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What Total Recall almost looked like

A peek inside the design process of Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi blockbuster

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Matt Patches is an executive editor at Polygon. He has over 15 years of experience reporting on movies and TV, and reviewing pop culture.

The Total Recall remake — excuse me, reimagining — from 2012 might be one of the most expensive movies to barely exist in today’s pop consciousness. The film’s legacy is somehow neither negative or positive. It just ... is. For all we know, it was a figment of our collective imagination. The only way memories of the Colin Farrell vehicle could possibly come to the forefront is if we were all zapped with a memory transplant and suffered some kind of “total recall.”

Meanwhile, Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story is a stone-cold classic. As if on a dare, the director turned larger-than-life Arnold Schwarzenegger into a mild-mannered, blue-collar worker with big dreams. After the fake-memory-implanting Rekall procedure goes “awry” — Verhoeven keeps the audience questioning everything until well after the movie ends — Schwarzenegger’s Quaid stumbles into a futuristic whodunnit/wheredunnit/howdunnit that whisks him from Earth to Mars. The film employs shoot-em-up set pieces, flashy special effects, and some of the most beautiful miniature work ever constructed in order to bring Quaid’s Red Planet spy adventure to life. It’s a prismatic, often funny marvel, and everything that the “gritty,” grey remake was not. The people who made it probably meant well, but Verhoeven put every idea on screen.

Or that’s what I thought, before watching the above snippet of the featurette “Dreamers Within the Dream: Developing Total Recall,” which appears on Total Recall’s new remastered 4K UHD release. In this clip, exclusive to Polygon, the film’s illustrator, Ron Miller, describes his and Verhoeven’s plans for both Kuato’s headquarters and the Martian Hilton Hotel. The plans were grand — probably too grand, for what they were really designed to be. As with all concept art, it makes you wonder what the visionaries of the 1990s could have done with the budget and special effects of 2020. Probably not what the remake would have done. (Although, as Miller describes, the hotel was meant to be a made up of a series of cubes, which is a direction the 2012 film embraced for Quaid’s lower-income city living — maybe I haven’t completely forgotten this movie after all!)

Check out the clip above to see the designs. Total Recall arrives on 4K UHD Blu-ray on Dec. 8.

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