In 1990, Austrian action superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dutch director Paul Verhoeven teamed up for what would become one of the biggest science fiction films of all time, Total Recall. Schwarzenegger, the star of such films as Conan the Barbarian, The Terminator, Commando, Predator and The Running Man, played Douglas Quaid, a man whose dreams of Mars come to life when he takes a virtual holiday, only to be embroiled in a desperate race to save the red planet — a scenario which may or may not be a product of his imagination.
Despite its restrictive rating, the film grossed $250 million worldwide, enough to make it the highest grossing film of the year. Yet Total Recall had an inauspicious beginning. The film was loosely based on a 1966 short story entitled ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’, written by American science fiction author Philip K. Dick (1928-1982). Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? had previously inspired Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which despite being a critical and commercial failure, had revived interest in Dick’s writing, and led to a number of his other stories being optioned for the cinema. ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’, however, had been snapped up almost a decade earlier by future Alien co-writer and executive producer Ronald D. Shusett, who, at the time, had only a low-budget suspense film W (aka I Want Her Dead) to his credit. “I think it was probably 1974 that I optioned this story,” Shusett later recalled. “Phil Dick was then not a known author at all. He was still a struggling pulp writer, [as he was for] most of his career until Blade Runner got made.”
Shusett first encountered the twenty-three-page short story in the pages of the April 1966 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. In the story, downtrodden clerk Douglas Quail visits a company named Rekall, Inc., which offers ‘false memory vacations’ which, as far as the brain is concerned, are as memorable as the real thing. As Quail is implanted with the fake memory of a secret agent’s trip to Mars, the process uncovers his true identity — not only a secret agent recently returned from Mars, but someone whose death will lead to the invasion of Earth, thanks to a deal he struck with aliens as a child. Said Shusett, “This was the first story which knocked me right out, which I knew would make an incredible movie, [albeit] an incredibly expensive one.”
Shusett paid $1,000 for the rights to the story, and invited a screenwriter friend, Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star), to help him turn it into a script. “Ronny Shusett walked into my apartment sporting a filthy old Xerox copy of Dick’s [story],” O’Bannon told Cinefantastique. “He said, ‘Dan, I was wondering if you’d take a look at this story and tell me if you think this would make a good movie.’ I said, ‘I know that story and I think it would make a terrific movie.’” Thirty pages into the script, now retitled Total Recall at Shusett’s suggestion, O’Bannon realised he had exhausted the story. “Dick’s story is short,” he said. “It ends very abruptly. You cannot take that particular story and simply inflate it up to a full-length piece.” O’Bannon realised that the story was effectively a first act, and that the second and third acts would have to be invented from scratch. “Shusett liked what I did and asked, ‘Where does it go from here?’ And I said, ‘We take him to Mars.’”
The resulting script opens with the protagonist, Quail (the name was eventually altered to Quaid to avoid references to the then-Vice President, Dan Quayle), dreaming of a Martian pyramid of which he has no conscious memory. “Quaid, Earth’s top secret agent, went to Mars and entered this [alien] compound. The machine killed him and created a synthetic duplicate. He is that synthetic duplicate,” O’Bannon explained, “[and] he cannot be killed because he can anticipate danger before it happens.” The fact that this duplicate is invulnerable leads the government of Earth to a radical solution: “Earth wants to kill him but cannot. That’s why they go to all this trouble to erase his brain to make him think he’s nobody. It’s the only way they can control him.” At the climax of the script, Quaid puts his hand on the Martian machine, at which point he achieves ‘total recall’, discovering his true identity: a Martian machine. “He is, in effect, the resurrection of the Martian race in a synthetic body. He turns and says to all the other characters, ‘It’s going to be fun to play God.’” O’Bannon’s co-writer, however, wanted a more dramatic and externalized climax. “Shusett and I never saw eye to eye on the end of the movie,” O’Bannon admitted, adding: “The end that they filmed, in my estimation, is lame.”
O’Bannon and Shusett enjoyed a more fruitful collaboration on Alien (1979), the success of which gave Shusett a development deal at Disney, where he set to work on Total Recall once again. When Disney eventually passed on the project, Dino De Laurentiis’ company DEG stepped in, with plans for Richard Rush, director of The Stunt Man, or Lewis Teague (Cujo) to direct. Yet the difficulties with the script’s third act remained; problems that De Laurentiis hoped his next choice would solve: Canadian horror director David Cronenberg, fresh from the mainstream success of The Dead Zone (1983). “At that time I was not a Philip Dick fan,” Cronenberg admitted to Serge Grünberg. “I knew about him but I had stopped reading sci-fi when I was a kid; probably sometime in the 1950s. That was when I started reading guys like Burroughs and Nabokov. So I missed the beginning of Philip K. Dick’s reign as one of the supremos of sci-fi. It was the script of Total Recall which Dino gave to me which got me interested. It had this very wonderful beginning which was pure Philip K. Dick — and then they didn’t know what to do with it. So I was intrigued because it felt very close, it felt good.”
Cronenberg recalls spending a year writing and rewriting his own version of the script on a Xerox 860 word processor. “It’s a good thing I had a computer because I did about twelve drafts in about twelve months,” he says. “I was constantly fighting with Ron Shusett, and meeting with him, and then at a certain point I was sitting in a room full of people, and Ron said, ‘You know what you’ve done? You’ve done the Philip K. Dick version,’ like I had done something terrible. And I said, ‘Well, yeah.’ And he said, ‘No, no, we want Raiders of the Lost Ark Goes to Mars.’ So I said, ‘Well, Jeez, I wish we’d all had this discussion twelve months ago — it wouldn’t have wasted all our time!’” Says Shusett, “I didn’t want to do it as serious as Blade Runner. I thought it needed to have a Raiders tone; not quite so humorous, but certainly closer to that than Cronenberg’s approach.” Cronenberg confirms that De Laurentiis shared Shusett’s view. “I said, ‘Dino, I think we have to stop because we’re obviously talking about two different movies, and we might as well acknowledge it now. I don’t want to make your movie. It seems that you don’t want to make my movie. We should stop.’ He was rational but he was telling me he was going to sue me. I was surprised he even cared, but it was like he had done a deal with me and… so I basically said that I would make another movie with him. I mean I obviously wanted to work with him, but that project was clearly not the right one.”
“Cronenberg quit for a number of reasons,” Shusett explained, adding that the problems began around the time Richard Dreyfuss became interested in the role of Quaid. The actor was already an Oscar winner and star of two Steven Spielberg blockbusters, Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and wanted the writers to mould the character of Quaid to his ‘everyman’ persona, rather than the action hero described in the O’Bannon-Shusett version. “First of all, he and I were having a number of creative disagreements, which started about the time of Richard Dreyfuss’ involvement. [Then] Cronenberg started to feel that the movie should take on a whole new approach, different than either of the previous ones. I disagreed with him. I wanted to go either with our earlier approach… [or] the one Dreyfuss, Cronenberg and I had evolved. But suddenly David was against his own ideas.”
So how would Cronenberg’s Total Recall have looked? “First of all, I really wanted to cast William Hurt,” he says, “and the difference between Bill Hurt and Arnold Schwarzenegger probably tells you everything. I was doing something that I thought was faithful to Phil Dick and also to my own sense of the complex understanding of what memory is and what identity is. Obviously it would have been sci-fi and you would have gone to Mars, but it would have been like Spider Goes to Mars,” he adds, referring to his 2002 film starring Ralph Fiennes as a man struggling to piece his memories together, “as opposed to Raiders of the Lost Ark Goes to Mars. In a way, Spider really is an examination of memory and how it is a created thing, not sort of a video documentary of your past but something that you’re constantly upgrading, altering, changing, shifting and editing, to the extent that your memories are your identity and you’re also messing around with your identity, which certainly was something that I’d really gone into in great depth in Total Recall.”
