Life on Mars: Total Recall Released to Blu-ray

by Helen Cox on 15/07/2012

To celebrate the release of Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi classic: Total Recall on Blu-ray we thought we’d find out a little bit more about life on Mars and question the experts about whether a real-life Total Recall situation could ever come to pass. Amazingly they didn’t laugh in our faces!

Based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick this 1990 futuristic flick sees Arnold Schwarzenegger play Douglas Quaid, a construction worker living in 2084. By this time Mars has been colonised and Quaid quite fancies a holiday there due to a recurring dream he has about visiting the red planet with a hot brunette. His blonde wife Lori (played by Sharon Stone) is less than enthused by this idea and thus Quaid books himself in for an appointment at a company called ‘Rekall’ who implant memories of faux holidays of a life time. When the procedure goes wrong, however, Quaid finds himself in an unfamiliar and unforgiving situation as he hops a transport to Mars in the hopes of finding out who he really is and why he’s been tricked into living a lie.

I spoke to Gerry Williams from The Mars Society San Diego about the film and the possibility of the fourth rock from the sun ever becoming our new home.

Helen: Hi Gerry, can you tell us a fact about Mars that not many people know? We want to educate ourselves and sound uber-knowledgeable in front of our friends.

Gerry: The low gravity of Mars, coupled with its lack of a magnetosphere, means that the atmosphere is constantly being stripped off into space by the solar wind. Mars’s atmospheric pressure is only 1/125th of Earth’s, and you’d absolutely have to wear a spacesuit on the surface! Plus there is almost NO oxygen in the atmosphere for us to breathe — we’d suffocate (not quite like in TOTAL RECALL, but close).

Helen: That’s enough to give me nightmares. What fascinates you so much about Mars?

Gerry: Mars is the only planet in our solar system (except for our Moon, which isn’t considered a planet) that you can see the surface of from Earth. Venus, though closer, is shrouded in thick clouds. Mercury is too close to the glare of the sun. Pluto (though no longer a planet) is just too far away. And the other planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune) are gas giants and are covered with clouds.

Helen: Why do you think Mars has been the inspiration for so many movies?

Gerry: Through a medium-sized modern telescope in your back yard, you can see Mars’s surface features, the polar ice caps and clouds. It resembles Earth in many ways, and is responsible for inspiring the amazing body of literature we’ve all grown up with, as well as the movies. Because it looks like our home, its fair game to speculate about what or who might be living there: Cavemen or advanced civilizations? Could they be our friends or (because Mars is named after the Roman god of war) our foe? Third planet looks to be dying, could they covet ours?

Helen: Total Recall is being rereleased here and it’s set in a future where people live on Mars. Is that likely to happen?

Gerry: Definitely people (we Earth humans) could and will live on Mars in the not too distant future. There are many organizations now that are planning to do just that. The Mars Society has two Mars Analog Research Stations (one in the Canadian Arctic and the other in the American Southwest of Utah) where we’re learning what it would take to live, work and thrive on Mars. It is suggested that if we had the political and financial will to undertake such an effort, we could be sending humans to Mars within a mere 10 years, and then colonizing the planet shortly thereafter. NASA’s current plans for sending humans to Mars is at least 30 years away (and has been since the 1980s). ESA’s plans say 25 years away, Russia’s plans are 15-20 years but remain unfunded. Japan and China also express the desire to go explore and eventually colonize Mars.

But these governments are no longer the only players in the space game: We’re seeing the beginnings of corporations developing their own spaceflight capability, Elon Musk, billionaire owner of SpaceX, has begun flying private spaceships to the International Space Station and has stated that he wants to retire to Mars. I ran across this type of non-governmental thinking back in 2001 when I read the Robert Zubrin (Mars Society president and aerospace engineer) book, “The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must”. It outlines a relatively low-cost (tens of billions of $US, not trillions) approach and is doable with our current technology and engineering capabilities. The future is getting closer every day.

Helen: The remake of Total Recall is being released later this year but doesn’t use the Mars element in the story. Is this a mistake?

Gerry: Personally, yes I think it is a mistake not to take the remade TOTAL RECALL to Mars. But as this is supposed to be a “contemporary” reimaging, and is to be closer to Philip K. Dick’s original story, Mars probably wouldn’t work in that context.

There was a 1999 cable television series TOTAL RECALL 2070 that ran for 22 episodes. Only the very first episode took place on Mars (and used a good deal of movie effects footage) and the remainder of the series was Earth-based.

Helen: What’s your favourite movie about Mars?

Gerry: This is a tough question: There are so many classic Mars movies I thoroughly enjoy watching, like ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964), WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), and INVADERS FROM MARS (1953). For me, though, the most realistic Mars movie is STRANDED (2002), an intimate, low-budget film of survival and sacrifice.

Helen: What movie about Mars that hasn’t been made would you like to see made in the future?

Gerry: Being a filmmaker by trade, I wrote a Mars-themed film I would love to direct called CLEMENTINE. I also have a screenplay treatment for a sequel to ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS that I’d like to script in the near future.  😀

I would love to see a film (or TV miniseries) based on Kim Stanley Robinson’s book “Red Mars”. And of course films of his follow-up books, “Green Mars”, “Blue Mars” and “The Martians” shouldn’t be overlooked. Author Ben Bova also has a trilogy of Mars books that would also make must-see films, “Mars”, “Return to Mars” and “Mars Life”.

Helen awarded Total Recall 4 Torches of Truth



{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Morrow July 19, 2012 at 04:41

Great article! I love how you tied real Mars in with the “Total Recall” film concept.

Gerry Williams is also the publisher of the, a comprehensive list of Mars-themed films. He also owns arguably the largest collection of Mars films on two worlds.

I remember going to the very first of the Mars Society San Diego’s monthly Mars Movie Nights in November of 2001. The film, of course, was “Total Recall” and looked great projected on a 12-foot wide screen and in surround sound.

On to Mars!


Connie Haeckel July 21, 2012 at 01:46

Love, love, love the fact that Gerry mentioned the Ben Bova Mars trilogy. That is a fantastic example of great literature that while a little old, still holds onto the contemporary imagination. Nice choice.


Zack Mandell August 8, 2012 at 22:49

Super interesting! Especially in light of the Mars Rover Curiosity just landing. Too bad the new film was a total flop :/


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