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Section Header
Total Recall
Composed and Produced by:
Harry Gregson-Williams

Conducted by:
Gavin Greenway

Orchestrated by:
Alastair King
David Butterworth

Additional Music by:

Madison Gate Records

Release Date:
July 31, 2012

Also See:
Total Recall (1990)
The Taking of Pelham 123
The Island

Audio Clips:
4. The Tripping Den (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

10. Car Chase Pt. 1 (0:29):
WMA (193K)  MP3 (239K)
Real Audio (168K)

17. Gravity Reversing (0:31):
WMA (204K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

20. It's Hard to Believe, Isn't It? (0:30):
WMA (202K)  MP3 (254K)
Real Audio (179K)

Initially a download-only release, available solely through iTunes. A "CDr on demand" option through was made available in late August, 2012.


Total Recall

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Sales Rank: 17646

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Buy it... if you have an established taste for Harry Gregson-Williams' heavily manipulated thumping, clicking, and grinding thriller style that predictably uses secondary organic backing for occasional warmth.

Avoid it... if you expect to hear anything relating to or competing with Jerry Goldsmith's tremendous score for the 1990 adaptation of the same concept, Gregson-Williams' approach to this remake sadly forced towards the purpose of generic background propulsion.

Total Recall (2012): (Harry Gregson-Williams/Various) Bankrupt of new ideas, Columbia Pictures announced in 2009 that it would produce a remake of the campy 1990 fan favorite movie, Total Recall. Although California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did express interest in reprising his prior role in the remake, the 2012 version of the concept strayed away from him, the levity he brought to the story, and, for that matter, Philip K. Dick's actual 1966 idea that loosely inspired both films. The 1990 movie represented a breakthrough in special effects that at least attempted to be loyal to the Dick story, gaining respect over time as an infectious, emotionally involving display of grotesque violence with kinky undertones. While there were socialistic elements to the Paul Verhoeven film, they were nowhere near the emphasis seen in the 2012 remake, which essentially removes the alien and space-related aspects of Dick's tale and replaces them with Earthbound political commentary. The brazen fun of the 1990 movie is jettisoned to make room for what essentially plays like a knock-off of Minority Report, a constant chase involving fragmented memories, untrustworthy people, and futuristic flying cars. Critics did not warm to Len Wiseman's Total Recall, and audiences failed to make it the overwhelming box office success that the 1990 film had been. One of the greatest assets of the prior Total Recall, of course, was a tremendously entertaining score by Jerry Goldsmith, who was at the later heights of his career at the time. There is no doubt that the two versions of Total Recall differ in personality and execution, and the music written by Goldsmith may not have fit at all in the context of the remake. But this is a good opportunity to examine how music functions in movies at a fundamental level, for you have here a dichotomy between introverted and extroverted methodology that illuminates a shift in how Hollywood filmmakers want music to function in their post-2000 movies. What Goldsmith wrote was clearly an extroverted score, wearing its themes on its sleeve and balancing grandiose harmonic statements of wonder with his trademark flair for rhythmic gravitas and synthetic augmentation of a primarily symphonic soundscape. Conversely, the remake, handled by Tony Scott thriller veteran Harry Gregson-Williams, is served with a comparatively introverted score that was meant to enhance the sound effects of the movie in a way that primarily focuses on background propulsion.

