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Monday, 31 March 2003

Help, I'm stuck in 1990

Yesterday, along with the copy protected shiny thing that plays music, I also picked up a copy of Total Recall on DVD. I hadn't seen it in a while, and was reminded of it when we were talking in #evanchan about the new security portals that were installed recently at Heathrow (they look cool, but not as cool as what looked like a millimetre wave display on Total Recall).

My, that film's aged.

Total Recall is very similar to another Arnie film, The Sixth Day:

Sixth Day

Total Recall

Arnie gets up, sees an advert for spangly new technology and goes to work as a ridiculously over-muscled chopper/plane pilot

Arnie gets up, sees an advert for spangly new technology and goes to work as a ridiculously over-muscled construction worker.

Arnie has a conversation with a work colleague and gets persuaded to do something that's full of spangly new technology like cloning the family pet.

Arnie has a converation with a work colleague and gets persuaded to do something that's full of spangly new technology like taking a memory implant of a trip to Mars instead of going there.

After said spangly new technology, Arnie wakes up in an automatically driven cab where he pays by thumbprint.

After said spangly new technology, Arnie wakes up in an automatically driven cab where he pays by thumbprint driven by a scary sub-Hensonesque Johnny cab puppet.

Something has gone Horribly Wrong whereupon the new spangly technology of asking for a cloned pet bizarrely results in Arnie's life being irrevocably changed for the worse if, for this particular example, we take worse as meaning a combination of:

Something has gone Horribly Wrong whereupon the new spangly technology of asking for a cloned pet bizarrely results in Arnie's life being irrevocably changed for the worse if, for this particular example, we take worse as meaning a combination of:


  • crashing a few cars
  • killing a whole bunch of people (admittedly more of this in Total Recall than in Sixth Day)
  • discovering that your wife isn't your wife/discovering that your wife is sleeping with the Other You

It's here that Sixth Day and Total Recall diverge. Whilst Sixth Day has a whole host of technologies that we expect from "the near future" and was released in 2000, Total Recall is set in the 2080s, a good 90 years after it was filmed in 1990.

Things we can learn about living in 2080 after having watched Total Recall:

Computer displays will be everywhere. Unfortunately, they will all be CRTs with fishbowl-effect curvature, and none of those displays will be larger than fouteen inches. They will also have a hideously low refresh rate, which means that anyone selling migraine or headache medication will be a wise investment on the stock exchange. There's also a curious affectation of rotating displays around ninety degrees so that they're in portrait orientation. There might be a few holographic displays, but they'll be exclusively reserved for displaying tennis training lessons run by the latest fad: late 80s dressed sports instructors.

While computer displays themselves might be everywhere--or video ones at least--any comnputers that we do have will look like the electronic typewriters of today, only with a small ten inch CRT attached to them via an arm. There will only be one of those in the entire world, but that's okay. One scientist will be allowed to have a tablet PC.

All cars will be angularly styled and have a characteristic electric whine. Fortunately, the Toyota Prius hybrid already has that characteristic electric whine, so we're well on the way.

Passports will still be made of paper, immigration controls will still be performed by irritable young men, inked visa stamps will still be... inked stamps.

People under extreme stress will still want to splash their faces in cold water.

Ikea clearly doesn't exist in the future, because all furniture is gunmetal grey and strictly functional. Bright colours are not tolerated at all.

No one has a mobile phone, but videophones are everywhere. They're the ones using the portrait orientation displays.

They still have GPS tracking devices, only this time they can show you a 3D rendered view of where the tracked object is. Just like these.

Oh, I almost forgot. We'll have colonised Mars. There's realism for you...

It's interesting to see how much has changed since 1990, when Total Recall was released. Whoever worked on the film missed out a whole plethora of personal comms and display devices and succumbed to the "but at least we'll have different cars in the future" belief that most SF films subscribe to. I'm all for watching Minority Report in thirteen years' time.

35 comments and trackbacks

makeoutcity.com Mar 31, 2003 11:34 PM
troutgirl is a good read, twice a curious read total recall and sixth day found to be the same movie thoughts about iraqi tactics here!...
Read more in toooooday »

One thing they did get right with the video-phones was the twin display featuring the return-path camera fixed between the two screens.

It's logical to have the camera mounted like this, because with current vid-conferencing/vid-phones - the cam is usually mounted above the display - and when you talk to someone on the other end, they tend to look at your face on the screen when they talk back, which makes them look as though they're looking downwards - not at the cam.

However, with the cam fixed between two simultaneous images of the person you are speaking to, your eyes flick between the two images, giving the impression you are looking directly at the caller.

Posted by: Martin on April 2, 2003 03:00 PM

The portable tracking device was pretty spot-on, too. At least, it will be once our handhelds have better 3D rendering capability.

The lack of mobile comms is interesting, though: there's a scene in a bar towards the end of the film where one of the characters is waiting for a call by a videophone.

Posted by: Dan Hon on April 2, 2003 03:14 PM

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