Cyberpunk Review » Total Recall

February 21, 2006

Total Recall

Year: 1990

Directed by: Paul Verhoeven

Written by: Philip K. Dick (story), Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon et al.

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: High

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: High

Key Cast Members:

  • Douglas Quaid/Hauser: Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • Melina: Rachel Ticotin
  • Lori: Sharon Stone
  • Richter: Michael Ironside
  • George/Kuato: Marshall Bell
  • Rating: 7 out of 10


    We can remember it for you wholesale!


    Overview: Total Recall is one of the better known cyberpunk movies from the late 80s to early 90s. This is cyberpunk all the way with intense memory modification, a dystopic future, and malformed humans of all styles. The visuals are sometimes cheesy, but always pretty fun, and include various shots like a 3-breasted woman, exploding heads, bulging eyes, and this guy below. This is one of Arnold’s better roles, although the story does tend to rely on a continual stream of head-jerking mind fucks.




    Taken from Philip K. Dick’s story, “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale,” Total Recall stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as an everyday man, Douglas Quaid, who craves something different in his life. He keeps on having realistic dreams about Mars and decides to visit Mars virtually. He goes to “the Recall Corporation” to get some memories manufactured and installed - ones that are exciting, and speak of Mars, espionage and slutty, athletic women!




    Unfortunately, things go very wrong. In the process of getting his new memories installed, he wakes up to find that things are not as they seem – in fact he doesn’t know if he woke up at all, or if whether he’s still experiencing a memory impact at the Total Recall Corporation. Things get weirder and weirder, and involve a trip to Mars, and sleazy corporate plots.




    Total Recall gets Arnold to truly stretch his emotion capabilities, as we get to see him act in ways he really hasn’t done elsewhere. The rest of the cast isn’t exceptional, but puts in serviceable performances. Rachel Ticotin (the slutty athletic chick), Sharon Stone (Douglas’s wife, or maybe not), Ronny Cox (the evil corporate dude) and Michael Ironside (The evil right hand guy) all provide us with memorable characters.




    The Bottom Line: All in all, Total Recall is not the greatest movie ever, and has some significant science issues and plot holes, but it’s a truly fun ride with lots of replay potential. It does the memory modification thing very well, and while you get your head jerked around a bit, overall, the plot works.

    ~See movies similar to this one~


    February 21, 2006

    DoomAng3l said:

    A Philip K Dick Story! Nuff said really…

    Bad as this movie may be, it had some great moments and the story kicks philosophical ass -see : Mark Rowlands - the Philosopher at the end of the Universe.

    SFAM said:

    Oh wow! I’ve never heard of that book, but it looks terrific! Thanks DoomAng3l! :)

    And yeah, Total Recall is definitely a fun movie with some great moments, and the philosophy (the memory part more than the aliens part) is very cool.

    March 23, 2006

    Nexyde said:

    Nice review!
    I really love this movie as an action film, ya know “big muscle guy with machine guns with a cat fight scene all set in the future” type of movie.
    Paul Verhoeven is one of my favorite directors, with the help of Rob Bottin’s special makeup effects and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Who da hell am I?” role, I think he was able to make a film that is separated from most Sci-Fi action flicks.
    But it really is more of a popcorn movie for sure :o)

    SFAM said:

    Hi Nexyde, welcome to cyberpunkreview :)

    Yeah, this is a popcorn flick, but a pretty well made, fun popcorn flick. :)

    Nexyde said:

    Thanks for the welcome. :)
    I found a link to this site from Wikipedia, I’m doing some research on Cyberpunk films for a novel I’m wanting to write.

    Awesome website, it’s now in my favorites and I think it will be a great help!

    Muad'dib said:

    Apart from Blade Runner the only Dick adaptation worth mentioning. I love this movie. Great story (and a very interesting rendition of the short story), great SFX and great action.
    And you all have to watch the Audio Commentary by Arnie and Verhoeven on the DVD - it’s terrific. I couldn’t stop laughing when I first saw it :D

    SFAM said:

    Terrific! Nexyde, let me know if there’s any way I can be of assistance. I really want cyberpunkreview to be a resource for both cyberpunk writers and movie makers, and also for cyberstudies researchers.

    March 24, 2006

    SFAM said:

    Just saw your second comment. Minority Report isn’t my favorite cyberpunk movie, but I think it’s decent enough to mention. :)

    Also, we can hope that Scanner Darkly soon also qualifies.

