Jefferson Projection

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When Imperial troopers intrude to search the house, one of the bullying officers takes interest in a device sitting on the dining table. It’s the size of a sewing machine, with a long handle along the top. It has a set of thumb toggles along the top, like old cassette tape recorder buttons.

Saun convinces the officer to sit down, stretches the thin script with a bunch of pointless fiddling of a volume slider and pantomimed delays, and at last fumbles the front of the device open. Hinged at the bottom like a drawbridge, it exposes a small black velvet display space. Understandably exasperated, the officer stands up to shout, “Will you get on with it?” Saun presses a button on the opened panel, and the searing chord of an electric guitar can be heard at once.

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Inside the drawbridge-space a spot of pink light begins to glow, and mesmerized officer who, moments ago was bent on brute intimidation, but now spends the next five minutes and 23 seconds grinning dopily at the volumetric performance by Jefferson Starship.

During the performance, 6 lights link in a pattern in the upper right hand corner of the display. When the song finishes, the device goes silent. No other interactions are seen with it.

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Many questions. Why is there a whole set of buttons to open the thing? Is this the only thing it can play? If not, how do you select another performance?Is it those unused buttons on the top? Why are the buttons unlabeled? Is Jefferson Starship immortal? How is it that they have only aged in the long, long time since this was recorded? Or was this volumetric recording somehow sent back in time?  Where is the button that Saun pressed to start the playback? If there was no button, and it was the entire front panel, why doesn’t it turn on and off while the officer taps (see above)? What do the little lights do other than distract? Why is the glow pink rather than Star-Wars-standard blue? Since volumetric projections are most often free-floating, why does this appear in a lunchbox? Since there already exists ubiquitous display screens, why would anyone haul this thing around? How does this officer keep his job?

Perhaps it’s best that these questions remain unanswered. For if anything were substantially different, we would risk losing this image, of the silhouette of the lead singer and his microphone. Humanity would be the poorer for it.

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Taxi shield

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The taxi panel has one weak moment. When Korben has the taxi in hiding from the police, he wants to lower the taxi shield to check on Leeloo. To lower the shield, he presses on the “DOCKING LOCK” button on the panel, which doesn’t quite make sense. We saw this button used earlier to actually do what it says. Why does its function change now?

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It might be that the button has two modes, i.e. in a garage it anchors the vehicle and elsewhere it lowers the shield. Modal buttons aren’t great. What if Korben is in the garage and needs to lower the shield? Just say no to modal buttons. If the functions can be operated independently, they should have separate buttons.

Additionally, if it’s going to have to be modal and have a secondary function, it should be labeled as such. Even if the shield was aftermarket, the installing mechanic could have taken a sharpie to the button to note which of the dozens of buttons on the dashboard is the one that activates it. Mechanics, you now have no excuse.

Of course leaving behind my New Criticism stance on authorial intent, it’s entirely possible that Willis just pressed the wrong button, or that the prop he was faced with on set didn’t have a button that worked, and he just picked one at hand. But I like Willis, and I like not having to second guess film makers, so I’m going to cut him some slack for this detail that most probably, nobody but me ever noticed. Until, you know, now.

The daffy bastard

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When Korben gets in his taxi and sits down, it recognizes this and in a female version of the hazy synthesized voice heard in the 4 a day cigarette dispenser, prompts him to “Please enter your license.” Korben fits his license into a small horizontal slot mounted in the ceiling of the cab, just above the driver’s seat near the windshield. He slams it in. It verifies that he’s authorized and starts the cab, including lighting the taxi light up top. It tells him, “Welcome on board, Mr. Dallas. Fuel level 10.”

Korben steers with an X-shaped control yoke. We never see his feet, so don’t know if he has any foot pedals. He has a throttle that maps like a boat throttle: push forward to increase thrust.

In the central dashboard he has an underlit panel of toggle buttons. Each button has a single function, which is printed on its surface.

Main controls: Docking lock, Automatic, Emergency power, Power. Light controls: Auxiliary lights, Parking lights, Smog lights, Main lights. Alerts: Power level low, Power failure, Light failure, Environment warning

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Two small panels to his left provide him a similar array of “comfort controls”, “taxi controls”, and “main panel one.” A more free-form keyboard sits beneath a vertical grayscale monitor, crammed full of unreadable text and, occasionally, annoyingly, blinking.

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The buttons across these panels are completely labeled, lit for easy reading in the dim cabin light, clustered in meaningful groups, and nicely positioned so that Korben can utilize his spatial memory to map the functions. But they are also labeled in all capital letters and aren’t much differentiated beyond that, which might require Korben to take his eyes off the road to target a particular one, which could increase the odds of an accident. Better inputs using physical controls would have more physical differentiation so he could find them with just one hand, labeling that was easier to read at a glance, and the most common controls right on the yoke near his fingers.

In the scene, Korben reaches to the center panel and presses “power.” The voice confirms that he’s using “Propulsion 2-X-4,” (whatever that means.) Then Korben presses “Docking lock,” which releases the mechanical hold on the taxi.

The voice reminds him sternly that he has five points left on his license, and as the garage door opens, to “Have a nice day.” Lights on either side of the garage door shine green, signaling to him that the skyway is clear. But on pulling out, they turn red just as a car passes and Korben has to slam on the brakes.

Of course the humor comes from how these interfaces aren’t entirely helpful, and the green lights shouldn’t tell him the same information he can see with his own eyes. It should be doing a bit of calculation to signal if it’s clear for the next several seconds so he can safely pull out. But of course doing that right would ruin the joke. Maybe we’re meant to understand that Korben just can’t afford any but the crappiest versions of technology.

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Later, when Leeloo does her daring cliff dive from the side of a building and crashes through the roof of his cab, Korben struggles to maintain control of it and get the hell out of the way of oncoming traffic. During the chaos, the computerized voice tells him, “You’ve just had an accident.” Korben sardonically shouts, “Yes! I know I just had an accident, you daffy bastard.” It continues adding unhelpfully, “You have one point left on your license.” Of course the fun is how annoying the taxi is, but let’s just be explicit: the cab should wait until it senses that Korben has regained control before burdening his attention with this information, and possibly making it worse.

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When Korben risks it all to help Leeloo, the speaker cover near where his license is lodged glows bright red as it says, “One point has been removed from your license…” Korben, furious and with zero points left on his license and nothing to lose, rips the device off his ceiling to shut the daffy bastard up.

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