Original vs. Remake: Total Recall (1990 & 2012)


Paul Verhoeven

Arnold Schwarzenegger - Douglas Quaid/Hauser
Rachel Ticotin - Melina
Sharon Stone - Lori Quaid
Michael Ironside - Richter
Ronny Cox - Cohaagen
Mel Johnson Jr. - Benny
Marshall Bell - George/Kuato

Genre - Science Fiction/Action

Running Time - 113 Minutes


Len Wiseman

Colin Farrell - Douglas Quaid/Hauser
Kate Beckinsale - Lori Quaid
Jessica Biel - Melina
Bryan Cranston - Cohaagen
Bokeem Woodbine - Harry
John Cho - McClane
Bill Nighy - Matthias

Genre - Science Fiction/Action

Running Time - 121 Minutes

Ever since the remake trend has hit Hollywood in 2003 with Platinum Dunes' THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake [one I actually like], there's always a remake each year that makes you question why it would exist for nothing other than money and milking off of a brand name. This has happened quite a lot in the horror genre, but lately, it's gone into the science fiction and action genres. This year, the remake that has left a somewhat questionable taste on moviegoers' mouths has been Len Wiseman's re-interpretation of the 1990 sci-fi/action classic, TOTAL RECALL.

TOTAL RECALL, based on the short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick, has a long history in terms of its film adaptation since 1974. Things didn't get serious until the mid-1980s when late producer Dino de Laurentiis, who was behind 1980's FLASH GORDON and 1984's DUNE, wanted David Cronenberg to direct a film version of Philip K. Dick's story. Favorite horror/sci-fi screenwriter, the late Dan O'Bannon, wrote several drafts of the screenplay due to not knowing how to end the film. After Cronenberg had read multiple scripts and getting frustrated, he left the project feeling that de Laurentiis wanted a different film than Cronenberg wanted to direct. Laurentiis, then, dumped TOTAL RECALL on director Bruce Beresford - which would have starred Patrick Swayze as Douglas Quaid. The film was well way into pre-production, with sets being built in Australia, until the production was canceled after DEG Studios [owned by Laurentiis] collapsed due to a great loss of money.

Funny enough, the biggest action star of the day, Arnold Schwarzenegger, had found a copy of the script, read it, and loved it. Schwarzenegger had been brought up to play Douglas Quaid during earlier discussions for TOTAL RECALL, but Laurentiis didn't want him anywhere near the project. Schwarzenegger went to Carolco Studios, who distributed the RAMBO films and 1988's RED HEAT, to buy the script and make the adaptation happen. Since Schwarzenegger had a lot of clout at the time, Carolco bought TOTAL RECALL and made him the star - turning the psychological Philip K. Dick story into an action/sci-fi movie. Paul Verhoeven, who was coming off from the massive success of 1987's ROBOCOP, was hired to direct.

The film was released in the summer of 1990 to huge business, including spinning off into a video game and a television show, Total Recall 2070. There was also a sequel discussed, but it was never filmed. Rumors have it that the script [which was written for an intended sequel] was slightly changed to become 2002's MINORITY REPORT starring Tom Cruise. However, someone thought it was a great idea to remake TOTAL RECALL, with UNDERWORLD director Len Wiseman behind the project, and Colin Farrell [who seems to be the go-to guy for remakes lately, with last year's FRIGHT NIGHT being the start] playing Quaid. Fans of the original were immediately against the project, but not really surprised by the events.

This past weekend, TOTAL RECALL (2012) was second place behind THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Costing $125 million to make and only making $32.2 million, the remake has a long way to go to make any sort of profit. Does this lack of interest show that TOTAL RECALL was an unnecessary remake? Or does the original need an update after 22 years? Read on to find out.

Set on a futuristic Earth, a blue collar worker [construction worker/factory worker] named Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger/Colin Farrell) has been experiencing some weird dreams. His wife Lori (Sharon Stone/Kate Beckingsale) tries to convince Quaid that the dreams aren't real, but Quaid is extremely curious about their origin and what they might mean. After work, Quaid goes to a company called Rekall - a place where scientists are able to implant certain memories into a subject as if they're going on a virtual vacation. Wanting to live a life of a secret agent, the programmers attempt to cater to Quaid. However, the memory implant seems to go wrong as Quaid begins to behave wildly, accidentally revealing a secret that someone made Quaid forget back into his memory.

