Total Recall

Total Recall

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Paul Verhoeven's TOTAL RECALL (1990). Picture courtesy of Rialto Pictures. All rights reserved.

Total Recall

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Total Recall (1990)

Opened: 08/10/2012 Re-Release

Limited (Re-Re...08/10/2012
Film Forum/NYC08/10/2012 - 08/16/20127 days
Austin, TX08/13/2012 - 08/16/20124 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Twitter, Facebook

Genre: Sci-Fi

Rated: Unrated

TOTAL RECALL (1990), in a new DCP restoration approved by director Paul Verhoeven will be playing at Film Forum starting next Friday August 10.


The year is 2084 A.D. The world has survived its third world war. Mars has been colonized and is wracked by political unrest. Kuato leads a rebellion against a mining corporation run by Vilos Cohaagan (Ronny Cox), who monopolizes the air supply. On Earth, Doug Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a tough construction worker with a beautiful wife, Lori (Sharon Stone), a good job, and great friends, is being haunted by recurring dreams of another life -- and a mysterious brunette woman -- on the red planet. But are they dreams, or is Quaid himself part of a dream? What is real and what is not real? Without warning, Quaid's everyday world suddenly begins to crumble around him, a world in which everything he thinks he knows and has experienced may be a fabrication.

Quaid's troubles begin the day he visits Rekall Inc., a unique travel service specializing in implanting fantasy adventures in the minds of its customers. His fantasy is to visit Mars, which has been dominating his dreams. He selects an "Ego Trip": in his implanted memory he will be a special agent who saves Mars and wins the heart of a brunette. During Quaid's procedure, however, something goes terribly wrong. A whole separate personality that had been blocked from his mind momentarily and violently comes back to life. The panic-stricken technicians at Rekall quickly sedate Quaid and suppress any memories he has of the episode and of the travel agency. Unbeknownst to Quaid, he has been under surveillance. The people who have been watching him fear that his trip to Rekall has unlocked the memories that threaten them, and they decide that he must be killed.

Quaid wakes up in a taxi near his home, unaware of how he got there. He is attacked by his former coworkers who tell him he should not have gone to Rekall and during the struggle, he kills his assailants. He attempts to explain what happened to his wife, Lori. She tries to kill him, but he manages to subdue her. Lori admits she is not his wife and that their relationship is a result of Rekall memory implants, stating that his original identity was erased. Quaid races out of the apartment as Lori's real husband, Richter (Michael Ironside), attempts to catch him. While in hiding, Quaid is given a briefcase by a man who claims to have worked with him on Mars. It contains money, a disguise, and fake identity papers, as well as a device that Quaid uses to remove a tracking device implanted in his skull. The briefcase also contains a video from Quaid himself, in which he identifies himself as "Hauser" and says that he used to work on Mars for planetary leader Cohaagen. His job had included hunting down rebels, but he betrayed Cohaagen after coming to believe in the rebel cause after meeting a woman. "Hauser" believes that Cohaagen is responsible for wiping out his memory because he has enough information to destroy Cohaagen's power. After telling Quaid how to remove his implant, Hauser instructs him to seek out his former boss on Mars.

Quaid uses the money and the disguise to travel to Mars, where he finds clues from Hauser that lead him to Venusville, a red light district of the Mars colony where people have mutated due to poor radiation shielding. A taxi driver named Benny (Mel Johnson, Jr.) takes him to a bar called "The Last Resort." Quaid discovers Melina (Rachel Ticotin), Hauser's former lover. Quaid tries to explain that his memory was wiped. Melina believes that he had been acting as a double agent. Returning to his hotel, Quaid is met by Lori and Rekall developer Dr. Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith). They attempt to convince Quaid that his virtual vacation has gone wrong, and that all of his experiences since leaving Rekall have been part of a free-form paranoid delusion that his brain has constructed. Quaid seems almost convinced, but until Edgemar's nervous behavior gives him away. Quaid kills the doctor. Richter's men arrive to capture him, but Quaid is saved by Melina, whom he saves in turn by killing Lori. Benny drives the two to Venusville where the rebels manage to hold off Richter's men. On hearing this, Cohaagen orders Venusville sealed off, cutting off the air supply.