In 1991, Cinefantastique writer Bill Florence summarised one of Cronenberg’s drafts, noting that his version diverged most significantly following Quaid’s arrival on Mars. “Quaid takes a cab driven by Benny… to the cab depot, where he finds Melina, the chief cabbie. She gives him a job as a cab driver, and he quickly avails himself of his own transportation to visit Quato [Kuato in the final film], a memory manipulator [who] has a malformed head growing out of his body… called ‘The Oracle’.” (Given Cronenberg’s fondness for physical mutation in his films, it is perhaps unnecessary to say that the idea of mutants on Mars, and of Kuato’s malformed congenital twin, were originally Cronenberg’s inventions.) When The Oracle dies while attempting to bring Quaid’s secret past to light, Quaid visits Pintaldi, a face changer, whose manipulations of Quaid’s facial structure reveal him to be Chairman Mandrell, dictator of Earth. After a failed assassination attempt, Quaid/Mandrell confronts Mars Administrator Cohaagen, who convinces him to infiltrate Mars Fed, who suppressed his true identity, and gives him a signal generator to track his location. “When the generator explodes — meant to kill Mandrell, but killing Benny the cab driver instead — Mandrell returns to the cab depot,” Florence continued, “where an EIA doctor tries to convince him he’s dreaming, a scene almost exactly like the final film’s Dr Edgemar sequence… In the climax of Cronenberg’s script, Mandrel and Cohaagen find themselves alone on a robot-controlled tour bus, moving over the Martian desert. Cohaagen reveals that Mandrell never really existed, that Quaid is just a minor government functionary selected to fill the role of chairman. Cohaagen planned to take over, using Quaid’s Mandrell image.” A fight ensues, Quaid/Mandrell defeats Cohaagen, and assumes his place as Chairman Mandrell, with Melina at his side.
According to Ron Miller (Dune), engaged as production illustrator by DEG during the period of Cronenberg’s involvement, it was more than just the story that might have been different: Miller recalls Martian creatures called ‘Ganzibulls’, originally created by Shusett, but retained in Cronenberg’s drafts. “They were creatures that lived in the sewers of the Mars city, called Venusville,” he told Cinefantastique. “In Cronenberg’s version, they were mutant camels. In Ron’s original script, the Martian colonists used camels as pack animals, and the camels wore oxygen masks… Cronenberg elaborated on the camels idea by having the monsters in the sewers be mutant camels.” Miller also remembers working with art director Pier Luigi Basile (Conan the Destroyer) at DEG’s studios in Rome, where “nothing much happened. We just drew all day for weeks on end. Cronenberg finally was hired, and he gave us more direction, more purpose. Bob Ringwood was going to do the costume design for the Cronenberg version, so he was there, on and off, for a couple of weeks and did a few sketches.”
Cronenberg recalls that, several years down the line, De Laurentiis offered him the project again, his way. He declined. “It’s dead for me now,” he told the producer. “I can’t get back into that now. I just can’t go back to working with Ron and fighting the same old battles and doing all that stuff.” Cronenberg was mostly unimpressed by the finished film. “I thought it was a bad movie,” he told Serge Grünberg, “although there were one or two moments that were true Philip Dick moments in it — they were good. But they weren’t good because it was Schwarzenegger still: first of all as an actor for that kind of role, and secondly as that character. The whole point of that character was that he was a unique, shy, mild character. They tried to compensate by making him a construction worker, but they gave him this beautiful Sharon Stone wife.” This, of course, was a deliberate move on the part of director Paul Verhoeven (who would soon make Stone a star in Basic Instinct), who understood that Quaid’s low-grade employment was as far as possible from secret agent, while his beautiful wife was designed to keep him satisfied with his otherwise average lifestyle. As Verhoeven explains, “With Arnold Schwarzenegger in the main part, [an audience] would not want him to dream. So to a large degree by choosing Arnold, there was a preference in reality.” Nevertheless, Cronenberg had other reservations: “I thought it was very visually tacky and messy,” he said. “Verhoeven didn’t do a good job with all the effects and the mutants and all of that stuff… They went for the action stuff purely and that was it: it was an action gimmick. So I didn’t really like the movie and I didn’t think much of it. But by the time I saw it, I didn’t care. I was over it.”
Although Cronenberg was the first director involved with Total Recall, his would certainly not be the last name to be stencilled on the director’s chair before Paul Verhoeven’s was allowed to dry. “As I recall it was seven directors,” says Shusett, “most prominently Richard Rush, who’d directed The Stunt Man. He and Dino couldn’t agree, because Richard liked our third act of Total Recall — Mars gets air — and Dino didn’t. Richard Rush said, ‘It’s wonderful, Dino. It’ll work perfectly.’ And Dino said, ‘Rick, I can’t go with you as director. I don’t even want to go to Mars.’ And I said, ‘Well, you can’t take that out, it’s in my contract.’ Dino said, ‘It’ll never get made,’ and I said, ‘Fine, I’d rather never make it.’ I said, ‘Mars is in it, and Mars gets air, it’s the first ending that’s worked, Dino. Show it to another director.’ So one day I get a call from Dino, he says, ‘Ron, I love you so much I could kiss you on the mouth! You saved me! You’re so goddamned stubborn, you saved me! I showed this script to Bruce Beresford… [and] I say, ‘Take out Mars, take out air.’ He says, ‘Dino, you full of shit!’”
Beresford, a two-time Academy Award nominee best known for the acclaimed dramas Breaker Morant and Tender Mercies, soon found himself in his native Australia, with Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze in the lead of what Shusett has described as a less gritty, more fun, ‘Spielbergian’ version of Total Recall. The next thing Shusett knew, however, “Beresford called us and said, ‘The movie’s off! Dino’s gone bankrupt! He’s fired eighty people and they’re tearing down the sets as I look out the window.’”
It was at this point, around 1987, that Shusett’s co-screenwriter Gary Goldman first encountered the project. “I was asked to do a polish,” says Goldman, who read the script, and liked it, but turned down the job because he had just started working with Dutch director Paul Verhoeven — fresh from his first Hollywood success, the sci-fi satire RoboCop — on his own project, coincidentally an out-of-body action film that Goldman co-wrote and was producing, entitled Warrior. “This was set up at Warner Brothers, and I wanted to work with Paul, whose work I had long admired, and who had just come off RoboCop, which I loved.” Although the pair worked together for several months, they were unable to reach a point where Verhoeven was ready to direct Warrior. In the meantime, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had been circling Total Recall since Swayze’s departure, learned that his Conan collaborator Dino De Laurentiis was in financial difficulties in Australia, and that the production had all but collapsed. Schwarzenegger called De Laurentiis and asked if his company would sell the rights to Dick’s story. When De Laurentiis agreed, Schwarzenegger called Carolco co-owners Andrew G. Vajna and Mario Kassar, for whom the actor had made Red Heat, and suggested that they buy it. The asking price: $3 million. Says Schwarzenegger, “Within a few hours, they owned the movie.” Next, Schwarzenegger claims to have cornered Dutch director Paul Verhoeven at lunch, and insisted he take a look at Total Recall.
