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10 Terrible Portrayals of Technology in Film 745

Luke Hachmeister writes to mention a light piece at GideonTech on some of the truly terrible portrayals of technology in film. From Hackers to AntiTrust, Hollywoood just can't stick to reality. From the article: "Harrison Ford plays a security expert at a bank. He falls prey to a scheme to steal money for a gang that has taken hostage of his family. The film tried very hard to keep it a rollercoaster ride of thrills. From the beginning, you have Harrison Ford typing furiously to stop a hacker by writing new firewall rules. At least this time, these rules didn't float around in a rainbow of colors ala Hackers. What really puts Firewall at the top of the list, is the dumbest and non-believable use of an iPod to date. This is 2006, not 1995, you can't just make stuff up like this anymore. In the middle of the film, Harrison Ford happens to not only be a security expert, but an Apple hardware developer too."
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10 Terrible Portrayals of Technology in Film

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  • Bah (Score:5, Insightful)

    by B3ryllium ( 571199 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @01:57AM (#16181489) Homepage
    Our jobs are BORING. Admit it. If the true essence of our profession was placed on film, people would walk out of the theatre.

    Unless, that is, it was encapsulated in a vehicle like "Office Space" ... ;-)
  • by Freaky Spook ( 811861 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @01:58AM (#16181501)
    Independance Day.

    Upload Virus.......

    Enough said!
  • Um.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:05AM (#16181537)
    Today, we're going to list the Top 10 worst violators. Here is the criteria:

    1. Has to be a movie that you can rent on DVD.
    2. Wide release, no limited release obscure films.
    3. The movie can not be science fiction based.

    Yet the number 2 movie:

    2) Jurassic Park - 1993
  • Re:Jurassic Park (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bladesjester ( 774793 ) <slashdot@jamesh o l l i n gshead.com> on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:10AM (#16181575) Homepage Journal
    Not to mention the fact that their complaint was that a 10 year old kid couldn't know unix. I can't say that I had access to a unix system at 10 (that had to wait until I was about 15), but at 10 I was quite used to using DOS considering that it was about the only thing around.

    I really don't see how unix is such a stretch.
  • Uhh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcc ( 14761 ) <amcclure@purdue.edu> on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:11AM (#16181583) Homepage
    This is more like "ten films I've seen containing computers, which I will describe in belittling terms". Okay, so some of these movies really did butcher the technology they included. But some of these complaints just show a lack of imagination on the part of the article writer.

    In particular, this guy basically loses for complaining about the "This is UNIX, I know this!" scene in Jurassic Park, complaining that a ten year old girl couldn't have "magically" known that the computer was running UNIX. Okay, except that at that exact moment the computer in front of her-- hell, he even has screenshots-- was in fact showing a real world file manager / demo program that came with SGI's IRIX operating system-- which is, as it happens, a System V UNIX. You don't think it's possible that a computer geek from a rich family might have at some point in her life used IRIX, or at least used it enough to recognize a very distinctive tech demo that came with IRIX at the time and could be used as a file manager? Is it really that improbable that a ten year old might know at least enough about UNIX to know what /usr is? Or is the idea that girls don't use computers?
  • by Entropy ( 6967 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:15AM (#16181615)
    Hollywood can be reliablely counted on to screw _everything_ up.

    Fire 20 bullets from a six shooter. 100 bullets from a semi auto and one magazine.

    One bullet instantly kills any bad guy. (But good guys can get shot in the face and still go on to kick the bad guys ass.)

    Have a round chambered, but work the action and one doesn't pop out, but hey, "working the action is cool and scary ..".

    Lasers being visible. Lasers being audible. Audible shit in space. And no one has ever heard of Newton's laws.

    So given that we know Hollywood has such a rotten track record with the things we geeks know, I guess one thing we can rejoice about is this - all that sex the male leads are getting is just as fictional and unrealistic as the above ..
  • by LarsWestergren ( 9033 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:26AM (#16181695) Homepage Journal
    Pick any police/detective/thriller series I've seen (American, British, Swedish...) where the officers are "searching the database". Remember to always include the following:
    1) A single huge textbox for entering search criteria. Preferably filling the whole screen.
    2) Text slowly appearing on screen, preferably one letter at a time with a blipping noise.
    3) As the search is being performed, all records must flash by the screen.
    4) If no match, the words NO MATCH must fill the screen, preferably on a multicolored flashing background.
    5) A records must fill exactly one screen. No scrolling or paging allowed.

