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Paul Verhoeven’s action-packed spectacle Total Recall is widely considered one of the finest science fiction films of all time. Based on the Philip K. Dick story We Can Remember it For You Wholesale, the movie revolves around Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger), an American construction worker who takes a virtual vacation to Mars. Once there, Quaid becomes an unwitting pawn used by Rekall Inc. led by the sinister Cohaagen (Ronny Cox).



Total Recall was released on June 1, 1990. The film amassed over $260 million internationally and won a Special Achievement Oscar for Best Visual FX. As the film celebrates its 30th anniversary, here are ten behind-the-scenes-facts about the making of Total Recall.

David Cronenberg Was The Original Director

Prior to Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven boarding the project, several directors were attached to direct Total Recall. They included Richard Rush, Bruce Beresford, Russell Mulcahy, and, most notably, David Cronenberg, who wrote as many as twelve drafts before exiting the project.

When TriStar producer Dino DeLaurentiis realized Cronenberg was veering away from the Raiders of the Lost Ark direction that the studio wanted, the director left over creative differences. Cronenberg’s darker ideas weren’t all for naught, though, as he’s credited for creating the mutants seen in Mars. Cronenberg originally turned down The Fly to work on Total Recall, but returned to the former when director Robert Bierman left that horror project. Concept art for Cronenberg’s vision can be found online.

Patrick Swayze Was The Original Star

Producer Dino DeLaurentiis originally wanted Patrick Swayze to play the lead role of Douglas Quaid in Total Recall. Swayze signed on to play the part when Aussie director Bruce Beresford was still attached to helm.

When DiLaurentiis’ film company went bankrupt early in production, the film was halted. Arnold Schwarzenegger convinced rival company Carolco to buy the script as a starring vehicle for himself. Having nearly starred in Verhoeven’s RoboCop three years earlier, Schwarzenegger agreed to reunite with the Dutch filmmaker and make Total Recall.

It’s One Of The Last Hollywood Blockbusters To Use Miniatures

With a massive budget of $65 million, Total Recall was, at the time, the second most expensive film ever made after Rambo III. Yet, the film is one of the last major Hollywood blockbusters to employ large-scale use of miniature props and sets rather than CGI. That being said, Total Recall is one of the first major Hollywood films to attempt early computer-generated imagery.

The technique was used during the sequence involving the X-ray scanner but the software broke down, forcing the sequence to be animated by hand in order to appear as an authentic photograph. Miniatures of the Martian landscape were modeled after real photos of the planet.

Kuato Was A Well-Constructed Puppet

Although Verhoeven butted heads with special FX designer Rob Bottin on RoboCop, the two agreed to reunite on Total Recall. Verhoeven gave Bottin total control over the designs of the film, resulting in an Academy Award.

One of Bottin’s most memorable achievements was the creation of Kuato (Marshall Bell), which required 15 puppeteers to control at once. Marshall Bell wore a full body suit and the head was fully animatronic. Taken from the Spanish word “Cuate” (which translates to “twin”), Bottin’s creation was deemed so lifelike that strangers often approached Verhoeven on the streets asking if Marshal Bell was some kind of freakish Siamese twin.

Almost Everybody On Set Got Food Poisoning

To utilize its futuristic architecture, Total Recall was shot in Mexico City over a six month period. The massive production entailed roughly 500 crew members, 45 sets, eight soundstages, and innumerable cases of food poisoning.

With the exception of Schwarzenegger and writer Ronald Shusett, every person in the crew got sick from food poisoning while filming in Mexico. Verhoeven was so ill by the end of the shoot that he kept an ambulance nearby at all times. Schwarzenegger avoided sickness by having his meals catered from the U.S., a lesson he learned after getting sick from unsanitized water while filming Predator in Mexico two years prior.

Michael Ironside Broke A Rib & Continued Filming

One of the more memorable scenes in the film includes Quaid fighting with Richter (Michael Ironside) in the elevator. While filming the scene, Michael Ironside cracked a rib but continued the fight without missing a beat. As a way to prevent further damage, Ironside wore a rib-protector that once belonged to NFL quarterback Jim Plunkett while filming the rest of the fight scene.

Also during production, Schwarzenegger confronted Ironside over his constant telephone use. When Ironside revealed he was speaking with his cancer-stricken sister, Arnold got on the phone with her to discuss various diet and exercising routines to help her recover, something Ironside has never forgotten.

Arnold Schwarzenegger Suffered Multiple Hand Injuries

Given the amount of physical stunts in the film, it’s not too surprising that Arnold Schwarzenegger also suffered numerous hand injuries while filming Total Recall. For the scene in which Quaid bashes a train window, a micro-explosive was supposed to detonate milliseconds before he touches it. The explosive didn’t work and Arnold smashed the glass for real, causing a deep cut.

During the hand-to-hand combat scene in the Hilton Suite, Schwarzenegger broke a finger on his right hand, which required a hand-cast. This is why his hand remains out of frame in many of the scenes filmed after the injury.

It Was Originally Given An X-Rating

Due to its intense graphic violence, Total Recall was originally tagged with an X-rating. Several scenes had to be cut in order to secure an R-rating. Among them includes Benny’s death scene, which originally depicted his gory entrails falling out his stomach when struck with a power drill.

Other scenes that had to be excised include a man being used as a human shield, Thumbelina stabbing Helm to death with a bowie knife, Richter’s dissected arm, and Quaid’s ambush of the scientists upon fleeing the implant apparatus.

Paul Verhoeven & Arnold Schwarzenegger Almost Made A Crusades Movie

Verhoeven and Schwarzenegger enjoyed working with each other so much on Total Recall that they immediately began working on a follow-up project. Entitled Crusades, the film was set to be an epic action film about the Middle Eastern Crusades.

The project advanced to the point of having a completed screenplay, sets, costumes, and props. However, when Carolco ran into financial trouble, producer Mario Kassar opted to make the pirate epic Cutthroat Island instead. The commercial failure of Cutthroat Island bankrupted Carolco and Crusades was immediately scrapped.

The Original Ending Was More Concrete

Verhoeven always intended for the ending of Total Recall to be ambiguous. Some people think it’s all a big dream, and others believe the opposite. As for screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, he had a much more definitive conclusion in mind.

O’Bannon had a falling out with Verhoeven over the changes to the original screenplay, which went through roughly 40 iterations by the time production ended. Originally, the three-fingered Martian handprint seen at the end of the film was supposed to be Quaid’s handprint. Quaid was initially set to be a human killed by the implant-machine and made into a synthetic replica. The only way to control him is to erase his memory, but when he places his hand on the device, he experiences Total Recall of his memory.

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