Monday, March 10, 2008

The Internet, Hollywood Style

Last weekend, Chicago Tribune Internet critic Steve Johnson wrote an entertaining piece about the place of Internet technology at the movies. Johnson states that movies such as The Net (1995) have frequently relied on the Internet's vast and mysterious nature as a compelling (and convenient) plot device.
If [filmmakers are] smart, they understand that the murky technology that makes the Net function will let them get away with outlandish plotting. Few audience members will know enough, in the heat of a chase scene, to dispute the likelihood of Harrison Ford in "Firewall" rapidly downloading a bank's records database to an iPod. (Where is the pop-up message saying he first needs to update iTunes? What will happen to his daughter's playlists?)
His point is well-taken. It's a good thing Ford had the foresight to switch the iPod to hard drive mode, too.

In the interests of full disclosure, I used to be one of those people who bought whatever technology Hollywood was selling. When I first saw The Net, I didn't have access to a computer and had no clue what the Internet was all about. I do remember thinking that the movie seemed really cool and extremely realistic. Look what the bad guys did to her with computers! (always plural)

Back in the day, I was blown away by the mere presence of computer technology in a movie's plot line. The cinematic representation of "hacking into a system" or "downloading files" was enough to provoke a dizzy spell. When I saw Sneakers in 1992, I wanted a computer so badly that I went home and "hacked" my way into my Mom's electric typewriter, with a cardboard box for a monitor. I think I downloaded a lot of secret files that day, too. I was one heckuva tech-savvy spy.

By the time I saw Firewall in 2006, I was a bit more discerning. Although the film wasn't bad overall, the technology was often used as a laughable deus ex machina, as Johnson described above. Perhaps more upsetting than the unrealistic use of technology, however, was the disturbing appearance of Harrison Ford's expanding gut, which inconveniently pops out of the bottom of his shirt during a key fight scene. At least he was doing his own stunts, right? (Fortunately, he seems to have shed the paunch for the upcoming Indy flick.)

But back to the point. I would predict that a day will come when Web technology is so well-known and accessible that filmmakers won't be able to employ it as a plot device unless they adhere to the confines of technological reality. But I know that's not true. After all, everyone's been driving cars for quite some time now and Jason Bourne still didn't have to stop at any red lights.

Incidentally, I really miss that typewriter sometimes.

1 comment:

Anna said...

God, I love "Sneakers."