    Muad'dib said:

    Yeah, Scanner Darkly definitely looks interesting. Even though I’m not toally convince by this cell-shading…

    And Minority Report…well, lets better not talk about this ;)

    SFAM said:

    Oh common, Minority Report is definitely better than Screamers, Imposter and Paycheck! Incidentally, I actually like Imposter more than most :)

    Muad'dib said:

    The short story? Yeah, definitely better! (Although Impostor blew my mind when I first read it)
    The adaptations? No way :D

    I kinda like Screamers and Impostor…and i prefer a good B-movie to a crappy A-movie.

    Paycheck…is…um….something else :D

    SFAM said:

    Paycheck is definitely the worst of the lot.

    Nexyde said:

    What about the Total Recall TV show?

    SFAM said:

    Total Recall 2070? Yep - it’s on the review docket, along with about 60-70 other movies/TV shows.

    March 25, 2006

    ETM said:

    The show I don’t want to even remember… it had some potential, but was too cheap for its own good in the end.

    I was very disappointed with the movie. Never read the story it was based on, but I absolutely hated the ending, along with most of the later Mars scenes before it. My disappointment was that much greater considering the fact that I absolutely loved the premise and the first part. I really couldn’t get past ridiculous mutants and express terraforming with laughable makeup effects.

    SFAM said:

    The express Terraforming, especially the eye bulging scene was completely unbelievable and stupid - agreed.

    July 30, 2006

    DannyV said:

    This movie is a perfect example of how a regular script can be raised to good viewing by by hard work from the director and actors. Another Paul Verhoeven blast(why doesn’t this guuy get work in Hollywood anymore?), and Arnold is always fun to watch.

    Case said:

    Hey, here’s a from-the-hip question…the eye bulging scene…was that cut on the standard DVD. I picked it up from Virus Mart for $5 and, as I was watching it, I would have sworn that scene was longer and gorier (therefore, all the more ridiculous). Not that I’m complaining, but was it cut for video or something? Anyone?

    SFAM said:

    Hi Case, I have the SE version of Total Recall, but I don’t, um, recall totally whether this was ever cut. :)

    And yeah DannyV, Verhoeven has had some absolutely fun, well done movies.

    August 9, 2006

    Hugo said:

    I first saw this years ago. I couldn’t watch the ‘eye bulging’ stuff at first, and probably still couldn’t now :P. Still, things like the JohnnyCabs, the Martian landscapes and the plot itself still really knock me off my feet.

    And that part where the guy comes from Rekall with Quaid’s wife (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll know the part) still gets me thinking.

    August 13, 2006

    Blaze one said:

    IMO: This has one of the better woman vs woman fights to come out of Hollywood.

    I heard rumors that David Cronenberg was slated to direct this, but he wanted to make Quaid more of a normal everyday guy (which Hollywood has a hard time portraying as the star in an action role… even more so back then).

    This is a great movie, but IMO would have been awesome if Cronenberg made it.
    It would’ve been such a “mind job”!

    But, i beleive it would not have been such a money maker.

    SFAM said:

    Wow, that woulda been awesome had Cronenberg directed this! No doubt! But I agree, it might not have made as much (not that I have a problem with that).

    August 15, 2006

    Case said:

    Yes, that’s true about Cronenberg. In fact, he had Richard Dreyfuss cast as Quaid. It came very close to happening, too. ‘Missed opportunity…

    September 19, 2006

    Retardo Dicrapio said:

    Total Recall was a fascinating movie because it was very unusual for a big Hollywood production (special effects slash content-wise and of course the script was incredible to begin with). Did anyone trip the soundtrack as much as I did? One reason I watched this movie at the theater 50 thousand times was that there was also some odd architectural space in the background. I kept imagining where this corridor would lead to or if the bit of plaza and fountain you could vaguely see back there led to a mesmerizing futuristic area. One of my favorite movies ever! I also enjoyed Arnold’s harsh but goofy humor (not stuffy or dumb as it’s common in big run of the mill flicks)

    SFAM said:

    Hi RD, I gotta go back now and listen to the soundtrack. For some reason, I can’t “hear” it now while thinking about it. I bet when I listen to it I’ll remember though. Definitely a fun fun movie.

    SteMcNay said:

    Hands down this film has my favourite sci-fi movie moment ever! The bit where Arnold runs through the black-glass security scanner and jumps through the glass - so cool! There’s quite a lot of smashing glass in this film, lol. It’s nice to see it Uncut here in the UK, especially the shoot-out on the stairwell. A very fun film with a wicked Goldsmith score.