    That crap was barely tolerable in the 80s, but these days? 75% of the population use computers daily for crying out loud.
  • Crap article... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by isaac ( 2852 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:27AM (#16181703)
    Clearly written by a boy who wasn't tall enough to reach the ticket counter when Jurassic Park was in theaters, to say nothing of Wargames.

    Yeah, most of those movies are truly terrible (and how did they miss "The Net"?), but the 10-year-old girl in Jurassic Park (who's been of legal drinking age for almost 3 years!) was shown using a real app called FSN [sgi.com] that was indeed contemporary with the SGI gear of 1993 - a far cry from the Macromedia Director abominations of Mission: Impossible, for sure.

    And listing WarGames - blasphemy! OK, it's ridiculous that Matthew Broderick would leave the speech synthesizer on (unless he was blind), but we (er, some people) really did use wardialers back then (well, just called them dialers before WarGames...), and man that IMSAI rig was sweet, if a little dated by 1983. Considering that typewriters still vastly outnumbered PC's at the time, the Internet had just switched over to TCP/IP, and the notion of booking an airline reservation with a home computer (fraudulently or not) was gee-whiz stuff, I'm willing to cut this movie much slack.

  • by BenS350 ( 909701 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:42AM (#16181807)
    I think the worst movie about a computer guy would have to be swordfish. Creating a worm doesn't involve moving little 3-D blocks around on a computer screen.
  • Re:Bah (Score:3, Insightful)

    by B3ryllium ( 571199 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @03:18AM (#16182011) Homepage
    Awesome :) Forgot about that, I'll have to check it out.

    Father Ted rules, too, fwiw. :)
  • by joeflies ( 529536 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @03:27AM (#16182065)
    As far as "science" in science fiction...

    How 'bout the way in the re-imaged Battlestar Galactica, Season 1, when Starbuck figures out how to launch, fly, and land a Cylon raider that's piloted by genetic material? There's no interface for any human-sized person to fly it, yet with a little tendon pulling, a leg jab here and there, and the raider is off and going? BTW, doesn't she need some viewscreen or two to see what's going on?

    Or does it not count once there's enough science fiction involved to override any "common sense" of what a human can do with the science available?

  • by shotgunefx ( 239460 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @03:29AM (#16182081) Journal
    And the challenge? Break in while getting head. Yes, I imagine that's one of the keys to being a proficient blackhat.
  • by tentac1e ( 62936 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @03:36AM (#16182119) Journal

    You've just had to rewrite five pages of dialogue because your A-list star thinks his character wouldn't say that. Meanwhile, the director wants you to cut the scene at the oil refinery because they don't get the location permit in Vancouver. You have until tomorrow. Just make sure the exposition sounds-- Holy shit! You said bit instead of byte!

    Movies are wrong because nobody cares. The filmmakers don't care. The audience doesn't care. There are much more important things to worry about on a production.

    I used to do martial arts. I heard guys complain about kung fu movies. Well, Jet Li flipping through the air is more entertaining to watch than two juijitsu fighters roll on the ground for 40 minutes. Film is about images.

    But forget the medium. In drama, you use shorthand. If you've got a scene where the police visit a widow, you don't film the cops ringing a doorbell, the widow asking, "Who is it," they say, "The police," and the door opens. You don't start with the door opening. You start with the widow weeping over her husband's photos, looking up to the officers, and saying "It was Dracula."

    Plus every second of footage costs money. Refilming a shot because the actor said "bps" instead of "kbps" could cost thousands of dollars. Maybe it took 10 takes to get that line in just the right tone, and it isn't worth it to fix something less than 1% of the population will notice.

    Firewall's story meeting probably went:

    "Why doesn't he just copy it to a disk?"
    "How do we show that?"
    "A screen saying 'copying'?"
    "That's been done to death."
    "Oh, he could scan it. They sell pocket scanners."
    "What, we show him walking into CompUSA and buying one? No, he makes it, that keeps him involved."
    "So, he has a pocket computer..."
    "Too james bond."
    "Well, an iPod has a hard drive. Everyone knows an iPod."
    Et al.

    I get enough computer facts in my day job. I go to the movies to watch Harrison Ford beat a bad guy with a coffee pot.
  • by Hitto ( 913085 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:02AM (#16182273)
    >Lasers being visible. Lasers being audible. Audible shit in space. And no one has ever heard of Newton's laws.

