When Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon first started working on the screenplay for this movie back in the 1970s, they realized that the movie would probably be too expensive and difficult to make (by the standards of special effects and budget at the time). They delayed working on the story and instead worked on an idea O'Bannon had about a space monster terrorizing a spaceship crew. This became Alien (1979).
Arnold Schwarzenegger was originally going to play the title role in RoboCop (1987), but problems with the costume caused producers to drop the idea. After Schwarzenegger saw "RoboCop", he said that he loved the movie and wanted to work with director Paul Verhoeven. When he and Verhoeven heard about "Total Recall", they decided to work on that.
This was one of the last major Hollywood blockbusters to make large-scale use of miniature effects as opposed to CGI. It was also one of the first major Hollywood blockbusters to use CGI (mainly for the scenes involving the X-Ray scanner) and have it look "photo-real".
All of the crew fell ill due to food poisoning during production, with the exception of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Shusett. Schwarzenegger escaped because he always had his food catered from the US. This was because three years earlier, he had fallen ill due to drinking tap water in Mexico during production of Predator (1987). As for Shusett, he took extreme health precautions, such as only brushing his teeth with boiled or bottled water and insisting on getting a weekly vitamin B12 shot. Shusett was even mocked by the crew until they all got sick themselves.
In the DVD commentary, Paul Verhoeven said that for the love scene after Quaid wakes from his nightmare, he wanted Sharon Stone to show more skin, but she refused to do so. He settled for shooting the scene as it is shown, but mentions that he "got her back" while shooting Basic Instinct (1992).
Arnold Schwarzenegger was so impressed by how much dedication Sharon Stone had in training for her character role that he even referred to her as the "Female Terminator". She was inducted into the Stunt Woman Association as an honorary member.
After seeing Sharon Stone's performance as Lori in this movie, director Paul Verhoeven would cast her in the movie Basic Instinct (1992) due to her ability play a character that could change from a timid charming sweetheart to a diabolical person and back again at a moment's notice. He also stated that this is, basically, the way Sharon Stone is in real life.
The concept of Quaid being a physically-buffed construction worker was suggested by Arnold Schwarzenegger himself. In the earlier drafts of the script, Quaid (originally named Quail) was originally described as an average-looking accountant-type person. Because of this detail, when the movie was originally going to be produced by Dino De Laurentiis, he was adamant about not letting Schwarzenegger audition for the role of Quaid. It was only after Schwarzenegger convinced Mario Kassar to buy the script rights from De Laurentiis (whose production company went bankrupt) that the later drafts were re-written to change Quaid's character into one more suitable for Schwarzenegger to play. Schwarzenegger said that he felt this helped the story even more, giving a much stronger contrast to it by turning a character who is otherwise powerful physically into a character that becomes vulnerable after having his mind stolen.
Paul Verhoeven signed onto the film in the Autumn of 1988. Filming began in Mexico City because of its futuristic architecture. 500 people worked on the film; they built 45 sets that tied up eight sound stages for six months. At the time, Total Recall (1990) was the second most expensive film in history, next to Rambo III (1988).
Some of the large ads seen after Quaid gets off the subway were real signs featured above the Insurgentes subway station in Mexico City, most noticeable the Fuji Film and Coca Cola signs, the Coca Cola sign still stands today
In the featurette Imagining 'Total Recall' (2001), production designer William Sandell tells about the brutal conditions experienced while shooting in Mexico. Aside from most of the cast and crew suffering from food poisoning, Sandell also talks about the poor air quality in Mexico City, comparing the breathing conditions to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. He also mentions that at one point the air quality had gotten so bad that associate producer Elliot Schick had to be transported by a medical-evacuation helicopter to a nearby hospital.
During filming, a lot of animals were on the set, including a 5-month old cougar. While in his RV, the cougar jumped on the back of Arnold Schwarzenegger's neck; he thought it might be attacking but it just wanted to play.
