Total Recall is a 1990 Academy Award-winning American science fiction film. The film features Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone, based on the Philip K. Dick story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale". The film was directed by Paul Verhoeven and written by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Jon Povill, and Gary Goldman. It won a Academy Special Achievement Award for its visual effects.
At the time of its production, Total Recall had the largest authorized budget for a film produced by a Hollywood studio. The film’s success confirmed Schwarzenegger as a major box office draw and launched Sharon Stone’s career scoring her a role in the hugely successful Basic Instinct, in 1992, also directed by Verhoeven and produced by Carolco.
After the procedure starts, Quaid has a violent outburst and tries to break free, yelling incoherently about people who are coming to kill him. At first, it seems as though he was merely acting out the “spy” portion of the memory implant; however, when it’s confirmed that they hadn’t implanted the memories yet, the doctors at Rekall realize that they are real memories, and someone else had previously erased his memory. After narrowly subduing him, Quaid is returned home with no memories of ever going to Rekall, but then he is attacked by his friends and even his wife, Lori. She tells him that everything he remembers, including their marriage, is false; memories implanted less than two months before. While evading his assailants, he receives a phone call from someone claiming to be a former friend of his who had been asked to deliver a briefcase if he ever disappeared. The briefcase contains false IDs, money, weapons, devices, and a video player, containing a video disk he left to himself beforehand. Watching it, Quaid starts piecing together his past on Mars as a secret agent. Pursued by Richter, a man working for Mars’ administrator, Vilos Cohaagen, Quaid travels to Mars to discover the truth.
On Mars, Quaid finds out that Cohaagen rules an airtight city via his monopoly of air production, and that the poor workers in the city’s slums have been turned into mutants from living within cheaply-produced domes that do not adequately shield against cosmic rays, which Mars’ thin atmosphere does not shield against. He soon makes several allies, a cabbie named Benny and the woman from his dreams, Melina, who reveals that his name is actually Hauser and that he used to be one of Cohaagen’s men but then switched sides and tried to join the underground resistance.
Quaid is later confronted by Lori and Dr. Edgemar, the man from the Rekall commercials, who try to convince him that the adventure he’s been having, his experiences to this point and his future as the leader of mutant resistance have been part of the “vacation” he bought at Rekall. Quaid is now trapped in the ego trip and needs to let them help him recuperate from his paranoia episode. Edgemar offers him a pill to wake up to the truth, the alternative being lobotomization, since he’s still hallucinating in the Rekall facilities. Quaid is almost convinced until he notices that the doctor is sweating with anxiety. Quaid shoots the doctor in the head, before a group of hitmen storm the room and capture him. Melina arrives shortly after and shoots the hitmen, killing them all, but is then disarmed by Lori. The two engage in a vicious fight. Quaid recovers and shoots Lori, killing her.
Melina and Quaid flee and eventually meet resistance leader Kuato, who is revealed to be a mutant growing out of his own brother’s abdomen. With Kuato’s psychic help, Quaid sees a mysterious alien machine in the Martian mines, but then Cohaagen’s forces storm the resistance hideout. Kuato is killed and Quaid and Melina are captured, with the help of Benny, who is actually a traitor. Cohaagen then reveals that Hauser willingly had his mind wiped in order to gain Kuato’s trust; the whole incident, with the exception of Richter’s maniacal pursuit of Quaid and Quaid’s activation at Rekall, was planned. To convince Quaid that this is true, Cohaagen provides another video that Quaid’s alter ego, Hauser, left for himself. Cohaagen reveals that he has decided to eliminate the rebels by cutting off the air supply to their section of the city. He orders Quaid’s mind to be restored to Hauser’s and Melina’s mind be altered to be subservient to Quaid.
Quaid refuses to go back to being Hauser, and manages to escape with Melina. They hurry to reach the alien machine and activate it. Quaid kills Richter and Benny on the way. Quaid activates the machine over Cohaagen’s protests that it will destroy the planet. In the struggle to activate the machine, Cohaagen is ejected onto the airless surface of Mars where he dies of asphyxiation and decompression. Quaid and Melina almost die from exposure to the atmosphere as well, but the alien machine creates a breathable atmosphere that saves them and the mutants just in time to see the forming of a blue sky on Mars.
As Melina says that it is like a dream, Quaid wonders if the whole thing has been real or if he is still in an implanted fantasy. Melina replies “Then kiss me quick before you wake up.” Just as they kiss each other, a bright flash of white light illuminates the screen, and the credits roll.