Incredibly, Verhoeven was the director Ron Shusett had originally had in mind when he was trying to set the film up at Disney: “In 1981, eight years before I got the movie financed, I wanted Paul to direct it,” he reveals. “I’d just seen Soldier of Orange, and I said, ‘That’s the guy I want.’ His agent said she gave him the script, but that he doesn’t like science fiction. Then, about seven years later, he fell in love with science fiction and made RoboCop.” When Verhoeven did eventually read the script, Shusett recalls, “he didn’t even have to finish reading it before he had committed to it. He said he’d got as far as the scene in the hotel where Edgemar says, ‘You’re not really here, you’re asleep in the chair at Rekall,’ closed the script, called his agent, called Schwarzenegger, and said, ‘I’m in!’” Adds Goldman, “I told Paul the ironic story that I had turned down the chance to re-write Total Recall in order to work with him. He asked my opinion of the screenplay. I told him. He said that we saw it the same way, and that he would try to get me the job to rewrite it. And he did.”
By this time, there had been dozens of drafts — Verhoeven remembers “about thirty” — variously credited to Shusett and O’Bannon, Shusett and Star Trek: The Motion Picture screenwriter Jon Povill, and Shusett and Steven Pressfield (Freejack). Goldman says that Verhoeven read them all, and sent him the ones he wanted Goldman to read. “The story of the first half was almost exactly as it is in the movie,” he explains, “but there was general agreement that the second half of the movie wasn’t working — that is, everything after the Dr Edgemar scene. I had to adjust everything in order to make the second half work adequately. I also had to reconfigure the movie to fit Arnold, [because] in the short story and in all previous drafts, Quaid was a mild-mannered guy who suddenly discovered that he was a high-powered secret agent.”
According to Goldman, several fundamental decisions determined most of the changes. Firstly, Verhoeven wanted to make the movie as if Dr Edgemar might be telling the truth in the hotel room, so that from the point that Quaid undergoes the procedure at Rekall, everything you see is Quaid’s fantasy. “Everything we have seen before, in the last forty-five minutes, is all fantasy,” Verhoeven explains. “It’s a dream. Which is disturbing to the audience because they don’t want that, of course. They want an adventure story, they don’t want a fake adventure story. So they are on Arnold’s side trying to believe that it’s all true, while [Dr Edgemar] is trying to tell him that it’s not true.” As Edgemar asks rhetorically, “What’s bullshit? That you’re having a paranoid episode triggered by acute neurochemical trauma? Or that you’re really an invincible secret agent from Mars who’s the victim of an interplanetary conspiracy to make him think he’s a lowly construction worker?” Quaid, of course, shoots Edgemar, thereby choosing to continue the fantasy — if, indeed, it is a fantasy.
Thus, Goldman had to reconfigure the story so that it could work both ways: as if it were really happening; and as if it were all in Quaid’s mind. “That’s the great thing about the movie,” says Schwarzenegger, “that from the beginning it always works on two levels and the audience has to guess what is reality and what is not.” Says Verhoeven, “As much as possible we kept these two realities alive, so that everything could be explained one way or another. And of course with Arnold being a superhero, people would always hope and think that it’s real, but there’s strong doubts about that if you look at the movie for a second time.” To illustrate this, Verhoeven points to the scene where Rekall salesman Bob McClane tells Quaid the nature of his chosen vacation: “You are a top operative under deep cover on your most important mission,” he tells his eager customer. “People are trying to kill you, left and right. You meet this beautiful, exotic woman… By the time the trip is over you get the girl, kill the bad guys and save the entire planet.” In other words, says Verhoeven, “McClane tells him everything that’s going to happen in the movie! It’s counter to every normal narrative — you would not tell anyone where it’s going. [But here] you get the whole story completely formulated for you. In the next scene,” he adds, “we are given several clues, [such as] the woman that he wants to be implanted in his dream — because he can make a choice; he can choose the woman. Of course the woman he describes is the woman he has a kind of fantasy image of that he dreams about, which is this girl, Melina. He describes her as well as he can, and he gets her!”
Having solved this problem with the kind of narrative acrobatics of which Philip K. Dick might have been proud, Goldman tackled another problem. “At the point that Quaid gets his memory back, I thought there was nothing interesting left in the movie — suddenly it just became this ordinary action picture. I wanted the whole movie to be as interesting as the beginning. So I invented the idea that Quaid wants to get back to being his authentic self, but he finds out that his authentic self [Hauser — the agent working for Cohaagen] is evil.” In other words, Quaid is not merely Hauser without some key memories, but a separate individual. “At the end of the movie, you find out that Hauser’s in on it,” says Shusett, “that he helped erase his own brain so that Quaid would not recognise his intent to assassinate [the rebel leader] Kuato. And then Hauser says, ‘Well, I hate to ask you, but it’s my body — I was there first, and I want it back. Maybe we’ll see each other in our dreams.’” Says Goldman, “This was a very fresh idea at the time. To my knowledge, it was without precedent.” In the new version, Quaid must decide if he wants to be technically authentic, but evil, or be true to his artificial self, and good. “He has to make a very interesting moral choice, and this takes him straight into Phil Dick territory,” Goldman explains. “Quaid is an artificial human, like the replicants in Blade Runner, except that it’s not his body that is artificial, but only his mental programming. The artificial person, Quaid, is more human than the authentic human, Hauser.
“It’s also psychologically accurate, I think, to say that no one (except in a Hollywood movie) would give up his/her identity, just to become authentic. Identity is life itself. It’s an interesting idea to be offered a choice to have a better life, but not to be oneself.” The hard part, says Goldman, was making this work; even Verhoeven was not convinced it could be done, until Goldman came up with the idea for the second video message from Hauser, which he receives after Quaid is captured by Cohaagen in Kuato’s lair. “That part of the narrative, that little twist, was something that Gary Goldman added to the story, because that was never there before,” Verhoeven admits. “Now Quaid will be forced to become the person he doesn’t want to be, because he has to make a moral choice. The last thing that he wants is to go back to being Hauser.”
“Paul Verhoeven had great instincts, great ideas, and intellectual courage,” says Goldman. “I am sure that all of my good ideas would have been rejected by any studio and almost any other director. In Hollywood, ideas are anathema, and the bigger the budget, the more forbidden they are. The authorities are not very educated, but they can smell an idea at a hundred paces — and, like a giant in a fairy tale, they will sniff out the idea and rip it out. Only a powerful director can protect an idea. And Carolco was the perfect place to work, because Mario and Andy gave their directors almost complete freedom.”
Goldman says that he and Verhoeven were “generally interested in having as much fun with ‘mindfucks’ as we could. This included introducing as many big surprises as possible. For example, the idea that the whole plot was about using Quaid to lead them to Kuato, because Kuato was psychic and would detect any traitor. Plus we knew that, at that time in Hollywood, for reasons of political correctness, African-American characters had been typecast as good guys. So I decided to make Benny the bad guy, as it would catch audiences by surprise. Paul wasn’t afraid of being politically incorrect — in fact, you could say that his whole career is based on being politically incorrect. He does it with a vengeance. I would say that I have the same bent, but don’t take the same relish in it. But we’re both interested in seeing things clearly, and seeing through popular clichés and delusions and hypocrisies. It was this same disposition that made us really embrace Phil Dick’s challenge to consensual reality, and to push it as far as we did. And to leave the movie on a note of doubt, but with a sense of humour.”
