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Ink & Pixel: Total Recall

12.10.2015

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fanbase, Ink & Pixel has broadened its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy genres. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at steveseigh@joblo.com so we can discuss it further.

Scenario: You've been invited by Rekall – a company that specializes in implanting memories of unforgettable vacations into your mind – to partake in an all-expenses-paid trip to a destination of your choosing. Where do you go? Would you choose a sunny, remote island paradise where you're served mai tais by trained dolphin service staff? Or perhaps you'd rather explore the blackest depths of the ocean while inside an impossibly luxurious pressurized vessel? I ask you this, because back in 1990, a construction worker by the name of Douglas Quaid was provided with this very opportunity – and he chose to get his ass Mars. Why would anyone want to travel to a dangerous locale such as this? We're about to find out as we strap in to this week's Ink & Pixel with a look back at TOTAL RECALL.

Directed by Paul Verhoeven (ROBOCOP, BASIC INSTINCT, STARSHIP TROOPERS), TOTAL RECALL is an American science-fiction fantasy action film that stars Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Ticotin, Sharon Stone, and Michael Ironside. Writers Ronald Shusett, Dan O'Bannon, Jon Povill, and Gary Goldman based their screenplay for the film loosely upon the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”. I emphasize the term “loosely” here, because damn, Verhoeven's action-blockbuster differs considerably from Dick's original tale.

How different was it, you ask? Well, aside from Quaid's character (named Quail in the original text) actually being a former secret government agent whose memories have been long-repressed, it turns out that he was also the foil to an earthly alien invasion at the tender age of just nine-years-old. Huh? Yeah, apparently the aliens were so moved by a young Quail's quality of being that he inspired them to postpone their planet-ending invasion; at least until the time comes for him to die of natural causes – at which point our race be wiped from the cosmos. Thus, Quail is essentially written to be the most important man on Earth, and his survival of Rekal's relentless pursuit is paramount to our succession as a race among the stars. So yeah, Verhoeven's version is arguably quite different.

In the 1990 film, TOTAL RECALL, Schwarzenegger is Douglas Quaid – a work-a-day construction crewsman who lately has been experiencing a rash of bizarre dreams in which he's an instrumental part of an on-going war on the planet Mars. In an effort to satiate his desire to go to Mars, Quaid books an appointment with “Rekall”, the vacation memory implantation firm. After being pumped with sedatives, and choosing his athletic, brunette counterpart for the trip, things go horribly wrong for our hero. Wrong how, exactly? Well, what if your life suddenly became an  waking spy-thriller nightmare that would not end, and your grip on reality suddenly became all but lost. Yeah, Doug's about to have a very bad trip.

Things escalate from there, and before long Quaid finds himself at the heart of a not-so-secret war between the lower-alien mining class and a megalomaniac by the name of Cohagen. Though, perhaps the biggest problem Doug is facing is not the relentless pursuit of shady government agents, a wife hell-bent on kicking his testicles until they're mush, or prophetic stomach babies, but the fact that his whole life has become a series of epic hallucinations and lies. Will Doug be able to discover the truth about his identity while simultaneously saving the world from ugly mobster-like henchmen, alien beings with five kids to feed, and possibly the most irritating cab service in the entire known galaxy? I sure hope so!

Now, we all know that it can often take up to several years to create a film from start to finish, but would you believe that TOTAL RECALL had been in development for more than a decade before finally moving into production? It's true. In fact, the rights to Dick's short-story were purchased (for just $1,000) back in 1974, but Ronald Shusett and Dan O' Bannon were unable to work on the project at that time. Why, you ask? Oh I don't know, maybe it's because they were off working with Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger on ALIEN! Together with Jon Povill, both Shusett and O' Bannon returned to TOTAL RECALL, with all intentions of giving it their full attention when the time was right. It's said that the script for Arnold's super-spy space voyage had gone through a total of 40 revisions before being finalized.

In fact, TOTAL RECALL may very well have never existed at all if it were not for Schwarzenegger stepping in, and purchasing the rights to the film from Carolco Pictures – with whom he'd worked previously while starring in RED HEAT. After the deal was brokered, Arnold inserted himself into several other roles beyond that of playing the film's lead character, Douglas Quaid. How do I know that? Check out this cool blurb I found while reading an article on mentlfloss.com, “The coveted role of Quaid was not the only thing Schwarzenegger won in the transaction: In addition to being welcome to recruit the director of his choice (as a big fan of RoboCop, he picked Paul Verhoeven), Schwarzenegger maintained authority over all creative aspects of the film, script, production, and even elements of distribution.