Arnold Schwarzenegger felt the trailer was a bad one that misrepresented the film; it didn't convey Total Recall's scope and weirdness, he felt. TriStar just didn't know what to do with the film. Schwarzenegger took it up with producers Peter Guber and Jon Peters, and made them watch both the film and then the trailer. They agreed it was selling the film short so they had a new one made as well as a new campaign.
Towards the end of filming in Mexico, Paul Verhoeven got so sick from food poisoning that he would have an ambulance nearby on set at all times. In between takes the paramedics would administer fluids and medication so that he could keep directing in spite of his illness.
Although never mentioned in the film, the cover of the VHS edition mentions that it takes place in 2084 AD. This has also been confirmed by Paul Verhoeven; he mentioned Blade Runner (1982) as an example of a movie with a way too advanced depiction of the the future for the time period it is supposed to take place in (which was 2019). He wanted to avoid that for Total Recall by situating it much farther into the future.
Though the location of the city in which Quaid lives and works is not revealed, the phone number featured in the Rekall ad he sees in the subway is 915-555-6386-21. Area code 915 suggests the movie is set somewhere in western Texas, possibly El Paso. This is later confirmed if you look carefully at one of Quaid's fake IDs that he pulls out of the suit case inside the old cement factory, which lists him as "James D. Brubaker" of "El Paso, TX".
The software that was intended to be used to fully computer-animate the X-ray sequences didn't work, so the animators had no choice but to do the animation by hand, using the live-action filmed sequences as reference.
The original cut of the movie was given an X-rating by the MPAA for excessive violence. Some violence was trimmed and different camera angles were used in some of the more over the top scenes and the movie was then re-rated R.
Both the adaptation of the screenplay (written by Piers Anthony) and early drafts of the script had the main character's name as Douglas Quail. The original Philip K. Dick story has the name Quail as well. The film was being made during the administration of President George Bush, in which Dan Quayle as Vice President and it is presumed that this was the reason for the change.
Approximately three weeks before the movie's scheduled theatrical release, it only had 43% public awareness, which Arnold Schwarzenegger described as being "absolutely disastrous". He was able to convince producer Mario Kassar and the rest of Carolco - the production company - to pump in more money for advertising. As a result, the movie ended up opening with 99% public awareness.
Composer Jerry Goldsmith had said that he had received some criticism about the movie's score that "the movie had no theme", to which he strongly disagreed, stating that the movie did in fact have a theme, but it wasn't the kind of theme that "people left the theaters whistling after". Goldsmith had modeled some of the movie's score after the score from Conan the Barbarian (1982) composed by Basil Poledouris.
Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted Paul Verhoeven to direct Total Recall (1990) after being impressed with his work on RoboCop (1987), and Verhoeven had always wanted to work with Schwarzenegger in the past. Schwarzenegger sent him the script and Verhoeven loved it but wanted to make some changes; he wanted the film to have more of a scientific basis. Schwarzenegger liked how Verhoeven balanced the mind games with action.
Paul Verhoeven and special effects supervisor Rob Bottin had constant disagreements during the making of RoboCop (1987), so it seemed unlikely that they would ever work together again. However, when they saw how good "RoboCop" had turned out, they changed their minds and Verhoeven gave Bottin full freedom to make his own Martian creature designs.
In the featurette Imagining 'Total Recall' (2001), editor Frank J. Urioste said that most of the external shots of Mars almost didn't make it into the final cut of the movie, much to his dismay. The producers felt that those shots would be too expensive and would make the movie go over budget. Urioste then addressed his concerns about those shots to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was able to convince the producers not to remove the external shots from the final cut.
Writer Dan O'Bannon had a falling out with director Paul Verhoeven when Verhoeven replaced the satirical humor with extreme violence. In the original screenplay, dark humor was much more prevalent, but when Arnold Schwarzenegger came aboard, Verhoeven recognized the necessity to tailor the script to Schwarzenegger's talents.
