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On Hollywood and the Portrayal of Computers 609

danmil asks: "After watching the disappointing Sandra Bullock vehicle 'The Net' last night, I thought to myself, 'Another damn movie with those ridiculous efforts to dramatize hacking' (and cracking, to be specific). Griping about this with my friend Chyld, we asked ourselves, 'Can a movie do a good job of making programming (and/or cracking) seem dramatic without being stupid?' Why not ask Slashdot!? I thought. And so I am." What do you all think? Is Hollywood ever going to portray computers (and the people who use them) in a light that's closer to reality? Or is our world just something that is beyond their comprehension?

"Can a movie show a programmer who is not working on a Macintosh (Apple's product placement team should get a medal)? Can the exposition describing the virus/program/whatever not make me wince and/or laugh out loud? Can a programmer work without muttering under their breath to explain to the audience what they are typing? Can the breakdown of a system be indicated in some other manner than every screen in the room flashing in exciting patterns?

As a programmer, I recognize that part of the problem is that real programs rarely look cool when they work. Just about every one of my favorite programs has had pathetically uninteresting results to the uninitiated. "Look, it printed a 6 instead of a 3! That's so great!" Or, for the glorious day when the test suite is passed without errors, there's no response at all. I realize that this is not easy to make exciting on screen.

In the interests of research, we went out and rented "WarGames" and "Tron" last night. "WarGames" was just fantastic -- and the hacking was generally excellent, I thought. I don't have a phone phreak bone in my body, so I have no idea how silly that stuff was, but I enjoyed it all. "Tron" was boring and silly and we had to give up not a half hour in.

Any other votes/recommendations?"

My take? Hollywood just has problems fitting in the all of the non-verbal and cerebral aspect of compter use and falls back on the tried and true method of glitzing things up to make up for the shortcoming. What do you folks think?

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On Hollywood and the Portrayal of Computers

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  • If they made it so they didn't mutter what they were doing only geeks would know what was going on
  • > 'Can a movie do a good job of making programming (and/or cracking) seem dramatic without being stupid?'

    Can a movie do a good job of making anything seem dramatic without being stupid?

    OK, they do make exceptions now and then. But the baseline fact is that most of reality simply isn't dramatic. If they try to make scrambling eggs dramatic, it's going to come across as stupid. If they try to make taking the dog out for a poop dramatic, it's going to come across as stupid. Etc., etc., etc.

    It's October 6th. Where's W2K? Over the horizon again, eh?
  • by cheese63 ( 74259 )
    i consider myself a geek, but i'd rather see sex and violence, as opposed to computers and their associative nerds. i'd take lesbian sex over cracking into the pentagon anyday.
  • by ElDaveo ( 90306 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @05:20PM (#1606021)
    If you think about it, Hollywood doesn't really portray *any* career correctly. Things have to be changed in order to keep the attention of the audience. Hospitals aren't always like "ER", Submarine XO's aren't always like Denzel Washington in "Crimson Tide". Although, if you want to see a movie where hackers/crackers are portrayed in a positive light, check out "Sneakers". Granted, the guys in that movie see more action than any shashdotter, the personality traits are almost dead-on.
  • by 198348726583297634 ( 14535 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @05:20PM (#1606022) Journal
    Long answer: also no. :)

    Computers themselves are just plain boring. Say you're a mega-leet haxxor trying to break into some system... (not a skript kiddie, trying out one root kit after another; although that'd be boring too.) You're the real cheese, so what do you do? Pour over the source codes, look for holes, etc. Text terminals aren't interesting to look at to the public! Hell, they're not even interesting for me, and I have to write perl on em all day! ;)

    And once you've broken into a system, what do you do? Transfer money from billg's account to yours? Copy the solaris sources to your own ftp server? Leave backdoors? Again, what on earth could possibly interest Joe Beer in that? Now if you had porn in the netscape window in the background...

  • I would surely hope so but the way things look the more a computer company sponsors a movie the less realistic it has become.... Take mission impossible which told us that the spy world uses mac laptops and the big hacker dude wants a "cutting edge" Cyrix Dual 6x86 laptop.. Not to mention the role of macs in "Hackers" :) What about "Golden Eye" and it's IBM is everything point of view. More recently in "Fight Club" (a great movie) the main characters blow up a computer store with apple's logo prominantly displayed. Unfortunately movie's are not about portraying what's real. They're simple enterainment based marketing.
  • How can the WOPR determine its gotten each digit of the passkey correct? Do the SAC silos send back detailed error messages? "Sorry, you only got the 3rd and 5th digits of the PAL key correct. Please try again..."
  • I think Hollywood might do well to look at programming that has social
    and political consequences, such as cryptography stuff, *BUT* (unlike
    in every movie on the subject I've ever seen) they should hire a real
    cryptographer to make them leave the bs on the cutting room floor. I
    am pretty sure they won't do this, but if they did it might be fun. CME's
    cryptography timeline

    has loads of interesting historical stuff they could use.
  • Okay, I know that Sneakers was not exactly a spot-on portrayal of hacking, but I found it to be a lot more plausable at least stylistically than that terrible movie "Hackers".

    Of course, I'm sure that some of you will now chime in and proclaim "Hackers" to be one of the greatest movies of all time. You are entitled to your opinions, but you are also wrong. God, that movie had many elements this article/question was trying to dispel. Yick!
  • It's manipulating abstract relations in a formal language and doesn't provide the kind of straight forward visual dynamic story that good movies are made of. Now the result of a program may produce something of great visual interest, but the process of programming itself is not the visually interested.
    To think of it another way, do you know of any good movies about writing a book? I don't mean the action described in the book, I mean the actually process of an author writing.
  • by ywwg ( 20925 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @05:23PM (#1606028) Homepage
    If you are doing anything useful, they don't show you anything fancy on the screen. Despite what people say, the number one use of computers is still pushing around text. We don't have fancy 3d oses because there's no real need for one. How many of you program with just a bunch of xterms?

    And cracking is another area that is even more internal to the computer, and has nothing to do with what's on-screen.

    I've decided that computers will _never_ be portrayed correctly in movies, simply because people can't bear to think that most people still use _windows_, or worse yet some other WIMP interface like CDE. People see movies for something cool and fantastic, not what they see all day every day.

    And what about _Sneakers_? They used a minimum of macs and flashy graphics and made cracking look cool!
  • The main problem is that movies are a *visual* medium, and as such, can only represent things that can actually be seen.

    What happens inside computers, on the other hand (programs, viruses, networking, port scanning, hacking), is essentially abstract and lives only in the programmer/hacker's mind, so it's quite difficult to represent it visually.

    I don't remember exactly that quote from "The mythical man-month" about the programmer working from thin air with invisible things", but I think it's the most appropiate one here.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    A bunch of Harvard MBA's hired me for a high-paying consulting job. Apparently something that went in my favor was that I had a photo on my web page that made me look like a "hacker."
  • As far as I know, everyone feels misrepresented by movies. Psychiatrists complain that all movie psychiatrists are unethical; so do lawyers (instert snide comment about accuracy here). Hollywood isn't about accuracy and fair protrayals, it's about excitement and stereotypes. The movie-geek works because an audience can see a geek in a movie and instantly figure out exactly what kind of person that character will be. The same thing happens to everyone in a mainstream movie. It won't get better because reality is confusing and complicated, and that doesn't work in a movie which has to be two hours of non-stop excitement.
  • Computer flicks aren't the only ones that suffer from inaccuracy. I imagine most any movie with some type of specialized skill as a theme does.

    I can't count the number of times I have seen an action movie where the firearm action was, well, pretty damn inaccurate (e.g., someone firing thirty or fourty rounds from a handgun, or shooting an MP5 full auto for an extended period of time without reloading). The only reason I notice such things is because I have a working knowledge of guns, just like you notice the blunders in computer movies because you (seem to) have a working knowledge of computers. I'm sure vulcanologists laughed at Volcano.