You can't really fault Gregson-Williams for this radical shift in Hollywood's use of music in blockbuster movies that feature chases, but you can be sure that Goldsmith's shadow looms large over the music for 2012's Total Recall nevertheless. One could say that the two scores represent the composers "naturally doing what they do best," and the remake effort certainly does resemble Gregson-Williams' prior thriller works and all the norms of the industry from which such music borrows regularly in the 2010's. You can hear pieces of many of the composer's similar scores in Total Recall, ranging from Man on Fire to Unstoppable. Despite the fact that he had five months to toil with this assignment, the result of his efforts is functional but pedestrian. As in many times before, he didn't tackle the project alone, utilizing ghostwriters and reuniting once again with the Welsh electronica/dance group Hybrid. His emphasis was on rhythmic flow, stating, "A movie like this has a pulse running through it and the music has a pulsating beat that's never at rest." Over this constant sense of movement, Gregson-Williams did manage to concoct some themes, though he made the conscious choice to keep them rather ambiguous as a representation of the confused state of reality in the story. As such, you don't really make many connections between his motifs until late in the score. Nothing from Goldsmith's work survives, though there may be an intentional reference to his mini "discovery" motif (consisting of two rising notes from minor to major) in 2012's vastly inferior version of "The Dream." Rather than illuminate his thematic connections to each character and place (musical ties that do actually exist), Total Recall spends most of its length tearing through highly manipulated electronic rhythms with orchestral string and brass recordings in a secondary role. This setup is hardly new, the strings alternating between melodramatic interludes and the John Powell-inspired ostinato techniques favored by filmmakers during this time. The brass is relegated to accent work for the weightier passages, though "Gravity Reversing" does infuse some flair from the upper ranges. As usual for Gregson-Williams, the tempered drama supplied by soft strings for character depth is joined in several cues by solo piano, closing out the action in "The Fall Collapses." A light, rather inconsequential choir also enters in "Gravity Reversing," and solo vocal effects and vaguely Eastern-sounding elements are sometimes explored far in the background of the mix.

The personality of Gregson-Williams' music for Total Recall, however, is dominated by the expected, obnoxiously applied electronic effects. Some listeners will be so overwhelmed by the composer's normal array of samples that the organic part of the mix will be completely irrelevant. This is, especially in its first half, a predominantly industrial score, emulating Paul Haslinger to such an extent that there are clear shades of Underworld in the deeply keyboarded motif heard in "Hand Call" and "Train to Matthias." Hints of vintage Vangelis are also audible as Blade Runner is teased at 1:10 into "Customs." Even the moments of bolder orchestral thematic expression, such as the generic three-note theme of doom heard at 2:05 into "Car Chase Pt. 1" and 2:00 into "Elevator Chase," are harshly rendered to the point where some might consider them synthetic. The plethora of clicking and groaning noises, often emulating the sound of electricity in pure Gregson-Williams fashion, is tiring, and one has to once again wonder if the time has come to finally put to rest the industry's usage of beloved reverb manipulation. Two sound effects exist throughout Total Recall that resemble the worst of modern film scoring, both in this case descending tones meant to give you that "sinking feeling." The first of these two hails from Danny Elfman's Planet of the Apes and drills down through the bass region in many cues, most irritatingly at the start of "Up Top Flight." The other is the "failing aircraft engine" heard at the start of "The Tripping Den" that sounds like a Star Wars prequel spaceship effect and serves a similar purpose. On top of these, you have a variety of likely Hybrid-informed rhythmic bombardments of sampled noises that are all ambience and no substance (the first half of "The Tripping Den" is truly devoid of greater purpose). You have to exercise tremendous patience to survive the first third of the score on album and explore the thematic elements bolstered by the organic instruments that follow. There is not a total lack of redemption in this score, and even if you are repulsed by Gregson-Williams' frightfully generic tackling of the thriller genre (he has arguably never achieved Spy Game quality in the years between that and Total Recall), you will find some enjoyment in "The Scar on Your Hand," "Train to Matthias," and the final cues. The composer collects his tonally pleasing ideas for one easy statement of coolness in "It's Hard to Believe, Isn't It?," though while this cue is to Total Recall what "My Name is Lincoln" was to Steve Jablonsky's The Island, the reading on the guilty pleasure meter isn't anywhere close to the same.