    September 20, 2006

    microchip said:

    I loved the bad ass girl role Sharone Stone played in that movie :)… Arnie was, well as usual, very good in his role and the whole Mars landscape was awesome… I love it

    November 4, 2006

    Carlos Olivera said:

    check out Arnold Scwarzenegger’s “The 6th Day,” it has a lot of cyberpunk elements in it. there were android taxi drivers (just like in “Total Recall”), high technology methods of buying items in shopping malls, (the whole shopping mall is high-tech, the whole city including the vehicles and planes showed cyberpunk elements) “The 6th Day” is set on a not too distant future where an organization tries to dominate worldwide by means of cloning people using more advanced equipments in technology and the result: cyberpunk meets cloning.

    November 8, 2006

    Bo said:

    Ye, but 6th day wasnt nearly as good as this movie.

    November 28, 2006 » Large Millimeter Telescope said (pingback):

    […] ISSCC organizers liken the technology to that used in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Total Recall, where passengers are screened electronically, through clothing, for weapons and other contraband. SafeView already has a line of millimeter body scanners. […]

    March 25, 2007

    chase fromm said:

    oh yes. I like johnnycabs too. ha ha tee heeeeee heee whi, oh my god. man, he is full of sci-fi By the way, My ass is 10 yrs, 1996 26 sept.

    March 29, 2007 said:

    Does pretty much what a sci-fi movie is supposed to do. Directed by the same guy as Robocop and Starship Troopers, and although Schwazenegger is made fun of alot these days, Total Recall was one of his best.

    SFAM said:

    Hi David, while I like this, I LOVE the original Terminator - definitely my favorite!

    June 18, 2007

    Illusive Mind said:

    Plot hole:
    Cohaagen says Richter was trying to kill Qaid because he wasn’t in on the plan. That Hauser was a secret agent and had become Qaid. Cohaagen says he had all sorts of people helping him out.
    Who the hell were Qaid’s mates at the construction site working for? His friend said they were there to ‘keep him out of trouble’ and yet they are going to kill him, so they obviously don’t know the plan?

    June 29, 2007

    Klaw said:

    Well I always thought Quaid went insane in TR offices… so any plot holes are meaningless. They are all twists to throw off the audience, and further evidence of the psychotic embalism… which was the lovely irony I always thought… action hero as nothing but a delusional psychotic.

    Funny how this movie has become something of a meme this year… references to it in the movie “Knocked Up”… on Gizmodo…… I still can’t forget the Southpark version of this, hehe.

    September 2, 2007

    Alberto said:

    Best movie than I have seen in my life, the plot, the events, the argument is perfect, the imagination of wonderful Verhoeven. I do not have but that flatteries with the producers of this masterpiece

    September 12, 2007

    kitty_tc said:


    Actually, he didn’t. Look close during the first Recall scenes, the pyramids and other scenes from later in the movie are shown, and the technician calls the program “blue skies on mars”… the details all match up. You’re right that he doesn’t leave Recall, but you’re wrong that anything ever went wrong. The whole movie is just an action adventure program playing in Quaid’s mind. The crazy weird elements are all perfectly logical as they’re part of an over-the-top fiction program that Quaid experiences. if the movie had continued the timeline 5 minutes farther, you’d have seen him waking up after his successful memory vacation and going back to his normal life after being explained that what he’d experienced was just part of the virtual vacation. Instead, they cut at the end of the program and roll the credits, and never answer for the audience whether or not it was real. But that first scene tells you everything.

    So it’s a regular package deal that you shoot your own wife in the head and a Recall representative comes in and tells you you’re lobotomized!? Wild…

    September 13, 2007

    kitty_tc said:

    Illusive Mind:

    Well he deliberately selected a female love interest, meaning he was already looking for a fantasy wherein he had an excuse to cheat on and/or leave his wife, so why not give him an in-story justification so he could do so without guilt? Note that the “love interest” character the technician dials up on the selection screen is a precise match (literally it’s the same actress’s image) for the woman he actually “meets” later in the film, an impossible coincidence from mere spoken descriptions of images he got from dreams. Other images on the selection screens are also precise matches for things seen later in the film. As to the “Recall representative”, since they used his real memories of being at Recall as a jumping off point for the plot, there’s no reason there couldn’t be a digital character from Recall in the story whose purpose is to enhance Quaid’s suspension of disbelief. It’s also overwhelmingly likely that the program is less like a film being recorded into the subject’s mind than it is an interactive virtual environment like a video game, so that moment of choice could have led in different directions had he chosen differently, all designed to shepherd him along the plot path to achieve the desired ending. But regardless, unless that Recall technician somehow had the precise image of the woman Quaid would meet and somehow had those secret alien locations on file and knew what they were (the “blue skies on mars” comment”) despite that they were supposed to be this huge secret, then yeah Quaid never left Recall and the whole thing was an interactive adventure being played virtually inside his own mind.

