Part action, part comedy and part mind game, 1990’s Total Recall took us on a fast-paced, entertaining ride that left audiences mostly satisfied and somebody’s pockets full ($261,299,840). The film holds up surprisingly well—with minimal special effects and only one CGI blip—it reminds us that less can indeed be more.
1. Total Recall is based on Philip K. Dick’s 1966 short story, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. The film was directed by Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers, Showgirls [now that’s a resume]), who said there were “about thirty versions of the script before he got it.” Verhoeven brought in Gary Goldman (Big Trouble in Little China, Navy Seals) to do additional script work. The end product is credited to Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon and Gary Goldman, with the mutants having been added by an uncredited David Cronenberg.
2. Stuck in development hell since the early 80s, the film passed from director to director (Dino De Laurentiis and David Cronenberg) and at different times was to be headlined by Richard Dreyfuss, John Hurt and Jeff Bridges. Originally in the screenplay, Quaid/Hauser (Schwarzenegger) was an accountant, but because that didn’t seem to fit Arnold’s personality, the character was changed to a construction worker.
3. After doing Red Heat, Schwarzenegger wanted to make another film with Carolco (Pictures [First Blood and the Rambo series, Terminator and Terminator 2]) and because he was interested in the story, followed the script’s journey. When De Laurentiis “got into financial trouble,” Arnold called him and asked if the director would sell the movie; De Laurentiis said he would, Schwarzenegger called Carolco and within hours, they owned the production. Calling Verhoeven “the greatest,” Arnold asked the director to do the film.
4. The opening scene was shot in Churubusco, (Mexico City). Because there was no money left for these scenes shot at the end of filming, everything (aside from the people) is special effects. It was done on blue screen, on a stage about as big as a basketball court.
5. Bulging-eyed Arnold was a puppet, as was the Arnold at the very end of the scene in which Quaid removes a tracking device from his nose (for which ten puppeteers were required). Verhoeven remarked that today (2001) digital effects would have been used, but they didn’t have them at the time. The puppets were created by Rob Bottin and his Effects Crew (King Kong , Se7en, The Fog, The Thing , Legend, The Howling, Mimic).
6. Originally there was supposed to be a trip to Mars filmed, but again, because of budget constraints, the “Get your ass to Mars” transition was devised. A miniature spaceship and scene was created by Visual Effects Supervisor Eric Brevig (Men in Black, The Day After Tomorrow, Pearl Harbor).
7. Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone (Lori) rehearsed their opening scene together at the famous Bellagio Hotel; Arnold wondered if people thought it was strange when two guys (Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven) and a girl went up to a room together—apparently he had never heard about Vegas. The director wanted Stone to take off more clothes, but “she was a little timid.”
8. Verhoeven said he played up the idea that there were two possible realities throughout the film. For example, Lori could be good—just a wife ticked off that her husband isn’t dreaming about her—or she could be with the “bad guys.” Quaid may be interested in Mars because he’s already remembering something he shouldn’t be remembering, or he just has an obsession with Mars. Co-worker Harry (Robert Costanzo) could be a nice guy warning Quaid because the implant could make Quaid crazy or Harry could be an agent, trying to make sure Quaid’s memory doesn’t come back. The audience has to keep guessing what is real or not.
9. Schwarzenegger loved the scene of McClane (Ray Baker) trying to sell Quaid the idea of Rekall, “He’s like a used car salesman who no matter what he’s asked, already has the perfect answer because he already knew the question.” Coincidentally, Verhoeven specified to Casting that they, “Find someone who could be working in car sales.” Though the audience doesn’t pay much attention—it’s just a salesman’s pitch—at the end of the scene, McClane tells Quaid everything that is going to happen in the movie. Later, Dr. Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith) has a scene where he also tells Quaid/the audience everything that will happen in the film’s final chapter.
10. Verhoeven chose Mexico City for its architecture, with many of the buildings like the military academy done in a style called “New Brutalism,” which features rough, blocky buildings, often made of concrete. The location helped give the film an air of being sometime in the future and visually took the audience to some unknown universe. When sets had to be built, the style was copied to fit in with the local architecture.
11. Continuing with the two possible realities, in the scene where Quaid starts describing the woman he wants, she could be a fantasy or a woman he already remembers. As he becomes more specific in his description, the woman would seem to be Melina (Rachel Ticotin). Verhoeven asserted that from that moment on, as Quaid falls asleep, everything is a dream. The next scene, which seems to be the machine, is part of the dream with elements shown to him built in, to make it look as if it is true. The schizoid embolism is part of the dream. The audience thinks it is real that Quaid wants to break out; it looks like something went wrong, but it’s all part of the dream.
12. The cars were designed by Conceptual Artist Ron Cobb (Alien, Aliens, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Abyss, “Firefly, Amazing Stories”) and the robots by Rob Bottin.
13. Both Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven remarked on how Sharon Stone enjoyed the physical fighting scenes; the actress kept asking if she could do more takes. Because of Stone’s ability (in Total Recall) to convincingly go from charming to diabolical, Verhoeven came up with the idea of casting her in his next film, Basic Instinct.
14. This escalator scene (shot in an actual underground location in Mexico City) is one of several in which the violence was edited to change the film’s initial MPAA X rating to R.
15. Michael Ironside (Richter) was supposed to have been in Robocop, but he and Verhoeven “disagreed too much.” Ironside did work with the director again on Starship Troopers, as did Marshall Bell (George/Kuato). Ronnie Cox (Cohaagen) also played a corporate villain in Robocop.
16. According to Verhoeven, Total Recall is one of the first films to use digital effects—by MetroLight Studios—for the x-ray sequences.
17. In the bridge scene with the alien reactor, what we see past the bridge (where it stops) is either matte painting or miniatures. For wide shots and the people, a very old technique (used for King Kong) was employed; the shot is filmed and then projected inside a miniature. Miniatures were also used in the space scene transition to Mars.
18. Schwarzenegger cut his hand badly enough to require stitches when the subway glass failed to “pre-explode” by detonator on time—instead, the actor put his hand through the glass and then the glass exploded. Arnold also broke his finger in a fight scene.
19. Part of this scene (woman stretching her mouth) was the woman actress and part was puppet.
Verhoeven said Kuato being conjoined to George was not in Dick’s story, but rather an original idea written in the script (probably by Goldman). The Kuato puppet was built on Marshall Bell, a process which took five to six hours and left Bell unable to use the bathroom while it was attached. Each of Kuato’s movements was handled by different puppeteers. Verhoeven mentioned that he regretted not cutting out Kuato being shot in the head. Editor, Frank J. Urioste told Verhoeven to keep it in, but then years later (after seeing it on television) told the director he was right—it should have been cut.
20. Though initially, neither Verhoeven nor Schwarzenegger wanted to do a sequel (Verhoeven believed that Quaid was lobotomized), scriptwriter Gary Goldman optioned another Dick story, The Minority Report, which he planned to direct himself. Goldman went to Verhoeven to see if the director would Executive Produce his film and the two agreed that the story could work as Total Recall 2. (Total Recall makes reference to mutants being clairvoyant/psychic). Goldman’s film never came to fruition, but the script was adapted by another writer and made its way to Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg, who eventually made Minority Report as a standalone feature.
A remake is in the works with Director Len Wiseman (Underworld, Live Free or Die Hard) at the helm, starring Colin Farrell as Quaid/Hauser, Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen, Jon Cho as McClane, Kate Beckinsdale as Lori, Jessica Biel as Melina and Bill Nighy as Kuato.
Cindy Davis is Earthbound.