Hotel Remote

The Internet 2021 shot that begins the film ends in a hotel suite, where it wakes up lead character Johnny. This is where we see the first real interface in the film. It’s also where this discussion gets more complicated.

A note on my review strategy

As a 3D graphics enthusiast, I’d be happy just to analyze the cyberspace scenes, but when you write for Sci Fi Interfaces, there is a strict rule that every interface in a film must be subjected to inspection. And there are a lot of interfaces in Johnny Mnemonic. (Curse your exhaustive standards, Chris!)

A purely chronological approach which would spend too much time looking at trees and not enough at the forest. So I’ll be jumping back and forth a bit, starting with the gadgets and interfaces that appear only once, then moving on to the recurring elements, variations on a style or idea that are repeated during the film.


The wakeup call arrives in the hotel room as a voice announcement—a sensible if obvious choice for someone who is asleep—and also as text on a wall screen, giving the date, time, and temperature. The voice is artificial sounding but pleasant rather than grating, letting you know that it’s a computer and not some hotel employee who let himself in. The wall display functions as both a passive television and an interactive computer monitor. Johnny picks up a small remote control to silence the wake up call.


This remote is a small black box like most current-day equivalents, but with a glowing red light at one end. At the time of writing blue lights and indicators are popular for consumer electronics, apparently following the preference set by science fiction films and noted in Make It So. Johnny Mnemonic is an outlier in using red lights, as we’ll see more of these as the film progresses. Here the glow might be some kind of infrared or laser beam that sends a signal, or it might simply indicate the right way to orient the control in the hand for the controls to make sense. Continue reading

Coulson Calling

JARVIS interrupts his banter with Pepper, explaining, “Sir, the telephone. I’m afraid my protocols are being overridden.” We can hear Coulson’s voice saying, “Mr. Stark, we need to talk.” Perturbed, Tony grabs his custom phone from where it sits on a nearby table. It is made up of a glass plane within a rounded-rectangle black band. On its little screen we can see a white label reading, “Connected.” Remarkably, this label is presented in mixed case. Nearly all sci-fi interface typography is rendered in all caps, so I have some curiosity how this ended up in majuscule and miniscule. But it feels right. Perhaps that’s because it’s kind-of a consumer device?


Anyway, beneath the label is a static photo of the caller, Agent Coulson, and below that a large circle with a central bump, and some other tiny controls.

Tony positions the phone before him, looks into the glass, and says, “You have reached the life model decoy of Tony Stark. Please leave a message.” Coulson doesn’t fall for it, saying, “This is urgent.” Tony tries to admonish him, “Then leave it urgently,” but it’s too late. Coulson himself walks out of the elevator in the room, his phone to his ear.


Aside from the trope screens are cameras, and the bad-but-understandable translucent screen, I have another question about the interaction: What is Tony doing looking at the phone for the duration of the short conversation? Since Coulson isn’t looking at his phone, it’s just an audio connection between them. The phone should convey that status to Tony, and in fact the static image of Coulson seems to imply just that. So, why does he bother looking at it?

So try as I may, I can’t apologetics-my-way to get around this odd behavior in the scene. Perhaps Downey believed that the interface would be rendered with a video image of Coulson on the other end, and that turned out not to jive with Gregg’s holding it to his ear. I hate to leave it at “misinformed actor” but I can’t think of a diegetic explanation. Anyone have a plausible one?