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10 Cringe-Worthy Tech Moments In Movies
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Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
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9/2/2014 | 9:42:15 AM
Sorry, Family
Given the countless problems I have with iTunes, if my world imitated "Firewall" and I played a real-life Harrison Ford, my famly would be history. I'd still be on the phone or instant messaging service with Apple support, trying to reset my password again.
msmith801
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msmith801,
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9/2/2014 | 12:00:45 PM
Re: Sorry, Family
A bigger queston in Firewall: who is playing the "role of tape"?
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/3/2014 | 12:46:26 PM
Re: Sorry, Family
Good eye! ;)
Somedude8
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9/2/2014 | 11:47:49 AM
Destroy the... monitor?
I get a kick out of how often in movies and TV shows that someone destroys a computer, thereby destroying the data/program/etc, by smashing the monitor.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
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9/2/2014 | 12:04:13 PM
Re: Destroy the... monitor?
And they always explode, too! In beautiful showers of red, gold, and blue.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
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9/3/2014 | 6:52:17 PM
Re: Destroy the... monitor?
@Somedude8: good one, that always cracks me up too. And I'm so glad Michael threw in NCIS and CSI in here. Although I admit those are guilty pleasure TV shows for me, the tech stunts are truly utterly ridiculous, and I'm sure any forensics investigator would agree that the forensics stunts they pull on CSI espeically also defy all reality.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/3/2014 | 7:18:11 PM
Re: Destroy the... monitor?
Susan, my guilty pleasures are no more defensible. ;) I watch more reality television than I should. I can mount a pretty enthusiastic defense of Snakes on a Plane. And though I make fun of Michael Bay at points in this article, The Rock is awesome, and I have more affection for Armageddon (another movie that easily could have made this list) than someone with a graduate degree in Cinema Studies should probably admit.

To be fair to the NCIS and CSI writers, some of them have implied in interviews that the tech ridiculousness is not only deliberate, but also part of the shows' appeal (at least for certain audiences).

That makes sense to me. We don't see most romantic comedies because they're realistic; we see them because they provide wish fulfillment. I think NCIS and CSI (and even shows like Sherlock on the BBC) appeal on that level, among others. When we want real-world justice, technology isn't always up to the task. There's something appealing about a universe in which computer super-agents can conquer almost any villain. And there are some theories of comedy that define amusement in part as the difference between a thing and its representation—another way in which these shows can be pretty entertaining.
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
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9/3/2014 | 7:40:46 PM
Re: Destroy the... monitor?
@Michael: Ha! I hope that you'll present your defense of Snakes on a Plane in your next article, I'd like to hear that one. 

So, in essense, you're saying that NCIS and CSI fill the same primal need for fantasy escapism as did the Hollywood musicals of the 1940s and 1950s? Makes sense! 
MemphisITDude
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9/3/2014 | 8:13:40 AM
Excellent article
After WEP was cracked, I had to reverse a little of my disbelief on TimeCop, where Jean Claude jumps on the network and is in the police database instantly. On the subject of television, the tech of 24 is very amusing as well.... There is always a discussion of very low-level concepts (ports, hard drive sectors) by the highest-level executives, and the wiring closet is a very hazardous place to be.
rradina
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rradina,
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9/3/2014 | 8:39:32 AM
Doesn't "War Games" Explain Ferris' Feat?
I don't think "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" belongs on this list.  The '83 movie "War Games" does an extremely plausible job explaining how David broke into the school's system.  That film opened in '83 and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" opened in '86.  I've always thought Ferris' attendance hack scene in the later movie was a throwback to the earlier movie.  Regarding a school system being on-line, dialup modem access was extremely popular in the '80s.  Remote access for regular staff might not have been popular but there was always access for IT admins and I thought IBM required such access as a necessary part of their support contracts.
Laurianne
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9/3/2014 | 9:45:29 AM
Re: Doesn't "War Games" Explain Ferris' Feat?
I love the scene in Ferris where the absent days disappear -- so who says Ferris can't war dial? I would bet on Ferris vs. a green screen.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/4/2014 | 12:29:02 AM
Re: Doesn't "War Games" Explain Ferris' Feat?
Hmmm, I hadn't thought of Ferris as a nod to War Games. That's an interesting observation. As I said in the article, it would have been feasible for Ferris to pull it off. I still think it would have been out of character for him to go to that much trouble without letting us bask in the details of his prankster genius-- but then again, playing it cool and making it look easy fits his style too.

 
majenkins
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majenkins,
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9/3/2014 | 9:54:13 AM
How Did You Do It?
My question is how did you pick these 10 or 12 movies/shows to single out for attention? It seems to me, and my wife, that I hardly ever watch a movie or TV show without complaining about some technical thing that isn't correct or is totally out of the question.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/3/2014 | 12:58:42 PM
Re: How Did You Do It?
Indeed, there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of movies that could easily have been part of this list. If you nitpick enough, relatively few movies fully pass technical muster.

