“No wonder you’re having nightmares, you’re always watching the news,” says Lori (Sharon Stone) waking up her husband Doug Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger in one of his best performances) in the non-stop thrills mind bender “Total Recall” (1990) directed by Paul Verhoeven. For those of you longing for a great action film that will simultaneously articulate the current state of alternate reality we’re living in – I encourage you to join this wild ride. The main character – wanting to escape his dull existence – slowly uncovers that his everyday life is actually a fabrication. He used to be someone else (didn’t we all?) and that memory has been erased and replaced with another. “Total Recall” is about how Doug Quaid recovers his identity – and fights against the powerful external establishment that messed him up and becomes a hero to the besieged people of Mars. With him – we go down this house of mirrors – that plays like a cyberpunk spy movie – where the main character’s consciousness is constantly questioned down to the very last scene. Is it all a dream? “You’re having paranoid delusions,” he’s told. It’s escapist fun.
The film is based on a Philip K. Dick’s story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Another story of his, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” was adapted into the sci-fi classic “Blade Runner.” Both films share the original author’s concerns with individuality and perceptions of reality. They also feature a fusion of reality, imbedded memory and real memory.
Verhoeven – born in Amsterdam – made his name in Europe with films like “Soldier of Orange” (1977) and “The Fourth Man” (1983) before making a splash in Hollywood with the dazzling “Robocop”(1987), followed by “Total Recall,” the iconic “Basic Instinct” (1992), the fiasco that is now re-evaluated “Showgirls” (1995), and Starship Troopers (1997), among others. His last work which was shot in France is the towering “Elle” (2016) starring the fierce Isabelle Huppert in her Oscar nominated performance about a woman who is raped and turns the tables on her assailant. His films – in a varied range of genres – illustrate our obsession and fascinating relationship with violence and sex – which he will present in satirical ways. His movies also make us aware of the chasm between social classes – and will often feature a protagonist who defies the status quo or establishment – which is the case in “Total Recall.” His work is at times excessive and lavish – stylish and tongue in cheek.
There are some fantastic action set pieces in “Total Recall” which play at a feverish pace with over the top comical viciousness. Verhoeven knows how to stage action – and there are some quite memorable moments like Quaid being chased through an X-Ray machine. Like he did in “Robocop,” Verhoeven makes fun of our consumerism as it shows a progress in technology that is only serving our narcissistic obsessions like hologram tennis lessons at home, instant nail polish changes, animated cab drivers, virtual reality vacations. It is all grounded by a playful and deadpan Schwarzenegger in a locked star mode. Sharon Stone is terrific as the conspiratorial wife/agent – a prelude to her most famous role in “Basic Instinct.”
The film is filled with terrific one-liners delivered with panache in signature Schwarzenegger style.
Doug Quaid: “If I am not me, then who the hell am I?”
Available to stream on Netflix,FuboTV and to rent on Amazon Prime, FandangoNOW, and Redbox.
Screenplay by Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, Jon Povil, Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon, and Gary Goldman
Based on the short story by Philip K. Dick
Directed by Paul Verhoeven
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone,Michael Ironside and Ronny Cox
Bringing “Total Recall” to the Screen
“While there’s no way “Total Recall” would’ve worked without Verhoeven, the picture belonged to Schwarzenegger. “He’s the soul of the movie,” the director says. “Before shooting, during shooting, and after shooting.” With its iron-pumping leading man as its shepherd, the film overcame visual effects challenges, a physically demanding shoot, and a misguided promotional campaign to become a sci-fi classic. Always a step ahead of his peers, Schwarzenegger used something that no one could get made to launch himself into his prime as an action star. “For Arnold and I, we got exactly what we wanted,” Verhoeven says. “Without me trying.” For Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven to join forces, they needed a filmable screenplay. In the 1970s, Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon, who collaborated on “Alien,” were the first to take a shot at adapting “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” Dick’s 1966 story centers on a government employee named Douglas Quail, whose dreams of the Red Planet lead him to seek out the services of Rekall Incorporated, a company that implants exciting memories in its clients. The procedure triggers the truth in him: He’s a government assassin whose mind has been wiped.Shusett and O’Bannon’s script eventually landed in the hands of Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis. At one time or another in the ’80s, Richard Dreyfuss, Patrick Swazye, and William Hurt were all in talks to star. None did. Canadian director David Cronenberg even attempted to crack the story, but after a dozen drafts, couldn’t make it work. No one could seem to figure out how to properly blend the narrative’s action and adventure with its sci-fi elements and psychodrama. Plus, the ending was a mess.