The original screenplay for Total Recall was written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the writers of Alien, who had bought the rights to Philip K. Dick's short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" while Dick was still alive. They were unable to find a backer for the project and it drifted into development hell, passing from studio to studio. In the mid-1980s, producer Dino De Laurentiis took on the project with Richard Dreyfuss attached to star. Patrick Swayze, who had recently starred in Dirty Dancing, was also considered for the role. David Cronenberg was attached to direct but wanted to cast William Hurt in the lead role. Cronenberg described his work on the project and eventual falling out with Shusett: "I worked on it for a year and did about 12 drafts. Eventually we got to a point where Ron Shusett said, 'You know what you've done? You've done the Philip K. Dick version.' I said, 'Isn't that what we're supposed to be doing?' He said, 'No, no, we want to do Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars.'" When the adaptation of Dune flopped at the box office, De Laurentiis similarly lost enthusiasm for the project.
The collapse of De Laurentiis' project provided an opening to Schwarzenegger, who had unsuccessfully approached the producer about starring in the film. He persuaded Carolco to buy the rights to the film for a comparatively cheap $3 million and negotiated a $10 million dollar deal to star, with an unusually broad degree of control over the production. He obtained veto power over the producer, director, screenplay, co-stars and promotion. Schwarzenegger personally recruited Paul Verhoeven to direct the film, having been impressed by the Dutch director's Robocop. By this time the script had been through forty-two versions but it still lacked a third act. Gary Goldman was therefore brought in by Verhoeven to work with Shusett to develop the final version of the screenplay. The director also brought in many of his collaborators on Robocop, including Ronny Cox, cinematographer Jost Vacano and special effects designer Rob Bottin.
Much of the filming took place in Mexico City. The futuristic subway station and vehicles are actually part of the Mexican public transportation system, with the subway cars painted gray and television monitors added. In an interview with Starlog magazine, Schwarzenegger stressed the challenge of acting in the film, “Because you’re not coming in with the same character that you’re going out with. Hauser’s an interesting character, but Quaid’s just this big program...”
The film was initially given an “X” rating. Violence was trimmed and different camera angles were used in the over-the-top scenes for an “R” rating. It was one of the last major Hollywood blockbusters to make large-scale use of miniature effects rather than computer generated imagery. Five different companies were brought in to handle Total Recall's effects. The only CGI sequence in the entire film was a 42-second sequence, produced by MetroLight Studios, showing the X-rayed skeletons of commuters and their concealed weapons. Only a year later, Schwarzenegger's Terminator 2: Judgment Day prompted a revolution in special effects with its extensive use of CGI.
“Total Recall” was translated as “El Vengador del Futuro” /"O Vingador do Futuro" (Spanish/Portuguese for “The Avenger of the Future”), in Latin America. In Spain and Portugal it was called “Desafío Total” and “Desafio Total” respectively, which means “Total Challenge”. In Turkey it was called “Gerçeğe Çağrı,” which means “The Call for Reality.” In Italy it was called “Atto di Forza,” which means “Act of Strength.”. In Poland it was called “Pamięć Absolutna,” which means “Absolute Memory.” In Israel it was called “זיכרון גורלי,” which means “Fatal Memory.” In French Canada it was called “Total Recall: Voyage au Centre de la Mémoire,” which means “Total Recall: Trip to the Center of Memory.” In USSR it was called “Вспомнить всё,” which means “To Recall Everything.” In Hungary, it was called “Emlékmás,” which means “A Counterpart of Remembrance." In Germany it was called “Total Recall: Die totale Erinnerung,” which means “The total memory.”
Roger Ebert awarded the film three and a half stars (out of four), calling it "one of the most complex and visually interesting science fiction movies in a long time. Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly praised the film, giving it a score of "B+" and said that it "starts out as mind-bending futuristic satire and then turns relentless [and] becomes a violent, post-punk version of an Indiana Jones cliff-hanger.
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said the film is not a classic, "but it's still solid and entertaining." James Berardinelli gave the film two and a half stars (out of four), saying that "neither Schwarzenegger nor Verhoeven have stretched their talents here," but added, "with a script that's occasionally as smart as it is energetic, Total Recall offers a little more than wholesale carnage.
Some critics, such as Janet Maslin of the New York Times, considered the film excessively violent. Rita Kempley of the Washington Post gave the film a negative review, saying that director Paul Verhoeven "disappoints with this appalling onslaught of blood and boredom.