    I'm pretty anal about science in sci-fi movies, but ever since I heard a tie fighter scream and saw the death star blow shit up when I was a kid, I resolved to forget about this specific "error". It's just cooler.
    It reminds me of a simpsons comic in which three über-geeks get to produce their own sci-fi film, with no sound in space, and other realistic physics, and when the movie debuts, the only spectator still in the theater is the comic book guy... The others left because real science is *boring*.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:28AM (#16182409)
    While working on the small UFO, they were able to determine which part of the alien code turned shields on and off. (flipping buttons, looking for what happened, and analyzing any data patterns). The mothership had been using human satellites so it was configured to interact with human computer systems. They were able to access a secured terminal due to lack of physical security inside the mothership. This way they bypassed alien firewalls, etc. The code they used probably didn't even access alien technology too much and used a transmit function for the shield off command. The program, script, etc. was executed when he did the "upload virus". Hell, he could have clicked on an icon if it makes you feel better. The alien would have been able to fix this problem right away by sending the shields on command, and that's why the immediate attack and nuke were necessary.

    This was the equivalent of sneaking into an enemy radio installation, giving a quick and simple command over the airwaves then blowing up the communication equipment.

    Anytime they use things like "upload virus" or "jam signal"(Mission Impossible), I assume they spent the time making the script or program off-camera. It's like setting up a batch of pen-tests, I'm not going to sit there and enter individual commands for each computer.
  • Re:Realistic Guns (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dmjones500 ( 781144 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:36AM (#16182443) Homepage
    According to IMDB, it was the infamous "Andy McNab" who advised on weapon-related matters in Heat. Regardless, I agree: loud, scary and accurate. A very cool scene in a very cool film.
  • Re:Crap article... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:37AM (#16182447)
    I don't know definitively about the airline booking system but even back then, a lot of stuff was starting to happen. I had a friend who used to access his banking details, make transfers etc on an Atari 800 with a 1200/75 modem (who remembers those?) and PRESTEL graphic back around 1985. Equally, firms that did have online systems for their own staff's use often were somewhat lazy about protecting them from the outside world so I can well believe an airline booking system *aimed at travel agents* would be accessible to someone who'd worked out a valid id/password combo.
  • Re:Missing option (Score:4, Insightful)

    by joe 155 ( 937621 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:59AM (#16182575) Journal
    I actually watched tron fairly recently and technology wise (for a film) it was pretty good, TRON himself seemed to be a hybrid of selinux and a firewall - which was why the MPC (here you can read "trusted computing" or WGA) hated him so much. TRON was going to monitor what all programs were doing and what systems they were accessing so that they didn't do anything inaporpriate.

    So when you think about it, although it might have seen strange at the time, the ideas were spot on; even years ahead in the public mind
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @05:13AM (#16182635) Journal
    Maybe that's feasible, but on the screen it shows the machine establishing a TCP/IP connection to the mothership. Unless they had a gateway on the fighter, that's not going to be easy...
  • by evilandi ( 2800 ) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Monday September 25, 2006 @05:30AM (#16182697) Homepage
    So, being a computer geek isn't interesting enough on film; they have to dramatise it.

    But this applies to pretty much every job. Do you think an average spy's day is like a James Bond film? Or do you think they spend most of their day sitting in a car drinking cold coffee whilst listening through hours and hours of dull domestic telephone calls?

    What do most eco-warriors actually do? Fight running battles on oil rigs, or spend weeks in squalid apartments searching through scientific and legal journals?

    The fact that Hollywood focusses on life's edge cases and dramatisations shouldn't come as any surprise.

    And I'm quite happy with that - I want explosions on the big screen, not on my doorstep.
  • by jackhererUK ( 992339 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @06:00AM (#16182841)
    Everyday we all use computers to do stuff and to get them to perform actions etc we click on stuff with a mouse but in a movie when anyone ever sits at a computer they get it to do stuff by typing at the keyboard. When was the last time you even say someone use a mouse on TV or in a movie. Even when it clearly shows a GUI on the screen they always issue command by typing stuff in.
  • Re:Bah (Score:2, Insightful)

    by 91degrees ( 207121 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @06:01AM (#16182845) Journal
    Picked up towards the end. (As did father Ted). Seems the creators are a little wary of the more bizarre surreal ideas at first. I'd like to see another series.
  • by ConceptJunkie ( 24823 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @06:26AM (#16182937) Homepage Journal
    No, that was just a typo. To get what everyone else has, you need to get to adulthood without ever reading a book.

