it may have been an unfinished print.
A censored 109-minute 35mm print dropped it to M (Frequent violence, Coarse language) on 18 June. The violence and language were:
Despite the lower rating, ‘contractual agreements’ forced Hoyts Fox Columbia Tristar Films to go back and appeal the uncut R-rating.
June 28, 1990
Classify ‘R’ by the Film Censorship Board
TOTAL RECALL, a futuristic science-fiction adventure starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, was classified ‘R’ by the Film Censorship Board because of its violence. A modified version was submitted by the film’s Australian distributors and classified M’. It was subsequently discovered that contractual agreements between the director and the producers of the film prevented any version being screened with cuts or modifications. The modified version was therefore withdrawn and an appeal lodged against the original ‘R’ classification. This appeal was considered by the Film and Literature Board of Review.
The distributors contended in a submission to the Board that the film’s violence was “tongue-in-cheek” and not to be taken seriously; that the film was pure fantasy in keeping with the comic-strip characters usually portrayed by Schwarzenegger; and that the violence was no more likely to seem real than that of many cartoons.
TOTAL RECALL is an expensive film. The special effects are elaborate. The production values are impressive. It is true that the story has a comic-strip flavour, but its tone is by no means light-hearted. The film depicts a fashionably pessimistic view of the future – a world of greater greed and violence unmitigated by greater technological prowess. The action is menacing rather than escapist, and there is a message of sorts at the end. 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 calculated.
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. Some of us felt though such judgements, of course, are ones for the director – that the film would have been no less successful if the violence had been less pronounced. Others of us who enjoyed TOTAL RECALL for its spectacle and technical accomplishment, and might have been tempted to treat such a commercially ambitious and potentially popular film with greater indulgence, were nevertheless mindful of the film’s power to disturb and its possible effects on young audiences.
All of us agreed that TOTAL RECALL, in its uncut version, had been properly classified ‘R’ by the Film Censorship Board, and accordingly we affirmed the ‘R’ classification.– Films Board of Review report
In October 1990, a 112-minute 35mm TOTAL RECALL passed as M (Frequent violence, Coarse language).
Paul Verhoeven’s ‘contractual agreement’ against a modified version appears to have changed as it finally opened theatrically in December 1990.
In June 1991, Columbia Tristar Hoyts Home Video issued both M and R versions on tape.
The spine of the R listed it as ‘Total Recall (Uncut R Version)’ while a star on the cover advised ‘M rated version also available’.
Sell-through releases on CEL Home Video followed in July 1992.
May 29, 1992– CEL Home Video
Cinema version (M-rated) and the special-release R-rated version.
Both versions of TOTAL RECALL are available in this release. The original cinema release, the M-rated version, is available at 104 minutes, while the R-rated version runs at 109 minutes and contains spectacular, previously edited scenes.
The remainder of the 1990s saw several other sell-through editions.
What’s cut? M vs. R
According to Cutting Edge, the M-rating ‘…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’.
In December 2005 and July 2010, Universal Pictures received MA15+ (Strong Violence) ratings for ‘Special Edition’ DVDs.
An ‘Ultimate Rekall Editionl’ Blu-ray received the same in September 2012.
The classification matrix described,
Strong impact: violence
Moderate impact: language, nudity, sex
None: themes, drug use
The consumer advice changed to MA15+ (Strong violence and sex scenes) for a ‘Classics Remastered’ Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD in October 2020.
The classification matrix increased to,
Strong impact: violence, sex
Moderate impact: themes, language, nudity
Mild impact: drug use
Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment submitted both.
MPAA X-rated footage
In the US, the MPAA initially awarded TOTAL RECALL an X, leading it to be cut. The IMDb has details of the modifications.
The footage remains unrestored, possibly lost, so the MPAA R-rated print remains the worldwide default ‘uncut’ version.