As it is often done in futuristic movies, this one also uses contemporary design objects to depict future settings - among other things, the small cups with the black plastic ring, used by Quaid while preparing his breakfast smoothie, are Bodum Bistro coffee mugs from Denmark, and a desk lamp at Rekall is the Tolomeo from Italian manufacturer Artemide.
Originally to be directed by David Cronenberg, who turned down the chance to direct The Fly (1986) in order to work on this film. Cronenberg was replaced on "The Fly" by Robert Bierman, but Bierman later pulled out of that project due to the death of his daughter. Around the same time, Cronenberg left "Total Recall" when it was placed into turnaround, which left him free to return to direct "The Fly".
The Spanish title for this movie is "Desafío Total", which means "Total Challenge" in English. It was also released under another Spanish title, "El Vengador del Futuro", which translates to "Future Avenger".
Although the specific location of Mars City on the planet's surface is never mentioned, the fact that many of the habitable structures are built on the sides of a massive canyon could lead one to sufficiently assume that Mars City is located along a section of the Valles Marineris canyon near the Martian equator. Valles Marineris is a massive canyon that stretches over 2500 miles, many times longer than any canyon on Earth. The idea for having the structures built along canyon walls was taken from information gathered by production designer William Sandell when he traveled to various universities to find out how one might go about living on another world (as well as gather ideas for the sets), and a popular idea was to build structures half-inside rocks to protect from solar radiation.
Scripts for Total Recall (1990) had been kicking around Hollywood so long people thought the project was jinxed. Dino De Laurentiis owned the film rights and had tried to get the project off the ground twice in Rome and Australia. Originally it was less violent and more about the fantasy of taking a trip to Mars. Schwarzenegger was annoyed that De Laurentiis didn't offer it to him because he really wanted the part. Patrick Swayze and Richard Dreyfuss had been in the running to play Quaid but De Laurentiis ran into money troubles (not for the first time), so Schwarzenegger tried to persuade Carolco to bankroll the film and they bought it off him.
The escalator chase scene was filmed in Mexico City's "Chabacano" Subway Station (Intersection for Lines 2, 9 and 8, though 8 wasn't operating at the time). The only changes made are direction signs in English, and the station names replaced. They also changed the color of the subway cars, from orange to silver, and added televisions within these, feature that the new subway line, Line 12, currently includes.
In 1992, the Italian electronic dance group U.S.U.R.A. released their hit single (and later album) "Open Your Mind", which features a dialog sample of Kuato's line "Open your mind..." taken from this movie.
Dean Norris (Tony) later had a small role as SWAT team leader in 1991's "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" the sequel to the 1984 film "The Terminator" which Arnold Schwarzenegger (Douglas Quaid) played The Terminator in both films.
Cynthia Rothrock was considered for the role of Lori. According to Rothrock, she found out years later that she didn't receive the part predominantly because some of her would-be costars were concerned by the prospect of being outshone by a female martial artist.
David Cronenberg was set to direct and even wrote a few drafts of the script before Paul Verhoeven took over. Cronenberg stated that he wanted to cast William Hurt as the lead, and was displeased by the producers' decision to reimagine the lead for an action star such as Schwarzenegger.
In the film, Quaid decides to have a memory implant of a vacation on Mars as a secret agent instead of as tourist, only to discover he is a secret agent. In Arnold Schwarzenegger's later film 1994's True Lies (1994), he plays Harry Tasker, a secret agent whose wife and daughter thinks he is a computer salesman.
The second time Quaid leaves the Johnny Cab, it short-circuits and blows up extensively, but the cab would probably have been an electric vehicle. It does not necessarily need gasoline to explode, as high capacity battery systems can and do blow up with considerable force. Gasoline powered vehicles would not be used in a closed environment.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
On three separate occasions, if you pay close attention, various characters give the ending of the movie away: 1) When Bob McClane pitches the Secret Agent Ego Trip to Quaid, he tells him that by the time his trip is over he'll "get the girl, kill the bad guys, and save the entire planet!" 2) When Dr. Lull tosses Ernie a computer chip, he looks at it and says "That's a new one! 'Blue Sky on Mars'." And finally 3) When Quaid threatens to shoot Dr. Edgemar in the Hilton suite, Edgemar describes the events that will happen almost verbatim throughout the rest of the movie.
