Total Recall (2012 film)

Total Recall is a 2012 American science fiction action film directed by Len Wiseman. The screenplay by Kurt Wimmer and Mark Bomback was based on the 1990 film of the same name, which was inspired by the 1966 short story "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" by Philip K. Dick. The film stars Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston, Bokeem Woodbine, John Cho, and Bill Nighy. Unlike the first film, the setting is on a dystopian Earth, not Mars, and has more political themes.[5] The film blends American and Asian influences, notably in the settings and dominant populations of the two nation-states in the story: the United Federation of Britain (Western Europe) and the Colony (Australia).

Total Recall
Theatrical release poster
Directed byLen Wiseman
Produced by
Screenplay by
Story by
Based on"We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"
by Philip K. Dick
Music byHarry Gregson-Williams
CinematographyPaul Cameron
Edited byChristian Wagner
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • August 3, 2012 (2012-08-03)
Running time
118 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States[2][3]
Budget$125 million[4]
Box office$198.5 million[4]

The film was first announced in 2009[6] and was released in North America on August 3, 2012, grossing over $198 million worldwide.[4][7] The film received generally negative reviews from critics. It received praise for its action sequences and acting, but the lack of humor, emotional subtlety, and character development drew some criticism.


At the end of the 21st century, Earth is devastated by chemical warfare. Precious remaining habitable land is found in just two territories: the United Federation of Britain (UFB), located on the British Isles and northwestern Europe; and the Colony, covering Australia. Factory workers living in the Colony quickly commute to the UFB each day via “The Fall,” a gravity elevator through the Earth's core which takes 17 minutes to traverse. A Resistance operating in the UFB, which the UFB views as a terrorist movement, seeks to improve living conditions in the Colony.

Colony citizen Douglas Quaid has been having dreams of being a secret agent, aided by an unnamed woman. Tired of his factory job building police robots with friend Harry, he visits Rekall, a company that implants artificial memories. Quaid chooses a fantasy as a secret agent. An emblem of Rekall is stamped onto his arm and, just as the fantasy is being loaded by technician McClane, they discover that Quaid already has real memories of being a spy. As McClane starts to question Quaid about the memories, a squad of UFB police burst in, kill the Rekall staff, and attempt to arrest Quaid. Quaid reacts instinctively, killing the entire squad. Upon returning home his wife Lori attempts to kill him, revealing that she is a UFB intelligence agent and they've only been “married” for six weeks, not seven years. After Quaid escapes, Charles Hammond, stating he is an old friend, contacts him and directs him to a safe-deposit box, where Quaid finds a message from himself with the address of an apartment.

Pursued by Lori, human and robot police, Quaid is rescued by Melina, the woman from his dreams. At the apartment, Quaid finds another recording, revealing that he is actually Carl Hauser, an agent working for UFB Chancellor Cohaagen to infiltrate the Resistance. Hauser defected, but was recaptured by the UFB and implanted with false memories to manipulate him. The recording reveals that Cohaagen will use robots to wipe out the Colony, replace the Colonists as laborers, and give the UFB more living space. Hauser has seen a “kill code”, which can be recovered from his memory by Resistance leader Matthias, that will disable the robots. Melina reveals that she was Hauser's lover before he was recaptured, comparing their matching scars from a time they were shot while holding hands. The police arrive and Harry appears. He tries to convince Quaid that he is still in a Rekall-induced dream and that killing Melina is the only way out. Quaid is unsure, but notices a tear on Melina's cheek and shoots Harry. Lori pursues the pair, but they escape.

Quaid and Melina find Matthias. While Matthias searches Quaid's memories, Lori and Cohaagen storm the Resistance base. Cohaagen reveals that Hauser was in fact still working for him and contributed to Quaid's memory alteration, dreaming up the kill code as a trap. Cohaagen kills Matthias, takes Melina prisoner, and leaves Hauser for pre-Quaid memory restoration. As the officers are about to inject Quaid, Hammond reveals himself and dies helping Quaid escape.