All the while, Schwarzenegger was eyeing the movie. But De Laurentiis, whose production company had financed Conan the Barbarian, didn’t think that the former Mr. Universe was the right person to play a supposedly normal guy. “I’ve been chasing for years, years, years,” Schwarzenegger says. “Because Dino De Laurentiis had it. And he always felt, ‘Schwarzenegger, I’d like you to be Conan. I don’t like you to be in “Total Recall.” I have Jeff Bridges.’” In the meantime, Schwarzenegger honed his onscreen villain-crushing skills. And after seeing an article about De Laurentiis Entertainment Group going bankrupt in 1988, he pounced. “As soon as I read that, I said to myself, ‘Total Recall. He owns Total Recall,” Schwarzenegger says. He contacted Mario Kassar and Andy Vanja at Carolco Pictures, the small-but-aggressive studio that had made the Rambo series and the Schwarzenegger buddy-cop film Red Heat. “Guys,” he remembers telling them. “Total Recall is available.”
It didn’t take long for the producers to call Schwarzenegger back with good news: They’d purchased the rights to Total Recall for a reported $3 million. “Literally the next day,” he says. “It was immediate action. That’s the way those guys operated, Andy and Mario.” Soon after that, Carolco offered Verhoeven the directing job. “We shook hands, Arnold and I, and said, ‘We’re going to do this,’” Verhoeven says. “And that was it. No talk about money or anything. It was just looking at each other and believing that Mario could finance it and that Arnold and I were a good team.” “He was European, so I understood his character,” Schwarzenegger says. “And the outrageousness and everything he had done. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen “Flesh and Blood. He just has a very great eye and it was very violent. And I thought that’s the way the movie could be.” There was, however, one problem left to solve: the script. There were, Verhoeven claims, about 40 drafts. None quite worked. To Verhoeven, the problem was obvious. “The third act was just a chase, continuously, for 30 minutes,” he says. So he hired Gary Goldman, the writer of John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China,” to fix the climax. They also wisely changed Douglas Quaid’s occupation from feeble pencil-pusher to jackhammer-wielding construction worker. “The original character in the original script is a measly accountant,” Verhoeven says. “That would be silly with Arnold.” (theringer.com)
Director of Photography, Jost Vacano on “Total Recall”
“Paul Verhoeven has been one of my favorite directors for a decade or more,” explains Vacano. “I started with him in 1976 or so with “Soldier of Orange” and it’s still one of my favorite films. Then I did Spetters with him. It’s very funny, he likes to work with two directors of photography, Jan DeBont (“Die Hard”) and me. He always does two pictures with each of us, then he switches. “I met him by accident through a producer in Germany. Holland and Germany are very close and the mentality is very similar. The languages are alike, even a few words are the same,” laughed Vacano in his soft German accent. “Paul has very good common sense and we have a great understanding of each other — our good sides and our bad sides.” Total Recall” was a very interesting script and we both felt that if we could get a grip on the ending, it could be a terrific film. The ending was a major challenge and it still is — like in most movies!”
The entire project was a “major challenge” from the more than 35 stage sets to the hundreds of effects shots. Vacano explains, “Normally in films like this you have long sequences that are very straightforward and then you have, as a highlight, effects scenes. This time, effects are everywhere, every time, especially for the ending. When I saw the rough cut about four months after we finished shooting, the last two reels were full of ‘scene missing, scene missing, scene missing!’ There was nothing there but some music!” According to Vacano, the really big story of this film is the 35 sets by production designer William Sandell. Eight sound stages filled to capacity four or five different times for 3 to 5 days of shooting each time was a daunting prospect even to the man who shot “Never Ending Story” and “Das Boot.” “When you read a script the first time, you don’t pay so much attention to the sets. But when you’ve read it many times, it occurs to you, all this must be happening in a huge place! It’s like a city! And it’s on Mars! Where will we find a studio so big that we can build a whole city there? A closer look told us that it wasn’t just one city. It was a lot of large areas of the colony — part city, part mine, whatever.” (ascmag.com)
Vacano on Making Mars Come to Life
The film is set in the future, but not very far into the future. The first part takes place on Earth — “an Earth we all know.” But the real story unravels once Schwarzenegger returns to Mars. Mars was the challenge, but also the opportunity. As Vacano tells it, “On Mars everything is special, everything is unusual. There is no atmosphere on Mars. The people have to be either in spacesuits or in the protected colonies. This is not a picture about people in space suits. So, we imagined a colony where the miners live digging special metals out of the planet. These people must have their own environment.” Parts of the colonies are built under large glass domes. The domes provide a source for most of the light. However, much of the colony is built under the planet’s surface. “This decision to build underground indicates already that whatever is on Mars is concealed,” says Vacano.