Ironically, Goldman was not a fan of Dick’s work at the time, having had very little exposure to it. Nevertheless, he says, “I am generally faithful to all the writers who come before me, from source material to earlier screenwriters. I try not to get involved in rewriting projects unless I like what’s already there. And then my modus operandi is to bring out the existing values, and try to complete and perfect them. So, I was being faithful to the ideas in the first half of the screenplay, which were the same as the ideas in the first half of the short story. Phil himself tended to combine and garble his many ideas, and he rarely worked out any idea in a complete and consistent way. He just kept flitting about to the next idea.” Shusett agrees: “His work is very tough to translate into a screenplay because it has such brilliant set-ups that it’s hard to match his level of brilliance in the pay-off. That’s why most of his best work is short stories, and even those stories don’t have a third act.”
Goldman admits that the second half of the movie, beginning as Quaid arrives on Mars, was largely a concession to Hollywood plotting, and therefore retained most of the structure of the version Bruce Beresford had planned to shoot. “I didn’t think I had the liberty to make big changes because I was under the impression that Arnold, the studio and Paul were all ready to make that story. So I mainly concentrated on fixing and improving what was there. I would have preferred a more consistently realistic view of the future and more believable science, in regard to gravity, physics, and atmosphere. But we were making an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, and that guided the tone and many of the decisions. Even so, we tried to make the movie a bit less jokey and more rigorous than Arnold’s previous movies.”
Having completed his first rewrite, Goldman and Verhoeven met with Schwarzenegger, Shusett, Vajna and Kassar. “Arnold and Ron had discussed our draft, and they felt that our climax lacked emotion,” Goldman remembers. “This was a valid observation because Paul prefers a dry emotional tone, and he really didn’t take very seriously the subplot about Martian liberation. He saw the movie as an intellectual puzzle. But faced with opposition from the star, I saw the need for a compromise, and fortunately an idea came to me in the meeting, and I proposed the idea about Cohaagen shutting off the air. This gave us a nice cruel action to justify the suffering of the poor mutants. I made these changes, and we went into production.” Adds Shusett, “All of a sudden all the pieces came together, and instead of going to Australia we went to Mexico.”
“I think we were a very writer-friendly group,” says Verhoeven, “because they were part of everything. They could see the dailies and have as much input as they wanted.” Adds Goldman, “It was a rare privilege for a Hollywood screenwriter, who is usually unwelcome on the set. If a screenwriter is present, it is usually an emergency script doctor who is brought in to ‘fix’ a problem. But Paul has great respect for screenplays and screenwriters. He works tirelessly on his scripts, and then he shoots them word for word. He almost never improvises, and he prevents the actors from deviating from the text. If something wasn’t working on the set, he would call for me and ask me to write something new. Ron Shusett and I liked and respected each other, and we worked together on the rewrites while we were down there. We spent a lot of time making small revisions, but ultimately I would say that we changed less than one per cent.”
Both writers admit to a few issues with the finished film. “There’s too much foul language, too much noisy shooting, too much violence and death,” says Goldman. “It’s a bit too long, and you don’t really care about the mutants. And the bulging eyes at the end went on too long,” he adds, referring to Quaid and Melina gasping for air in the Martian atmosphere. “I think that hurt us a lot because it was like a runner stumbling at the finish line. A lot of these things could have been fixed if we had had one test screening, but, alas, we didn’t. There was no time.” Shusett agrees: “Paul and Gary and I always regretted not having time for a preview, because you can’t get any perspective on what you’re doing.” Additional pressure came from the impending release of Warren Beatty’s star-studded Dick Tracy, which the filmmakers, and the studio, saw as a threat. “We didn’t want to open the same week, so we paid editors ‘golden time’ so we could go out a week earlier than Dick Tracy,” says Shusett, “but that robbed us of any preview. If we had just had a week to calm down, look at what we’d just cut… I wouldn’t have shot anything differently, I just would have re-edited the third act a little tighter, and then I think it would have hit the jackpot instead of it being seventy-five or eighty per cent the movie I was hoping it would be. Having said that, we were lucky to get that close.”
“I think that we captured Phil’s serio-comic tone better than anyone else has.” Goldman says. “That’s really what sets his work apart, in my opinion — his irreverent, alienated, kitchen sink, neurotic view of the future. Also, Paul Verhoeven is a truly brilliant man with a Doctorate in mathematics. Although his movies can be crass, Paul is a truly independent and deep thinker. It’s important not to confuse style with substance. Paul likes to be crass and offensive, on top of being incisive and precise. Paul, like Phil defined himself, is a ‘crap artist’, making great art from shit. It’s a mistake to think that a good Phil Dick movie is necessarily dark, moody and elegant, like Blade Runner.” Above all, Goldman doubts that anyone but Verhoeven would have had the courage to make a movie which questions the supposed reality the audience has just experienced. “He made that decision, and I executed it,” he says. “I doubt that anyone but myself would have thought up the idea that Quaid doesn’t recover his memory and become authentic again; [that] he is not the same as Hauser — Hauser is bad — and Quaid must choose his artificial identity over his real one. I think these are powerful extensions of Phil’s set-up and themes.” Overall, he adds, “I loved working with Paul, Ron, Mario and Andy, Arnold, and Sharon Stone. It was a perfect experience from beginning to end, and I don’t expect to be so lucky again.” Certainly, Goldman would not be so fortunate with his subsequent association with Total Recall 2.
Today, the box office performance of Total Recall would virtually guarantee a sequel. In 1990, however, Hollywood was a very different place, as Goldman explains: “When we finished Total Recall, none of the major players wanted to make a sequel. They all felt that the franchise wasn’t well suited to a sequel. They also held the previously accepted idea that sequels were commercial debasements that serious artists did not indulge in.” The success of James Cameron’s Aliens had been an exception, and the same director’s subsequent sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day would further change this way of thinking. At the time, however, Shusett’s and Goldman’s interest in a sequel to Total Recall fell on deaf ears.
Then, in the early 1990s, Goldman optioned another Philip K. Dick story, ‘Minority Report’, with a view to directing it himself as a low-budget feature. He approached Verhoeven to ask if he would attach himself as executive producer, thus throwing the weight of his name behind the project, even if he was not directly involved. “He read the short story, liked it, and agreed to help me out. Then he asked me if I had thought about how well the story worked as a Total Recall sequel. Although it had nothing to do with the themes of the movie, there was something about the tone and driving narrative that made it seem perfect for a sequel.” Better still, it did not repeat anything from the original film, allowing Goldman to take the franchise in a totally new direction, but one that would be thematically consistent with the original. “This is what appealed to Paul,” he says. “The possibility of doing a sequel that seemed original, not repetitive or derivative.”
In Dick’s story, certain human beings are born with telepathic powers, shunned by ordinary citizens but embraced by the government as the foundation for a new anti-crime organisation called the Pre-Crime division, which uses the telepaths (known as ‘pre-cogs’) to predict illegal activities before they occur, and arrest the would-be criminals before any crime is committed. The plot revolves around a particular Pre-Crime detective forced to go on the run when the pre-cogs spit out his name as a future murderer. As Verhoeven explains, “There was an introduction [in Total Recall] that the mutants were perhaps clairvoyant, and that was used in the idea for the second one where Quaid becomes the head of this company that can look into the future and protect citizens by eliminating criminals before they do the crime.” Thus, the mutants would become the ‘pre-cogs’ of Dick’s story, the film rights to which Goldman now owned.