  • Re:Jurassic Park (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 25, 2006 @06:34AM (#16182969)
    The problem with that line is that it is simply unrealistic. If the 10 year old kid had instead said "Oh crap, IRIX!" then we'd all be happy.

    Obviously if the plot called for the 10 year old kid to die horribly, they'd have used AIX. "Hey, UNIX! I know this! I...what the hell?" <splat><crunch>
  • Re:Um.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LGagnon ( 762015 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:37AM (#16183289)
    Michael Crichton is to science fiction what intelligent design is to science.
  • Re:Jurassic Park (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bert64 ( 520050 ) <bert&slashdot,firenzee,com> on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:57AM (#16183399) Homepage
    It's quite disturbing, that kids a few years ago knew DOS and BASIC etc, because that's what their computers had...
    Nowadays, most kids are barely able to click an icon.

    I have a cousin who showed me how to program on a C64 many years ago, now after years of being stuck with windows, she can't do anything outside of the gui and even then gets stuck if any errors crop up.
  • by walt-sjc ( 145127 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:16AM (#16183503)
    The other problem of showing tech in a belivable way is resolution. I run my terminal windows on a widescreen (2560x1600) monitor, with a fairly small font (big monitor.) In order to capture anything meaningful and show it on someone's television, they would need to use a 120 point font. They also don't want the screen cluttered with icons, other applications, etc. otherwise the viewer would be distracted from what they want you to focus on (the story.)

    I think the thing that bugs tech people the most in movies is the bastardization of terminology. Note to studios: please hire someone with at least the education of a 12 year old to make sure that a discusssion is SOMEWHAT reasonable. Don't the studios have anyone at all on staff that has a clue? Surely they have someone who is managing the technology for them in the first place...
  • Re:Funny as hell (Score:3, Insightful)

    by swillden ( 191260 ) * <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:57AM (#16183863) Homepage Journal

    most retinal scanners these days require the eyeball to be alive in order to detect the pattern. I think they look for an infrared signature as well? Not sure.

    None look for an IR signature that I know of, but the retinal pattern they're looking for is the pattern of blood vessels. Without blood pressure elevating the blood vessels above the surface of the retina, and blood making the vessels appear bright red, the pattern is very difficult to pick up. Also, without the socket to hold the eye in shape, the whole orb deforms which changes the shape and therefore the pattern, even assuming the scanner could pick it out without blood pumping through it.

  • oblig (Score:3, Insightful)

    by plopez ( 54068 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:10AM (#16183991) Journal
    they should've used a *real* database engine.
  • Re:Bah (Score:2, Insightful)

    by crimperman ( 225941 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:17AM (#16184083) Homepage
    I have mixed feelings about War Games. Some of it was good and realistic, the text logins and the war-dialling, like you say, but some of it was pushing things a little, like computers are alive and one them has been put in charge of the nuclear button.

    And some of it was just complete fantasy-land, like the cute girl wanted to hang out with the class nerd while he played a computer game in his bedroom. I ask you.

    My particular favourite was when the kid plugs in the speaker at home so we can "hear" the computer "speak" and then this voice miraculously appears each time he accesses WOPR regardless of the terminal he is using - or where it is located.
  • Re:Bah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by orasio ( 188021 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:25AM (#16184165) Homepage
    Some of it was good and realistic, the text logins and the war-dialling, like you say, but some of it was pushing things a little, like computers are alive and one them has been put in charge of the nuclear button.

    With people who think that computers can decide who you voted for by themselves, of course there is a risk of someone giving nuclear command to a computer, that is realistic, even if it didn't happen yet.

    About computers being alive, they don't need to be alive, they just need to act like they were. You just need a good AI, not a lot more advanced that what there is now. An easy example, Google seems to understand your needs, giving you content and ads tailored to you, something that didn't seem that easy before, that is some of the AI you need for a computer to _seem_ alive.

  • Re:Bah (Score:2, Insightful)

    by uufnord ( 999299 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @11:39AM (#16186017)
    My particular favourite was when the kid plugs in the speaker at home so we can "hear" the computer "speak" and then this voice miraculously appears each time he accesses WOPR regardless of the terminal he is using - or where it is located.

