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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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  • Jurassic Park (Score:5, Interesting)

    by innocent_white_lamb ( 151825 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:05AM (#16181535)
    "This is UNIX. I know this."
    The file viewer in Jurassic Park really does exist.
  • by sentientbrendan ( 316150 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:08AM (#16181557)
    If you can't appreciate the pure joy that was hackers, you fail as a human being.

    Hackers is great *because* it is nonsense. It is great *because* it is a total departure from reality. It expresses not how things are, but how we *want* them to be. It's called fiction.
  • Funny as hell (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Cold_Lestat ( 880518 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:11AM (#16181579)
    The best one is in Days of our lives (yes, i was young and yes i was staying with my grandmother and no I didn't have access to a car: nuff said) when it took 3 episodes to delete one text file.. Man that progress bar took for ever to get accross. ;)

    My favourite (not stupid) take off of computer security is in Demolition Man where W/Snipes uses the guys plucked eyeball to get access out of the building. ;) very choice. (NP: This wouldn't work in real life (well shouldn't ;) ))

  • by sterno ( 16320 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:13AM (#16181599) Homepage
    This is really a bad list. Basically they seemed to have made a point of picking movies that naturally involve a lot of technology. They totally ignore things like Independence Day where their little virus takes out an entire alien attack fleet because, persumably, they didn't even try.

    Wargames does not deserve to be on this list. He uses an acoustic coupled modem to dial in. He hacks using realistic approaches to it, trying to guess the password. He doesn't magically use a cracking program or have little 3D graphics fly all over his screen trying to crack it. Instead he studies the biography of Professor Falken and after much trial and error actually gets it.

    Their biggest nitpick is that computer voice. The "voice" from the computer is clearly just a text to voice synthesizer which, may be a little high end but remember TI had voice synthesizers for their computers around 1980. They didn't want the audience to have to read what the computer was saying the whole damn movie. The computer AI for Joshua is seemingly quite primitive even though it's supposed to be a big defense department computer.

    As for Firewall, I think they did a pretty good job of being realistic. The scanner IPod thing was a stretch, but when they do computer security in the movie it looks like an actual computer. We see actual firewall rules and such that look like what I'd see on my actual computer. Given that it was a hollywood movie built around a very technical subject, I was pretty impressed with the realism level.

    If you really want to get picky, how about the fact that every time a computer shows up in a movie it has an Apple logo on it :)

  • Realistic Guns (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sterno ( 16320 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:19AM (#16181639) Homepage
    Best movie ever for accurate portrayal of shooting and ammo: Heat. That gun scene as they come out of the bank is really spot on. They are reloading constantly as you would if you were tossing off 30 round clips in that kind of situation. For the most part they fire in short bursts as well instead of just holding down the trigger and emptying a clip. The only iffy bit is how the hell they'd carry that much ammo on them, but give or take that issue, pretty solid.
  • Armageddon (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PapayaSF ( 721268 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:21AM (#16181651) Journal
    How could they forget Armageddon [imdb.com]? It's a movie premised on the idea that it's easier to teach oil drillers to be astronauts than teach astronauts how to drill a hole. It's got a shuttle docking on the outside ring of a rotating space station. It's got a single Russian cosmonaut refueling the shuttle through a single hose he wrestles around. It's got a nuclear bomb that must be planted exactly 800 feet below the surface of an asteroid, giving an excuse for dramatic dialog of the "Oh no! We're only at 790 feet!" sort. It's got inappropriate machine guns. It's the perfect example of a film about science and technology written and directed by Hollywood types who never took a word of advice from any pesky technical advisors.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:34AM (#16181747)
    A bit unfair to my favorite movie, WarGames.
    The voice of the WOPR is a necessary cinematic element so that the audience can relate to the "character" of the computer. But consider how realistic the movie is:
    1. Wardialing is more-or-less plausibly portrayed (this is where the name comes from!)
    2. While the particular technique shown won't work the idea of phreaking a pay phone to make free calls (redboxing) is not far-fetched.
    3. The IMSAI computer was intentionally chosen as out-of-date junk that a young hacker might have found dumpster diving.
    4. My favorite: a realistic security hole created by an employee (in this case of NORAD) who attached a modem to his desk computer so that he could login from home without realizing the security implications.
    5. Hacking the school computer by reading the password taped to the desk.
    6. Back door password.