Quaid, Melina, and Benny make their way to the rebel headquarters. Quaid is taken to meet Kuato, a small humanoid form conjoined to another man named George (Marshall Bell). Kuato probes Quaid's mind and discovers that he knows about an alien reactor that would provide oxygen for the entire planet. Cohaagen has covered up the existence of the reactor, fearing that free oxygen would break his control over Mars. Kuato implores Quaid to activate the reactor and free Mars. Before they can proceed, Cohaagen's men assault the rebel base and Benny is revealed to be a double agent, killing Kuato and capturing Quaid and Melina. They are taken to Cohaagen's offices, where he shows them another video from Hauser, revealing that Quaid's entire experience had been part of an elaborate plot devised by Cohaagen and Hauser to infiltrate the rebel stronghold and kill Kuato and the rebels. Cohaagen orders that Quaid be restored to his original Hauser persona and that Melina should be reprogrammed as Hauser's loyal wife. Quaid breaks out of the programming machine and rescues Melina. They head to the alien reactor, kill Benny who tries to stop them, and with the aid of holograms, fight off and kill Richter and the rest of Cohaagen's forces during the pursuit.

Cohaagen arrives first at the control room, and attempts to dissuade Quaid from using the alien artifact, claiming it will destroy the planet, and threatens to blow up the control room with a nearby bomb. Quaid throws the explosive away, destroying a seal on the room and depressurizing it. Cohaagen is dragged out and dies from asphyxiation and decompression on the planet's surface. Quaid manages to activate the artifact. He and Melina are saved as waves of air are generated by the artifact, which has melted the ice below the Martian crust. A new atmosphere sweeps across the planetary surface, shattering the windows of the Mars colony, giving its residents fresh air to breathe. As the population begins to walk into the new blue sky of Mars, Quaid wonders if this is still part of his Rekall fantasy before he turns to kiss Melina.

Production Notes

(adapted from the 1990 Carolco pressbook)

Principal photography began on March 20, 1989, at the Churubusco Studios in Mexico City. There, on ten vast sound stages, a fantastic futuristic world came into existence. The vision was a collaboration of Paul Verhoeven, production designer William Sandell, and conceptual artist Ron Cobb.

Verhoeven, a lifelong enthusiast of science fiction, welcomed the chance to return to the genre he had first delved into with Robocop (1987). Part of the director's fascination with science fiction was technical. Verhoeven held a doctoral degree in mathematics and physics and enjoyed solving technical problems. Working with special effects both frightened and fascinated Verhoeven: "Science fiction is a dream world furnished by a toy shop. The frightening aspect comes from the danger that can occur if you allow the effects to take away energy from other crucial areas of the production."

The look the filmmakers created was futuristic and at the same time realistic, incorporating elements they discovered while researching NASA's published materials on projected Martian settlements. Verhoeven found it a challenge to create that world: "In films like Star Wars or Star Trek, you know you're far away in time and you can do whatever you want because it's fantasy. Here we're taking what we know today and extrapolating that into the future to create a heightened reality."

Verhoeven and Sandell decided on two very different looks for the futuristic worlds of Earth and Mars. "The feeling for the total Mars experience," according to Sandell, "was that of architecture impressed on rock. We established that the people live in the rock to protect themselves from dangerous solar radiation that filters through Mars' thin atmosphere, and all our sets incorporated the rock into the architecture. It's practical and has a mass-produced look that's in keeping with the economics of the colonies. Using the red rock in the architecture is also stylistically interesting. Many of the interiors, such as the hallways of the Mars Hilton, incorporate the rock in the construction as a decorative touch."

The entire Martian world was created on the Churubusco sound stages by Sandell's team of over 360 workers. Whole stages were filled with enormous sets, which included the vast Martian spaceport, the sleazy red light district of Venusville, the bustling central transportation hub of Mars, and a sprawling network of underground tunnels and catacombs.