    I remember thinking that in the theatre, but I figured that it was a device that the director was using to allow the computer to successfully communicate with us, the movie-goers. I figured that, in the fantasy land of the movie, the voice didn't need to be a "real" voice that every character heard, but it could have been a voice that the lead character heard in his head whenever he dealt with this particular computer.

    Once I realized that, the movie was much easier to enjoy.

  • by grumbel ( 592662 ) <grumbel+slashdot@gmail.com> on Monday September 25, 2006 @01:37PM (#16187687) Homepage
    Or maybe that kind of software DOES exist?

    Algorithms to create hires pictures from multiple low resolution images do exists, its called super resolution. It is also possible to extract 3d data from 2D photos or videos and there are algorithms around that can put an unsharp out-of-focus image back into being a sharp image with proper focus. So having unsharp source data and usable end results is not unthinkable, however pretty much all movies and tv shows just go way beyond what is technically doable and turn into something completly ridiculous. Which is really shame, since with a little bit of extra effort they should be able to come up with something that is actually believable.

  • by BrianTung ( 914386 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @06:52PM (#16192763)
    Jurassic Park (#2) holding on line two.
  • by The Rizz ( 1319 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:06PM (#16192945)
    This list was horribly written and conceived. Almost nothing in the entire list was unattainable at the time the movies were made.

    #10 - Wargames
    Simply put, the idea of a computer talking to you after you 'hack' into it is laughable in this day and age.
    The computer "talking" to him was it asking things in natural language (as it was programmed to do) mixed with the guy having a text-to-speech program (which did exist at the time).

    #9 - The Italian Job
    Below is an image of a wire frame display on his laptop that shows a Mini Cooper making rounds. Seth now makes a wire frame program that follows a Mini around perfectly through walls?
    It's been over a year since I saw this, but IIRC the whole "wire frame Mini" part was Seth watching a computer simulation of what the Minis were supposed to be doing - the same simulation you saw him plotting out the heist with just a few minutes earlier in the movie.

    #8 - Antitrust
    One scene that jumps right out is the ability for the security team to lift code off a computer screen via a security camera.
    At high enough resolution, or with good interpolation software, why not? Besides, if you can reconstruct everything someone types by listening to the keystrokes [slashdot.org], I'm perfectly willing to accept a high-res camera being used to read text when pointed at a screen.

    #7 - Hackers
    this film is borderline comedy
    Uhhh... actually it was a comedy. (Action/comedy, but comedy nonetheless.)

    One obvious failure of technology here is the ridiculous flying through sequences of the supercomputer. Not only is all the data stored in what looks like skyscrapers, it's also technicolored like a crazy rainbow.
    So eye-candy and stylistic design makes everything else in the movie fradulent? The whole "skyscrapers computers" visual motif worked just fine when you think about what it was meant for.

    Hackers is actually one of the most accurate portrayals of computer technology and hacking/cracking/phreaking in a movie if you ignore the visuals and ignore the crap added to appeal to the masses. Listen to the dialogue. Think about what they're doing. It all actually makes sense.

    #6 - Transporter 2
    French officer in the police station, he looks up a criminal on the computer. Within a few seconds, that information is magically beamed to Frank's car. How in the world did they sync up? How did the computer at the police station know where Frank was?
    I've never seen the movie, but I can hazard a guess: Satellite internet service (or similar wide-range wireless options) + FTP or other transfer protocol + static IP or dyndns.org.

    #5 - Swordfish
    I never knew worms and viruses looked like little gems.
    Once again, complaining about visual elements rather than actual use of technology.

    #4 - Goldeneye
    With the ability to 'spike' remote computer systems, Boris is the most powerful hacker in the world.
    I haven't seen this in over 10 years, and have forgotten what this is even referring to. I have no intention to see it again to find out what this is talking about, but the rest of the movie was so bad there's a decent chance they're actually right on this one... but then again, this list is so bad they probably aren't.

    #3 - Mission: Impossible
    The emails he tries are not even formatted correctly. Also, his un-canny ability to find information through graphical newsgroups is something else.
    Once again, I haven't seen it in 10 years and will never see it again. They do sound right on the money in their complaint (backed up with screenshots this time), so I'm going to give them the thumbs up on this one.

    #2 - Jurassic Park
    he grand-daughter of the park's owner, sits down at a computer terminal. Like magic, she exclaims "This is UNIX, I know this!". Where on this planet is there a 10 year old girl who knows and can under

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