    There are some more unrealistic things such as the acoustic modem which is too fast and can dial and go on/off hook, that were added for cinematic reasons. The WOPR AI is of course totally unrealistic but necessary for the plot.

    I have never seen another movie that even attempted to portray the hacker mindset as accurately as WarGames.
  • by NitsujTPU ( 19263 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:37AM (#16181771)
    I think that the best one on this was Scarface, not only because of the inaccuracy, but because of how well it highlighted the disparity between how hard it was to kill the main characters, vs killing the other folks.

    Granted, Scarface is still a masterpiece, and a lot of this was done for artistic license.

    Still, the main characters go around shooting people in the heart, who instantly fall unconscious and dead. In the end scene, however, Pacino is being gunned down by a group of people firing automatic weapons at him. He has time to shoot into the crowd and hit them with a grenade launcher, bear in mind, he just walks out onto his balcony and takes the bullet wounds at this point. Despite this, he guns them all down, only to be shot in his midsection from behind by a character who is supposedly a top assasin sort, with a shotgun, to be killed. Not at close range. Not a headshot. Also, none of the people hitting him with their machine guns manage a headshot either in a firefight that seems to take 5 minutes despite drastically outnumbering him and consistently hitting him otherwise.
  • Missing option (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Meltir ( 891449 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:57AM (#16181911) Homepage
    Im surprised that nobody here mentioned TRON (http://imdb.com/title/tt0084827/) yet.
    Now that was really stupid tech-wise.
    Amusing, and pretty, but just unreal.

    As for the sci-fi criteria - its pretty much as sci-fi as any other movie out there. Documentaries and bio's excluded.
  • Re:Bah (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RedSteve ( 690399 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @02:59AM (#16181917)

    Our jobs are BORING. Admit it. If the true essence of our profession was placed on film, people would walk out of the theatre.


    My wife is a pediatrician, and despite the fact that she deals with disease and injury every day, she cannot help but watch every medical show -- fiction or reality -- that comes on TV. One day I wondered aloud why she would want to subject herself to tv that is essentially work to her, and why no one makes TV shows about my chosen profession.

    She replied that
    a) the fictional TV shows generally get as much wrong with their medicine as movies with tech themes get technology wrong and
    b) no one wants to watch a show consisting of a bunch of web geeks sitting in front of their computers all day.

    I had to concede that she was right, but that didn't make me feel any better....

  • Re:Bah (Score:3, Interesting)

    by B3ryllium ( 571199 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @03:04AM (#16181955) Homepage
    If they did something like "The Office", except with an office of tech geeks, it could work. The occasional crash ("SHIT! SHIT! THE RAID IS GOING DOWN! SHIT! Oh, wait, here's the hot spare. Crisis averted."), accident ("WHY DID YOU HAVE A GLASS OF WATER SO CLOSE TO THE ROUTER!?!?"), or interpersonal conflict ("Hey - did you hear that Jim got fired for blogging about Office Ninjas [theonion.com]?") ... it could work.

    (Oh, and as a sidenote, that last one ... it's not an impossible scenario. You might hear about it some time.)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 25, 2006 @03:25AM (#16182055)
    Wargames: *I* was a cracker, hacker, and Phreak at that time. The acoustic coupler was part of the art at the time. Acoustic couplers at 110/300 baud were common. Hayes modems w/direct jacks were just on the scene for a year, maybe two at that point.

    You also have to remember that about the early 80's was the time that RJ-12 jacks and the ability to wire your own home for phone service started. Yep youngin's, time was when you got charged by Ma Bell for EACH phone in your house, and those phones came from Ma Bell. Phones were hardwired to the jack. (nb: If you disconnected the ringer bell inside the phone, and left just one on there, then you only got charged for one phone... no matter how many you had).

    The voice wasn't that far off from that which I had on my Apple ][ at the time - a "SuperTalker". Did a pretty damn good job too - quite understandable, even if it was a bit 'cyberish'.

    And how he hacked in was also 'state of the art' at the time. Anyone remember a Demon Dialer program? Nothing too tremendous - I wrote tons of them in BASIC. Essentially:

    Open modem port
    Begin for loop with all local prefixes step 1
    Begin for loop from 0000 to 9999 step 1
    If police station - skip number
    dial number
    wait for response string
    If modem - open printer port, print number out

    You'd fire it off at night before going to bed, wake up in the morning and review the list of numbers. Then you'd call back and see what you could hack into... Sometimes the idiot thing didn't even ask for a un/pw. Sometimes it did, but in the MOTD there was enough info to get you started...