    Hollywood's function is not to produce movies that are accurate in every minute technical detail. Movies are for entertainment. If you want accuracy, go watch the Discovery Channel.
  • Exactly! Make it so!
  • Try the movie "Sneakers". I think it's the best movie that I've seen that portrays computer security without too much Hollywood fanfare, but still have it be interesting. Of course, I saw this movie four or so years ago so I might be wrong. :-)
  • It brings to mind a novel I read. I think it was called "Queen's gambit". It was a story about a Chess player, that really gets into the mind of how a chess player thinks. But you didn't have to know anything about chess to enjoy it, AND it was interesting and dramatic.

  • Frankly the problem Hollywood has is that what we do isn't actually very dramatic. It's like watching a writer write. His finished product might be beautiful or exciting or wonderful to comtemplate, but the process, what he DOES and lives for, is pretty dull. A movie is like 90 minutes... can you write much of a program in 90 minutes? Or how about this... let's say for some reason you and 5 friends were shown a room with a bunch of bulk cat5, rj-45 heads, a crimper or two, a hub, and a very large box of assorted hardware, and told you had 90 minutes to build a network, would it be exciting to watch? No, especially if you don't understand the issues involved, though certainly you and your friends would have a blast. Ours is not a spectator sport.
  • Called 'Sneakers'... Not bad at all...
  • by drenehtsral ( 29789 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @05:31PM (#1606040) Homepage
    They make it silly and overly dramatic, because otherwise, non-geeks would get bored... It's the same when they make movies about cops... I know a couple guys who are cops and they spend most of their time driving around in circles, and the rest is spent on paperwork, very little is spent chasing robbers or whatever else...
    I think that it's just a fact of life that peopel don't go to movies to see mundane details of life (with some exceptions... mostly not mainstream films), people go to movies to see dramatized and crazy stuff... It's always been that way, and i think it'll probably stay that way for ever more, with computers, cops, etc...
  • I'm kinda suprised how the Internet itself is handled. Probably the best example was the first (second?) episode of Sliders (which was what, 95, 96?) where Arcturus says to the TV repairman "You got an Internet connection?" and the answer is yes.

    Let's be honest here, how would you turn "The Cuckoo's Egg" into a thrilling movie? It's kinda hard to do. Or even Snow Crash would be hard to do. Cryptonomicon would make a good TBS movie, but they'd have to cut 90% of it. "Pirates of Silicon Valley" had to cut out a good portion of "Fire In the Valley" to do it - and they had to throw in side notes to explain some of the finer points.

    I don't think that it's that Hollywood can't make the movies. They can't. It's just the subject matter is very specialized, and hard to create into an interesting movie and be confined to 1 hr 30 min.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Coding isn't flashy, neither is a compile, but that is what real programming is. Hollywood needs to make it flashy to draw in a crowd, so the only way to make programming, cracking, and hacking flashy is to dumb it down so that it looks easy.

    As my friends that do 3d animation, some people would believe there is a make art button, to get some the cool 3d graphics in movies. After watching some of the makings of movies I might even agree with them. Carry that a step farther, those that have never attempted to write full programs, and debug them, would believe that creating programs just require you to drag what buttons and scrollbars on a screen and you have a program.

    So to finish beatting around the complete issue, I believe that until the majority of computer users know what, and how to program(even little scripts for their own guess books), Hollywood will continue to make computers to be a flash and little else.

    Well I will let you ponder the abstract axioms of life; while happily hack away creating new ones.
    --Joe "Ender" Mitchell

  • by Anonymous Coward
    2001 did rather good job describing computers. I don't know if Kubrick tried to say as little as possible to avoid bad mistakes or did he have a clear vision of what computing should be. (From user interface point of view, not exactly from viewpoint of life support or person being supported..)
  • I once heard someone say that most tv shows, movies, etc., as a rule, are meant to be put out at no higher than the third grade level. Judging from most of the drek out there, I tend to agree.

    Furthermore folks, let's face it... in a time where AOL boasts a usership of 17,000,000+, you're just not gonna get a quality hack/crack film. :o/
  • Not until they think the *majority* of the audience would "get it" if they didn't dumb it down substantially. It is a business, now more than ever, and they gotta get butts in those seats.

    Think about it, there can't possibly be a complete lack of literate people in Hollywood, and yet there has yet to be an honest movie about computers. Why? 'cuz people would run screaming from the theaters. The things hackers do are too technical to be explained in any satisfying depth (I'm talking satisfying to geeks and to reg. moviegoers) in the movies (guns, guns, car chase, jiggly women) as they are made now.

    People who don't understand what they are watching don't keep watching, and today's moviegoer doesn't want to have to sit through an education just to get the plot.

    At least that's the thinking in Hollywood.

  • And If so, why did it take so long to crack the whole code?
  • Perhaps doing some research into the field before writing a script would help. I understand that most average people would not be interested if the appropriate jargon, etc. were used. Movies like 'Hackers' and the 'Net' are stupid when viewed by those that actually are involved in the field but would be largely uninteresting to the public in general. It is more feasible to make a movie that is not true to it's roots and be more popular because most people could understand it.

    It's sad but true. I doubt that we will ever see a movie that is centered around computers and appears to be possible. Maybe some movie studio will prove me wrong, but I doubt it.
  • Hollywood *is* glitz. Why wouldn't they add glitz and glamour to hacking/cracking? Especially when it *is* mostly cerebral and ultimately boring to the average moviegoer?

    You ask if they can make a movie without doing this... of course not. Nobody'd go see it. Just teh same as I wouldn't go see a movie about someone cutting their lawn or brushing their teeth. You have to add atomic bristles and ninja-star blades or it's nothing out of the ordinary.
  • by nebby ( 11637 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @05:34PM (#1606051) Homepage

    Hah! You've hit the nail right on the head. This is a trend I've noticed so much, and I can't seem to understand why they can't make things more realistic. I avoid computer-related movies b/c they just piss me off.

    Independence day cracked me up particularly because of the way that they uploaded a "virus" to the alien "mainframe".. good thing those alien ships had serial interfaces, eh? :)

    One of my favorites is the movie GUI. Anytime you see people using computers in the movies, the windows ALWAYS zoom, make neato swooshing sounds, the mouse clicks always are audiable (*click!*), etc. etc. Hollywood computers are the most audiable computers, even more than the Game Boy. Being a geek, this ticks me off for some reason. Hell, they usually do such a ugly mock up GUI, I find myself asking "Why don't they just use friggin Enlightenment, it's alot cooler looking than that!"

    The South Park movie made a good joke relating to this, I'm not sure if everyone picked it up. When the kids are trying to look at the Internet porn of Stan's mom, it says in big red letters "ACCESS DENIED" (something you always see on computers these days .. :)). Kyle (I think) then says "I'm going to try to bypass their security code" or something along those lines, typical Hollywood computer hacker line, and presses random keys and the huge "ACCESS DENIED" letters turn to "ACCESS GRANTED". Really funny.

    Also, it gets annoying when computers always talk to their users in movies with that oh so pleasant female voice.

    I always love it when people staring at computer screens don't have just a glow over their face, but the letters on the screen are actually reflecting off their face! That's always funny. Usually this is used when a person is looking at random "code" or something (or even ones and zeros) flying by on the screen Matrix style.

    The list goes on, but I'll let everyone else go off from here.

  • Neverthless, it's been 17 years and they still haven't made a film half as k-rad as that one. Let's review [], shall we?
  • It isn't just us. How many times have you seen a realistic depiction of a lawyer? Do you see lawyers in movies making dramatic closing statements, threatening uncooperative witnesses and either chasing or being chased, or do you see the drudge work? What about doctors? How many times do you see them on the big screen dealing with yet another case of diaper rash or kidney stones? Face it, the truth about what we do (or any other job involving sitting in front of a computer, or most other jobs for that matter) is deeply, profoundly boring to just about everyone.

