A Futurist Reviews – Total Recall (2012)

The 2012 remake of Total Recall showcases some interesting technology, but majorly misses the mark in many areas. Read more to find out what went wrong.

By: Simon Anderson

(Editor’s note: This is my second entry in the “A Futurist Reviews” feature on Futur1st. Here, I explore how technology is shown and used based on its time period. This review assumes that you’ve already watched the movie and is not careful to avoid spoilers regarding the plot. It is also not a review of the plot itself. There are plenty of those reviews for this movie, most of them not very positive.)

I finally rented the remake of Total Recall on my PS3. Based on the reviews (30% on rottentomatoes- ouch!) I wasn’t really looking forward to watching this, but it had too much future-tech for me to resist for long once it was available to digitally rent. This movie is set sometime more than a century from now and while it’s impossible to forecast what technologies we will have then, I would argue that we can forecast with at least a reasonable expectation of some accuracy what will not be there at the beginning of the 22nd century.

And this is where most of the problems with movies and television shows occur for me as a futurist – not in the creation of new technology, but in the inclusion of clearly outdated technology as still relevant and in daily use (e.g. the extensive use of fluorescent lights in “I, Robot” and almost everything about the truly awful “Looper*”.)

In fact, I found the remake of “Total Recall” to be far better than most regarding the use, or non-use rather, of technologies in use today and clearly out-of-place a century from now. That being said, there were still a few issues, such as:

 Douglas reading a large paperback book on his commute to work (via the center of the earth) and many more large paper books at Paul’s house – although it’s technically possible that he could still own and read a large paperback book, that would be roughly equivalent to someone today carrying around an Edison cylinder phonograph to listen to music. Possible, but certainly not the most convenient or efficient way to listen to music!
• Douglas, ironically, has a job building humanoid robots – the robots shown in this movie demostrate capabilities that fall somewhere between a Roomba and R2D2. They can hold their own in hand-to-hand to combat and serve as police and military guards, but they don’t do much without instruction from a human. But they are, it seems, more than well-equipped enough to make a few welds on fellow bot. Yet Douglas and numerous other humans are literally sent to the other side of the earth to do this. Whether this detail was needed later in the movie plot-line or not, this is really inexcusable.


• Clothes that looked like they could have been purchased at a Old Navy store two years ago– I really hope that our clothing is more advanced by this point. Apparently, in the future they are unable to make new clothes and are forced to dig through the buried rubble of suburban malls for their apparel.
• Needles… – what is it with needles in movies supposedly set in the distant future? At least here, the ridiculousness of it all is addressed (sort of) when the woman administering the injection comments “this is still the best way to get something into the bloodstream.” Regardless, why is she telling him that?
• Flying cars, or at least levitating cars, that weren’t all that advanced – the chase scenes are interesting at the least, but why aren’t they flying/driving themselves? And, more importantly, why don’t they have crash avoidance? This feature is already available in one form or another in many of today’s vehicles and the next-gen features will start rolling out on many more in the 2014 model year.
• Weapons – in many scenes it appears that the police or security forces are using standard bullets in fairly modern (by today’s standards) assault rifles and handguns. That would be like members of the Special Forces today carrying around flintlock muskets.
• Dubstep playing in the club – last of all, I was surprised to hear dubstep playing in the club as Douglas walked through on the way to “Total Rekall.” I know it’s possible to hear “Oldie’s” on the radio or internet streaming service today, but a song from today would be areally Oldie in the 22nd century.

Even though this movie had issues with future-accurate plausibility in numerous areas, overall it was far better than most (especially recently) at creating a world that looked like it could be one hundred years from now. A few aspects that were well done:

• Memory manipulation – recently there have been some incredible discoveries related to memory (specifically targeting and erasing especially bad memories.) Full memory manipulation seems more than plausible in this time period, in fact, I would argue it’s probable in even the next decade or so. The way it was administered was a bit suspect, but the general idea was good.
• Display technology – although we could certainly see most of the displays shown much earlier than a century from now, the types and variety of displays shown were quite impressive and forward-looking for a Hollywood blockbuster. The idea of connecting your personal device to any available display will likely be used in everyday life in the near-term future. Especially impressive was the device used to play games by a girl in the background as he is talking on his (hand) phone. Most new technology in movies is shoved in our faces, but this subtle use of a futuristic device use made the whole scenario more believable.
• Embedded electronics – and speaking of “hand phone,” it was interesting to see their vision of how a communication device could be implanted in your hand. We are truly just at the beginning of embedding technology physically into our bodies, for better or for worse.
• Stacked cities – as construction techniques improve rapidly (a Chinese company is planning to build the world’s tallest building starting next month and completing just 90 days from then) this seems quite possible in this time frame and with this scenario of extremely limited places to live.
• No downloading! – Even more than needles, the “download-in-process” has become a staple of virtually any movie with a technology or futuristic theme, even my current favorite “Tron: Legacy.” It was so refreshing not to see any dramatic scenes of someone waiting for a file to transfer.

In conclusion, this was a decent movie regarding its display and use of future technology. Much better than most actually (I would personally like to nominate “Looper” for the most ridiculously implausible use of future technology) and it created a few uses that were simply rehashes of concepts first introduced in Star Trek. Still, it’s unlikely that they had a resident futurist keeping an eye on things while they filmed it.

If you loved the original with Arnold, you will likely have stronger feelings than I did about this movie in either direction. I wasn’t a huge fan of the original, and I attempted to consider this remake as a stand-alone product when reviewing it.

I guess the bottom line here is this; If you are making a movie set in the future, Hire A Futurist!

* I attempted to write a review for “Looper.” I made it eight minutes in before I gave up in anger and frustration. I would have to do a seven-part series to begin to cover the inaccuracies and ridiculous nonsense in that movie. How that movie maintains a 94% rating on rottentomatoes is absolutely beyond me.