After last week's tour of some of Hollywood's best attempts and subsequent failures, let's take another look at what happens when screenwriters pretend to understand computers.
6. “Live Free or Die Hard”
“Live Free or Die Hard” took the John McClain formula I loved (Christmas Time+Terrorists) and instead decided to explore a well worn path of the omniscient hacker. Traffic light system? We can hack it. Government computer system? No problem. A widespread, simultaneous hack on several systems at once to stop Bruce Willis? Child’s play.
I would suggest checking out Farewell to Arms by John Carlin which helped inspire the movie to see a more realistic view of the potential for cyberwarfare and the difficulties facing the government.
“WarGames” is a great example how some technology flaws in a movie grow larger over time. 80s nostalgia aside, this movie is still a great watch and a wonderful reminder of how cute 20 year old Matthew Broderick was. But a movie that was ahead of its time in 1982 and created computer systems for the NORAD system that were more advanced than what the US government was actually using, has not aged well. With the first mention of a firewall in movies, for audiences then it was practically sci-fi, but for audiences now, floppy disks and dial up modems look practically quaint.
As a complete side note, one of my favorite pieces of movie trivia of all time came up during research for this article: two months prior for filming to start, Matthew Broderick was sent Galaga and Galaxian machines to practice on. This alone should make you watch the movie.
Swordfish continues our trend in Hollywood not quite understanding computer hacking. Lacking the fun of “Hackers” or the suspense of “The Net”, “Swordfish” is a straightforward action movie who is more focused on explosions then using hacking as anything more than a plot device. Yet when your movie depends on the believability that Hugh Jackman’s Hacker character can independently hack into a secret government system and create a virus to steal money, it may not have hurt to research a little more or give him a hacker partner to at least explain why he is able to do it with minor effort.
In the world of horror films, technology is often a forgotten factor, like how no one ever has a cell phone to call for help. But some movies like “The Ring” have tried to use technology, to varying degrees of success, to scare their audiences. However, while a VHS based curse was scary and reminiscent of an MFA’s exhibit, the movie “Pulse” attempts to use the internet in the same way with lesser success. Still worth a watch due to the cheese factor and surprisingly fun cast (featuring Kristen Bell and Ian Somerhalder), these movie builds on the idea of a computer virus that releases ghosts to our world. The key to defeating the onslaught of ghosts is rebooting a server and is as scary as waiting for the updates in the App Store.
10. “The Social Network” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1285016/)
“The Social Network” was an attempt to give insight into a website that many of us go to everyday and use for communicating with friends and family. It was also an attempt to entertain and give insight into Mark Zuckerberg the shades of gray protagonist. However, facts and a legitimate view of what happens when a start-up succeeds was not part of the mission statement. While this isn’t a silly ghost film or another attempt to show hacking, it is a movie that at times passes itself off as semi-biographical despite openly changing how events occurred. What results is a movie that does entertain, but does so at a cost to the audience’s understanding of that service they love.
I’d still recommend watching WarGames before this.