    That said, I can't stand it when they show those 72-point fonts indicating that Sandra Bullock has broken into whatever, and it really bothers me when they show computers exploding instead of dumping core. Hey, at least they aren't showing spinning tape drives any longer.

  • by Fozz ( 9037 )

    I'm sure that some of you will now chime in and proclaim "Hackers" to be one of the greatest movies of all time. You are entitled to your opinions, but you are also wrong. God, that movie had many elements this article/question was trying to dispel. Yick!

    I certainly don't think "Hackers" was the greatest movie of all time... just an average (teen) film. BUT... I think the people who made Hackers realized they would fail if they tried to portray hacking realistically, so they went for an abstract angle. I really appreciate and respect that.

    I don't believe it is possible to respectfully depict computer programming, hacking, or cracking in Hollywood. Obviously they tried to do that in "The Net" and failed to do their homework- which is always bound to happen.

    Here's why: A realistic depiction of computing, hacking, etc. is not fit for mainstream public consumption. It will just fly over their heads. And if you try to educate the audience, you're just going to bore them to death.

  • What about Pirates of Silicon Valley? In my opinion, that was the most accurate computer-related movie that has ever come out of Hollywood. It did contain a few minor glitches, but it still wasn't all that bad.

    Triumph of the Nerds and Nerds 2.0.1 are also great, although they don't exactly fall into the category of high-profile Hollywood movies.
  • I see a lot of people suggesting Sneakers as a "hacker's movie" and I just have to respond:

    I enjoyed the movie immensely while I was watching it (and I still do to some extent) but surely you all realize that the plot has holes you could throw a dog through.

    Example: When Redford sets off the alarms in the big building we get an outside shot of security cars/vans racing everywhere in the parking lot. Minutes later during the escape we get another wide angle shot of the parking lot: totally empty. They couldn't find the burglar so they all went home?
  • by Crutcher ( 24607 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @05:35PM (#1606057) Homepage
    The problems that we, as hackers (true sense), have with technical movies about hacking are manifold, but boil down to 2: technical inacuracies and overdramatization.

    These problems are not, however, restricted to our little baliwick. And they are not caused by "writers/producers/directors who just don't care", though they are exacerbated by such people.

    The problems are basic ones of the art of storytelling, and I guarantee you, that the further from mainstream experience something is, be it hacking, neuroscience, or astronomy, the more it will be altered in the art of storytelling.

    This is not an evil, because storytelling is about emotion, and emotion is not about technical details. The flashing screens are there because they elicit the emotion in a non-technical audiance that the 5 character error message would elicit in a technical audiance.

    They are called "metaphors", and the form the cornerstone of storytelling, and incidentally, learning. We start with what the people already know, and we add something.

    So when you watch a technical film on a subject which you know something about, ask yourself this: "Was the metaphor of representation good, and did the audiance come away with a better understanding AT ALL of the subject?" If the answer is no, bitch away, but if it is yes, don't critasize the writer/director/producer for poorly explaining a subject in 90 minutes which took you 5 years to understand.

  • My two bits....

    From an entertainment standpoint, I thought "Hackers" was a great movie. And anybody who doesn't think Angelina Jolie is gorgeous needs serious help.

    However, from a technical standpoint, Hackers was lame.... The stuff portrayed was cracking, not hacking. (I'm not a cracker, but a true hacker. I do R&D for a living.) Either way, you can't glamourize those things without lying about them. 99% of the people I know don't really understand my job. So trying to tell them is hard enough. Then they watch what I do.... Ever watched a programmer/engineer at work? 'Nuff said!
  • The most annoying thing about movie computers is the incessant beeping that accompanies every freaking keystroke. Oh god, and the NET what an -awful- movie. Jeeze.

    Grant Chair, Linux Int.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I liked Hackers. I thought it was entertaining. Instead of trying to be realistic - they did the opposite. They showed an almost cartoon like view of computers. I loved the visuals. It was obvious, to me, that the producers/director of Hackers was not trying to make the computer interactions realistic but compelling - they needed to show the emotion involved with hacking.

    The movie covered all the 2600 basics: The infamous red box, Unix, Social Engineering, Dialing for dollars, and getting raided. In the beginning when Crash Override was walking in school he bumped into The Phreak who was making an international call from a school pay phone. They didn't stop and explain he was red boxing but to the people in the know they understood. The Phreak also mentioned NyNEX - anyone not in New York would not know what that was but I did as many as you did also. I knew the whole LOD vs. MOD story we knew they just about controlled NyNEX.

    In The Net they were trying to be realistic and they failed. So in a sense Hackers stayed true to computers not by having realistic computer interactions but by having realistic ideas and by mentioning those things I was able to sit back and enjoy the show. Now in my day, when BBS' ruled, we didn't have the Hacker/Cracker debate so I didn't mind the title.

    So in my opinion Hackers is an excellent movie and I have it on laser disc - not to mention the soundtrack was awesome.

  • And the soundtrack wasn't bad either.

    Ok, the guy was a mental case, but headaches that bad would probably drive me batty, too.
  • Office Space.
  • It's called The Matrix.

    Okay, so it's not a real representation. But think about it. All those scrolling green lines look just like code to the unitiated. A big chunk of the manipulation happens with one guy at a keyboard (or six).

    So how did they make it dramatic? The only way they know how. Turn the code into real objects, like chairs, and old style television, a dojo, a woman in a red dress, etc, etc, etc. Then, my friends, hacking is cool.

    Otherwise, it's just some guy doing bit manipulation in a fairly well lighted room to get the desired result, which is usually a lack of stuff happening. Wow. Big deal. I think I'll go watch something more interesting, like the grass growing.

    Which brings me to my next beef. How come nobody hacks in a well lighted room, a la ST:TNG? Why is it always in some dingy dark hole? Explanations wanted, apply within.

  • It's not really Hollywood, but to me "Pi" captured the essence of geeky devotion to the kind of mathematical problem solving that hacking conveys.
  • 'The Matrix' rocked back down :)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Hear Hear! Here's to sex and violence! Really, who the fsck would want to sit down and watch the *real thing*. Gee, look at that guy typing stuff into a terminal. whoah ... thrills, chills and spills, eh?
  • "We've got to hack into the Microsoft mainframe to steal their Windows NT source code."

    "Why not get the Linux source code instead?"

    "Fine, hack into the mainframe instead."

  • Well, sort of. In the movie Office Space, a realistic looking Mac OS desktop is used in the scene where a virus is uploaded into a bank computer. Only problem was that the Mac OS interface was running on a WinTel box. And winNT was running on the same computer during the remainder of the movie. go fig...
  • by Finni ( 23475 )
    I must say, I've seen an excellent movie, all around and hacker-specific. Pi, from Artisan Entertainment. It's right around 1.5 hrs long, black and white, and absolutely amazing. One of the first films picked up by the same company that then got The Blair Witch Project. It's all about mathematics, number theory, chaos theory, the stock market, and a paranoiac migraine-sufferer in Brooklyn, caught between corporations and Kabalistic Hasidics.
  • The first time I saw "hackers", I squirmed in my seat. I would have gotten up and turned it off, but I was watching it with people who had seen it before, and positively gushed about it.

    Then I realized why they loved it.. It's friggin' hilarious! By the time I got to the scene where they were admiring the girl's "sweet", "cutting-edge" laptop, I was rolling on the floor, right along with my friends.

    Movies like this provide a great source of entertainment, just don't take them so seriously. Or seriously, at all.

  • Next person that says Sneakers will die a horrible and slow painful death. PLEASE read to see if someone else has posted this before you repeat it, lest you be moderated down as "Painfully Redundant."

