Maybe it's when Arnold Schwarzenegger uses that cannon fodder bad guy as a human shield that I first fell in love with Total Recall. It certainly wasn't for the Nintendo game, which was terrible. In the pantheon of Schwarzenegger flicks, Recall sits close to the top. I'm thinking Terminator 2, The Terminator, Predator, and then Total Recall, with apologies to Commando and Twins.
Seriously, Total Recall is amazing stuff. Based on the Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, the movie is part sci-fi mind bender, part bloody action thriller, and part camp classic. Director Paul Verhoeven, as he tends to do, infused the movie with a fun, but still menacing, tone, and Schwarzenegger, well, he does what he does.
Passed around between studios for years, Total Recall was finally released in June of 1990. It would earn over $260 million worldwide and collect two Oscar nominations (Sound, Sound Editing). But more than those Wikipedia facts, Total Recall penetrated the mainstream in typical Schwarzenegger fashion. I cannot overstate how huge The Governator was at the time, both figuratively and literally. His presence made Recall a must-see, but it was Verhoeven who made it memorable.
So let's celebrate Total Recall's 30th anniversary. Here are 25 facts you never knew about the film and its production:
1. Schwarzenegger was selected to play the title hero in RoboCop in 1986, but he was too bulky for the costume and producers had to move on. After the movie came out (with Peter Weller in the role) Schwarzenegger loved it and wanted to work with director Paul Verhoeven. They got together and found Total Recall.
2. At different points during Total Recall's gestation, different actors were attached or rumored to be attached to the lead role of Doug Quaid, which would go to Schwarzenegger. Richard Dreyfuss, Jeff Bridges, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Swayze, and Christopher Reeve were all considered at different times. Directors came and went as well, including Richard Rush, Bruce Beresford, and David Cronenberg. Cronenberg wanted William Hurt to be his Quaid.
3. Cronenberg worked on the script for a year, but was told his adaptation was too close to the original story. Writer/producer Ron Shusett told him he wanted "Raiders of the Lost Ark Goes to Mars." Cronenberg's legacy does live on in the film, however. He came up with the idea of mutants on Mars and created the character of Kuato.
4. By the time Verhoeven got his hands on the script, it had been re-written 40 times.
5. Total Recall was one of the last major Hollywood blockbusters to make large-scale use of miniature effects as opposed to CGI. It was also one of the first major movies to use CGI (for the X-ray scene).
6. The film was shot in Mexico City to take advantage of its futuristic look and everyone but Schwarzenegger and Shusett fell violently ill from food poisoning during production. Verhoeven even had an ambulance on standby at one point. Schwarzenegger survived because he had all his meals catered from the U.S.. He learned his lesson making Predator in Mexico a year earlier when he got sick from drinking tap water. Shusett was even more careful, brushing his teeth with bottled water and getting weekly B12 shots.
7. Verhoeven wanted Sharon Stone (who plays Quaid's wife, Lori) to show more skin during her love scene with Schwarzenegger, but she refused. The actress did, however, pose for Playboy to coincide with the film's release. On the Total Recall DVD commentary, Verhoeven says he "got her back" when they made Basic Instinct together the next year (Stone is nude throughout that movie in case you live under a rock).
8. Stone prepared for Total Recall by lifting weights and learning Tae Kwon Do. Schwarzenegger called her the "Female Terminator" on set and the actress was inducted into the Stunt Woman Association as an honorary member.
9. Martial artist Cynthia Rothrock was considered for the role of Lori. She found out years later she didn't land the role because some of her would-be costars were concerned about being overshadowed by a female martial artist.
10. When filming the fight scene between Lori and Melina (Rachel Ticotin), Verhoeven asked Second Unit Director Vic Armstrong to choreograph it like a martial arts fight to convey the feel of two "warriors" fighting each other. Verhoeven didn't want hair pulling and scratching. He remarks on the DVD commentary that it's probably the first time in a feature film two women fight with style, as opposed to a cat fight.
11. On three occasions, different characters give the ending of the movie away: 1. When Bob McClane pitches the "Secret Agent Ego Trip" to Quaid, he tells him he'll "...Get the girl, kill the bad guys, and save the entire planet!" 2. When Dr. Lull tosses Ernie a computer chip, he looks at it and says "That's a new one! 'Blue Sky on Mars'." And 3. When Quaid threatens to shoot Dr. Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith) in the Hilton suite, the doctor describes the entire third act in detail.
12. Johnnycab whistles the Norwegian National Anthem. We're not sure why. Verhoeven is from the Netherlands.
13. The famous "Triple-Breasted Hooker From Mars" was originally supposed to have four breasts, but the filmmakers thought it looked too much like a cow. The actress, Lycia Naff, has said she found the experience humiliating, as if she exposed her real breasts. She said she was near tears during the shoot and found the experience so degrading she refused to do any publicity for the movie, even turning down a spot on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
14. Total Recall body count: 77
15. During filming, a lot of animals were on set, including a five-month-old cougar. Schwarzenegger had the big cat in his trailer and it scared him by jumping on his back, but luckily he only wanted to play.
16. The film never mentions it, but the VHS cover of the movie says it takes place in 2084 A.D.. Verhoeven has confirmed the year is accurate. He has also said he thought the future depicted in Blade Runner was way too advanced for its theoretical time period (2019) and he wanted his film to be set more in the future. Detective work also reveals Quaid's hometown is El Paso, Texas. On the Rekall subway ad, the phone number has a 915 area code and one of Quaid's fake I.D.s lists him as "James D. Brubaker" of "El Paso, TX."
17. "Douglas Quaid" was changed from "Douglas Quail" in the original short story because of Vice President Dan Quayle, whose stupidity was daily fodder for the press in 1990.
18. When Quaid fights with Harry (Robert Costanzo) and his men after visiting Rekall, the sounds of bones being broken are actually celery being twisted and snapped.
19. It took 15 puppeteers to control Kuato, whose name is from the Spanish word "cuate" ("twin"). In Imagining Total Recall, Verhoeven says special makeup effects designer Rob Bottin had made the Kuato puppet look so real that when actor Marshall Bell (who plays Kuato) walked down the street, people asked if he was a "real freak" or a Siamese twin.
20. Robert Davi and Kurtwood Smith turned down the role of Richter, which would go to cult favorite Michael Ironside. Smith felt the role was too similar to his character in RoboCop, Clarence Boddicker. His RoboCop co-star Ronny Cox didn't have the same qualms, however. Cox essentially plays the same character in RoboCop (Dick Jones) and Total Recall (Cohaagen).
21. The escalator chase scene was filmed in Mexico City's "Chabacano" Subway Station. The only changes made are translated direction signs and the station names were replaced. Production also changed the color of the subway cars, from orange to silver, and added televisions.
22. The great atmosphere exposures that Quaid, Melina, and Cohaagen endure at the end of Total Recall wouldn't happen in reality. Mars has enough pressurization to prevent any "ballooning" of the human body.
23. At the time, Total Recall was the second most expensive film in history (Rambo III).
24. The original cut of the movie was rated X by the MPAA for excessive violence. Some scenes were trimmed, different camera angles used, and a R rating was issued.
25. The final scene, which fades to white, was left intentionally ambiguous by Verhoeven so people would wonder if everything was a dream. The director has stated he believes the film is a dream, but he also concedes that casting Schwarzenegger plants it firmly in reality.
[Big h/t to IMDb, Wikipedia, Vulture, and the Total Recall DVD commentary]