    Sometimes you'd stumble on an entire network to explore (Telenet anyone?). VAXen, VMS, CP/M, and SCADA systems connected to phone lines....

    The only problem with the sequential dialers was the phone co got lots of complaints from everyone who you woke up, and they'd go digging for records of sequential calls every min or so... Then you'd get a nastygram from Bell Security or a call from the cops...

    The next gen Demon Dialers spiced things up a bit... Create a multi-dimensional array loaded with the prefixes and numbers. Have a bit to know if you dialed it or not, and a bit to know if it was a modem or not. Randomly pick a prefix and number to dial and check... Wait a random amount of time between 1 sec and 30 sec between dialing the next number...

    But as for the rest of the movie technology usage *yawn* it's not even close... The thing that really gets me are the schmucks who pick a lock with just a pick... WHERE'S THE DAMN TENSION WRENCH?>!?!?!?!!?!?! (oh yeah, I'm also a locksmith and a tunnel rat)...
  • Re:This was 1993 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by joggle ( 594025 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @03:48AM (#16182179) Homepage Journal

    Would it make you feel better if I said that it wasn't likely for boys to know UNIX back in 1993 also? Jeeze, I hate how people are always trying to be PC. It's absolutely true that it was (and still is) unlikely for a typical 10-year old kid to be familiar with UNIX.

    Also, people shouldn't be modded down for simply being wrong. Other posts that are insightful should be modded up instead. You state:

    The underlying assumptions regarding ten year old girls and computers are pathetic.

    My assumptions are that 10-year old girls back in 1993 would not likely have access to UNIX since it was almost entirely only available at universities, government offices and large businesses. Most (actually all) 10 year old kids I ever knew did not have sufficient access to such locations as to be able to become familiar with UNIX. And there was very limited net access back then so learning remotely would be difficult too.

  • by bm_luethke ( 253362 ) <luethkeb@com c a s t . n et> on Monday September 25, 2006 @03:58AM (#16182249)
    The worse part is how much of that people believe.

    It's not uncoommon to find people who's signifigant other has died leaving behind a handgun. The surviving member knows nothing about them, "unloads" it be removing the clip, and then forgets it. I know my cousing was going around with one pointing it at people saying "bang bang". My father (I was barely old enough to recollect it at all, let alone know much of what was going on) had a fit, he was then told "I unloaded it, it's safe". After explaining you *never* treat a gun as a toy, always loaded, he took the gun away and immediatly made it safe (lock open the slide), it had a bullet in the chamber. They assumed that hollywood removal of the clip was actually unloaded. I can irritate people when I fuss at the cops in the movie having criminals take clips out to "unload" thier guns.

    It's gotten bad enough that too many real videos are considered fake because it "doesn't look real" and people make real decisions that can impact many people based on it. In nearly 100% of the cases you can eventually track it down to "It doesn't look like in the movies". Just in firearms alone it is amazing what people think a gun can do and want to legislate against it (sometimes proposed legislation is *detrimental* to safety), and then not know it is horridly dangerous in others and just not care.

    Even those of us that are jaded about the whole thing find from time to time where hollywood has colored our ideas (for example, I know something of how several cultures fought with swords, yet I still imagine the classic hollywood edge on edge fighting). It is such a large part of our lives that it can be hard to seperate when you have no references to compare too - even if you do not like to watch too much you still see it everywhere and so much of our society believes it.
  • Re:Bah (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AndyboyH ( 837116 ) <Andrew DOT Howat ... er DOT co DOT uk> on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:40AM (#16182461) Homepage
    and was fairly terrible.

    God knows why it got a second season.

    BOFH would make a better series. Dark humour and comedy violence for the win.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 25, 2006 @05:33AM (#16182713)
    Hackers was a great movie. It wasn't a tech documentary. They tried to convey a lifestyle, the emotions of script kiddies, the feeling of being immersed into technology, and a cheesy love story. On top of that the movie is full of references to actual hacker lore. No reference goes deeper than a dropped name, but I found that entertaining. When they dive into a problem, the data surrounds them. That is a fitting visual representation of "the zone". It is not meant to be an accurate reproduction of hacking. Besides, killer soundtrack.
  • by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @06:08AM (#16182867)

    Yes, I thought that was uncalled for, too. Antitrust deserves kudos for being one of the more convincing Hollywood tech movies (admittedly, an easy target). Sure, grabbing text off a screen using a hidden camera (designed and placed specifically for this purpose) and OCR software sounds tricky, but step back and look at the message: hey, it isn't true that you can automatically hack into any system in 30 seconds (especially one set up by a networking ubergeek) - sometimes you're better off with physical surveilance, honey traps etc.