Granted, I (and think many of us) could care less about the "reality" of on-screen tech; internal logic, even if fantastical, can be more important than real-world "realism" (e.g. the majority of Marvel movies). Moreover, as long as something "feels" real, that phenomenological experience is often more important than the accuracy of technical minutiae (e.g. I've heard physicists pick apart Gravity's errors, but on an experiential level, I don't think many viewers cared). Despite their tech flubs, I love several movies on this list-- not just for nostalgic appeal, but because they're genuinely good pieces of cinema.

I tried to pick a few infamous examples of bad tech in movies, a few less-known ones in which a tech plot hole is too big to ignore, a few in which the filmmakers really should have known better, and a few that are just silly. Not a comprehensive collection, by any means. For that, I don't think an online list would suffice; I'd need to write a couple books!

Any other particularly egregious examples of bad movie tech that some of your readers would have included?

 
Reilly Kerr
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Reilly Kerr,
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9/3/2014 | 1:14:56 PM
Re: How Did You Do It?
You could have listed 1000s actually. I think the tech community is entirely too soft on Hollywood with its movie criticism of unrealistic technologies. But let's get even more basic. I bailed on the entire "Die Hard" series after seeing only the final half or so of the first one. A cigarette lighter brings down a leaky jet? Jet fuel is kerosene. Try lighting some on fire in cold, wet air and see if you even get warm. The plot conclusion is entirely the wrong place to ask someone to suspend their sense of disbelief. We've already had a hard enough time believing somebody could walk barefoot through shards of broken plate glass. 

For your next movie article may I suggest a list of the worst uses of the Einstein Escape Clause, wherein some Scientist/Authority-type claims Einstein said something that somehow validates whatever possibility or eventuality ahead. "Einstein's theory of relativity says your uncle could fall down the basement stairs when he trips on that singularity in the kitchen." 

/jdf
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/3/2014 | 7:31:59 PM
Re: How Did You Do It?
@Reilly:

Ha! Great thinking with the Einstein suggestion. You're absolutely right.

Regarding being too soft on Hollywood-- former NY Times tech guru David Pogue didn't like Firewall, but was astonishingly positive about the movie's "realistic" use of technology. You might be right.

In the case of Die Hard, I have to defend the first film. The series eventually became over the top, as I noted in the article. The lighter-jet trick is in the second one, which, while fun, isn't nearly as good a movie as the first one. With the first one, yeah, it's not exactly realistic-- as you point out, John McClane evidently has the most indesttructable feet ever. But when Die Hard came out, there was a sort of competition going on in Hollywood to achieve the most preposterous violence, orchestrated by the most indestructible of heroes-- think of all the bad Shcwarzenegger and Stallone films during the 80s. For its era, Die Hard seems refreshingly grounded in the real world. I still crack up at the end of the film, when McClane, all beaten to hell, limps toward his wife and the villain, and says, "Hi, honey." Compared to the iconography of its genre, this was a pretty unique image. John McClane evolved into something else over the course of the series, but in the first movie, he was an ordinary action hero-- one of the reasons that, for my money, Die Hard is one of the best action movies of its decade.
TerryB
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TerryB,
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9/3/2014 | 1:00:26 PM
No Sandra?
The Net was always my favorite in ridiculous tech. Not sure what was more unrealistic though: security software company who implemented a backdoor into every system it protected or Sandra Bullock as a super programmer in LA with no boyfriend.

Because we all work with tech people who look like Sandra or Brad Pitt, right?

Good article, Michael!
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/3/2014 | 7:34:58 PM
Re: No Sandra?
That would have been a good one! It would probably need its own article, if I remember it correctly.
tka2013
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9/3/2014 | 1:22:13 PM
"Mission: Impossible" = "Technology: Ridiculous"
An awful, awful movie in general, the silliest moment in the first "Mission: Impossible" had to be when Tom Cruise was hanging from the ceiling whilst copying a file to a blank disk in a safe room filled with microphones intended to trigger alarms at the slightest sound.  Recalling the noisy drives we had in 1996 when the movie was made, the guards should have been charging the room in the first 10 seconds, if not charging the room because of the laughter of the audience in the theater I was in.