“The second thing that makes Mars very special is that everything is red. Even though there is no atmosphere, the surface is red, the sky is red and the sun is red, so whenever there is a connection to the exterior world on Mars, the light is all red.” Just what color is Martian red? Vacano explains that it wasn’t an easy question to answer. “We had a very funny experience trying to get the gels for that red light. Every director of photography, every gaffer, has these nice little swatch books from Rosco or Lee or someone else. You go through them and say, ‘This is a wonderful color.’ You do a film test and it looks great. It was two weeks before shooting and I just figured we would order what we needed — two hundred or three hundred rolls — it was a huge amount. Then we found out the color we chose wasn’t in production anymore. I tried to substitute with another color from another company, but the film tests didn’t work. Finally, Rosco agreed to manufacture it for us and they started production of this special color again. Just barely in time we got what we needed.” (ascmag.com)
About Director Paul Verhoeven
“Verhoeven was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on July 18, 1938 two years prior to World War II. He lived through the trauma of the war as a child. Following his primary and high school education he was accepted in one of the top universities in the country, the University of Leiden. He was a brilliant student in Mathematics and Physics and following his undergraduate work, he stayed at the University of Leiden to do graduate work. Following his graduate studies and research he was awarded the Ph.D. in Mathematics and Physics. This academic preparation was sufficient to ensure a lifelong career in academia or in a research institution. However, while at the university he became interested in filmmaking and participated in making some short films as early as 1964. Following the completion of his studies at the University of Leiden he was required to fulfill his military obligations. At that time Holland still had required military service, and there were no exemptions, not even for a person who had earned a Ph.D. degree. He was able to join the Royal Dutch Navy, where his filmmaking skills were quickly realized. He was assigned to the Marine Film Service where he directed the making of a film marking the tercentenary of the Dutch Marine Corps. The film was named “Het Korps Mariniers”, translated as “The Marine Corps”. The result was a stunning 23 minute documentary film of the Dutch Marine Corps. The documentary film was awarded the “Silver Sun Award”, a French award for military films. The experience with filmmaking in the Royal Dutch Navy caused Verhoeven to dedicate his life career to the screen. His first civilian venture was the 12-episode Dutch television series “Floris”. The series was an adventure series about a medieval Dutch Ivanhoe played by the now well-known Dutch actor, Rutger Hauer. The series was phenomenally successful and established Verhoeven’s career, at least in his home country of the Netherlands.
“Floris” was followed in 1971 by a Dutch comedy entitled “Business is Business”, known in Holland by the title “Wat Zien Ik”. It quickly became the fourth highest grossing Dutch film. It was followed in 1973 by a film entitled “Turkish Delight” again with Rutger Hauer playing the major role. “Cathy Tippel” followed in 1975 and “Soldier of Orange”, translated in Dutch as “Soldaat van Oranje” followed in 1977. The film “Soldier of Orange ” is regarded as one of the best and popular Dutch films ever made. It was nominated for and won the Golden Globe award. It was released in the USA in 1979. Rutger Hauer again played the major role in the film…Verhoeven made several more Dutch films before moving on to the U.S. In 1979 he made “Gone”, entitled in Dutch as “Voorbij, Voorbij”. The film was made for television and was followed by the movie “Spetters” in 1980, for which Verhoeven was also the author. In 1983 he made the movie “The Fourth Man”, in Dutch known as “De Vierde Man”, and in 1985 he made the U.S. financed movie “Flesh and Blood”. The latter movie is now available on video as “The Sword and the Rose”. After Verhoeven moved to the U.S., he made a series of mega-hit movies. The first one was “RoboCop” in 1987, a science fiction saga. The next blockbuster, “Total Recall” was released in 1990. It starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sharon Stone. It earned two Oscar nominations and received the Academy Award for its dazzling special effects. The above two blockbuster films were followed by the film “Basic Instinct”. It became the number one box office hit in 1992. It starred Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone.
Having achieved greatness with his latest three films, Verhoeven may have felt the need to become more adventurous and to fulfill the need to make a public statement. It came in the form of a film entitled “Showgirls” released in 1995. The film lifted the veil from the city that never sleeps, Las Vegas. The film revealed the scarred face of Las Vegas, and delivered a message not appreciated by many of those who viewed Sin City only through rose-colored glasses. A follow up to “Showgirls” was the movie “Starship Troopers” in 1997. “Hollow Man” followed in the year 2000. The first film fits in with Verhoeven’s science fiction genre. The movie was a monumental undertaking. For several years not much was heard about Verhoeven’s film directing activities. However, in 2006, Verhoeven reappeared on the film scene with his direction of a movie about underground resistance activities in the Netherlands during the Second World War. The movie entitled “Black Book” became an instant success. It was filmed largely in the Netherlands. (newnetherlandinstitute.org) Verhoeven went on to direct “Tricked” (2012), Elle (2016) and recently completed his latest film, “Benedetta.”