'Total Recall' then and now

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In the two decades since "Total Recall," Arnold Schwarzenegger certainly has been busy.

He solidified his status as action hero, became governor of California from 2003-11, built a family with Maria Shriver and secretly had a child with the family housekeeper, which triggered a divorce filing.

The movie business has undergone equally momentous changes, with budgets climbing, openings bigger than ever (both in terms of number of screens and attention to first weekend figures) and fat paychecks no longer a guarantee even for A-listers. As a new "Total Recall" opens, a look at how the two versions stack up.

RELEASE DATE, RUNTIME, RATING

Then: June 1, 1990, with a running time of 113 minutes and rating of R for violence and language.

Now: Aug. 3, 2012, with a running time of 118 minutes and rating of PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity and language.

THE BASICS

Then: The story is set in the future when a man named Douglas Quaid is haunted by dreams of visiting Mars. But it turns out he may have once lived on the planet and someone intentionally erased his memory and created a new life for him.

Now: At the end of the 21st century, worker Douglas Quaid opts for a mind trip designed to implant memories of life as a super-spy. But, instead, he becomes a hunted man running from the police and turning to a rebel fighter working for the head of the underground resistance.

REKALL PITCH

Then: "Come to Rekall Inc. where you can buy the memory of your ideal vacation cheaper, safer and better than the real thing."

Now: "Rekall -- we can remember it for you. ... Tell us the fantasy, we'll give you the memory."

DOUGLAS QUAID

Then: Arnold Schwarzenegger as a construction worker.

Now: Colin Farrell as a factory worker.

THE WIFE

Then: Sharon Stone.

Now: Kate Beckinsale.

THE OTHER WOMAN

Then: Rachel Ticotin.

Now: Jessica Biel.

THE SCI-FI SETTING

Then: Quaid travels to Mars, in dreams and reality.

Now: Quaid sticks with his home planet, Earth, where livable space drastically has shrunk. People live in one of two locations -- United Federation of Britain or The Colony.

THE DIRECTOR

Then: Paul Verhoeven, who made "RoboCop" before "Total Recall" and "Basic Instinct" afterward.

Now: Len Wiseman, who co-wrote and directed "Underworld" and "Underworld: Evolution" and directed "Live Free or Die Hard." He also happens to be married to Ms. Beckinsale.

THE INSPIRATION

Then: Philip K. Dick's short story, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" about a "miserable little salaried employee" with the slightly different name of Douglas Quail. "Before I die I'll see Mars," the clerk vows.

Now: Philip K. Dick's short story, "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale."

MOVIE'S APPEAL

Then: The bodybuilder turned actor had already appeared in "Terminator," "Predator" and "Twins" and was on his way to becoming an international superstar.

Critics were generally kind, with the Los Angeles Times calling it "entertainingly raw and brutal, full of whiplash pace and juicy exaggeration" while The New York Times said it was a "vigorous, superviolent interplanetary thriller that packs in wallops with metronomic regularity." On the other side of the ledger, a St. Louis reviewer branded it "blood-soaked nonsense at its very worst."

Now: It's rated PG-13 and is an alternative or follow-up to "The Dark Knight Rises" (also PG-13) but about three-quarters of an hour shorter. Even if the story has been changed, it's a familiar title and each of the various stars -- Mr. Farrell, Ms. Biel, Ms. Beckinsale, Bryan Cranston and Bill Nighy -- has a fan base.

OUCH

Then: Ms. Stone's character tries to reason with Mr. Schwarzenegger's by saying, "Sweetheart, be reasonable. After all, we're married." He shoots her in the forehead and announces, "Consider that a divorce."

Now: Mr. Quaid orders his wife to tell him what is going on or they can skip to the "till death do us part" section of their vows.

CLEVER CONCEITS

Then: In a sign of things to come, Mr. Schwarzenegger's character is given a full-body X-ray at a subway screening point. He's no skin and all bones, plus a visible and forbidden gun.

Now: A phone can be implanted directly into your hand, so all you have to do is raise your palm to your head or press it against a glass surface for display. "What is that? Where can I get one?" a tantalized teen asks. On a larger scale, The Fall is a giant elevator slicing through the Earth and connecting the two populated parts of the planet.

LOCAL CONNECTIONS

Then: Ms. Stone, of course, was born in Meadville. Producer and co-writer Ronald Shusett was born in Pittsburgh although he grew up in Los Angeles. Winner of a telephone game based on the movie picked up a $15,000 jackpot at the main branch of Mars National Bank, chosen because much of the film was set on Mars.

Now: Mr. Shusett still shares credit for the screen story, with four others.

WHAT WE SAID

Then: The late George Anderson, the PG's Magazine editor, assigned it a letter grade of B (comparable to three stars today). He wrote, in part, "If you can make a few leaps in logic -- none more far-fetched than seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger play an ordinary guy with a construction job -- 'Total Recall' can give you a potent evening's entertainment. ...

"The body count in 'Total Recall' is outrageous, as are the gruesome fates that befall many of the principal characters. If the movie, with its concentration on deformed mutants, popping eyes and kicked groins, were more mean-spirited, it would be unwatchable.

"But with Verhoeven's pounding fast pace and controlling sense of irony, 'Total Recall' emerges as a real winner. At an estimated production cost of $50 million, it had better be." (That would be roughly $89 million in today's dollars.)

Now: The movie (2-1/2 stars) provides nods to the original with, for instance, a reference to a getaway to Mars, the brief sight of a three-breasted woman and a plump red-haired lady at a security checkpoint. Mr. Farrell is much more of a regular guy than the former Mr. Universe so when he insists, "I'm nobody, I'm nobody," you believe him, even if it turns out he's not.

The movie is visually fantastical and has some interesting actors, such as Mr. Nighy, in smaller roles but it goes into action overdrive and seems to stage one extended chase after another and another and another. Questions of identity ("If I'm not me, who the hell am I?"), memory and a world with an entire continent of second-class citizens take a back seat to the muscular action.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com/madaboutmovies.


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