And as laughable as the technical implausibilities were as displayed in every second of "Hackers" they were overshadowed by an even more ridiculous plot and the over the top acting by all concerned, though a special exemption should be made for Angelina Jolie whole stole every scene she appeared in one of her earliest film roles.
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/3/2014 | 7:04:22 PM
Re: "Mission: Impossible" = "Technology: Ridiculous"
I hadn't thought of noisy disk drives in Mission Impossible-- nice one!


Hackers is one of those movies seem to love or hate. While it seems anachronistic today, the over-the-top depiction of hacking actually appealed to some tech enthusiasts back when it was released. Even if the film wasn't particularly realistic, it's not like computer experts had been given many dramatic cinematic treatments before.

Some of the time people want the things they relate to be depicted with a certain amount of real-world fidelity in films. A movie like Zodiac (a really great film) is almost about such fidelity as much as it is about the crime itself. But other times, we (as a species, not just U.S. culture) also like to see things we can relate to exaggerated to operatic extremes. If a movie is set where a certain audience lives, for example, that audience will see the movie in disproportionate numbers, even if the movie is preposterous. The most recent Transformers movie actually grossed more money in China (where much of the film is set) than in North America. International share of box office has been growing, but this is still literally unprecedented for such a profitable movie; it suggests that audiences in China not only saw the movie once, as a curiosity, but multiple times, because it offered something that resonated with them. That speaks to the growth of China's middle class and shifts in global economies, but it also shows that people like seeing their daily existence depicted with cinematic bombast. I think some of the affection people have for Hackers comes from a similar place.

 
Susan_Nunziata
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Susan_Nunziata,
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9/3/2014 | 7:37:04 PM
Re: "Mission: Impossible" = "Technology: Ridiculous"
@Michael: That's a fascinating perspective drawn from the Transformers success in China. Taking that a step further, and down a path of cynicism, do you think that the size of the potential audience factors into the creative decisions about where a movie is based? that would explain why so many films are set in NYC, where the potential audience is a good bit larger than just about any other major metro area in the U.S. I shudder to think that there's a marketing exec sitting around during the creative sessions helping to decide what the best setting is for the maximum possible audience...but it is Hollywood we're talking about. 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
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9/4/2014 | 12:24:14 AM
Re: "Mission: Impossible" = "Technology: Ridiculous"
@Susan,

Great question! I'd say that, yes, cynicism can be warranted some of the time, but not always. A lot of factors are at play.

Regarding movies set in New York, yes, its population is a factor, but so are its demographics. Houston, Dallas and Atlanta are big cities too, but they historically aren't as big for films as the Bay Area, New York, or Los Angeles. A little over 6% of U.S. citizens live in the New York metropolitan area, but I'd bet well over 6% of domestic movie ticket sales come from that region. That reality gives filmmakers some incentive to tell stories that appeal to the ticket-buying population. As the international market has grown more important, we've seen evidence of this sort of thinking. Transformers 4 was likely partially set in China because the producers anticipated that it would increase demand there. Iron Man 3 was different in China than in the U.S.; in China, it includes scenes that showed off local attractions. So there's definitely a precedent for choosing a location because a certain part of the audience happens to live there. You can also see version of this kind of thinking in the way movies are filmed. Back in the 50 and 60s—lots and lots of wide shots, because movies were really trying to differentiate themselves from TV. Today, producers know if a movie is going to earn more money in theaters, or on TV, and since it's increasingly the latter, you see way more films that are largely  a collection of close-ups—stuff created more for the relative intimacy of TV screens, instead of the overwhelming scope of cinema ones.