    That aside, Sneakers is not too bad. I liked it.


    kaniff -- Ralph Hart Jr
  • "The Shining"
    I can see the hacker version now..."All kernel and no games makes Linus a dull boy!!!"
  • If you really pay attenction, it seems like the script to "Hackers" was created by someone who accually knew a decent amount about computers, and or the hacker community. Its just that when he he was done with it, he obviously handed it over to the movie people and never looked back. But seriously, if you pay attention to whats accually going on instead of what they are trying to visually show you, aka igore the stupid simulations, I really didn't see anything in Hackers that was all that bad. Discounting visual/timeline orineted problems where there anything that was all that unrealistic about the movie.... seriously??
  • Damn! I knew it! After all that work, and the network lives only in my mind! I suppose I could call it a virtual private network.
  • by jdube ( 101986 )
    If you want to, you can come film me in my room. You'd get a fat, lazy, and irate C and Perl coder doing nothing but looking at a screen. Maybe the occasional sign of life to water my bonsai tree or get something to eat. Whee. "Hackers" is a good movie - - if you dan't think about haw fake it is. Same with all the other movies. It's just the kind of person (like this REALLY annoying girl in my school) looking at you and asking in awe, "are you a hacker?" It's pretty sad. I was feeling evil one day so I told her I was hacking a Web site by logging on to a random FTP server and typing ls. She believed me. Now I can never leave my house without her asking me about my latest haX0ring exploit. UUUUUUGGGGGHHHHHHHH...
    Ok, now for the POINT of this story: No, mavies won't ever accuratly portray hackers and crackers begaouse it just isn't interesting for the dumbed down masses. Just sit back and relax, for some they may be thrillers - - maybe we can just treat them as comedies? That way there is a REASON the most advanced computers in the world make the noise of a cholichy dot matrix printer (see Alien).

    If you think you know what the hell is really going on you're probably full of shit.
  • Does Hollywood portray anything (person, group, technology) in a realistic light?

    Does the public want Hollywood to portray the world in a realistic light, or do they want movies that support and build on their pre-conceived notions of how life works?

    This is entertainment, remember...

  • by Weramona ( 23619 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @05:57PM (#1606094) Homepage
    I know this is grossly off topic, but I'm in rant mode... We geeks sure are a whinny group. Not all of us, of course. I'm just tired of people complaining about the EXACT same crap in 1/4 of the articles on /.

    "The media is portraying us as something we're not." The media does that to everyone. At least everyone they cover, which discludes 90 percent of occupations. Techies get almost as much coverage as polititions. We should be proud.

    "Non-tech people always use hacker instead of cracker. It makes me feel like crying" Once again, no one cares. The battle is lost, and it was a stupid, pointless battle in the first place. We don't have a copyright on the term, and it happens to be a slang term. In other words, it's meaning is decided by those who use it. And fifty million people are convinced that a "hacker" is someone who breaks into their computer, and causes icq to shit purple rainbows, or whatever the current myth is. Give up, go write some code. If you don't know how to write code, go learn. Stop complaining.
  • Actually, as audiences mature on certain subjects, the film makers are forced to portray the subjects they are covering with increasing realism.

    If you saw a TV show in the 70's dealing in any way with medicine, emergency or otherwise, every problem was treated with lactated ringers (basically a saline IV) and a quick trip to the ER. Didnt matter if it was a trauma, or a medical emergency.

    But the American consumer has grown smarter, and now a realistic portrayal actually has to include the relatively correct treatments for the conditions being handled on TV (ER, Chicago Hope, etc).

    Right now the American public only really comprehends the equivalent of 'lactated ringers' for hacking... given time and more widespread understanding of programming and ocmputers(it will happen!) movie makers and tv show producers will be forced to create more realistic portrayals of situations/problems and their resolutions.

    Will they ever be 100% right? I doubt it. Thats the nature of the beast, though, when it comes to entertainment. And thats also very key to remember: movies seek to entertain, not act as a blow by blow instruction set on how to break into the FBI and have your next door neighbor put on the 10 Most Wanted List cause he called the cops on your last party....

  • by Joseph Vigneau ( 514 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @05:59PM (#1606097)
    One of my favorites is the movie GUI. Anytime you see people using computers in the movies, the windows ALWAYS zoom, make neato swooshing sounds, the mouse clicks always are audiable (*click!*), etc. etc.

    A buddy of mine coined this interface (as seen in Hackers []) "FreeLSD"... :^)

  • It would go against everything that is true of all movies. It would be a documentary. If fictional it would be, well, a work of fiction that looks like a documentary.

    For instance, take a popular hacker issue that involves a big, evil government and has at its heart the invasion of privacy. The bad guys would naturally be the NSA and the good guy could be pretty much anybody who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. For the stupid audiences out there, it would hammer home the point over and over that we have to worry about our privacy now while we still have some.

    This could be made into a dramatic movie, right? And it would probably involve hackers typing away on computer terminals, right? Right on both counts - such a movie has in fact been made and if you've seen it you know exactly the movie I'm talking about: Enemy of the State.

    It isn't a very good movie. It's your typical action plot that involves corruption in high places, and the guy (Will Smith) has a wife that keeps nagging him that we have to worry about our privacy, which makes it very campy. And of course the computer geek is a fat messy Dennis Nedry sort who has a mean streak a mile wide and types fast and has a maniacal laugh.

    That's about as close as it'll get I think.

  • Product placement seems to always drive the computer realism in movies. Jerry McGuire was about to go broke, but he still had that SGI on his desk, as did every secretary in his old office...

    umm, is 3D/OpenGL charting of an athletes salary history really required?
  • The aliens in Independence Day suffered from their decision to rely on security through obscurity. If they had GPLed their software before attacking Earth, they could have had the benefit of improvements submitted by other malicious alien civilizations (for example, better clustering code so that they don't rely on one big mothership). But they insisted on a closed source, proprietary solution, and they got rooted.
  • Oh yeah, Pi rocked my world, too. Very good movie about where hacking comes from, if not too heavy on the details and tools.

    However, as long as we're talking about 'cool hacker portrayals' hasn't anyone mentioned The Matrix? At least it was at attempt to glamorize, and the product placements were all for G-man sunglasses and heavy weaponry, not *sniff* Macs.

    It'll be a cold day in Hell before anything as cool as Pi comes out of Hollywood, though.

    Slashdotter -- daughter of Slash.
    Slash -- guitarist from Guns and Roses.
    Guns and Roses -- cheesy glamrock band from L.A.
    L.A. -- Kingdom of crappy tech movies.
    Crappy tech movies -- topic on Slashdot.
    Slashdot -- where the Slashdotters live.

    It all makes sense now...
  • by loki7 ( 11496 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @06:18PM (#1606137) Homepage
    I read about an old exploit which actually did something a bit like this. I think it was a password hack for TOPS(?). I can't remember where I read about it, but here's the story, anyway.

    The particular system had an OS call (or trap, or whatever) to change privilege levels. The call took a password string as an argument, and reported success or failure. The interesting thing about the routine was that it checked the password one character at a time, from left to right. As soon as it detected an incorrect character it returned a failure code.

    To exploit this, the crackers allocated two consecutive pages of memory, and marked the second page as unreadable, so that a fault would occur if it was read. They installed an exception handler to catch the read fault. Then they stored a single character at the very end of the first page of memory, and passed its address in as the password to the mode change call. If the call failed, then it must have failed on the first character. If the call faulted, then it must have accepted the first character and tried to read the second character from the unreadable page.

    Once you've determined the first character it's pretty simple to move the password back one byte and guess the second character, etc.

  • It was probably just their way of showing the viewer how close the computer was to cracking the key - the more digits it locks, the closer it is.