“I had to make a tough decision between continuing with my plan to direct a small movie from ‘Minority Report’, or to become the writer-producer of a Total Recall sequel based on ‘Minority Report’,” Goldman says. “At the time, I was still working closely with Paul and Carolco. We had worked together on Basic Instinct, which had turned out to be the biggest movie of the year worldwide, and I had done a rewrite on Crusade which had gotten the project out of Development Hell and into pre-production [see chapter 6]. It seemed like the Total Recall sequel was a sure thing to speed into production, and become another big hit. So I decided that it was too good an opportunity to pass up.” At this point, Goldman and Verhoeven discovered that Ron Shusett had a contractual right to write the first draft of any Total Recall sequel, and that they would therefore need his permission to proceed. Goldman proposed that they write the sequel together, based on the ‘Minority Report’ story, on the proviso that Goldman would then be attached to co-write all future Total Recall sequels. Says Shusett, “We worked on it together and immediately clicked, and it became a wonderful sequel. Arnold was going to star in it, and Paul Verhoeven was going to direct it. Then, right after we wrote it, Carolco went bankrupt.” Indeed, Carolco’s financial situation was so serious it reneged on its contractual payments to Shusett and Goldman. As a result, ownership of the underlying rights — to both the short story and the first draft — reverted to the writers, allowing them to move it to 20th Century Fox.
By this time, Verhoeven was busy shooting Showgirls, and Goldman says he lost interest in the sequel. Not so, says Verhoeven: “Somebody whose name I won’t name, without warning, took it away — somebody who had me on their pay list, like a Judas. So in some subversive ways, I think, it left Carolco and it came into the hands of Jan De Bont.” At this stage, Verhoeven’s fellow Dutchman was a celebrated cinematographer, yet to direct the runaway hit Speed. Says Goldman, “Jan and the studio discussed acquiring the Total Recall franchise from Carolco, and continuing to develop ‘Minority Report’ as a Total Recall sequel. Ultimately, they decided not to continue with it as a sequel, so we removed all the Total Recall elements and used the first draft as the foundation for further work.” From that point on, ‘Minority Report’ was developed as a free-standing movie, based only on the Dick short story. Says Shusett, “We were really devastated, because we had proved tangibly to everybody, including Paul and Arnold, that it would make a great sequel. But my spirits rose when Fox bought it as a non-sequel, a free-standing movie.”
Even after its estrangement from Total Recall 2 and development as a separate entity, Minority Report suffered a further five years in Development Hell, with Jan De Bont eventually jumping ship, as Shusett recalls: “He was very hot from Speed and he’d followed up with Twister, but then Speed 2 and The Haunting bombed out, and gradually Fox lost faith in him. We wrote a new draft for him in ’95, but they couldn’t find an actor that liked his draft that Fox was in favour of too. It was years later — ’98 or ’99 — that Spielberg came in and read a draft he didn’t like. But when we personally got our draft to him, and persuaded him to read it, he did like it. And then he used an amalgamation of some of their draft and some of our draft and his own ideas, and because he’s Steven Spielberg, his version was better in many ways, and he made the best film of all.” Shusett — who, like Goldman, earned an executive producer credit on Spielberg’s film (Jan De Bont gets an associate producer credit) — admits to being surprised that the director’s take on the material was so dark, “even darker than our last draft. It was so dark that I think summer audiences weren’t ready for it. We should have released it in the winter, and then I think they might have expected it, and been able to handle it. It was too dark a movie for people expecting summer fun with a Total Recall/Phil Dick name on it, and our names connected to it — they thought it would be like Total Recall. And instead it was more like Blade Runner and they weren’t ready for that.” Indeed, although Minority Report (2002) grossed $350 million worldwide, it fell far short of expectations generated by the first teaming of Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise, especially on a sci-fi project. “It got wonderful reviews, and everybody thought it would do $500 or $600 million worldwide,” Shusett points out, “but it only made $350 million — and only $130 million in America, when there are movies making $200, $300 million domestically.”
In the meantime, Carolco had sold the Total Recall TV rights to DFL Entertainment for $1.2 million, resulting in the short-lived Showtime series Total Recall 2070. The sale led Shusett and Goldman to believe that the possibility of a Total Recall sequel was dead forever, since studios rarely buy into a script or film, much less a franchise, unless all rights are available in all media. Nevertheless, at a subsequent bankruptcy hearing for now-defunct Carolco on 14 January 1997, Dimension Films, the recently-formed genre division of Disney subsidiary Miramax Films, paid $3.15 million for the theatrical sequel, prequel and remake rights to Total Recall. “I heard later that they were surprised that the TV rights had already been sold off,” says Goldman. “They thought that was part of the package of rights that they acquired.” (Indeed, pressure from Dimension may have been behind DFL’s decision to ditch its original concept for the TV series — a direct continuation of the movie, featuring Quaid on Mars — for an Earth-based format using new characters, which ironically owed more to Blade Runner than Total Recall.) In what Carolco bankruptcy counsel Howard Weg described as “lively bidding”, Dimension had outbid DFL Entertainment, 20th Century Fox (which retired from the bidding when it reached $500,000) and Live Entertainment, whose final bid of $3.14 million was narrowly exceeded by Dimension, which had recently produced its first bona fide hit, Scream. “This is the perfect franchise opportunity for Dimension,” said co-founder Bob Weinstein, “[and] franchises are what Dimension is all about.”
Weinstein went on to say that he intended to contact the film’s original cast, but not its director Paul Verhoeven, whose most recent film was the costly flop Showgirls. “We’re going to our Miramax stable of directors,” he stated. “We have discussed story ideas, we have a concept, and we’re going forward with this film within the next year.” Weinstein dismissed suggestions that a sequel to the $80 million Total Recall would be expensive by definition, noting that significant profit participation on Scream made the $14 million-budget hit possible, and that the same financial structure — forgoing an upfront fee in return for a share of the back end profits — would make Total Recall 2 viable. Nevertheless, purchasing the rights, particularly for such a colossal sum, was a curious move for Dimension, since under the terms of a deal with corporate parent Walt Disney Co., the average budget of its films must be $12.5 million. Thus, if one film’s budget exceeds this sum, another must fall under it by the same amount. As a result, Dimension would need to generate a screenplay as cheaply as possible, and executives were delighted when a writer already under contract to Miramax offered his services.
Matt Cirulnick had just turned twenty-two when he signed a three-picture deal with Miramax, the first of which was the urban drug drama Paid in Full, eventually released in October 2002. “Immediately after turning in that script, Miramax informed my agents that they wanted to activate the second picture in my deal,” the writer recalls. “My agent gave me an open writing assignment list, and — lo and behold — on the list I see Total Recall 2. So I flip out. I remember to this day the font, I remember the way it looked, because when I saw those words I was like, ‘I’m getting this job.’ I was born in ’76, so I was watching Total Recall on tape when it came out and it was one of my favourite films. But my agents laughed at me and said, ‘Young buck, you’re just starting out, they’ve had some big guys on this job,’ blah blah blah, and that fired me up, because I thought, ‘I can’t control how old I am or my credits, all I can control is the quality of the words on the page. I can’t control whether or not a movie gets made.’ So I said, ‘Look, I’ll put my writing up against whoever’s writing, and let’s see what happens. I gotta take a shot.’”