After this incident, Quaid returns to Lori and explains to her that he went to Rekall and remembered certain things. Realizing that Quaid screwed up her plan, she reveals they aren't really married and is under the employ of a megalomaniac businessman and dictator known as Cohaagen (Ronny Cox/Bryan Cranston). After Lori attempts to kill Quaid, he escapes and encounters Melina (Rachel Ticotin/Jessica Biel) - the woman in his dreams. Realizing that they knew each other in a past life, Quaid and Melina race to find out the truth behind Quaid's true identity, as well as stop Cohaagen before he stops them for good.


1990's TOTAL RECALL is still considered to be one the best action/sci-fi films of all time. Why? For a number of reasons: the film still holds up well, it has a ton of charm and humor, and it has kick-ass action and special effects by Rob Bottin. Is it perfect? No. But it's memorable for all the right reasons and is still as effective today as it was 22 years ago.

The film adaptation, written by Dan O'Bannon, Gary Goldman, Ronald Shusett, and Jon Povill, is pretty different from the Philip K. Dick short story, as the story is more psychological and subtle than the in-your-face and action-packed movie version. I've never read the short story, but I do know that TOTAL RECALL maintains Douglas Quaid [or Quail in the actual story - was changed for the film due to then-Vice President Dan Quayle] wanting a memory implant about being a secret agent on Mars, not realizing that he really was a special agent on Mars but had his memories erased. Cops then chase after him, following a tracking device that is somewhat telepathic. The story does go in a different direction towards the end than the film does, but the idea and the premise is still part of the film.

For an action/sci-fi flick, TOTAL RECALL has a ton of depth going for it. The film could have really focused on the action sequences and relied Arnold Schwarzenegger's name [he was so hot at the time that he could have done a crap film and it still would have made money] to achieve financial success at the box office. But instead of being all style and no substance, the screenplay actually gives the viewer compelling characters within mysterious and interesting situations on both Earth and Mars. The 'identity' angle of TOTAL RECALL really raises the film from a standard action/sci-fi film into something more special. We're along for the ride with Douglas Quaid, as he finds out quickly that his married life isn't what he thought it was, realizing that his memories have been messed with and he's really someone else - someone more interesting than his current life. Along the way, the script plays up what's really going on in terms of Quaid - what's real and what's an implanted memory? Is he really Douglas Quaid - husband and good guy construction worker? Or is he Hauser - secret agent on Mars who may, or may not, be working on the right side? The scene with Quaid's wife, Lori, and Rekall's President, Dr. Edgemar, is so effective because it makes the viewer question what we're really seeing - making us feel just as confused and unsure as Quaid. If Quaid really living out this whole ordeal, or is he really sitting on a chair at Rekall Inc. dreaming this all up due to a memory implant? The film never really answers that either. We like to believe TOTAL RECALL really happened, but there are no real clues either way. That openness for interpretation is the main reason why fans keep coming back for more.

The characters are also quite strong, as they're deep enough to make us wonder who's side are they on and what are their true intentions. Are they trying to help Quaid figure out the truth and this secret he's repressed, or are they hunting him down in order to keep him shut? In fact, most of them develop an underlying theme of duality, as a lot of these characters are perceived as one way, but are really someone else. This creates layers you wouldn't expect out of a Schwarzenegger film at the time, and it's highly welcomed.

Douglas Quaid is a great character because he's an unreliable narrator. He thinks he knows who he is and who he can trust, but as the film goes on, that starts to get vague and confusing. His journey becomes compelling because we know what he knows, learning all the information along with him. I also think Quaid is a great hero - a man who comes across as pure and innocent, surprised by the secret agent abilities he had no idea he possessed. The dialogue for the character is great, as he has his serious moments and his humorous moments, although I believe Arnold Schwarzenegger ad-libbed a lot of his one-liners and cuss words. But Quaid comes across so likeable and acts like a lost puppy at times, which is a great contrast to Hauser, who comes across as confident and a bit sarcastic. It's no wonder Douglas Quaid is one of Schwarzenegger's most memorable roles.

The supporting characters are also interesting. Quaid's wife, Lori, plays the loving and supportive wife at the start. But then whenever Mars is mentioned, she becomes quite the bitch. When we learn who she really is, Lori turns on the bitch mode to the highest level, showing she can handle herself in the combat department against Quaid and Melina later on. Melina isn't as deep as Lori, but she too seems to be living a double life. She works at a club, which acts as a cover for some sort of resistance front against Cohaagen. She also happens to be Hauser's lover and Quaid's dream woman. We don't know much about her, but she's tough and can handle herself. Ritcher and Cohaagen are your typical villains, although Cohaagen is more fond of Quaid/Hauser than he lets on, which raises Ritcher's jealousy for Quaid/Hauser. Benny, the annoying cabbie, uses humor to get his message across, although he also hides a dark secret. And of course, you have the mystery Kuato, who seems to be a big threat for Cohaagen. Just interesting characters in the story that really flesh out the narrative and keep you invested from beginning to end.