Due to the success of the movie, a sequel was written with the script title Total Recall 2, and with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character still Douglas Quaid, now working as a reformed law enforcer. The sequel was based on another Philip K. Dick short story, “The Minority Report” which postulates about a future where a crime can be solved before it’s committed—in the movie, the clairvoyants would be Martian mutants. The sequel was not filmed, but the script survived and it was changed drastically and contained greater elements from the original short story. The film was eventually directed as a sci-fi thriller as Minority Report by Steven Spielberg and opened in 2002 to box-office success and critical acclaim.
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A consistent motif throughout the film is the presentation of striking dichotomies: Earth/Mars; Quaid/Hauser; the mutants Kuato and his brother George; the use of holographic doubles by Quaid and Melina; reflections of Quaid, Lori and Dr. Edgemar in mirrors in Quaid's hotel room; Melina/Lori. The latter example subverts a standard film noir convention, the saintly blonde versus the devilish brunette; in Total Recall, the blonde turns out to be the villain and the brunette the heroine.
On the special edition DVD commentary, director Paul Verhoeven explains that he deliberately filmed every scene to present “two realities,” that is, that the entire movie supports either scenario depending upon how the viewer interprets it. However, Verhoeven also points out that the casting of Schwarzenegger (as opposed to other actors who had been considered for the part, including Richard Dreyfuss and Patrick Swayze) leans more towards the adventure being real, as audiences would not want Arnold in an action film that turned out to only be a dream. A sequel was also planned for the film, which implies that the events really happened.
Early on in the film it is suggested that if one’s mind cannot adjust to the implanted reality, resulting in a schizoid embolism, a lobotomy is the only solution. Verhoeven has suggested that if the film is a dream, then the white light that ends the film is in fact the cutting into Quaid’s brain as the lobotomy is administered. Earlier in the movie, shortly before Quaid is about to be implanted with Rekall memories, a technician holds up a memory capsule and comments that a “blue sky on Mars” is a new feature. At the end of the film, viewers do indeed see blue skies on Mars, though whether or not the scene was meant to be foreshadowing or an implication that the entire film was a dream is unclear.
Verhoeven states, on the Special Edition DVD commentary (on which Schwarzenegger also comments), that Quaid may be on the table at Rekall living out a fantasy. He points out that the imagery on the screen at Rekall shows the alien machine (which was a complete secret on Mars), the girl of his dreams that he asked for, and a blue sky over Mars. Verhoeven points this out as Quaid is going to sleep. When Quaid/Hauser is confronted by his wife and the Rekall spokesman, Verhoeven is quick to point out that the spokesman goes on to detail the entire second half of the movie. Of course, Quaid himself notes that he dreamt about Melina before ever going to Rekall, which is true: in the first scene of the movie he has a dream in which he is climbing on the surface of the planet in a protective space suit, the glass helmet of which later breaks, turning his dream into a nightmare. He is climbing with a companion, however it is not Lori (whom he wakes up next to), but Melina.
A video game was made based on the movie, featuring 2D action, platformer scenes and top-down racing scenes; a version was released for popular 8-bit home computers (Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC), and the popular 16-bit home computers (Amiga and Atari ST). The game was developed and released by Ocean Software. There was also a much-maligned NES version which was notably different from the others, being developed by a different team (Interplay).
In 1999, there was a television series named Total Recall 2070; however, the show had far more similarities with the Blade Runner movie (also inspired by a Philip K. Dick story) than Verhoeven's film. The two-hour series pilot, released in VHS and DVD for the North American market, borrowed footage from the film, such as the space cruiser arriving on Mars.
There is a reference to the movie in the South Park episode Asspen, at the end when a woman reveals her breasts that look like the Mutant on Kuato's stomach. They also say "Quaid...start the reactor," to symbolize the reference.
An episode of Nickelodeon's cartoon series, Rugrats, is entitled "Turtle Recall" in reference to the film. Ironically, in a Season 4 episode of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Raphael uses the term, turtle recall.
In Dark Angel season 2 episode 7 "Some assembly required" about 30 minutes into the episode Original Cindy and Max are talking about the complete recovery of Zack's memories by stating "Now that he's got his total recall on, whats next?".
The character Tiny Attorney from the American animated television series The Venture Bros. is a parody of Kuato. Tiny Attorney's overall demeanor, complete with white suit, is that of the "southern gentleman attorney" stereotype, such as Atticus Finch.