From the archive

David Cronenberg’s ‘Total Recall’

I was going to do Total Recall. Like with a lot of Philip Dick stuff the concept of Total Recall was incredible. The beginning was great. It didn’t quite have an ending that was satisfying and that was always the thing; what’s the third act? How’s it going to end? But I felt a great connection with Philip Dick. He’s such an interesting guy. A brilliant guy. A lot of his writing is very shoddy and not good because he wrote so fast and so constantly and he would be taking speed and would write for 48 hours straight which of course is ultimately what killed him. So I was working on it. At the time it was for Dino De Laurentiis and Ron Shusett, the producer, who’d had a lot of success with Alien, which, I have to say, took a lot of stuff from Shivers. There’s a parasite that lives inside you? Burns its way out? Jumps on your face and goes down your throat? I did all that before Alien and Dan O’Bannon (who wrote Alien) certainly knew my work. But that’s another thing. So anyway, I wanted to cast William Hurt for the lead, and it ended up being Arnold Schwarzenegger so there’s the difference. Once again I thought it could be sci-fi and entertaining, but heavy duty, you know? This was heavy duty. And ultimately what happened was, after doing a year’s worth of work — writing ten to twelve drafts myself, I finally handed the last draft to Ron Shusett and I said, “here, I think we have it, this is it.” And he said, “well, you know what you’ve done?” And I said, ”what?” And he said, “you’ve done the Philip K. Dick version.” And I said, “well isn’t that what we wanted?“ And he said, “no, we wanted Raiders of the Lost Ark Go to Mars.” And I said, “well it’s too bad we didn’t talk about that earlier because we could have saved ourselves a lot of trouble!”