At the time, Dimension executives were set to close a deal with Bob Gale, who co-wrote the Back to the Future films with Robert Zemeckis. “I can’t say for certain what the reasons were for my agents not going after the job aggressively,” says Cirulnick, “but the bottom line is that what I was getting for the entire script would have been the commission my agents would get on Bob Gale!” When Dimension failed to make a deal with Gale, Cirulnick did not wait to be asked. “Luckily for me, one of the executives on Paid in Full, Jesse Berdinka, was also one of the executives on Total Recall 2, so I had my agent hit Dimension, and I hit Dimension personally, and I locked myself in a room and came up with an idea for Total Recall 2. I pitched the junior executive, then I pitched the president [Cary Granat], then I met with Bob Weinstein, Andrew Rona, Cary Granat and Jesse Berdinka, and gave them my pitch — and Bob was like, ‘Okay, you got it. Go.’”
There was just one problem: unbeknownst to Dimension, Ron Shusett’s contract for Total Recall meant that they were obliged to hire him to write the first draft of any sequel. Shusett, in turn, was obliged to bring Goldman aboard, due to the agreement the pair had made during the ‘Minority Report’ affair. Having learned of these obligations, Dimension could simply have asked Shusett and Goldman to turn Cirulnick’s concept into a script; instead, they invited the pair to pitch their own ideas. “They didn’t even give us Matt’s idea,” says Shusett. “They said, ‘We have some ideas, but what idea do you have?’ So we told them our take.” Dimension executives had their own ideas about where they wanted to take the sequel, ideas which did not gel with Cirulnick’s approach. “We had, almost eerily, the same approach to doing the sequel — a different one than Matt had in mind. So they said, ‘Okay, we’ll pay you to do it,’ and they did. They were very good to their word,” he adds. “They didn’t low-ball us.” Announcing the deal in May 1998, Variety further noted that Arnold Schwarzenegger had attended a four-hour development meeting with Weinstein and Granat, and was said to be “actively involved” in the development of the film.
“We stuck fairly closely to their set-up that launches the story, but from there we were free to go where we wanted,” Goldman explains. “They knew what they liked in the original movie: they wanted to keep it as a popcorn movie with lots of cool stuff, but they also liked the ‘is it real or is it Memorex?’ theme — the ‘mindfucks’.” Dimension’s hope, he says, was to keep the ambiguity alive as long as possible by alternating between the theories. “It was a high wire act,” he explains, “where we would confirm that it was real on Mars, then use a narrative device to make it seem like he was on Earth or still in the Rekall chair, and then use an even more clever device to put him back on Mars. Even though this was our favourite theme too, Ron and I actually had to restrain them from overdoing it. They were real students of the movie, and we were flattered, but they didn’t quite understand the simplicity and subtlety of how we achieved our effects in the first movie. We took direction from them, but resisted decisions that we felt were mistakes. Eventually, they came to trust us when we said you can easily overdo the complications — and we arrived at a workable balance.”
The Shusett-Goldman draft opens amid celebrations for Mars’ independence, with Quaid and Melina honoured by President Gloria Palomares for their part in the struggle. Just as Quaid is about to give a speech, however, a double stabs him and takes his place… He wakes to find himself next to Melina. Only three weeks have passed since the events of Total Recall, and he is still among the Martian rebels — independence for Mars is still a dream. They tell him of ‘Project Whisper’, a form of mind control being planned by President Saarinen’s government, and suggest delving into his mind to see if Hauser knows anything about it. Reluctantly agreeing to submit to the operation, he falls unconscious… only to wake up at Rekall Incorporated, his wife Lori and Bob, the Rekall salesman, at his bedside, and Dr Edgemar very much alive. They convince him that he has not left Rekall since he began his vacation, yet events on Mars appear to have transpired largely as they occurred in Quaid’s Rekall trip — Mars has air, Cohaagen is dead — a suspicious development which Dr Edgemar attributes to real-world news programmes filtering into Quaid’s virtual adventure. “So, Mr Quaid,” Edgemar tells him, “like all vacations, this one too comes to an end. And as usual, we feel a little sad returning to the daily grind.” Quaid returns home with Lori, only to be told that during the six months he was comatose at Rekall, she began a new relationship with her personal trainer. (“Harvey Weinstein had a [professional] relationship with Sharon Stone, and they wanted to try to get her back into the franchise,” Goldman explains.) Dejected and financially dependent on Rekall, Quaid finds a job on the construction site of a Seattle-based ‘space elevator’ — one of Arthur C. Clarke’s proposed constructs tethering an orbital space station to the Earth, allowing payloads to be transported cheaply to and from space.
Meanwhile, an imminent presidential election draws Quaid’s attention to an electoral campaign by Gloria Palomares, the President from his dream, denounced by her opponents as a “mutant lover” for promising to hold a referendum on Mars’ independence if she is elected. Torn between his feelings for Melina (whom he now believes to be a construct of Rekall) and Renee, one of Mrs Palomares’ campaign volunteers, Quaid becomes involved with her political campaign, but is betrayed and framed for an explosion which wrecks the space elevator. Imprisoned for six months in a space prison known as the Pasternak Institute for the Criminally Insane, he manages to escape, and rejoins what remains of the rebels, who tell him of Melina’s death.
Posing as Hauser, Quaid heads to Vladivostock, where he is shocked to meet up with his own mother, whom he thought long dead. Mrs Hauser, evidently a Saarinen sympathiser, sees through Quaid’s deception, but although she threatens him, she knows that if she kills Quaid, her beloved Hauser will die too. Through his mother, Quaid discovers that Project Whisper is a planet-wide programme designed to keep the electorate voting a certain way, thus keeping the next government — Saarinen’s — in power forever. After a gunfight with a dozen Lori clones and his own mother, Quaid succeeds in destroying Project Whisper, an act which creates a vacuum (allowing a popular scene from Total Recall to be reprised) and ultimately leads to the election of Mrs Palomares and independence for Mars. He is about to make a speech when he sees Dr Edgemar sitting in a front seat — but the next instant, he is gone. Did his eyes deceive him? Or is he still back at Rekall, dreaming of Martian independence?
“[Dimension] liked the screenplay,” Goldman says. “We did one fairly minor polish, and then they were ready to make the movie. They told Arnold that they were ready to make the movie. They let him know that they would pay him his price. Ron, Arnold, and I were all at the William Morris Agency. Five or six agents there read our script and loved it. I would say that there was a consensus that this should be Arnold’s next movie.” Schwarzenegger, however, didn’t agree. “He said it was too complicated. In general, Arnold never seemed to appreciate the complications in the original, or to grasp that the essence of the franchise was the complicated mindfucks.” Adds Shusett, “He had seen the outline, and gave [Dimension] the okay to pay us, but sometimes when you see things in script form, some things feel different than on a ten-page outline. He said, ‘No, I don’t like this, I don’t want to do it.’ Bob Weinstein said, ‘He just turned down the best script that’s ever been offered to him,’ which coming from Bob, who can be very tough, is a real compliment. He said, ‘I always considered the first Total Recall [to be] one of the five best science fiction movies ever, and now you’ve topped it with this one, he won’t do it.’ Dimension was very disappointed, and we were too. At that point,” he concludes, “it just went into limbo.”