As director Paul Verhoeven is careful to explain on the DVD commentary, when Dr. Edgemar (Roy Brocksmith) visits Quaid, he outlines the entire third act of the movie. He says that if Quaid kills him: "the walls of reality will come crashing down" (moments after Quaid shoots Edgemar, the walls of the apartment literally crash down); he says that Quaid will believe himself the savior of the resistance only to discover that he is in fact Cohaagen's "bosom buddy" (which is exactly what happens); and he says that he will have visions of an "alien civilization" (which Quaid experiences during the mind meld with Kuato). Verhoeven points out that if a viewer believes the whole film is a dream, then Edgemar's prediction that Quaid will end up being lobotomized is fulfilled in the fade to white which ends the movie.
When filming the fight scene between Lori and Melina, director Paul Verhoeven asked Second Unit Director Vic Armstrong to choreograph the fight not as a "cat fight" but more like a martial arts fight, to give the feel of two "warriors" fighting each other and not simply two women. Verhoeven remarks in the DVD commentary that this is probably the first time in a feature film where we see two women fighting each other normally, as opposed to a cat fight.
Director Paul Verhoeven wanted to make the ending of the movie completely ambiguous so as the audiences would still not know even at the end of the movie if it was all a dream or if it did really happen. According to Verhoeven himself, he believed the ending was in fact a dream, but at the same time, he also said that the casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as the lead role was also leaning towards reality, as most audiences who go to see a Schwarzenegger movie would be in favor of a 'reality' ending as opposed to a 'dream' ending.
Arnold Schwarzenegger suffered several hand-related injuries during the shoot. When filming the scene where Quaid smashes a train window, a tiny explosive in the glass was supposed to shatter it a fraction of a second before Schwarzenegger struck it, but it didn't go off and Schwarzenegger hit the glass for real, badly cutting himself. When filming the fight scene inside Quaid's Hilton suite (immediately after Quaid shoots Dr. Edgemar), Schwarzenegger broke a finger on his right hand and had to get a cast fitted. As a result, most of his scenes shot afterward kept his injured hand off-screen.
Regardless of whether people believe the movie as a whole is a dream or reality, according to Paul Verhoeven, the first 20 minutes or so of the movie (from the beginning up until the point where Quaid first undergoes the implantation of his Rekall vacation implant) is all reality.
It took 15 puppeteers to control Kuato, whose name is from the Spanish word "cuate" ("twin"). In Imagining 'Total Recall' (2001), director Paul Verhoeven said that special makeup effects designer Rob Bottin had made the Kuato puppet look so real that he was approached by two people on the street asking if he (Marshall Bell) was a "real freak" or possibly a semi-born Siamese twin.
The scene where the air to the Mars colony is cut off was initially shot with the Martians violently gasping for oxygen. However, this gave the scene an unintentionally comical feeling. It was director of photography Jost Vacano who suggested to have the actors lying down quietly while fighting to survive, in order to give the scene a much more dramatic tone. He remembered how effective this had been when he shot a similar scene in Das Boot (1981) in the same way.
The design for the alien reactor that melts the ice and gives Mars air at the end of the movie was based on a nuclear reactor. According to Paul Verhoeven, he wanted to "be inside a nuclear reactor" (with poles going into water), but wanted to make it to a much grander scale, with the poles being as big as skyscrapers. Both he and William Sandell found a book that had pictures of skyscrapers that were built around the turn of the 20th century, which had potential for the reactor design, but initially neither of them were convinced that idea would work, so they dejectedly threw the book on the ground. It landed in such a way that the skyscraper pictures were upside down, and both Verhoeven and Sandell looked and realized that upside down, the skyscrapers had the right look for the alien reactor.