    Obviously it is bull - if it worked that way the problem of breaking the key would be reduced from (assuming letters and numbers like they had):

    36 * 36 * 36 * 36 * 36 .... NX
    tries in the worst case, to
    36 + 36 + 36 + 36 + 36 .... NX
    tries, for X number of digits in the code

  • I believe that Nova did a 1-hour documentary on Cliff Stoll and the Cuckoo's Egg story. I personally thought it was fascinating, because it showed how a "real" sysadmin went about finding a cracker. They didn't spruce it up at all, they used all the real people, basically recreating the story (from Cliff's wacky perspective).
  • by Lucius Lucanius ( 61758 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @06:32PM (#1606159)
    Hollywood stereotypes everything and everybody in a way that fits into the public imagination. For instance, have you ever seen a Middle Eastern man in a movie who was not a terrorist?

    The same goes for just about every profession and group. The reason they do this is because if you suddenly deviate from the public image, you may end up confusing the dumbed down audience.

    The safe money lies in following the beaten path.

    Here, let's count the stereotypes:

    1) Hackers: nerdy, unshaven guys wearing odd colorful clothes; often wear glasses; weird laugh; stumble and spill stuff. Or.... the opposite extreme - goth freaks with wild outfits and rapid typing skills.

    2) scientists: mostly male, always wear long white coats, glasses. Talk technobabble and look thoughtful. If a scientist is a female, she has long legs which are revealed at some point, and the plot surprises us in the middle of the movie by showing how she is a repressed sexual tigress.

    3) Politicians: sinister eyebrow action and lots of glaring, dark suits, depraved sick lifestyle.

    4) Japanese: funny mannerisms, thick accent, lots of bowing. Skilled at gadgets.

    5) Construction workers/truck drivers: If it's the hero, he's handsome, witty, and a dashing Romeo with the ladies (oddly, he has a sweet tender heart which is supposed to surprise everyone after the depiction of disgusting tobacco habits and prolific booze consumption). If it's not a hero, he's just disgusting and stupid. Lots of body hair, bad clothes. (And geeks think they have something to complain about unfair portrayal? :) )

    6) Women : 'nuff said.

    OK, add your own. Maybe geeks get off fairly generously. Just imagine how much worse it could be if movies showed them as drunken child molesting perverts who live with their parents.

    Oh, one excellent movie for portrayal was Contact - the female scientist (Jodie foster) was quite nicely shown as informally dressed, passionate about science, smart, etc., etc. Big win for astronomy geeks there. I liked this one a lot. It was surprisingly realistic in the dress code. Hardly any difference from Nova documentaries.

  • heheheh, could you imagine an ER or some show made for Hackers/3l33+? hahah..

    'This week on 'Reload',

    Billy the K3d uses mirc, BitchX users send winnukes..

    Ejected from school but beige box the principals line to phreak a bit.

    Dumpster Diving for spare parts..

    Damn, out of solder! The potato cannon will have to wait.

    Pr0nKing sets up his first site.'


  • That was because they were blowing up useless status symbols in defiance of the decadence of a consumer-based culture.

    Don't you remember what the man said?
    "Why do you know what a GUI is? Is it something that's essential to your survival? In ten years you'll be standing here, in leather clothes that'll last you your whole life, watching people typing cryptic commands on text terminals, using computers that don't come in your choice of five fruity colors. You are not special, do not think different, all your bits are part of the same core dump as the rest of us." was something like that anyway.
  • >Is it just me, or has Slashdot gotten really
    >bland in the last 6 months or so?

    Sounds like you're getting bored. Maybe you'll be leaving soon (maybe not I don't know). It'll be sad if you do. I mean you're a prolific writer and I've enjoyed reading your posts, I recognize you as an individual amongst all the humanity here.

    Recognizing someone was never an easy thing to do here, and it's become a lot harder as the months have gone by. This place seems more like the crowd outside an express train at peak hour than any kind of community.

    Once you've or I've gone I'll miss you along with all the other "reconizables", so many of whom I've forgotten. I'll miss the jerks like meept and Ivan the terrible (you remember the GUIs are evil guy?), I'll miss they cynics Zico Knows, Cassius and like you've become, as well the good guys like "This is linux country on a quiet night.." . Because you've all been part of my neighbourhood, I mean I post here but I don't even talk to my neighbours in meatspace.

    I've come to the conclusion that Slashdot is self congratulating and selfish, the HOF (hall of fame) contains no listing of the most recognizable posters, personalities don't count here.

    Anyway I just wanted to say good bye to all those who have left and been forgotten, I wish I could remember you all.

  • It's spelled "Lain"

    Lain is an exceptional series about a girl, some cool tech themes, a lot of surreality, and the idea of artifical intelligence being more viable than natural intelligence.

    Further, Lain's father has a __6__ head display! That is 6 monitors for one machine! He's introduced into the series when he comes home gloating over some new cards.

    Lain is a must see for geeks, from the theme song (which is in english, nicely enough) to the bizzare imagry and Hellmouth themes to the accurate portrayal of computers (albeit futuristic), Lain is a geek's geek anime.

    There is even REAL LIFE C Code in Lain's class. She's learning control structures as the story begins :)

    See it.

    - Paradox
    Man of the C!!!
    perl -e "print join q( ), split(q.z. ,reverse qq;):zrekcahzlrepzrehtonaztey; );"
  • by Gleef ( 86 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @06:53PM (#1606202) Homepage
    OK, the first issue is knowledge. Most screenwriters today have at least used a computer, many of them use them regularly. Directors are likely to be less computer literate. Neither screenwriters nor directors are likely to be truly knowledgable about computers, they just have their focus in a different direction. The good ones will find a technical advisor that can help.

    The second issue is screen presence. Any computer that is used for something real will have more information on the screen than is good for dramatic impact. The viewer needs to be able to quickly find and interpret the information displayed, and an 80x25 screen would just have too much text displayed too small for that (not to mention the 80x50 or 132x60 screens that some of us use). It always looks goofy when they make a computer display have huge characters in a proportionally spaced font, but that's something we're always going to have to live with.

    The third issue is time. The director needs to have some things quick, so they don't get in the way, and some things slowly, to build suspense. This may contradict how long things really should take. For example, in the X-Files, they often will bring a photo to the FBI Imaging Lab; the viewer doesn't want to spend 45 minutes watching the technician line up the right region of the image and trying a few hundred filters on it to extract a good image; they bring in the photo, give the guy a few directions on where to look, and bingo, a clear zoom of a poorly developed area of the photo. On the other hand, in Wargames, when Joshua was trying to crack the code to launch the missles, it took a long time as it solved the problem digit by digit; nevermind that any code that you can solve that way is inherently weak; the ticking down of the digits were used to build the suspense, the climax of the movie just wouldn't have worked if Joshua used standard cryptographic procedures on a strong code.

    The fourth is capability. Look at Max Headroom; they managed to encode an entire human personality, including emotions, into a (presumably digital) computer. If they have that level of computing power, they surely would be able to do other magnificent things with computers, but they generally can't.

    Basically, computer use in movies has been (IMHO) steadily improving, but they will never be perfect. Most movies, even by the most knowlegable moviemakers, will run into a point where they have to decide between art and reality. I don't think I need to tell you that art generally wins, and for a very good reason, it's just more entertaining that way.

  • Hollywood overall hasn't been kind to computers and the people who use them in general, but I'll bet we can come up with a couple of computer-realistic or friendly moves. Lemme see.

    Sneakers was fairly good, with the main stress point being the plot device (a math function that can be used to break military-strength encryption, which isn't really all that unbelievable). The geeks use more social engineering tactics, and the computers aren't all that special or (in some cases) useful. Good emphesis on how the government is interested in reading our information while keeping their mail private.

    Office Space showed the real underside of the computer industry: the intolerable management beaurocracy, the crappy peon work, dealing with moronic coworkers, and the brainlessness of downsizing tactics. Again, nothing unbelievable is done with the computers -- in fact, one of the programmers even writes (gasp) buggy code.