Cohaagen loads The Fall with his invasion army of robots. Quaid sneaks on board, setting timed explosives throughout the ship while searching for Melina. He frees her as The Fall arrives at the Colony. As they fight the soldiers and Cohaagen, Quaid's explosives detonate. Quaid and Melina jump off before the ship plummets back into the tunnel and explodes underground, killing Cohaagen and destroying his army and The Fall itself the only way to reach the UFB.

Waking up in an ambulance, Quaid is greeted by Melina. When he notices that she is missing their matching hand scar, he realizes that she is Lori using a holographic disguise; they fight and Lori is killed. Quaid finds the real Melina as news channels declare the independence of the Colony and an advertisement for Rekall plays on a billboard in the background.

Alternative ending

In the extended director's cut, Quaid notices that the emblem mark he had gotten at Rekall prior to all that has happened is no longer visible on his arm, suggesting that he is still living a fantasy within the Rekall mainframe.


  • Colin Farrell as Douglas Quaid/Hauser, a factory worker suffering from strange violent dreams.[8]
  • Kate Beckinsale as Lori, a UFB undercover agent posing as Quaid's wife.[9]
  • Jessica Biel as Melina, a member of the Resistance and love interest.[9]
  • Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen, the corrupt and ruthless Chancellor of the United Federation of Britain.[10]
  • Bokeem Woodbine as Harry, Quaid's workmate and best friend – in fact an agent sent by Cohaagen to monitor him.
  • Bill Nighy as Matthias, the leader of the Resistance.[11]
  • John Cho as McClane, a rep and tech at Rekall who offers Quaid the chance to experience an imagined adventure.[12]
  • Will Yun Lee as Marek, a factory worker who refers Quaid to McClane at Rekall.
  • Dylan Smith (credited as Dylan Scott Smith) as Hammond


On June 2, 2009, Variety reported that Kurt Wimmer would write the script for the film.[13] Mark Bomback was later brought on board,[7] and James Vanderbilt did an uncredited "polish" on the script.[14] Over a year later Len Wiseman was hired to direct.[15] Paul Cameron is the film's cinematographer,[16] and Christian Wagner is the film's editor.[17] The soundtrack is a collaboration of Harry Gregson-Williams and Welsh electronica group Hybrid.[18]

Although described in the press as a "remake," star Jessica Biel claimed in her August 2, 2012 appearance on The Daily Show that the film is not a remake of the 1990 film, but an adaptation of the original short story by Philip K. Dick.[19] However, Biel's own character of "Melina" was not actually present in the original short story by Philip K. Dick and exists only in this film and the original 1990 film. The same is true for the characters of Cohaagen and Harry, along with the leader of the Resistance. This version of the film also uses the names Quaid and Lori for the main character and his wife, like the 1990 film, whereas in the original short story they were Quail and Kirsten. The basic story also follows that of the original 1990 film, albeit with certain changes such as keeping the action on Earth rather than Mars. Also, this version does not credit Dick as a writer.[20]

In August 2010, Arnold Schwarzenegger expressed an interest in reprising his role as Quaid, but in October 2010 it was officially reported in The Hollywood Reporter that Colin Farrell was on top of the short list, which included Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender, to play Quaid.[21] On January 11, 2011, it was announced that Farrell had secured the role.[8] Farrell stated in April that the remake would not be the same as Dick's short story.[22]

Beckinsale and Biel were both confirmed for roles on May 25,[9] after actresses Eva Green, Diane Kruger, and Kate Bosworth had previously been considered for Biel's role.[23] Actor Bryan Cranston was cast as the film's villain.[10][24] Ethan Hawke was reportedly cast in a cameo role, and commented that his character had a monologue about five pages long;[25][26] however, this role was later cut. Though cut from the original film, Ethan Hawke is featured in the extended version of the film.[27] Later cast additions included Bill Nighy[28] and John Cho.[12]

On a reported budget of $125 million, principal photography began in Toronto on May 16, 2011, and ended on September 20, 2011.[29] Scenes were filmed at the Pinewood Toronto Studios,[30] as well as the University of Toronto, Lower Bay Station, CIBC Commerce Court, the University of Toronto Scarborough, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre,[31] and Guelph.[32] The film was shot with Red Epic digital cameras and Panavision anamorphic lenses.[33] After securing the film rights from Miramax, Columbia Pictures distributed the film.[13]

Extended director’s cut

The director's cut, including an extra 12 minutes, ends with Quaid finding the real Melina... then noticing that his forearm is missing the Rekall symbol he received earlier. Recalling Matthias’ words, during their short meeting, that the past blinds us to the present our heart wants, Quaid decides to accept his current world with Melina as real.