Right before Quaid falls asleep he gives instructions to the Recall technicians as to the characteristics of his dream girl. The picture of Melina appears on the screen from the already existing archives of Recall.
After Quaid shoots Lori, he says "Consider that a divorce." According to Dan O'Bannon, in the original script Quaid says "Consider THIS a divorce" and then shoots Lori. This was ultimately changed to what appears on film because O'Bannon and others thought it was "a bit too cold-blooded".
Quaid's metal briefcase contains the following items: a worker's ID for the Pyramid Mines on Mars under the name "Steve Leonetti", a driver's license under the name "James D. Brubaker", several other miscellaneous ID cards, a large sum of pink Martian dollar bills, an unusual medical device (later used to extract the bug from inside Quaid's head), a portable wrist-worn hologram generator, a laptop-like video communication device, various clothes (possibly the fat lady outfit), and a piece of paper with the name "HOFFMAN" written on it, who's purpose is never revealed (possibly Quaid's passenger ticket to Mars?).
According to Ronald Shusett, back when the movie was originally being produced by Dino De Laurentiis, De Laurentiis had planned to shoot the ending completely differently from the original script, because he felt the concept of Mars getting air was just "too difficult to visualize". This didn't sit well with Shusett, and the two had many arguments over it, even escalating to the point that Shusett had threatened to cancel the movie altogether, stating that he'd rather not see the movie get made if it's the way he intended it to be made. Di Laurentiis eventually saw the error in his judgment when he suggested to director Richard Rush about altering the ending, to which Rush replied that he was "full of shit" and convinced him not to cut or alter the ending. Di Laurentiis even approached Shusett, apologizing for giving him such a hard time and saying "Ron, you so stubborn I kiss you in the mouth! You save me!" Di Laurentiis never did get to produce the movie, because his production company went bankrupt shortly afterwards and the project ended up being sold to Mario Kassar's Carolco Pictures (at the request of Arnold Schwarzenegger).
Over 40 drafts of the script had already been written when Paul Verhoeven agreed to read the screenplay. Some of them depicted Quaid as a mild-mannered accountant (instead of a construction worker). Most scripts had a similar first half (Quaid visits Rekall and starts having altered memories), but they all varied widely in the ending. One of them even had Quaid discover that he was really an alien in human disguise (a twist that may have been inspired by another Philip K. Dick short story, "Impostor" later filmed as Impostor (2001)). Verhoeven finally brought in Gary Goldman for additional work on the script. According to Verhoeven, although there were many changes made to each of the scripts, the final draft was very similar to the first draft by Ronald Shusett.
According to Bob McClane and the display screen, Quaid's Mars Vacation Package includes the following: Private cabin on the Mars-bound shuttle, Two weeks accommodations at a deluxe suite at the Mars Hilton, three meals a day at a 5-star restaurant, romantic encounters, personal tour guide to Mt. Olympus, Pyramid Mountain, the Grand Canals, and Venusville. Counting the Secret Agent Ego Trip addition, Quaid's vacation costs a total of 1199 credits (899 for the standard vacation and 300 for the Ego Trip addition), which would later be refunded after Quaid's schizoid embolism incident.
There are a few references to the fate of Benny the cab driver. Twice Benny is nearly killed by the giant drill machines. When he is exposed as a traitor, Benny tries to kill Quaid with a drill machine. Quaid then kills him by stabbing him with a portable drill.
Benny the cab driver says he wishes he had three hands while fondling the triple-breasted prostitute. In fact, he does. He has a normal hand, a mutant hand which is revealed to gain Quaid's trust, and a robotic snap-on hand to hide his mutant hand.
When Dr. Edgemar meets Quaid, there is a shot where both men stand in the center of the room and only Quaid's reflection is seen in the mirror on the right whereas, as said, they both stand at the same spot. This can be regarded as foreshadowing the fact that the Dr. Edgemar is not on Quaid's side, that he's a traitor.