All aspects of creating TOTAL RECALL as a hold-on-to-your-butts action film were now in place, and it was time for the cast and crew to head down to the old Estudios Churubusco movie studio to begin drawing concept art and construction of the film's sets. There were 10 stages that measured out to (roughly) to 180x90 feet all told, of which 9 of them contained 3-4 elaborate sets of locations seen throughout Quaid's adventure. According to Eric Brevig, the film's Visual Effect Supervisor, TOTAL RECALL was one of the last film's to be made that did not contain digital compositing – a process in which a series of pictures are arranged digitally to create one final image.

Brevig, in a behind-the-scenes documentary, goes on to tell us the following about how TOTAL RECALL achieved its detailed visuals without the use of CGI technology, “... we had to figure out ways of filming, with cameras and actual miniatures, with almost all the images. Except for the skeletons that appeared on the skeleton screens, everything that you see is something that has been created and photographed on camera. For example, when we see Arnold on the train, heading into Mars City - the camera pulls out and you can see all of Mars. It's a “Geography” shot, an exposition of what Mars looks like. That was done with 3 scales of miniatures and motion-controlled cameras, and then we tied it all together. It was quite complicated, and difficult to do.

Stepping away from the sets and locales of the film, let's talk about some of TOTAL RECALL's make-up and special effects. Effects Supervisor Rob Bottin was brought onto the set for work on the film, and was more or less given carte blanche by Schwarzenegger and Verhoeven to “go nuts” in regard to the picture's creature designs. For instance, the character of Kuato - a prophetic alien child who lives in the stomach of one of Mar's' high-ranking and rebellious citizens - required a total of 15 puppeteers to operate. The off-camera crew manipulated the creature using a complex series of levers and pistons. Carefully rigged, the Kuato puppet was inserted into a chest-piece which was then worn by actor Marshall Bell. So impressive were the effects featured in TOTAL RECALL that the film received a total of 3 Academy Awards (Best Visual Effects, Best Science Fiction Film, and Best Costume Design) for its outstanding visual excellence.

There's no denying that TOTAL RECALL was a box office success. The film cost roughly $65 million to produce, but at the end of its box-office run, yielded a whooping worldwide total of $261,317,921! Needless to say, Schwarzenegger was a major draw at the time of the film's release. At the time, it had been about a 2 year gap since everyone's favorite Austrian muscle man had starred in RED HEAT – Arnie's last major action role before getting his ass to Mars for Verhoeven's stellar-spy-thriller. Arnold then followed up his trip into outer-space space with the role of Detective John Kimble in Ivan Reitman's KINDERGARTEN COP. It wasn't until 1991 when fans would see Schwarzenegger in what's arguably his most notable role, as The Terminator, in James Cameron's TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY.

So, am I a fan of TOTAL RECALL? You're damn right I am! I've honestly lost count of how many times I've seen this film. In fact, I plan on watching it again shortly after wrapping up this article, just for old time's sake. Is it perfect? Hell no. But it's got a ridiculous amount of one-liners that can be used in a myriad of every-day situations, and who doesn't love that? “What've you been feeding this thing?”, “See you at the party, Richter!”, “Quaid, start the reactor.”, and “What are you doing? Give these people air!” are all, in their own way, unforgettable lines of dialogue that I will treasure for all of my days to come. I also happen to be a huge Arnold fan. The man has been a fixture in my life for as long as I can remember, and I love him in all of his glory and ridiculousness. For my money, TOTAL RECALL is one of those films that you can throw on any time you're feeling like taking a blood-soaked, cloak and dagger trip to the outer-reaches of space. You should totally go watch it, again, right now. See you in two weeks when we celebrate this year's Christmas Eve with a look at Aardman's ARTHUR'S CHRISTMAS! NNNYYYEEEAAARRGGG!!!!

Extra Tidbit: Early on, Arnold was considered to be "too manly" for the role of Douglas Quaid. Instead, the studio was eager for Patrick Swayze to get his ass to Mars. Obviously, that didn't pan out.

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