But the above observations somewhat conflate setting a movie in a country versus setting it into a city. With New York, it's not just the population-based appeal; it's also New York's status within American mythology and iconography. The "idea" of New York comes packaged with notions about "making it," immigrant stories, an architectural sense of spaces and style, and a million other factors. Likewise, Los Angeles has a distinct place in filmic mythology. Filmmakers set stories in these cities because of their thematic value to audiences in general, not just local appeal. The fact that Blade Runner is not only set in Los Angeles but also includes several distinctly real Los Angeles buildings adds a texture to the film's dystopic vision, for example. Likewise, you could have set, say, Big in Houston instead of New York—but would it have been the same movie? You could move The Big Lebowski to San Francisco or Miami—but would it have been remotely the same? Likewise, The Big Sleep, a movie to which Lebowksi  unexpectedly owes a great deal, is a story that relies on Los Angeles as a symbol. You'll find that LA-based movies usually visualize sprawl, with pockets of corruption separate by distance, whereas New York movies tend to emphasize verticality, with the elite looking down on the conquered. The cities are, in short, a convention as much as a real location.

There are other reason for filmic bias toward certain cities—by virtue of having more people, more industries, and more spaces, cities naturally open themselves up to a different range of narratives than, say, a small town in Central California or West Texas. Granted, filmmakers can certainly tell great stories outside of cities (see No Country For Old Men, for instance), but the pace and activity of cities can be conducive to cinema, which is, after all, distinguished by motion among all of traits.

Commerce of course plays a role. Shooting in New York is expensive—upwards of $1 million per day just in location costs if you want to shut down a block in Manhattan. Consequently, Vancouver often stands in, with some CGI or second unit helicopter shots thrown in to smooth things over. Does this affect your identification, as a viewer, with the film's settings? I'd say yes, but I'm not sure what the average viewer might say. Whether a city offers subsidies can also play a role—Chicago, for a while, was getting a lot of movies by advertising itself as a cheaper alternative to New York. And the zeitgeist can play a role, too. San Francisco is a very expensive place to shoot. Only New York is more densely populated, so any time you shut something down, you cause a lot of problems. Nevertheless, more and more productions are setting up in SF, and I think rising popular interest in tech companies has increased interest in the city, which is going to look increasingly like Manhattan as Salesforce keeps building skyscrapers downtown. Lots of big movies that would have typically used New York have opted for SF instead—the recent Godzilla and Planet of the Apes movies, for instance. Then there's stuff like "Silicon Valley" and "Looking" on HBO.

Cities have also been used for ideological purposes in films, too—visions of both utopia and dystopia that rely on some link between a real location, and a cinematic reassembly. Sometimes, the cinematic city isn't a real-world city. You get Gotham instead of New York, for example. But these fictional cities still take on ideological weight by using real-world locations. The Dark Knight trilogy, for instance, was shot mostly in Chicago, with some stuff in New York and Pittsburgh also standing in for Gotham in the third film. This creates a different phenomenology of viewership, and a different set of themes around the cityscape, than Tim Burton's Batman films (which mostly used soundstages) did.

For anyone who finds this sort of stuff remotely interesting, I strongly recommend a documentary called Los Angeles Plays Itself. It's incredibly thoughtful, and frequently hilarious.
Reilly Kerr
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Reilly Kerr,
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9/8/2014 | 12:30:58 PM
Movie technologies
Mr. Endler - I'd like to know your take on the TV series "Extant." (And no, I don't mean whether or not Halle Berry is a hot astronaut. =:0 ) I see too much 2004 IT and not enough 2040. For example, why does robochild Ethan house his own CPU? Wouldn't the kind of scalar processing required be better provided through the cloud, itself not even evident in the show? I'd also think Ethan's form factor (i.e., human child) would more or less make him an irregularly shaped PLC sausage, just to reproduce physical reactions to external stimuli accurately and/or in a genuinely human-like manner. They can't be programmed to accommodate anything indeterminate in a way that would offer the variability and randomness required for learning indirect sequences and even tolerating anything irrational.

Okay, so I nitpick. Just wonderin', you know. 

Best,

jdf (a k a Reilly Kerr)

 
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
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9/8/2014 | 2:52:27 PM
Re: Movie technologies
you forgot to mention the latest james bond movie.  In one scene the computer expert types away on the keyboard like a maniac trying to break an encription of an algorithm which changes very.  Such encryption happens to be in the shape of a cube.  That is why movies are called fantasy for a reason. 
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
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9/8/2014 | 4:42:34 PM
Re: Movie technologies
We could go further and say that any use of technology that depends on getting something done in a specific amount of time is wrong. There's always some driver to install or update or connection issue or incompatibility that makes it take longer than it would on screen.
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
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9/8/2014 | 9:15:55 PM
Re: Movie technologies
I thought that when the character played by Vin Diesel in The Pacifier, cracked the code using the Panda dance. That was pretty cringe worthy.


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