In the meantime, rumours had been circulating that Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Jonathan Frakes, who had directed the $150 million-grossing hit Star Trek: First Contact and had already been hired to helm the next installment of that franchise, had been in talks about directing Total Recall 2. In March 1998, Frakes confirmed that, of the various projects being developed by his Geopp Circle production company, Total Recall 2 was the closest to realisation. “I’m very jazzed about that,” he told Ian Spelling. “If it all works out and Mr Schwarzenegger is available, we’ll get going with pre-production of it at the end of [Star Trek: Insurrection]. They wouldn’t have gone this far if Schwarzenegger weren’t interested,” he added. “[Dimension] bought it because he wants to play the character again. Wouldn’t it be cool if it all happens?” Speaking to the Calgary Sun later in the year, Frakes added: “Arnold is serious because I’ve already received a draft of a screenplay.” Although Frakes expressed concern that the budget of the script might prove too rich for the terms of Dimension’s deal with Disney, he added, “Apparently, Sharon Stone wants to return as well — and it’s possible because there is a lot of time travel in this draft of Total Recall 2.”
Goldman, however, recalls a different version of the story. “Jonathan Frakes was involved in the early stages,” he says. “Dimension had been in talks with him before we got involved. We had one meeting with Frakes, but we never heard any more about him. The reason was that Bob Weinstein started working with Arnold, and Arnold’s vision of the picture was different than Bob’s. To get Arnold, it was clear that the sequel couldn’t be medium budget, as envisioned by Bob… and that Arnold would not consent to work with anyone but an A-list director or rising star. So Frakes was tabled.” In August 1999, Frakes was quoted as saying that Total Recall 2 was still on Dimension’s list of movies, and that they were “waiting for Mr Schwarzenegger’s hands to free up. We’ve got a script from the writer of the original, and we’re giving some notes on it,” he added. “It’s a very big, wonderful, expensive script.” By February 2000, however, Frakes confirmed to Starburst that the project was dead — at least for the time being — blaming Schwarzenegger’s over-loaded schedule. “Total Recall is an old movie now and it looks like one,” he added. “I shouldn’t say this, obviously, because I’d love to do that film, but they blew smoke up my ass four years ago, and nothing’s happened since. I’m not holding my breath.”
Instead, Schwarzenegger chose to make The 6th Day, in which he played a commercial pilot who discovers that he has been cloned. “It was a Total Recall sequel in everything but name,” says Goldman. “The ‘A’ plot line of one of our sequel ideas was good and bad Arnold — Quaid versus Hauser,” says Shusett, “so that was passé because now he’d done a movie where there were two Arnolds. So we came up with a new concept; they came up with part of the idea, we came up with the rest of it, and they gave it to Arnold and he still said, ‘No, I don’t want to do it.’” At this point, exasperated Dimension executives went back to Matt Cirulnick, giving him a copy of the Shusett-Goldman draft — which he dismisses as “an assault on the English language” — and one piece of guidance from Andrew Rona. “He said, ‘What we’d really like is for the story to end on the same note of ambiguity that the first one did,’” Cirulnick remembers. “And that’s why I really fell in love with getting this assignment, because how do you sequel-ise something that ended on an ambiguous note, without ever resolving what that was? So that was the challenge… I was going to answer it and then not, answer it and then not, and basically leave you at the same point. What was also great was that this was my own original story — I didn’t use anything from the previous scripts, except the cloned Sharon Stones.”
The resulting thirteen-page treatment was greeted with enthusiasm by Rona and Berdincker, the executives overseeing the project for Dimension. “We went down to the Tribeca Grill and just cut up the outline. They’re two great executives,” Cirulnick adds, “and their notes were specific. They gave me strong direction, helped me make the cuts that needed to be made, and I got commenced.” Cirulnick’s first draft, dated 20 April 2000, follows the treatment in most respects — although Quaid’s discovery of a Martian colony living deep beneath the surface was omitted. Cirulnick’s ninety-six-page ‘revised first draft’, dated 8 May 2000, opens with a spectacular action sequence, as Hauser and fellow ‘ReKall Unit’ agents York Brogan (described to put the reader in mind of Ving Rhames), Chris Park (“think Jet Li”) and Quaid’s paramour Maggie Thomas (a Parker Posey type) foil the hijacking by terrorists of a Saturn-bound cruise ship, which culminates with the terrorists’ turbinium bomb being diverted into the sun. As the successful mission ends, Hauser/Quaid wakes to find himself at ReKall, where doctors Bob, Edgemar and Jaslove explain that he suffered a schizoid embolism during his original ReKall trip, and has been effectively comatose for ten years. Here Cirulnick borrows a few elements from the earlier Goldman-Shusett draft: the explanations for Quaid’s assimilation of real-world developments into his dream (the news was on) and his lack of muscle atrophy (“newest thing, Doug — magneti-pulse muscle stimulation”), Lori’s break-up and affair with her personal trainer (although Cirulnick plays the brush-off as a taped vid-phone ‘Dear John’), and Quaid’s subsequent employment on the construction of a space elevator, which, this time, is described as a ‘space bridge’ and is tethered to Mars, which trillionaire industrialist Hugo Strickrodt is preparing to open to the public.
Commencing work at the construction site, Quaid is surprised to meet York Brogan, now calling himself ‘Jones Seni’ and denying all knowledge of his association with Quaid or Hauser. Quaid is more cautious approaching ‘Sue Richards’ (shades of Fantastic Four), a nerdish neighbour who resembles Maggie. When Quaid’s flashbacks cause an accident on the space bridge (itself a flashback to the Goldman-Shusett draft), Quaid injures his arm, peeling away a piece of false skin to reveal scars he suffered in his hijack-foiling fantasy. Now convinced that starting the reactor which gave Mars its atmosphere and foiling the Saturn cruise ship hijack are real memories, not implanted ones, Quaid is pursued by ReKall’s Colonel Ladson — Hauser’s commanding officer in his hijacking memories — who is anxious that Quaid may be about to achieve ‘total recall’ and discover the truth: that he, York Brogan, Chris Park and Maggie are part of a secret cadre of NorthBloc Intelligence operatives so elite even they do not know who they are or what they do — or have done — for the government.
Employing ReKall technology, each operative has dual identities, both stored on digital disk: one disk contains their birth and upbringing through each of their missions logged and catalogued in detail — this is their real, or ‘Alpha’ life. The second disk contains their lives up to a point — their real childhood is used, but at some key juncture a new ‘program’ has been written, with a normal, run-of-the-mill ‘Beta’ life, the identity these elite agents possess when off-mission. Thus, the agents are only restored to their true selves (for Quaid, the Hauser persona) when they are on-mission; as soon as their missions are completed, they resume their Beta lives with no knowledge or memory of their agency activities. “That way,” Brogan tells him, “should we want to betray the agency, or should anyone get their hands on us, we’ll be useless.”
Quaid learns all this from a digital recording of York Brogan (echoes of the cement factory scene from Total Recall), who urges him to break Chris Park out of the Pasternak Institute for the Criminally Insane, where he has been held since his memory implant failed to take. (Quaid is also shown footage of his own mission history, among which Cirulnick slyly includes images from such Schwarzenegger films as Predator, True Lies, The Terminator and Commando.) Meanwhile, things on Earth are hotting up — literally: the turbinium bomb appears to have swollen the sun until it swallows up Mercury and threatens to burn all life on Earth to a cinder. Global warming accelerates on a catastrophic scale, as giant holes appear in the sky, through which deadly heat rays scorch the Earth (a cinematic cataclysm subsequently explored in The Core).
Meanwhile, Quaid helps Chris to escape, the pair head to Mars (disguised as a fat Samoan and his Japanese wife), where Brogan and Maggie appear to be in Strickrodt’s employ, the latter also (much to Quaid’s chagrin) in his bed. Maggie explains that she and Brogan are on a ReKall mission to infiltrate Strickrodt’s inner circle. Through her, they learn that the hijacking was a set-up, and that Strickrodt used them to send the turbinium bomb into the sun, hoping that the devastation of life on Earth would lead its inhabitants to flock to Mars. Quaid and his team counter with a plan of their own: using explosive charges planted in its turbinium core, they intend to blow up Mars, hoping that the resulting “gravity gap” causes the Earth to shift into the vacuum previously occupied by Mars, thus saving the planet from the expanding sun.