TOTAL RECALL also has some great, memorable moments that resonate. The scene at Rekall Inc., where we learn that Quaid may not be who he believes he is, happens to be a great set-up for the rest of the film. The classic Hauser line - "Get your ass to Mars," - that repeats over and over again as Quaid pulls the transmitter out of his nose is great. The transit area scene where Quaid is disguised as a woman is a classic. The reveal of Kauto is awesome. Plus who can forget the lady with the three breasts? Is it any wonder why TOTAL RECALL is still remembered fondly?

The special effects by Rob Bottin are fantastic, although they do look a bit dated compared to today's modern technology. However, these are practical effects, which I do prefer to most CGI [which does have its place, but shouldn't be used for everything]. The mutants look cool, and I loved how each of them looked a bit different from the other. I liked the reveal of Quaid out of his female disguise at the transit area, as the mask slides out to reveal Quaid's face. The transmitter out of the nose is funny, yet cool at the same time. Kuato looks creepy, yet great. THREE BREASTS!!! And I loved the hologram stuff. Plus all the violence and seeing people get shot to hell really enhance the action sequences and the R rating. The violence is so relaxed here, as if Verheoven and Bottin had no shame in showing it to us. It would be hard to get away with that these days, especially after recently with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES screening and other situations. The special effects are definitely a product of its time. While the gory effects did get a lot of flack back in 1990, it adds to the experience and the fun of the film.

The direction by Paul Verhoeven is fantastic here. Verhoeven was at his crtical peak here, as he directed this film between 1987's ROBOCOP and 1992's BASIC INSTINCT. 1995's SHOWGIRLS seems to have 'ruined' his reputation, but it has become a cult, camp classic years after its release. As for TOTAL RECALL, his visual style really adds a level of charm and fun to the narrative. The thing I liked about Verhoeven at this time was that he knew when to be subtle and when to be over-the-top in terms of direction. The direction never distracts or compensate for the story [not that it needed it] and Verhoeven is great at directing chaotic violence without shame. The editing is solid. The cinematography is great for its time - I'm sure it looks fantastic on Blu Ray. The score by Jerry Goldsmith rocks from top to bottom. I love it. And Verhoeven is extremely energetic, as the film picks up right from the opening credits and never lets up. Each scene leads flawlessly into the next one, building suspense, tension, and atmosphere. TOTAL RECALL's direction may not be as beloved as ROBOCOP's direction [I won't pick one or the other - I enjoy both], but it's extremely solid and confident. I can only imagine Verhoeven had a ton of fun filming this as the audience will watching this.

The acting is pretty solid here as well. Arnold Schwarzenegger may never be considered Hollywood's greatest actor of all time, but the guy knows how to make a presence in any film he appears in. He has a ton of charisma and great comedic timing, making his performance as Douglas Quaid/Hauser a lot of fun and extremely likeable. I also thought he displayed the right amount of emotion in terms of the role, especially when Doug was confused and vulnerable. Sharon Stone, before her infamous starring role in BASIC INSTINCT a couple of years later, is great as Lori. She plays a convincing bitch, which makes her extremely hot, sexy, seductive, and a woman you'll regret messing with. If I were Doug, I would have taken Lori over Melina any day of the week. Speaking of Melina, Rachel Ticotin is good in the role. She doesn't really get a whole lot to do compared to Stone, but she's watchable and looks good kicking ass. Michael Ironside, as Richter, plays his typical psychotic villain role. When you do it as well as Ironside, you can never complain about his performance. Ronny Cox is great as Cohaagen as well. Mel Johnson Jr. is a bit annoying and over-the-top as Benny, but it helps when the character takes a turn towards the end. A really great cast here that help make TOTAL RECALL a must watch for science fiction and action fans.


- Rekall allows the ability to implant memories. I'm guessing my trip there came with memories of Justin Bieber, Rebecca Black, and TWILIGHT. I want a refund.

- Doug likes his women brunette, athletic, and sleazy. When it came to his most recent affair, two out of three ain't bad. I guess Mildred wasn't fully maid to order...

