Things to Recall About Total Recall

The Total Recall reboot comes out today, if you didn't already know. In honor of the remake, here are some fascinating facts about the original movie and the short story that inspired it all.

WARNING: While I tried to minimize the number of spoilers here, there are a few spoilers from the story both movies were based on –and, as a result, there very well could be some film spoilers as well.  So, if you haven’t seen (or don’t remember) the original film, you might want to catch the either of the films before reading this article.

Image Via Anime Nut [Flickr]

The True Original

Yes, the movie that was released today is a reboot of the original, but even the 1990 Total Recall that most people are familiar with was based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. The story, called "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" was first printed in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in April of 1966.

While the story is somewhat similar to the movie, script writers had a difficult time adapting the story to film, so they ended up changing things drastically. The real short story centers around a man named Douglas Quail (in the movie he’s Douglas Quaid) who wants to visit Mars, but can’t afford it. So instead he goes to a company called REKAL Incorporated that can implant memories into the brain.

Unfortunately, when they do so, they release hidden memories in Quail’s mind when they find out that Quail is really an undercover government assassin who knows tons of dangerous secrets. Quail then heads home to collect evidence that these new memories are real, spurring the government to go after him.

In the end, the assassin surrenders and agrees to be implanted with new memories that he is a hero who saved the world from an alien invasion at age nine. Just before he goes under though, Quail reveals that this is actually a fact and something that should never be revealed.

Of course, the brilliance of the story is the intermingling of the character’s factual history with those implanted and the idea that if we start implanting memories, how will we ever know what is or is not true?


Making The First Film

The writers of Alien, O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, bought the rights to Dick’s short story while the author was still alive. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find a backer for the film and the idea ended up passing from studio to studio before producer Dino De Laurentiis picked it up in the mid-80s. His original ideas for the lead actor? Richard Dreyfuss or Patrick Swayze –just imagine how different the film would have been with either of these two in Arnold’s place! In fact, Schwarzenegger even approached the producer about letting him star in the film and De Laurentiis refused.

Eventually De Laurentiis dropped the project as well, leaving an opening for Arnold to swing in and snap it up. Schwarzenegger convinced Carolco Pictures to buy the rights to the movie and managed to negotiate a contract that not only afforded him $10 million and fifteen percent of the profits, but also veto power over the producer, director, screenplay, co-stars and promotion. While he may not be listed as a producer, Arnold was definitely played one of the most important roles in getting the movie made.

After the script went through more than forty changes through a full decade, it’s no wonder that the movie ended up being a bit different than Dick’s original story. Even so, the basic idea of a mild-mannered man finding out he’s a spy when visiting Rekall to get a memory implant of a trip to Mars remains the same. A lot of the changes were made to give the plot more complexity so it would be able to hold viewer’s attention for almost two hours, so really it makes sense that the writers added in massive, ongoing conflicts on Mars, a love story, additional confusion about which memories are implanted, the survival of an entire population, and more. And, of course, it’s Arnold, so it also makes sense that they added in a lot more violence and explosions. (I’m really trying to leave out as many spoilers as possible here).

Speaking of violence, the movie was originally so violent that it was rated X! The movie had to be cut and parts of it were reshot so it could get an R rating instead.


Adaptations of An Adaptation

Total Recall did so well that there was actually a sequel written based on another short story by Philip K. Dick, “The Minority Report.” It would have been interesting to see Arnie in that one too.

So even though the movie was already based on a short story, author Piers Anthony ended up turning it into a novel. In the novel version, Anthony removed all question of whether or not the events were real or a fantasy, which really upset a lot of fans who felt that was one of the coolest things about the movie.

There were also a few video games based on the movie, a computer game by Ocean Software that was pretty popular, and a widely panned NES version made by Interplay.

In 1999, a pilot was shot for they made a prequel to the movie called Total Recall 2070. Unfortunately for fans of the story, it was never turned into a real show. If you just can’t bear without seeing more of Douglas Quaid then you can also always check out Dynamite Entertainment's comic book adaptation that continues the story.


What About The Reboot?

Well, I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t give you a full rundown of the differences between the two movies, but I can tell you that while the 1990 peaks after Douglas visits Mars for real, he never even goes to Mars in the new version. The film is also said to have a number of pointed political messages that aren’t in the earlier version. It's also PG-13 instead of R. In fact, it sounds just as different from the other film as either story is from the original short story.

Instead of conflicts raging on Mars, the new movie focuses on conflicts on Earth. Still, the main plot focuses on Quaid visiting on Rekall, discovering he once was an agent and struggling to figure out what is really happening.

Interestingly, it turns out that Arnold was vying for the role of the lead character in the remake before Colin Farrell was cast. Personally, I’m glad he wasn’t cast –if you’re going to reboot a story, you need to work to keep it different from the original. Casting Arnie would just make it too similar to the 1990 version.

So what about you guys? Do you like the original? Do you think the new version will be any good? And if you’ve read "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” how do you think the movie(s) have held up to the original story?

Sources: Wikipedia #1, #2, #3, IMDB #1, #2 and eNotes

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Total Recall 2070 was made into a real show. It ran for 22 episodes in 1999, in Canada and on Showtime in the US. Just one season, but it was more than just the pilot.
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The 1990 movie departed from and embellished the original short story but it did so in a way that remained very faithful to Philip K. Dick's unique style and recurring themes that arose in his other works. The 1990 filmmakers expanded the right elements of PKD's work - ambiguity about perception vs. reality, conspiracy theories, bleak offworld colonies, marital discord - the author would prbably have approved.
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Dick's longer and rather clever titles never made it to the big-screen. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? became the rather boring(in my opinion) Bladerunner.
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