For Earth's very different look, Verhoeven found exactly what he needed in Mexico City. According to Sandell, "Verhoeven wanted a look that's loosely known as 'new brutalism,' where the buildings are very solid and brutal in their style. In Mexico City, we found a number of buildings that fit this perfectly -- huge, monolithic structures devoid of any surrounding foliage, which physically diminished our characters."

The complex and startling visual effects of Total Recall were handled by Academy Award-winning Dream Quest Images under the direction of Eric Brevig. The Dream Quest Images unit filmed alongside the main unit for the production's entire 22- week shooting schedule. On any given day, the special effects unit was either shooting, rigging for a new shot, or striking an old setup. A grueling postproduction schedule followed employing a team of over 100 people to work on a myriad of projects, including the optical effects, the live action photographic effects, the miniatures, the compositing, and the matte paintings.

One unique aspect of filming Total Recall was the quantity and scale of the blue screen work. "In previous films of this nature," Brevig explained, "the blue screen photography had been somewhat limited because the action had to be moved to a special blue screen stage. On this film we were able to accomplish very large blue screen shots on our shooting stages in over 40 separate setups. In most cases the blue screens measured a mammoth 40 by 60 feet to accommodate the huge sets. The fact that we were able to take screens of this size to the stages is significant because nothing of this scale had ever been attempted before."

For wide establishing shots and some of the most spectacular Martian locations, Dream Quest Images created large-scale miniatures to match the full-size sets built on the stages. An elaborate jigsaw was devised combining the action on the sets with miniatures with shots of the actors performing against the blue screen.

The miniature work was completed in the U.S. during post-production. The "miniatures" were predominantly large exterior sets 40 to 60 feet in length specifically created to give large views of as much as 180 degrees. Brevig and his crew were aided by "real-time motion control," which helped to seamlessly link the live action with the miniatures shot months later. The process used a computercontrolled motion picture camera that shot at a normal 24 frames per second. The computer recorded every movement the camera made, which allowed the movement to be repeated on other sets or in miniatures during post-production photography. As a result, the camera could pan or dolly in with the actor on a set and then exactly repeat that movement on a miniature months later. The process freed the camera during the shot, allowing a more natural integration of special effects with the live action.

The special make-up and animatronic effects for Total Recall were created by Academy Award winner Rob Bottin, whose spectacular inventions included the transformations of man to werewolf in The Howling (1981), the demons in Legend (1985), and the cyborg in Robocop (1987). To create the make-up effects, Bottin began by making a cast of an actor's face, then applying clay to the cast to sculpt different features. After the sculpture was done, it was molded to make rubber appliances, which were then applied to the actor. It took seven months to create certain animatronic effects. For Brevig, it was "essential to create a fully developed character for these creatures made from a combination of make-up, controls, gears, electronics and optics. Details such as re-creating the movements of muscles under skin or inserting little tubes to allow saliva to drool were incorporated into the more complicated, life-like characters. This work takes a lot of thought, a lot of designing, and a lot of teamwork."

Studying scientific information, the filmmakers discovered that one of the largest obstacles to colonizing Mars would be deadly solar radiation resulting from the planet's lack of a sufficiently protective atmosphere. If not properly filtered or blocked, the radiation could create genetic defects in humans, a fact which Verhoeven incorporated into the script.

Verhoeven described Total Recall as "a science fiction action-adventure film with an underlying psychological level. The story is science fiction because it takes place in the future and is partly situated on the planet Mars, which has been colonized and abused by Earth. It's action-adventure in that it's about a man being hunted by people who are trying to kill him because something in his brain which he has forgotten threatens him. Yet it is also a story about 'reality' which gives the film a deeper psychological complexity. This undercurrent will, every once in a while, undermine the audience's perceptions. For the most part, you will be experiencing a straightforward thriller, but then suddenly you'll find yourself at the edge of an abyss wondering if what you are seeing is real or the product of a man's fantasy."