Dan O’Bannon’s lost vision for ‘Total Recall’

Another unsung trivia nugget unearthed by greg moss.

It is widely known that Dan O’Bannon (co-screenwriter with Ronald Shusett) was never happy with the ending of ‘Total Recall’ as filmed – the Martian machine creating a breathable atmosphere in thirty seconds flat.

He felt it had no thematic connection with Phil Dick’s concept of memory implants – as outlined in the source story ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’.

What is less known is exactly what O’Bannon’s original concept actually was.

In a typically candid interview with Cinefantastique magazine (April 1991) O’Bannon revealed his concept …

“That wasn’t supposed to be a three-fingered Martian handprint [on the machine]. That was supposed to have been a print of [Quaid’s] hand which matched only his hand. Quaid, Earth’s top secret agent, went to Mars and entered this compound. The machine killed him and created a synthetic duplicate. He is that synthetic duplicate. He cannot be killed because he can anticipate danger before it happens. He is also omnipotent and because he cannot be killed, Earth wants to kill him but cannot. That’s why they go to all the trouble to erase his brain to make him think he’s nobody. It’s the only way they can control him. Audiences don’t question it when movie heroes go through adventures and don’t get killed. I thought it was clever to actually have a reason for it. At the end of the picture, Quaid puts his hand on the device and it all comes back to him, who he really is. His total recall of his identity is that he is a creation of a Martian machine. He is, in effect, a resurrection of the Martian race in a synthetic body. He turns and says to all the other characters, ‘It’s gonna be fun to play God'”

For some reason, O’Bannon’s co-writer Ron Shusett didn’t go for this idea and decided instead to employ the rather hokey ‘Mars gets an atmosphere’ finale.

It was at this point O’Bannon parted company with ‘Total Recall’.

I’m guessing O’Bannon’s original concept will remain unused in the upcoming remake – as apparently Mars doesn’t even figure in this updated version.

A missed opportunity perhaps?

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.


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  1. #1 by Ferran on November 2, 2012 - 9:26 PM

    Very interesting. Dan O’Bannon’s finale for Total Recall was much more in the style of Phillip K., I would say.

  2. #2 by gregory moss on November 3, 2012 - 12:18 PM

    Absolutely! Which is why it still amazes me Shusett didn’t go for it. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

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