    Plus, it was one of the few films where the "genius" protagonist actually wins the day by being clever and outsmarting the baddie, instead of stripping down to a vest, morphing into an action hero and chasing him up the scaffolding!

    Add to that the fact that the director actually cut out the gratuitous sex scene that detracted from the plot (Milo bonking Lisa is amongst the DVD "delete secenes") and you have a film which really doesn't deserve to be mocked.

  • by CharlieG ( 34950 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:09AM (#16183467) Homepage
    Heh - I had a hayes direct connect - darn, remember what those things COST!! A 1200baud Hayes cost more than a computer costs now. I had a 300 baud at home, and a 1200 at the lab. Remember having to order data grade lines?

    I remember when modens came DOWN to the 200 dollar or so price mark - what a breakthrough - and remember - if you were GOOD, you could actually speedread a 300 baud text data stream - without X-on X-off

    Yeah folks - there are some OLD geeks here - I actually worked with punch cards (still have a couple of boxes of them - use them as note paper when feeling geeky) Gettting a terminal was COOL - even a 75 baud teletype. If you had a DEC Flexwriter, you were BIG time..


    I'll bet that I've offically been a programmer (aka getting paid for it) longer than MOST people on /. are alive (anyway by the last poll I saw)

    Gahhh - can't believe I said that - man I'm feeling like an old fart today. Ran into a YL yesterday who recognized me - and she said "hi" and offerered me her cheek - took me a few seconds to realize it was a friend's daughter who I have not seen in 2 years. I remember holding her while she was in diapers.
  • Re:Bah (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:38AM (#16183705) Homepage
    We already have that simple text login successful movie. It was called wargames. It was a really interesting movie, because it showed how hacking was actually done. Calling the operator and asking for numbers, then trying every number until a modem picks up. Then trying every password you can think of until you actually get into the system.
  • Re:Jurrassic Park (Score:2, Interesting)

    by GuanoTO ( 567373 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:17AM (#16184089)
    Hate to prove you wrong (not really), 3D Filesystem Navigator http://www.sgi.com/fun/freeware/3d_navigator.html [sgi.com] was released in 1992 by SGI.

    Incidentally, SGI provided the hardware for the Jurassic Park control room, not to mention it was also the hardware platform for the rendering farm. So it's not entirely too far-fetched to presume that the SGI techs assigned to the JP project might have shown someone the "really cool" file manager.

  • by PaulRivers ( 647856 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @10:50AM (#16185269)

    Are you kidding? That's one of many ridiculous things in that episode, but it's not even close to the most ridiculous thing in the episode.

    When Starbuck finds the downed Cylon fighter, it has a hole by it's "eye" where she shot it. Then she gets in it, and plugs the hole with some cloth to keep the outside environment out.

    Then she flies it into space. With some cloth plugging a hole in the ship.

    That episode was already full of to many happy coincidences. A stereotypical "she's being pulled towards a cliff!" bit. The fact that the cylon fighter was somehow still intact. And it had been killed, but was still flyable. And, like you mentioned, that it just happened to be nicely sized for a human. That she could also outmanuever another good pilot in it. And frankly, it was a bit surprising to find that there was a convenient human-sized hatch she could open on the bottom of the ship. The "we can't jump until we kill the fighter!" thing at the end, despite the fact that the in the first episode all they ever did was jump when being attacked. The old "no one can ever be rescued until the absolute last minute" bit. And where did she write "Starbuck" on the wings of the fighter, and what the heck did she use to write it?...

    But plugging a hole with some cloth to form a vacuum seal...come ON.

  • Re:Bah (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CohibaVancouver ( 864662 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @04:04PM (#16190213)
    Greetings Professor Falken

    I seem to remember him saying he had a speech synthesizer. plausible... not with such pronunciation though..

    In around the same period (if not before) the TRS-80 model 1 & III had a speech synth that operated in a similar manner as portrayed in in Wargames, and, if memory serves, sounded about the same.

Never say you know a man until you have divided an inheritance with him.