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Ultimately, Gregson-Williams provided the music that 2012's Total Recall basically demanded, whether by the necessity of its personality or the directive of its filmmakers. For a bleak, technologically oppressive chasing scenario, he wrote bleak, technologically oppressive chase music. The composer's fans will be satisfied with the loyalty to his established thriller techniques. But there is a larger question here, and it speaks to the role of a soundtrack in a movie. In Gregson-Williams' day, film scores are expected to enhance the narrative in an ambient sense, utilized in no greater role than any other technical aspect of a science fiction movie's production. In Jerry Goldsmith's day, there was the belief that film scores in such circumstances needed to bridge the gap between the foreign concepts on screen and the hearts of audience members. For 1990's Total Recall, Goldsmith did just that, writing music that was based upon familiar symphonic tones and rhythms to compensate for the outrageously bizarre story. As such, you cared about the characters and the people of Mars. There was gripping awe in his cues, the type of majesty that forces filmmakers to place the music at the forefront of the mix for lengthy periods of time during key special effects shots. Conversely, 2012's Total Recall doesn't afford a composer like Gregson-Williams any such opportunity, nor does he make overt gestures of emotional connectivity throughout the score to help the audience care about the characters. When you read the many negative reviews of this movie referencing a lack of interest in the characters and their circumstances, the music is partly to fault. Both Goldsmith and Gregson-Williams utilized synthetic and organic blends in their handling of the concept (Goldsmith's mastery of this balance was often brilliant), but the resulting effect on the audience couldn't be more different. Before concluding this review, a word has to be said about remakes and their soundtracks in general. Hollywood needs to remember that the movies worth remaking, though few, were often celebrated because of their music. No greater example was Conan the Barbarian, and when Tyler Bates insulted the late Basil Poledouris with his wretched remake score in 2011, producers should have taken notice. Gregson-Williams doesn't disgrace Goldsmith to the same degree, but there is no question that film music listeners will vastly prefer the original due to the remake score's comparatively pedestrian personality. Imagine the diluted music that will someday accompany a probable remake of The Matrix, among others. As for 2012's Total Recall, the download-only product (a "CDr on demand" option from did eventually materialize) is a disappointment most measures, especially when inevitably compared to its predecessor. ** Price Hunt: CD or Download

Bias Check:For Harry Gregson-Williams reviews at Filmtracks, the average editorial rating is 2.94 (in 32 reviews)
and the average viewer rating is 3.01 (in 50,729 votes). The maximum rating is 5 stars.

 Viewer Ratings and Comments:  

Regular Average: 1.85 Stars
Smart Average: 2.12 Stars*
***** 18 
**** 18 
*** 32 
** 68 
* 166 
  (View results for all titles)
    * Smart Average only includes
         40% of 5-star and 1-star votes
              to counterbalance fringe voting.
   Re: What adversion does C.C. have with elec...
  Edmund Meinerts -- 1/29/14 (4:35 a.m.)
   What adversion does C.C. have with electron...
  Ryan MV -- 4/25/13 (9:00 a.m.)
   Re: We miss you, Jerry
  Bernardo -- 8/13/12 (4:05 a.m.)
   Except not a quarter as good! *NM*
  Edmund Meinerts -- 8/12/12 (6:06 p.m.)
   Jerry is the best composer! Total recall is...
  Isaac -- 8/12/12 (2:31 p.m.)
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 Track Listings: Total Time: 56:22

• 1. The Dream (3:35)
• 2. The Fall (2:11)
• 3. Colony (1:56)
• 4. The Tripping Den (2:50)
• 5. Rekall (2:51)
• 6. Rooftop Chase (2:23)
• 7. Hand Call (2:50)
• 8. The Vault (4:50)
• 9. Customs (1:40)
• 10. Car Chase Pt. 1 (2:44)
• 11. Car Chase Pt. 2 (1:34)
• 12. The Key (1:24)
• 13. The Scar on Your Hand (4:15)
• 14. Elevator Chase (5:21)
• 15. Train to Matthias (4:03)
• 16. Saving Melina (2:35)
• 17. Gravity Reversing (2:19)
• 18. Up Top Fight (2:52)
• 19. The Fall Collapses (1:35)
• 20. It's Hard to Believe, Isn't It? (2:34)

 Notes and Quotes:  

The insert includes no extra information about the score or film. As in many of's "CDr on demand" products, the packaging smells incredibly foul when new.

  All artwork and sound clips from Total Recall are Copyright © 2012, Madison Gate Records. The reviews and other textual content contained on the site may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Filmtracks Publications. Audio clips can be heard using RealPlayer but cannot be redistributed without the label's expressed written consent. Page created 8/10/12 (and not updated significantly since). Review Version 5.1 (PHP). Copyright © 2012-2015, Christian Clemmensen (Filmtracks Publications). All rights reserved.