Depictions of technology in films and TV always make me either cringe or laugh out loud. Either they are so completely antiquated in their depiction or they exhibit properties so advanced that we can only dream of being able to do the same thing. I do feel sorry for the film directors because an awful lot of technology is fairly dull to look at. If you have a whole scene that revolves around your protagonist doing stuff on a computer, it’s going to look very dull indeed unless you spice it up somehow.
Sometimes the film makers do this by making the machine’s display ridiculously frenetic or by making the machine make noises. Often, they go completely over the top and exaggerate what today’s computers are capable of. How many times have you seen a computer which scrolls the characters onto the screen one at a time with a beep accompanying every letter? What about when a particularly grainy satellite image appears and someone says “enhance” and the machine crunches away, the pixels sharpen, the image zooms in and suddenly we can read the exact brand of cigarettes the bad guys smokes.
If someone wants to hack into a system in real life, they spend a long time cracking the defences of the target network. They might use social engineering techniques to unlock an initial chink in the armour. They might perform exacting research into who set up the security. They probably network with other individuals to share ideas. In short, it takes a fair amount of time and what appears on the screen is boring, mundane text. It’s not particularly cinematographic so I guess you can forgive the film makers for trying to jazz things up, but bars slamming shut across the screen or skull and crossbones appearing with some cheesy phrase seem faintly ridiculous.
Here are some of my favourite films and some of their technological howlers;
1. Superman III – Richard Pryor steals the pence from every transaction in his bank’s computer system. This one touches my heart, probably because I work for a banking software company. He manages to hack into the system by typing the command “OVERRIDE ALL SECURITY”.
2. Independence Day – Jeff Goldblum and Will Smith fly into a really advanced alien spaceship and kill it with a virus. Really? I would have thought that such an advanced civilization might have come across that kind of threat before and don’t get me started on how Jeff Goldblum’s kit could just be plugged in – maybe the U in USB really is universal.
3. Jurassic Park – when our heroes discover that the whole computer system has been hacked by the resident nerdy programmer and locked up as tight as the velociraptor should have been, the young girl taps a few keys on the keyboard before uttering those immortal words “This is Unix, I know this”. She then proceeds to unlock everything in the blink of an eye.
4. Weird Science – two teenage kids create a beautiful woman in their bedrooms using their computer, a modem and a pair of bras on their heads. We have just about got 3D printing, let alone creating anything as complex as a woman!
I look forward to the day when our computers catch up with the movies.
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