Before they can implement their plan, however, Dr Jaslove shows up (à la Dr Edgemar’s second act appearance in Total Recall) and tells him he’s still at ReKall Incorporated, where he has been in a coma ever since the accident on the space bridge — the point at which he ‘discovered’ that his secret agent fantasies were true. His fellow agents, his mission to Mars and Earth’s impending destruction by an expanding sun are all products of his imagination! Dr Jaslove shows him vid-phone images of Earth, his own comatose body and Lori at his bedside, and tells him that if he does not snap out of his delusion, he will suffer a fatal embolism. Quaid refuses to believe, vowing to continue his mission, but as his ‘fantasy’ continues, Ladson floors him with a further revelation: that even his ‘true’ identity, Hauser, was merely the invention of a military supercomputer (provoking the potentially classic Schwarzenegger line, “Then if I’m not me, or Hauser… who the hell am I?”). Refusing to believe any of this, Quaid secures the planting of the turbinium charges and blows up Mars, the fragments of which circle Earth in a ring similar to that of Saturn while Earth assumes the position of the destroyed planet.
No sooner has the explosion occurred, however, than Quaid wakes up at ReKall, where the news announcer is commenting on Mars’ destruction, which has shifted Earth’s orbit and saved it from the swelling sun. “Scientists say the Mars explosion was an unexplained phenomenon, and may be the result of the sun’s growth, which pressurized Mars’ turbinium core,” the anchorwoman announces. “Earth’s a little worse for wear, but she’ll live — and hopefully like her makeover!” Quaid — either denied the credit for saving the planet, or recovered from his schizoid embolism, depending on which version of events he and the audience chooses to believe — is reunited with Maggie/Sue at the space bridge, where they kiss in front of the awe-inspiring view of Earth, complete with its ring of Martian debris — an exact reprise of the Melina/Quaid clinch at the end of Total Recall.
“I turned in the script,” says Cirulnick. “They dug it, Jesse Berdinka dug it, my agents dug it. Everything was cool. I was all fired up. I kept calling and calling, ‘Hey, what’s happening?’” Eventually, Cirulnick heard that Schwarzenegger had read the draft, and that a meeting had been arranged between Bob Weinstein, Andrew Rona and the star. “My understanding is that meeting took place,” the writer says. “I never found out specifically what happened — all I know is after that I got a call from Miramax who asked me would I be interested in rewriting the script to shrink the budget down. Maybe they wanted to cut money out of the below-the-line stuff to give more money to Schwarzenegger. It began to look like they couldn’t make a deal with Schwarzenegger, and it may have had something to do with Miramax not thinking that his stock was high enough for the fee he was asking. After that,” says Cirulnick, “Andrew Rona told me that they were beginning to talk about other people — Vin Diesel’s name was mentioned — but it never happened. I think at the time Vin Diesel was paid $20 million to do xXx, so I guess he wasn’t going to be that much cheaper than Schwarzenegger.”
Although Cirulnick half-expected to be asked to rewrite it for another actor, his agents advised against it: “They said, ‘Look, if it’s not going to go with Schwarzenegger, don’t write any more on the project. You want to have written the script for Schwarzenegger, not some other guy. It’s a dynamite sample, but don’t get too wedded to it.’” For most of 2001 and 2002, Dimension’s partner company, Miramax, suffered a series of flops and financial disasters, including the expensive collapse of Talk magazine, ballooning costs on Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York and MGM’s abrupt exit from its co-production deal on Chicago — from which it did not recover until Chicago turned a profit in 2003. So when a comprehensive Variety profile failed to mention Total Recall 2 among the future projects either of Miramax or Dimension, Cirulnick surmised that the project was dead. “I think the monetary issue, the economics of the script and the film, and not being able to make a deal with Schwarzenegger cost the film momentum, and that was it,” he says. “I left a man down on the battlefield and there was nothing more that could be done.”
Dimension refused to let it die, however, offering Shusett and Goldman a chance to write another draft: “They called us and said, ‘Here’s Matt’s ideas — let’s blend them with your action set pieces, which we love,’ because, as we do in the first one, we had a lot of unusual special effects ideas, some humorous, some bizarre. They said, ‘Can you fit these into Matt’s plot?’ And we said, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’” Shusett and Goldman wrote what they describe as “a beat sheet, just five or six pages,” showing how a new version, combining Cirulnick’s story with their set pieces, might look. “Andrew Rona said, ‘This is wonderful — it’s a combination of what Matt had come up with and how you guys see it having to be re-channelled to fit your action sequences. I’ll give this to Arnold right now.’ And Bob said, ‘I’m completely convinced that you guys can deliver on the script. If [Arnold] buys the concept, we’ll make the movie.’” Yet again, Schwarzenegger shot down the script.
In the meantime, former Carolco partners Andrew G. Vajna and Mario Kassar reunited to form C2 Productions, one of their first moves being to purchase the rights to Schwarzenegger’s most successful franchise, the Terminator series. While James Cameron, director of The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, passed on the chance to make Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Schwarzenegger agreed to reprise his most famous role, with Breakdown writer-director Jonathan Mostow at the helm. Around the same time, Vajna and Kassar entered negotiations with Dimension to re-acquire the sequel rights to Total Recall. Although that deal reportedly fell apart in early 2003, the $75 million US opening of Terminator 3 put Arnie back on the box office map, leading Shusett and Goldman to approach Bob Weinstein with yet another concept, presented as a five-page treatment.
“We have a lot of funny new ideas, including six or seven very unique and funny and bizarre set pieces which we wrote in our ’98 draft which we’re transplanting into this,” Goldman said in 2004. “The plot will be very complex again, and very much fantasy versus reality. We hope to shock the audience — something that most films would be afraid to do — by having the audience think something completely different as to how they interpreted the first movie. You see that in the first half hour. And that’ll be the first shock. And from then it’ll go on twisting back and forth towards ‘fantasy versus reality’, but with a new storyline involving a new leading lady.” And possibly a new leading man. “The way we’ve sent it to him is flexible,” Shusett notes, “so if Arnold’s not available, or he doesn’t want to do it, or ends up being Governor of California, it can be done with another actor.”
Although Goldman and Shusett’s plans for Total Recall 2 came to nought, interest in the property remained relatively constant, not least because of associations with the ‘recall’ of California Governor Gray Davis, prompting a snap election in which he was replaced by Schwarzenegger himself. Although this, naturally, led to some humorous Internet memes revolving around the Total Recall concept, Schwarzenegger’s governorship put his acting career on hiatus for the next eight years. By the time he was back, plans were well underway not for a sequel to Total Recall, but a remake, based on a new screenplay by Kurt Wimmer (Ultraviolet, Salt), Mark Bomback (Die Hard 4.0, aka Live Free or Die Hard) and James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, The Amazing Spider-Man). With a cast led by Colin Farrell — who, in an example of synchronicity worthy of Philip K. Dick himself, had co-starred in Spielberg’s Minority Report — the film was scheduled for release in 2012, more than two decades after the release of the original. Now, it seems, they can remake it for you wholesale.
The above is an extract from Tales from Development Hell