    The only way it could have been any clearer would have been if Keanu Reeves showed up in black clothes and sunglasses and said “Woah, you’re still in the Matrix!”. :D

    October 3, 2007

    bennys the name said:

    total recall rooockkkkkkssssssssssssssssss

    this is benny ive got 5 kids to feed said:

    this film was the best sci fi around for its time full of jokes and the plot was brill!!!!!every one wants a happy ending and it gave it.CHRIS says hi to RICH and to get your ass to mars.BENNYS THE NAME?

    October 15, 2007


    …can’t hardly wait for the remake…
    …being planned…it’s gonna come out very soon…

    Klaw said:


    I agree the program followed the presets… but why include the doctor entering the virtual reality to warn him not to shoot? That killing him (his doctor) would expressly put him in a permanent psychotic state? That the “super hero” James Bond program itself, if left to run amok like an unchecked SuperEgo, would in fact result in a solipsistic prison? This is a Philip K. Dick story, so essentially it’s about paranoia and internal mental collapse versus the “reality” of the outside world seeping in… simply following the program with no effect on the protagonist makes no sense and is a fairly mundane reading of the story.

    October 16, 2007

    THE STRANGER said:

    i’m gonna wait for the remake…

    April 25, 2008

    Tom maccord said:

    LOL! >.

    May 3, 2008

    THE STRANGER said:

    7 months had passed and still, i’m gonna wait for the remake.

    May 21, 2008

    Adam Daub said:

    It is in no ways related to the Total Recall film, but I would be interested in seeing the 1999 ‘Total Recall 2079′ series have a review. It shares more in common with Blade Runner (almost entirely borrowing settings and themes) which is certainly a good thing. The acting is a bit hokey at times, but the content is certainly there. I think the series didn’t do so well due to it’s borrowing the title of Total Recall. I think people expected it to be some extension of this film.

    My qualms with the film were simply the excessive violence that ole Verhoeven is so renowned for. I think it should have had less Robocop “let’s have this over the top death scene” style to compliment it’s unbelievably killer effects and like you said, continual head-jerking mindfucks. :)

    June 12, 2008

    Anonymous said:

    i always hit a hardon every time i watch the scene at the end of the movie when Cohaagen is being sucked to death. I just think its so sexy the fact that he is so powerless. Ohh Yeah!

    June 23, 2008

    Burnt_Lombard said:

    You can read all about DC version in “Cronenberg on Cronenberg”. It would have been nothing like what this was. It definitely wouldn’t have been so action driven. Cronenberg spent over a year devoloping a more psychological script based on one from Shusset and O’bannon. He stated Shusset and Dino DeLaurentis wanted to make “Raiders of the Lost Ark go to Mars!” Sets were built, money was put into it, but on the end they couldn’t come to an agreement on the script and Cronenberg walked.

    I would have liked to seen that version, but this one is great fun. Over the top, but a great watch.

    June 29, 2008

    jmalmsten said:

    somewhat off-topic, but here goes… ;)

    believe it or not… last summer I worked at a company called Recall… a company that specializes in scanning and interpreting forms, archiving and digitally processing…

    …and every time I saw their logo the jingle came into my mind. “For the memory of a lifetime… recall, recaaall, recall!”

    Love the movie… also, it’s one of the first three movies I ever saw in HD on my computer… the other two where HERO and the porno spoof PIRATES… Ok, I never saw the full Pirates movie… since it just became too badly done… and that’s a porno I’m talking about!

    Another weird thing about Verhoeven… The guy that made Robocop, Total Recall, Starship Troopers and Hollow Man has repeatedly staten that he hates SciFi;)

    Maybe that’s the reason he’s so good at it, no?


    aues glsur gliers hoa ca cava total cecall tion solrfrflieoreorhm ltsptronpl
    totalceaill go smouhnra cilosrsnyoumtol suvol smuvol smotplos hnrloa gvulors
    gmoris gatkie

    May 6, 2010

    Gillian Seed said:

    How could this not get a 10 out of 10?

    -This movie is practically Cyberpunk lore (Hitchhiker’s guide meets Blade Runner). -Amazing cast of characters with some of the most fluid/lovable personalities/memorable quotes and scenes in (Sci-fi) cinema history.

    Oh, and it’s effing pitiful that Hollywood has decided to remake this (or the new fad Hollywood has been getting away with: just steal the title for production hype; when it has nothing to do with the source material).

    ~All Related Entries Related This~


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