Movies filled with computer nonsense

Posted on September 1, 2003

I cannot really say there is a particular genre of movies I like the best. Comedy, suspense, sci-fi, horror, even those touted by some as chick flicks are enjoyable. Regardless of the type, computers seem to be popping up in movies about as often as I receive email viruses with the subjects "Your details" or "Wicked Screensaver." Way gnarly, dude!

Of course, the mere presence of a laptop or two is expected nowadays. God checks people's prayers via email in "Bruce Almighty" (I give this movie four stars), and Austin Powers carries his computer everywhere in "Goldmember" (five stars). These minor instances of technology are not the problem, though.

Why does Hollywood have such a twisted fascination with computer programmers, especially with hackers?

I recently watched "Swordfish" (two stars) with some friends, and I still cannot understand how the movie makers could have concocted such a perverse definition of a hacker. In the movie, Hugh Jackman (you know, Wolverine from "X-Men" three stars) must build a worm to infiltrate a bank account that includes like $234 billion, but no swords and no fish. The bad guy, John Travolta (looking a little different than he did in "Saturday Night Fever" three stars), has the silliest system setup ever for a programmer: seven monitors, powered by one machine. Either he has invented interesting splitters or has a machine supporting septamonitoring.

OK, back to the hacking. So to create this worm, Wolverine builds a program by creating blocks that slide into a main block. Once all the blocks are in, he is successful. Before that time, though, blocks come and go, as does the joy and sorrow of attempting to code in a graphical format. I really can't imagine a true hacker using blocks to determine if his program worked.

I know, I know, how can you make coding riveting? Programmers could dress up in clown outfits or bear costumes. Programmers could just be nude, but most of us would probably prefer the bear costume. Without trying to tie graphics into this code, the general public would most likely be bored fast. Looking at lines of text and numbers on a computer screen and trying to find a missing operator or a syntax error ranks as the 231,552,249,491 most exciting thing to do by the Ben Woods I Made This Stat Up Survey. This ranks just ahead of filtering junk email and knitting bear costumes.

Sophisticated computer users are showing up in all sorts of movies. "The Matrix" (four stars) is based entirely on hackers and entering into people's minds through a computer. "Minority Report" (five stars) creates a mechanism to stop common criminals by passing selected individuals' brain activity through a huge terminal. At least these movies are supposed to be futuristic, so therefore, the anomalies of computer weirdness can be justified.

Then comes a movie like "Feardotcom" (two stars). There's a man who, through a Web site, can hypnotize and make people cause harm on themselves and others. Apparently, the mastermind behind this has figured out a way to emit video waves through a computer monitor. Amazing! Do people believe this? Do people believe you can get a tan through your monitor as well?

While I cannot condone filmmakers' attempts at trying to spice up computer programming, I guess it could be worse. They could be making us out to be dumb villains who never win, who never get the girl, who always end up dying in the end. Actually, it does make me feel good to know that coders are revered and not completely understood. I do pray that someday there will be a movie made that shows the real process behind programming. Let's just hope God doesn't lose the prayer between deleting email viruses.