- Lori tried to kill Doug after she learned he went to Rekall. I guess once a woman gets married, it's her BASIC INSTINCT to be a psychotic bitch.

- Wearing a wet towel around your head will muffle the signal to your location. No wonder men get caught cheating more than women. I need to 'wash my hair' more often...

- On Mars, there's a girl with three boobs. Now I understand why eyes pop out and tongues wag on this planet. Makes me wish I had four hands...

- Lori was really pissed off to be on Mars, beating up Doug. She must still be upset by the Rekall memory implant where she appeared in CATWOMAN. Don't blame her.

- Richter was attacked by patrons at The Last Resort. I guess VISITING HOURS were over.

- Cohaagen turned off the air in Sector G of Mars. Jordin Sparks and Chris Brown have been used to this for years now.



This remake to TOTAL RECALL is the epitome of a remake that doesn't need to exist, since it doesn't improve upon the original or take the story into a different angle. If the remake was a closer adaptation to the actual short story, sort of what John Carpenter's THE THING was compared to THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, then maybe there would have been a good reason for wanting to film another version of TOTAL RECALL. Instead, it plays on the same beats as the 1990 version, with slight changes - yet with the same, but less effective, results. It's an okay film, but nothing more than that.

Like I said, the narrative is closer to the Verhoeven/Schwarzenegger version rather than the Philip K. Dick short story. Doug has weird dreams that resemble some sort of past life that includes a mysterious girl named Melina. His wife is a double agent. Doug, wanting more out of his life, goes to Rekall to get a memory implant where he's a secret agent. Things go awry, Lori turns on him, Melina saves Doug, and Cohaagen orders Lori to hunt down Doug to make sure he never figures out who he is. Oh, a three breasted chick is in this film too [who I was very glad to see]. Didn't I just watch this film?

The differences don't really add much to this version, but at least there was an attempt to make the remake stand out from the original. Instead of Mars, the setting is between two colonies controlled by Cohaagen. One of the United Federation of Britain, which is sort of the upper-class population. The other is The Colony [which replaces Mars in this version], feeling more like Australia and inhabits the middle-class and poor populations. Since there's no Richter character in this film, Lori plays both the double agent wife and the Richter role all rolled up in one - making her the main assassin under Cohaagen's organization. Also, this version of the future looks very robotic, cleaner, and more mechanical than the more gritty version of the original. I thought a lot of the differences were interesting and gave the film a bit of a fresh new feel. I do think director Len Wiseman was interested in merging the story of TOTAL RECALL with some other sci-fi/action films, like MINORITY REPORT [ironic enough] and BLADE RUNNER. But for what it is, it's done well enough to keep you watching somewhat.

What this version of TOTAL RECALL loses that made the original so special is the charm and the humor that came with everything. While the 1990 TOTAL RECALL was definitely a film that had its serious moments, especially during the action sequences and the film's Final Act, it also had bits of comedy that added to the film's viewing experience. The film is rich with awesome one-liners, making the film rise above its conventional nature at the time. The remake is definitely a lot more straightforward and serious in tone. In fact, it's a pretty cold and almost soulless experience - as if it's going through the motions while still trying to be a thrilling action/sci-fi flick. No one has a real sense of humor here, with takes away a bit of the fun factor. I think it's because the screenwriters this time around were more focused on the political undertones of the film concerning Cohaagen while balancing Quaid's arc in figuring out what happened to him and what his real life is. The original had the whole 'people forming a rebellion to overthrow its dictatorial leader' angle, but the remake plays around with it a bit more and more seriously. At least the original had a satirical feel about the whole theme. This version is too on-the-nose with it and one-dimensional. At least it matches the same dimension as the characters' depth, so points for consistency.

Also, TOTAL RECALL (2012) uses so many elements from various other films before and after the original, that the remake ends up looking and feeling generic. Instead of seeing something and thinking it looks cool, you end up comparing it to the film it was most likely inspired by. The fight choreography reminds me of THE BOURNE IDENTITY. The running through set pieces looks something from a modern James Bond flick. The sets themselves look like something from BLADE RUNNER mixed with MINORITY REPORT. Wait, wasn't Colin Farrell also in MINORITY REPORT? These aspects work in the film's favor as you watch it, but once it's done, you forget about what you just watched and feel the urge to watch the films TOTAL RECALL was ripping off - I mean, inspired by. Not to say the narrative doesn't work in this shinier version. But it makes you wonder why it had to be retold to a new generation when the 1990 version still holds up perfectly well.