    The Pirates of Silicon Valley. Again, the Industry (and in this case the industry leaders) gets a well-deserved working over. While this is a "TNT Original Production" and not actually an honest-to-god theatre movie, we'll count it in 'cause I liked it.

    Contact had believable computers used for astronomy, and little subliminal niceties like a button that said "Unix Party" scattered around. The idea of HR Hadden breaking into the research computers seemed a bit far-fetched until I considered that he had actually provided those computers in the first place (and thus had ample opportunity to install Back Orifice). Again, not a really computer-heavy movie, but then again I don't think the more emphesis there is on computers the more liberties are likely to be taken with their abilities.

    Clear and Present Danger used a lot of computer and spy tech that pushed the envelope without being unbelievable or unlikely, but I'd sort of expect that in a Tom Clancy movie. After all, if there's one thing that guy does well, it's research. The part where the computer dweeb guessed the guy's ATM PIN was funny, since I know how stupid users are with their passwords (while thinking they're being clever).

    Anyhow, that's my "top of the head" list. The list for "bad use of computers" is easier and much longer, but I'm sure I've missed more than a few easy computer-friendly flicks. Anybody else have a good one?


  • In "Tomorrow Never Dies", when whatshisface, the bad guy, was having his worldwide conference call via a big
    screen display, he was clearly punching keys on the control unit completely at random. C'mon, at least make it

    You have to admit that watching anyone enter commands in emacs or vi can look suspiciously like punching in random keys, especially if he/she is good at it.

  • Few enough people understand enough about computing to truly understand what coding is. My mother still thinks I'm BS-ing her when I say I'm coding. Unlike the work she's seen done in visual basic (gag), I do my work in C, with editor du jour: Vi. She refuses to beleive I do work.

    This is the sort of mentality is what movies have to appeal to. It's amazing how slowly people believe a dull truth, but how quick they are to take to a flashy generalization or outright lie.

    Movies like Hackers and The Matrix are direct results of this. Hackers was a failure, because it was so generic that it lacked any informaition.

    At least The Matrix had spirit, it had style, it made the admission that computer code is pretty much incomprehensible to people who don't know it. That much was ok.

    I suppose we'll see more lousy movies in the future. Grit your teeth and educate.
    - Paradox
    Man of the C!!!
    perl -e "print join q( ), split(q.z. ,reverse qq;):zrekcahzlrepzrehtonaztey; );"
  • And in it, they feature a Mac which, when shut down, reverts to a DOS prompt...?!

    Why do they always have to put together these obviously false screens for movies? Wouldn't Enlightenment be cool enough? :)
  • I commented below, but no one will ever read it down there, so... :-)

    Did anyone notice the Macintosh GUI that reverted to a C:\ prompt when he shut it down? Sheesh.
  • This phenomenon is not unique to computers. How many "cop" movies actually portray police work accurately? Or war? The thing that made an Oscar winner of Saving Private Ryan was simply its faithfulness to real war. Hollywood usually doesn't get it right, but only those with technical knowledge specific to the profession that movies are distorting and oversimplifying know the difference.

    Having some experience in the military, it is easy for me to spot glaring inaccuracies regarding military tactics, doctrine, etc. in Hollywood movies that might escape other viewers. However, I would have little understanding of just how badly the legal profession is distorted, since I have no experience in that field. So I don't complain about the way Hollywood depicts lawyers because I don't know enough to.

    It's not that easy to capture the reality of a profession or lifestyle or philosophy or whatever. At least to do that and sell tickets. If a movie really got to the essence of hacking, would anyone but geeks watch it? And how much money does a wildly inaccurate but non-geek-accessible film make (such as The Net)?

    Maybe that would make a great indie film - "Hacking the Hackers". Something only a dyed-in-the-wool, pocket-protecting-nerd would love. But also would something which lets ordinary people into the world of geeks - "Hackspotting".
  • by crbill ( 47952 )
    Okay, so it's not a real representation. But think about it. All those scrolling green lines look just like code to the unitiated. A big chunk of the manipulation happens with one guy at a keyboard (or six).

    Actually, to more than 177 million people it looks like backwards katakana :-)

  • What I hate about most movies like "The Net" and "Hackers", besides the fact that they are inaccurate, is the way they flaunt their technology.

    Take Hackers for example. I first watched it recently on DVD. It is a must see movie, just because it's so funny.. anyway... they flaunt technology to the point where they are throwing out technical words and even making up some of their own. Pointing out the active matrix display and the 28.8kbps modem on the laptops wasn't necessary for hte movie.

    A computer oriented movie should be sort of timeless. Don't specify out loud what sort of computer it is, don't say it has a 2400 bps modem that kicks ass over everyone elses 300bps modem.

    The computer should be nameless, and the GUI should be generic. Not Windows, not MacOS.

    If they're making a movie for geeks, don't do things like in Office Space... we notice things like:
    A Gateway computer, that boots to the DOS prompt and runs Filemaker or Dbase or something in MacOS.

    Making things more realistic wouldn't hurt at all.

    But to be honest, why would I want to go see a computer movie? Hackers and The Net are good for people not in the industry. I want to see a movie like Fight Club or American Beauty! Sex and Violence is what I want.
  • by ShinGouki ( 12500 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @08:38PM (#1606288) Homepage
    personally, i think the general problem of misportrayl of geekdom in movies, while worse than most misportrayls, is part of a general underlying problem in hollywood moviemaking

    the problem, simply, is that they do not have a clue how to make a decent movie.

    don't misread that. their technical knowledge is unparalelled and their ability to shoot and edit "correctly" is better than people generally can understand. my argument is with the general "feel" behind the movies they make. much like the train wreck that the latest star wars installment turned out to be, 99% of hollywood's movies are overly formulaic (sp?), dumbed-down (think jar-jar), and generally devoid of any kind of creative, emotional, or intellectual content.

    a good example of this idiocy is the recent release "Stigmata". before i begin to lace into it, i'd like to state that i LOVED the idea behind the movie and i tend to enjoy the work of both patricia arquette and gabriel byrne. that having been said...there is a generic trick put into all horror movies that's fairly obligatory. you take the score, the dialogue, and all the incidental sound and slowly turn it down lower until there's barely any sound at all...and when the audience's ears have become used to the low volume make a REAL LOUD NOISE and everyone goes ACK! while this practice is, like i said, fairly obligatory...i do belive every horror movie should have at least one of these...stigmata had three of 'em and it got a little tired after the first one. a movie that had this much potential ingrained in the story and plot shouldn't have to resort to standard sophomoric moviemaking tricks to get a response from its audience.

    another example, from the same movie, is the way they put together the references to st. francis. i believe he was first mentioned in the movie during the conversation in the church between gabriel byrne and the priest who had been excommunicated (i forget the character's name) then, at the end...when byrne brings patricia arquette out of the house wrapped in the blanket, they pass by a statue of st. francis which sits unobtrusively in the background (the statue of the guy with the birds, as st. francis is usually portrayed...we had a statue of him in front of the chapel of the college i went to ;P) and i thought that was just absolutely redeemed the entire movie for me...until she gets up and starts playing with a bird and the camera pans around to shoot her standing directly in front of the statue in the same damn pose as the statue. i very nearly threw up at that point. i don't understand hollywood's fascination with taking excellent moviemaking (that last scene up until the bit with the bird) and completely removing all the subtle emotive hints that make movies great and replacing it all with some moronic overblown in-your-face explanation of things that immediately sucks any and all life out of the movie.

