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Total Recall and Its Remake

Updated on April 30, 2017
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Poster for the original Total Recall.Poster for the 2012 Total Recall remake.
Poster for the original Total Recall.
Poster for the original Total Recall. | Source
Poster for the 2012 Total Recall remake.
Poster for the 2012 Total Recall remake. | Source


The original “Total Recall” (1990) starred Arnold Schwarzenegger at the height of his career. It also starred a pre-“Basic Instinct” Sharon Stone. It was a big budget movie with state of the art special effects. As with every Schwarzenegger movie at the time it was a box office success. The 1990 remake had twice the budget of the original and was a box office disaster. This article contains spoilers for the original.

The Original

It is set in 2084. Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a construction worker. He is married to Lori (Sharon Stone). He is having recurring dreams about being on Mars with a woman. He tells his wife he wants to go to Mars. She doesn’t want to go. Terrorist attacks on Mars are among the problems with a Mars vacation. Mars dictator Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) claims the terrorist problem is under control but his statement lacks credibility.

On the train to work he sees a commercial by a company, Rekall. The company in-plants vacation memories. Quaid asks a coworker about Rekall and the coworker tells him he knew of someone who got lobotomized by Rekall. Quaid goes to Rekall and the sales person at Rekall (Ray Baker) convinces him to buy a 2 week visit to Mars. Unlike a regular vacation he will be going to Mars as a spy coming out of deep cover.

During the in-plant procedure Quaid made an outburst and had to be sedated. His co-worker and 3 other men tried to kill him but he killed them instead. When he told his wife what happened she tried to kill him. The Schwarzenegger – Stone fight scene is a classic. Quaid learns he was really Hauser, a secret agent who worked for Cohaagen but turned against him. Quaid goes to Mars where he meets the woman in his dreams. His enemies include Ricter (Michael Ironside), a Cohaagen agent who was Lori’s boyfriend. Unusual for movies of the time Ricter had real feelings for Lori. Lori’s feelings for Ricter are unknown. It was Sharon Stone’s ability to instantly switch from kind and loving to vicious and deadly convinced director Paul Verhoeven to cast her in “Basic Instinct”.[i]

On Mars Dr. Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith), who was the man in the Rekall commercial, told Quaid he was having a psychotic reaction to the procedure and he would become lobotomized unless he swallowed a pill.[ii] Quaid killed Dr. Edgemar and continued fighting Cohaagen and his cohorts. What happened followed what Dr. Edgemar said would happen. The movie ends with Quaid victorious but thinking it was possible it was all just the Rekall vacation.

The movie shows scenes that would be outside of Quaid’s perception had it been a Rekall vacation. This could be conclusive evidence it was real. These scenes could also be movie plot holes. Quaid complains about his “lousy job” but he lives in a nice house and can afford a vacation to Mars. This seems incongruous but a modest house with modest appliances would appear a fantastic luxury domicile to someone 100 years ago. The movie has mutants with psychic powers. There is an underground complex of a futuristic society that is long since gone ala “Forbidden Planet”. The movie has a lot of graphic violence. It almost received an X rating for violence.[iii] As with other Schwarzenegger movies of the era there is a great deal of foul language.

[i] United States Movie Database, (, last accessed 4/23/2017.

[ii] The premise of an action, such as swallowing a pill, to end a virtual reality was repeated in the movies The Matrix and Vanilla Sky.

[iii] United States Movie Database, (, last accessed 4/23/2017. An X rating is equivalent to NC-17 today.

The Remake

The remake is set in a dystopian future. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is married to Lori (Kate Beckinsale). He works on an assembly line and she is a medical technician. Douglas has a dream of being in a gunfight, along with a woman (Jessica Biel). He and the other workers are sent from the slums where they live to their work stations on the other side of the world. They get to their workstations via a tube that takes them through the Earth’s core. The tube is called “The Fall”. There is a terrorism problem, the terrorists destroyed a train. A new worker gives Douglas the address to Rekall. Unlike the original Rekall is a seedy business. Rekall is in a part of town that is similar to Venusville in the original movie. When Douglas gets to Rekall police arrive and kill everyone else at Rekall. Douglas manages to kill 12 police officers and escapes. The report on the news is the killings were a terrorist attack. When he gets home his wife tries to kill him. When he disarms her and has a gun to her head she tells him about his life being a lie. When he asks, “Why are you trying to kill me?” She retorts, “Call it the 7 year itch, Doug. Oh, and by the way, you haven’t even begun to see me try to kill you!” She hits and disarms him and their fight resumes with more intensity. It ends with Doug on the run and Lori in hot pursuit.

The remake has many references to the original. Lori is a combination of the original’s Lori and Ricter. In this movie Lori, like Ricter, sometimes goes against orders. Unlike Ricter she isn’t afraid to talk back to Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston). The 5’10” Colin Farrell and the 5’7” Kate Beckinsale are much closer in size than the Schwarzenegger-Stone matchup in the original. Their fight/chase scenes are much more intense and acrobatic. The police force is a combination of humans and robots. This means less graphic violence than the original. The Quaid apartment looks like that of a couple who are struggling to get by. While their occupations would seem good ones today it is realistic such jobs would pay low wages in the future.

Which movie do you prefer?

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The remake

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 months ago

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I take it you're not an Arnold fan?

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 months ago from Houston, Texas

      I did not see either movie so could not vote. At least after reading your post I have an idea of the plot lines of both movies. Thanks!

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 3 months ago

      Yes, judging from the box office numbers many people only saw the original. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 3 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I've only seen the original once, and not seen the remake, but I seem to remember that the original finishes with Schwarzenegger getting outside the Martian 'Dome' and somehow starting up the Alien machinery that re-creates an earthlike atmosphere!

      I enjoyed the first movie, but can't vote as I didn't see the second.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 4 months ago

      Yes, the Schwarzenegger movies of the time were noted for their vulgarity. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 4 months ago from Texas

      Robert, I didn't see the remake and my first impression of the original was made worse by the vulgarity, it was like that was the extent of their vocabulary. Nothing against your review which was spot on.

      Blessings my friend