The special effects in the remake are mainly CGI, losing the coolness of the Rob Bottin work from the original. Even so, the effects are done very nicely and look great. The sets look really futuristic, with flying cars and robot cops hunting down Quaid and Melina. The film, in general, looks really slick and really beautiful to look at visually. The action sequences are shot really well and look impressive. TOTAL RECALL is never boring, because there's always something to look at. It may not have much going for it on a story level, but your eyes will definitely like the film.

Len Wiseman isn't the director Paul Verhoeven is, but he does a more than capable job behind the camera. The editing is tight. The cinematography by Paul Cameron matches the film's mood of paranoia and surreality. The film, which is two hours, feels less than that due to Wiseman's kinetic filmmaking. Things are always happening in this remake, which makes it easy to watch and digest. The action is shot well. The special effects work within the picture. Sure, the film looks like any other modern sci-fi/action film out there, but at least Wiseman keeps it moving and looking great. Honestly, the visual presentation is what really keeps TOTAL RECALL afloat.

The acting is what it is. Colin Farrell is no Arnold Schwarzenegger, but he attempts to make us feel for Douglas Quaid. He's a serious actor with major chops, handling the material really well in the lead role. He's also quite good when it comes to performing action as well. Not sure why he became the go-to guy for remakes these days, but he's good here. Kate Beckinsale is even better as Lori, Quaid's wife and all-around relentless bitch. She looks like she's having fun playing a villain for once, which makes her fun to watch. She doesn't have deep material to work with, but she can definitely do action convincingly and looks hot doing it. Jessica Biel is decent as Melina. Again, her character is one-dimensional, but she handles the action quotient well. Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy are great actors, but they do get much to do as Cohaagen and Matthias respectively. The film could have used both actors more than it did. Bokeem Woodbine and John Cho play their roles well enough. A nice cast that had to work with a thin screenplay.

It's obvious by reading this review that I definitely prefer the 1990 TOTAL RECALL over the 2012 TOTAL RECALL. While the remake does look shiny and new [like a virgin], the original beats it just by its charm, creativity, and performances by a game cast and a director who knew exactly the type of movie he was making. The remake feels like 'been-there-and-done-that', especially when it integrates a bunch of other films into the presentation. It's an unnecessary remake, but at least it's not the worst thing out there. Hell, it's not even the worst remake ever. It does have its cool moments and is a decent time-waster while watching it. But the original will resonate with you long after it's over, which is something the remake doesn't do. Some films should be left alone, regardless of money or producing it for a modern generation. If this new generation doesn't want to watch something that's 22 years old [or in their minds - ancient], then they don't have to see it. Let us old folk appreciate it for ourselves as one of the best sci-fi/action films ever made.

4 Howls Outta 4
2 Howls Outta 4




  1. Great comparison review! I love the original - for a lot of the reasons you wrote about - and don't have much desire at all to see this new one - although I think Bryan Cranston is great casting replacing Ronny Cox! Cheers!

    1. Bryan Cranston is great, but he isn't used much in the remake at all. It's really just Farrell/Beckinsale/Biel. The original still rocks and it's the only one you need to watch. Now get your ass to Mars! :)

  2. If you EVER have the chance to listen to the director's commentary on the Total Recall DVD, it is unbelievably worth it. It's Verhoeven and Arnie talking about the film, and it's TOTALLY INSANE. Not sure if it's on all of the releases. The release I'm thinking of was in some kind of metal tin.

    But yeah, my roommates and I had actually created a whole drinking game based on the commentary. It was THAT entertaining and awful.

    Great review(s).

    1. Thanks. I've never checked out the commentary track for TOTAL RECALL, but I think I might have to now. I have the Special Edition one, which I'm not sure if that's the same edition you're referring to.

  3. We pretty much feel the same, the fun was sucked out of the whole thing...but I did enjoy the new one anyways, it has some great action scenes and effects, but it feels cold in comparison.

    1. Yeah, the remake was okay for what it was. But it had no soul. For a film where the character is trying to figure out his true identity, the movie itself was suffering from a bit of identity crisis itself.

  4. Gotta see the remake end of August, but I've rewatched the original just yesterday - a blast from the past. I almost forgot how awesome it is, incredibly clever and mindbending, but also super-entertaining and packed with stunning action and fabulously memorable scenes, such as the robotic head or the bizarre Kuato.

    Haven't read your remake-review for spoiler reasons, but I totally agree with your 1990-review: a must watch for action & sci.fi fans!!

    1. The original is still fantastic. The remake - well, don't expect too much out of it.


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