    this is the same general problem that geeks have, only we're the only ones who know about it because nobody else picks up on it. how many of you who saw the movie knew that the statue was st. francis? it's the same general deal with geek stuff. what percentage of the population would know a unix shell prompt from a mac gui? while this annoys me...i would rather see hackers working on old unix or vax boxen (with real damn unix or vax interfaces, none of this gui crap) it probably won't happen anytime soon. what i'm really sick over is the rest of the problem...the utter lack of imagination, talent, and creativity in the moviemaking industry.

    don't take this to be a complete generalization...there are quite a few movies that are absolutely perfect, but, for me, they are generally few and far between....most of the other stuff i can put up with as long as it doesn't really attempt to be creative, i can live with it being a stale rehash of some formula. movies like "12 angry men" which takes place entirely in the jury deliberation room during a trial, or any/all movies made by stanley kubrik or alfred hichcock who both knew exactly what to do, and more importantly, what NOT to do in a movie...these movies, in their perfection, are able to get their metaphors and subject matter across to the audience without beating them over the head with it, a practice which seems to be the recourse of every halfwitted hollywood director/producer/writer/marketing agent active in the movie industry today.

    any spelling errors in the above are also the fault of the moviemaking industry, i swear... ;)

  • by gad_zuki! ( 70830 ) on Sunday October 17, 1999 @09:00PM (#1606297)
    Yes, it is dramatization and cinematography at work here and something completely different. Seemingly, screenwriters and directors just aren't aware of how *boring* it is to watch someone use a computer. It's like watching someone pee, to the pee-er its wonderful, to you its uninteresting.

    Using my piss poor analogy you don't see many pee scenes yet you see tons of 'I'm sitting in front of my powermac scenes.' Literary-type devices are developed to make it work, like the programmer who talks to herself or a big countdown in the background till detonation/end of the world/widget-tension-builder. These are very condescending, and I'm sure non-technical people feel its cheesy too. "Hey my windows98 doesn't do that!"

    The solution is to quit producing scenes watching someone use a computer for dramatic effect. Have the user in the background or off to the side and leave other characters talking about what she is doing, play with time lapse, and let computer use be assumed i.e. "I downloaded the virus last night when the movie was showing you getting away from the terrorists!" They are about as exciting and dramatic as a wrench, to the non-initiated. Thats why movies like Hackers are doomed to look cheesy. Computers only really look cool in alternate-type realities and in the future. Tron tries to play on both ordinary and extraordinary and does really well in one and really bad in another - you can guess which is which.

    Wargames cleverly uses videogames and voice-synthesizing to make its computer fun and easy to comprehend. Take tick-tac-toe, global nuclear warfare and a creepy robot voice and you got yourself a great digital villian. Two points for using a war-dialer and one more point for not making it a dramatic element. Now compare this movie to the ridiculous computer scenes of Weird Science.

    The problem isn't technical expertise vs. the lowest common denominator as much as failing at proper storytelling. Now that computers are 'mainstream-hip,' expect more of this from lackluster writers and directors.

    Not that any of this is new, car chases and crashes still look bad, you can almost see where the wire is connected to the car to pull it away right after the collision and this is after almost 100 years of cars in cinema.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    In all fairness, they were studying that ship in the bunker for forty years or so. They did mention that the ship didn't have power so the gadgets didn't work, but I interpreted that as meaning drive systems, artificial gravity, force field etc. In other words, things using exotic energies transmitted from the mothership. It seems plausible that the computers might use less exotic principles to operate. So the scientists may have had years to learn all about the alien computing platform. That leaves the question of why it was so easy to create a virus that shut down the entire mothership computer system. After all, whatever security holes it exploited was learned from an old example of the technology, so we're talking about a forty year old security hole that hasn't been patched. This is not neccessarily impossible. We don't know very much about the aliens, but what we do know suggests that their technology hasn't changed significantly since the time the Roswell ship crashed. All of the alien fighter ships seem to be identical to that ship, although it is possible that the similarities are only cosmetic. Anyway, the terrible security model of the alien computer systems (if they even have a security model) may be due to some aspect of their society. Perhaps all members of the society are completely law abiding, and not a single one of the aliens would ever try to breach the security of the mothership, making security a moot point. Given the telepathic abilities of the aliens, it seems possible that they could have an operating fascist government with no dissidents. Perhaps they normally only pick planets that are too technologically underdeveloped to use their own tech against them. Maybe our planet was just pushing the limit. That still doesn't explain why they needed to use the powerbook to transmit the virus. If they did understand the ships computer system, why didn't they just use it to transmit the virus? Well, sure, the reason is that Apple paid them money to feature powerbooks, but what's the reason that fits into the story? There are lots of other problems with the story of course. What did the aliens want with earth in the first place, for example? Sure, strip the natural resources like locusts, blah, blah, blah. What kind of natural resources? Obviously energy wasn't a concern for these aliens. If it were a concern, they wouldn't be dropping their huge ships down to the surface of the planet. Maybe the aliens had some sort of technology that allowed them to capture the energy released when the ships dropped out of orbit and re-use it to propel it into orbit later; sort of a delayed bounce. There would still be huge energy losses from air friction. Come to think of it, the blast doors around the central death ray probably took more energy to open than it would take to destroy a city. Why couldn't the aliens have just destroyed things from orbit? They could have just dropped bombs. Human beings are certainly capable of building bombs that will destroy a city while remaining quite small (relative to a spaceship bigger than all the cities of humankind rolled into one, anyway). If the aliens don't need energy or fuel or whatever, then what other resources do they need? Mineral resources to make more ships and repair those they have? Why not just mine from asteroids or from non-populated planets? It would save a lot of trouble. Or, did they want biological resources? They certainly didn't want human beings for anything. Were they going to use earth to grow crops? But, in that case, either earth can grow enough food to feed their whole population indefinitely, or it can't. There wouldn't be any middle ground. Either it was worth their while to come all that distance or it wasn't. In other words, these obviously were not very bright aliens. Obviously it was humankind's manifest destiny to defeat them.
  • The only movie that I think is near from his epoch's reality is WarGames, it's quite good and it shows a very nice position of hacking/cracking.
  • It really bugs me, this unrealistic portrayal of computers in movies. It's just colourless, and lacking in vision. The closest I ever found to real programming, for instance, was the girl using Jurassic Park Unix (in the like-named movie).

    I've been using Jurrassix for years; it's great once you get the hang of it. For a while I found flying around between my file systems a bit tricky, and I had to completely restore my system about a year back after I hit /root at full tilt. But now it's second nature. The process scheduling algorithm works much better now that it can fly around all the processes on my system and bring 'em on in to the coral, and since I got the codes for unlimited ammo in my grenade launcher, we've had no more virus problems.

    You've got to compare that to those old character based OSes. Remember how they used to display about 3 cps, beeping for each character? Then suddenly you'd get hex code scrolling up at lightning speed when the system was about to crash, you'd dive for cover, and *BANG*, the monitor would explode, the keyboard would explode, damn, I've still got scars from that. sed, awk, they were good, but they're just not worth the medical bills.

    Anyway, I hope hollywood can catch up to the real world. Maybe whirling fractals, virtual monsters, zombies, self evolving viruses and mesmerism enabled super AIs don't provide the colour and movement that the average Joe is looking for, but please, the odd VR suit, or maybe telepathic workstations... a little reality is virtually too much to ask it seems.

  • Hacking itself is boring to watch, but I think a movie about the hacker culture can be very interesting -- and I mean real hackers, not the kids you see on MTV's (whatsitcalled) hacker show.

    Hackers are odd people (and I mean that in a good way) and people find oddity absolutely fascinating. The novelty of the hacker lifestyle itself is interesting enough without the need for dramatisation through technical inaccuracy. Everything you need for a good movie is there: the ego conflicts, the ideological wars, the long hairedness, and the dramatic exploits (I'm thinking RMS smashing down a professor's door to get at a computer...)