The director's cut explains that Melina is Matthias' daughter.

Ethan Hawke appears uncredited as Hauser's original appearance in the director's cut. In this version, both Hauser's memory and physical appearance were heavily altered by the UFB to turn him into Quaid.[27]


Box office performance

Total Recall was released on August 4, 2012, and opened in 3,601 theaters in the United States, grossing $9,092,341 on its opening day and $25,577,758 on its opening weekend, ranking #2 with a per theater average of $7,220. The film performed poorly domestically with only $58,877,969, but made a strong $139,589,199 outside of the United States for a total of $198,467,168[34][35] against a $125 million budget.

Critical response

The film has negative reviews from critics. It has a 31% approval rating on the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, based on 233 reviews with an average rating of 5/10. The website's critical consensus states: "While it boasts some impressive action sequences, Total Recall lacks the intricate plotting, dry humor and fleshed out characters that made the original a sci-fi classic."[36] At Metacritic, the film received a weighted average score of 43 out of 100, based on 41 reviews from mainstream critics, which indicates "mixed or average reviews".[37] Critics cited Total Recall's action sequences as "visually impressive". The film earned a Razzie Award nomination for Biel as Worst Supporting Actress.

Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gave the film a positive review, stating, "The richly constructed first hour is so superior to any feat of sci-fi speculation since Minority Report that the bland aftertaste of the chase finale is quickly forgotten."[38] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film three stars out of four; praising its details, he stated: "Total Recall is well-crafted, high energy sci-fi. Like all stories inspired by Philip K. Dick, it deals with intriguing ideas. It never touched me emotionally, though, the way the 1990 film did, and strictly speaking, isn't necessary."[39] Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune also gave the film a positive review, stating that "the movie marches in predictable formations as well. But when Biel's rebel pulls over in her hover car and asks Farrell if he'd like a ride, your heart may sing as mine did."[40]

Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a mixed review, saying that "the outcome is engaging enough, although not entirely satisfying from either a genre or narrative standpoint, lacking both substance and a degree of imagination."[41] Amy Biancolli of the San Francisco Chronicle also gave the film a mixed review, stating: "For all of its dazzlingly rendered cityscapes and nonstop action, this revamped Total Recall is a bland thing—bloodless, airless, humorless, featureless. With or without the triple-bosomed prostitute."[42] Jen Chaney of The Washington Post gave the film two-stars-out-of-four, saying: "So what makes this 2012 Total Recall superior to the Arnie model? For starters, there's an actual actor in the starring role.... Still, this Recall has more than its share of flaws."[43] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C", stating that "this one is somberly kinetic and joyless."[44] Justin Chang of Variety gave the film a mixed review: "Crazy new gadgets, vigorous action sequences and a thorough production-design makeover aren't enough to keep Total Recall from feeling like a near-total redundancy."[45]

Kyle Smith of the New York Post gave the film a negative review, stating: "As for a villain, you could do worse than Bryan Cranston as the evil political overlord who is trying to stamp out the resistance... But... When he goes mano a mano with Farrell, it's not spine-tingling. It's embarrassing, like watching a dude beat up his dad."[46] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone also gave the film a negative review, stating that "since the new Recall is totally witless, don't expect laughs. Originality and coherence are also notably MIA."[47]

Video game

A 3D first-person shooter video game of the same name for iPhone, iPad and Android was released as a tie-in to the film.[48][49]

Possible sequel

In June 2012, producer Neal Moritz said "if the audience likes it, we’ll make a sequel."[50] In July 2012, Farrell mentioned the possibility of doing another film.[51] The film was released in August 2012, to poor reviews and below expectation at North American box office, with no further mention of a sequel.


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