The Total Recall remake, directed by Len Wiseman, hits the theatres on August 3

Philip K. Dick is a great Hollywood favourite — right from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner to the recent Adjustment Bureau, his novels and stories have been converted into blockbusters. Total Recall, opening this Friday, is a remake of the 1990 film directed by Paul Verhoeven, which in turn is based on PKD short story called “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.”

Super memories

The story was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1966. The story follows Douglas Quail, an ordinary man who is restless with his boring life and decides to do something adventurous like take a holiday to Mars. Since he cannot afford an actual holiday, he visits Rekal Incorporated which offers to implant memories of a trip to mars. How cool that would be in the real world — no visa, no bad hotels, no jet lag just super memories! At Rekal when they try to implant exciting memories of Quail being a secret agent on Mars, things go horribly wrong as in reality Quail is a secret agent with his memory erased. The story plays with the concept of reality and dreams; where one begins and the other ends.

The film version, which was development hell for the longest time going through 42 drafts and several directors including the very talented David Cronenberg, was very loosely based on the short story. By the time it reached Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie was a different beast altogether. Quail had changed from being a simple office worker to a buff construction worker, Quaid. While the beginning of the movie is similar to the short story, with Quaid waking up from a dream of Mars and deciding to go for a memory implant, the film then goes on a different tangent with Quaid going to Mars, defeating the bad guys, getting the girl and saving the planet.

Though Total Recall is an apologetic B movie, with everyone acting incredibly badly, the issues addressed are eerily prescient. Mars is a colony of earth and there is civil unrest on the planet. The governor of Mars, Vilos Cohaagen, controls air in Mars so that he can continue to mine turbinium ore. There is mention of alien artefacts being found, the manipulation of the media and segregation of the Other, in this case the mutants.

Being a Schwarzenegger film, there is enough opportunity for him to run around in bulging biceps and kill people in a variety of interesting ways. The body count according to IMDB is 77 and the film had to be reshot with different angles to get an R rating.

Sharon Stone plays Quaid’s duplicitous wife Lori. Apparently, Verhoeven was so impressed with two-faced Lori that he thought of making a whole film based on the character which ended up as Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct — yes the same movie of the famous interrogation scene and Tramell’s avowed dislike for underwear.

Set in the future

The Total Recall remake directed by Len Wiseman, like the short story, is based on earth and in Colin Farrell has a hero closer to PKD’s protagonist. While the idea of memory implants is taken from the story, Mars does not figure at all. The movie is set in the future when the earth is divided into the United Federation of Britain (the Brits are back to being the bad guys) and The Colony.

Vilos Cohaagen is the chancellor of United Federation of Britain and the chief bad guy, and Bill Nighy plays the rebel leader Matthias Lair. There is no mention of Kuato, the psychic mutant from the original film (apparently Cronenberg’s idea) in the remake.

There were two female leads in Total Recall — Lori and Quaid’s true love, Melina, a resistance fighter. The 2012 version has Kate Beckinsale playing Lori marking her third collaboration with her husband Wiseman after Underworld and Underworld: Evolution. Jessica Biel plays Melina. In 1990, Total Recall was one of the last movies to use miniature effects — James Cameron’s Terminator II which came out a year later was considered a breakthrough in CGI. Things seem to have come full circle with Wiseman preferring to keep it real and build sets.

The new version looks glossy as opposed to Verhoeven’s cheerfully cheesy palate (remember Schwarzenegger’s eyes popping out?) and Farrell looks rather tragic as Quaid. However with a mention of Kaitlyn Leeb playing the three-breasted woman — someone obviously was a fan of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Eccentrica Gallumbits, you can hope for some guilty pleasures.