    I'd personally love to see a movie or some sort of biography of Richard Stallman. RMS has great star potential: my girlfriend, an absolutely nontechnical person, finds him fascinating. If the frigid duo (Steve jobs and Bill Gates) can have popular show made about them, then RMS definitely has the potential to be the star of tommorow.
  • There was a German film last year called 23 [], which despite a few technical inaccuracies gave a compelling portrayal of a notorious group of crackers in Hannover in the late 1980's. The story centers on the life and death of Karl Koch, who together with a few friends broke into some US military and intelligence computers and sold what they found to the KGB. Koch (played outstandingly by August Diehl) fell into a spiral of drug abuse and paranoia -- he was convinced that the Illuminati were controlling him (hence the title "23") and saw conspiracies all around. His obsessions eventually destroyed him.

    Slashdotters might object that this sort of thing feeds irrational fears about the bad guys with modems. But the film made the point that the media wildly exaggerates this stuff -- the info leaked to the KGB was almost completely harmless, and yet was portrayed as huge data hijack. Also, some of Koch's friends served as technical advisers and evidently helped it get a fairly accurate "feel" of what they were doing.

    I think most of you would like it a lot. But alas, the movie business being what it is, there will probably never be a version in English or any other langugae about a paranoid, drug-addicted suicidal hacker.
  • TBS Superstation made a movie called "Fatal
    Error". Talk about really bad movies. The
    plot is a computer virus that has mutated to
    a carbon-based virus and is killing people.
    It's on this week I think. Check it out for a
    few laughs.
  • Agreed. "Joe Beer's" exposure to computer usage on the silver screen tends to be like that in Mission Impossible (yet another Apple product placement... I wonder if they'll all now be iBooks/iMacs/iServers) where cool spinning, flashing, big 3D letters are used to interface to something as mundane as e-mail and search. Even an exciting coding project / hacking feat / etc. will most likely be a bunch of xterms and/or emacs buffers -- not very big-screen-ogenic. Another example that comes to mind: Jurrasaic Park: when's the last time you used a 3D/wireframe navigation of your campus to find a file or password? Bonus bad style marks in that movie for passing off a Quicktime window, complete with moving slider for a live camera feed.
  • For instance, have you ever seen a Middle Eastern man
    in a movie who was not a terrorist?

    BTW, that was a rhetorical question...

    I guess I should have known better than to throw that in the midst of people who'd take it literally and dissect it apart, while providing voluminous data as to examples and historical origins. :)
  • _Hackers_ was an embarassment to intelligent computer users. Sure, the girl was cute, and there were several amusing one-liners. The CG were not too corny. But that was absolutely it. Bad acting, bad plot... I mean, the super-vilain arriving on a skateboard?? "Flu-shot"?

    Take a look at _Sneakers_. With the likes of Redford in the cast, the acting is definitelly on the level. Granted, the plot is a bit fabularized for the common Joe, but the concept is a Holy Grail of computing. It's an intelligent computer movie, that doesn't use the machine as a deus ex machina device.
  • As to the lighting issue... The answer lies at: d=-1

    I would agree that the Matrix is the best of the bunch.

  • Okay, I know that Sneakers was not exactly a spot-on portrayal of hacking, but I found it to be a lot more plausable at least stylistically than that terrible movie "Hackers".

    Sneakers [] might have been more accurate about [whatever], but it was absolutely terrible as a movie! Look, if you want to see a bunch of geeks, just look around. They're not dramatic. They don't lead cinematic lives.

    That's why Hackers [] was such a brilliant movie! They knew which parts to keep and which parts to throw away. It didn't fail to match reality because someone didn't understand what hacking was, it failed to match reality because someone did understand what movies are.

    I don't know any hackers who look like Angelina Jolie. But that's not the point. Their portrayal of Joey shows that they did understand what ``real'' hackers are like -- and they had the sense to realize that a movie full of only that kind of character would be boring as hell.

    (The Net just sucked on every level, though.)

  • To think of it another way, do you know of any good movies about writing a book? I don't mean the action described in the book, I mean the actually process of an author writing.
    Misery []
  • To think of it another way, do you know of any good movies about writing a book? I don't mean the action described in the book, I mean the actually process of an author writing.
    Misery []?
  • One of my favorites is the movie GUI. Anytime you see people using computers in the movies, the windows ALWAYS zoom, make neato swooshing sounds, the mouse clicks always are audiable (*click!*), etc. etc. Hollywood computers are the most audiable computers, even more than the Game Boy.

    Have you gone through the ``special features'' on a DVD lately? The GUIs they use for such things look like computers do in the movies. They've finally managed to put it in people's homes and make it real.

    Computers are eventually going to act like they do in the movies because people expect them to! This is the same reason cell phones look like Star Trek communicators.

  • Yeah, that's one...

    My pet peeve with the movie was his modem setup...

    He's using an acoustic coupler to dial all of those machines (he makes a point of dialing the school's computer with the phone's keypad) but his wardialer can automatically dial 40000 numbers... (how, exactly, does it HANG UP to dial the next number in the sequence?)

    hmm... anyway.. other than that (and the bit about the passkey sequence) it wasn't too bad of a movie... I think I watched it about a dozen times when I was 12 :o)
  • It took so long because Professor Falken spent all his time teaching the damn thing chess and tic-tac-toe, and didn't bother to play a single game of Mastermind! :o)
  • I think the problem here is not so much the inclusion of metaphor so much as it is the gross distortions and inaccuracies that find their ways into movies (and other forms of media) whenever technical or heavily-detailed subjects come up.

    Disney, for example, is famous for taking a good story and distorting it horribly in order to make it into a children's movie. To them, it doesn't matter that the Hunchback dies, or that Hera was the cause of 99% of Heracles' problems, or that the Little Mermaid becomes sea foam at the end of the originals. What matters to them is that the kids get a happy ending, and so the original data gets massaged into forms that those familiar with the originals almost can't recognise. I have friends who refuse to watch Hercules because of what Disney did to the myths.

    Similarly, movies that focus on technical things often distort and misrepresent the actual facts in an attempt to make a good story, and those of us that know how the originals work often find the movies based on them appalling if not downright offensive in their lack of accuracy. I could handle flashing lights and the like if there were some attempt made at preserving technical correctness, but Hollywood likes to treat computers and the Internet as a magic prop: they do whatever you need them to do and require no explanation.

    "Independence Day" has the heroes upload a virus into the alien computer system and disable the shields. The hoi palloi sees this and says "oh, right, ok" and never thinks twice about the sheer absurdity of this proposal. That we could have acquired the level of knowledge that they'd have to have about the alien computer technology in order to do this inside the time alloted is rediculous, to say nothing of the prospect of uploading the same using a Mac Powerbook. :)

    Now, just to show that it isn't ALL bad, there are movies like "Sneakers". It does a very good job of balancing technical detail and user viewability. There're several scenes of encrypted screens of data being magically resolved into meaningful text by connecting a decoder-chip on the fly. No reboots, no hardware manipulation, just attach the leads and voila! The explanation as to what the chip is and how data encryption works, however, is accurate if somewhat oversimplified.

    I think that one could dump all this back into the study of "suspension of disbelief". The typical moviewatcher is not likely to have a high level of detailed technical knowledge, and so on heavily scientific matters, writers make little effort to be technically accurate because it doesn't pay off. This means that, unless the movie is a rare one, those who DO have in-depth knowledge of what's being distorted will find the holes much faster than those who don't. This is true of any field, not just computers.
  • Anyone seen (or heard of) Fatal Error? "TBS's first original film!"

    It's about a computer virus that "escapes" from the computer, and then mutates into a virus that can attack humans.

    I think that pretty much makes the computer scenes from Independence Day look like a Discovery Channel documentary. (I mean c'mon, the aliens COULD be running Windows NT or MacOS! :o)

"my terminal is a lethal teaspoon." -- Patricia O Tuama