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Technology In Movies (Part 1)
Rating the Computers, Robots, Programmers, Droids, Hackers and A.I.s

Posted by Charlie Recksieck on 2019-08-08
I've been meaning to write this article since we started the blog. Just some summer fun, rating movies (and tv) based on how well they featured and dealt with computers, robots, machines and artificial intelligence. I am sticking only with movies that I've seen or remember (sorry, Hackers and Terminator: Rise Of The Machines). There is no real, logical way to do these silly ratings. That said, I used a 0 to 10 scale for the following 5 criteria:

* Social Impact - Mostly the movie's popularity and how it affected tech knowledge in the culture.
* Portrayal - Did the computer look realistic? Or did the actor portraying the A.I. sound convincing?
* Science Fact - Believability of the environment or ideas
* As Plot Device - Was the tech a big driver in the plot of the movie or was it incidental?
* Drama or Comedy Factor - If a comedy, was the computer funny? If drama, did it have an impact?

With no further ado, here we go

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Movies Using Computers
War Games - 34 (Social Impact: 7, Computer Portrayal: 5, Science Fact: 6, As Plot Device: 9, Drama: 7)
Andromeda Strain - 27 (Social Impact: 4, Computer Portrayal: 5, Science Fact: 8, As Plot Device: 6, Drama: 4)
Pi - 28 (Social Impact: 2, Computer Portrayal: 9, Science Fact: 9, As Plot Device: 4, Drama: 4)
Jurassic Park - 39 (Social Impact: 8, Computer Portrayal: 9, Science Fact: 7, As Plot Device: 7, Drama: 8)
You've Got Mail - 41 (Social Impact: 7, Computer Portrayal: 10, Science Fact: 10, As Plot Device: 8, Comedy: 6)
War Games was pretty iconic (I can still hear the monotone reading of "How About A Game?") but the 2nd half of the movie devolves into a standard chase movie. The Andromeda Strain is one of two Michael Crichton concepts here in this group, the science is fantastic but the computer part of it is pretty dated and the humans are doing the heavy lifting. Pi is a great movie, but more about a brilliant mind trying to stay sane than about the computer which spits out the troubling number. Jurassic Park is a huge movie and actually one I consider one of the best pieces of entertainment Hollywood has ever made. The evaluation here is more about the computer and software parts (with Newman shutting down the park security system) than the DNA technology. But the biggest surprise here from my goofy categories and ratings is that it's making me consider that You've Got Mail is one of the great movies about technology and people's relationship to it. The movie would not be possible with any other plot device, its portrayal of how we use our laptops is spot on, and while we don't exactly chat like this anymore, we did at the time. Perhaps the most realistic tech moment for me though is when Tom Hanks is reconsidering and editing before pressing send and instead of highlighting with the mouse and deleting, he hits the backspace key about 40 times ... I can relate.

Movies Covering Computer History
The Imitation Game - 34 (Social Impact: 6, Computer Portrayal: 8, Science Fact: 7, As Plot Device: 7, Drama: 6)
Steve Jobs - 38 (Social Impact: 8, Computer Portrayal: 10, Science Fact: 9, As Plot Device: 5, Drama: 6)
The Social Network - 37 (Social Impact: 10, Computer Portrayal: 10, Science Fact: 8, As Plot Device: 4, Drama: 5)
I'm really glad that The Imitation Game got made to make us aware of Alan Turing's contributions to society, but they really took some dramatic liberties with the reality of the codebreaking project and machines - plus, the movie is also about Turing's emotions as much as really being about the technology. The two Aaron Sorkin written movies are terrific about two of the giants of 21st century tech, Apple and Facebook. Yes, we shouldn't accept these as reality (especially Steve Jobs where these conversations never happened) but they really show what it was like to work for these two companies. And The Social Network might actually be the best movie of the past 10 years.

Old School Robots
Rocky IV - 6 (Social Impact: 4, Robot Acting: 2, Science Fact: 0, As Plot Device: 0, Comedy: 0)
Lost In Space - 27 (Social Impact: 8, Robot Acting: 5, Science Fact: 1, As Plot Device: 8, Comedy: 6)
WALL-E - 39 (Social Impact: 8, Robot Acting: 8, Science Fact: 4, As Plot Device: 10, Drama: 9)
Short Circuit - 21 (Social Impact: 3, Robot Acting: 2, Science Fact: 5, As Plot Device: 8, Comedy: 3)
Maybe it's unfair of me to bring Rocky IV into this. The robot maid that the well-to-do version of Rocky buys for his family is not an integral part of Rocky IV. But I bring it up to point out that it really does seem that Paulie is actively engaged in a relationship with the robot maid. Lost In Space is iconic 60's cheesy sci-fi with Robby The Robot from Forbidden Planet finding regular work on a tv series. Yet, he and Dr. Smith as a comedy duo was the engine of the only good moments of a hugely popular show (ask your grandparents). I normally don't love Pixar or animated movies but if WALL-E doesn't actually move you then you're emotionally dead. Short Circuit (Ally Sheedy's 2nd appearance on this list) had its day in the 80s despite being racist. The comedy from the robots was awful, but I'm giving some "Science Fact" cred to the portrayal of the robotics lab. I was thinking of including Chappie but just use the Short Circuit ratings, it's the same movie.

Ridiculous Machines
George Michael Sports Machine - 13 (Social Impact: 2, Computer Portrayal: 0, Science Fact: 4, As Plot Device: 1, As Sportscaster: 6)
Batman (tv series) - 23 (Social Impact: 8, Computer Portrayal: 3, Science Fact: 0, As Plot Device: 2, Comedy: 10)
Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory - 23 (Social Impact: 9, Computer Portrayal: 6, Science Fact: 1, As Plot Device: 4, Drama: 3)
Time After Time - 30 (Social Impact: 4, Computer Portrayal: 5, Science Fact: 2, As Plot Device: 10, Drama: 9)
Speaking of "ask your grandparents", go Google the "George Michael Sports Machine". It was a sports highlight show out of the Washington DC area that got picked up nationally even though they spent 15 of their 30 minutes on the Washington Redskins (or only 10 if it was NFL off season). When the confusingly-named George Michael pressed the giant button to roll a clip, it was always great unintentional comedy. Batman was always incredibly ironic, satirical and tongue-in-cheek but the funny, specific names labeled on the "Bat-Computer" from episode were comedy gold. There was a ton of fanciful technology in Willy Wonka, none of it realistic, but it's a big driver in the movie and I have to give points to the supercomputer which looked exactly like the tape-drive monstrosities also found in IBM at the time (1971). I'm including the Malcom McDowell, Mary Steenburgen 1979 film Time After Time remixing H.G. Wells, Jack The Ripper and The Time Machine. Not very representative tech (although a time machine doesn’t exist, so ...) but points for looking like Victorian-era technology.

TV/Movies About Software Design
Silicon Valley - 40 (Social Impact: 4, Computer Portrayal: 8, Science Fact: 10, As Plot Device: 10, Comedy: 8)
Tron - 28 (Social Impact: 6, Computer Portrayal: 3, Science Fact: 5, As Plot Device: 9, Drama: 5)
Office Space - 35 (Social Impact: 9, Computer Portrayal: 7, Science Fact: 9, As Plot Device: 4, Comedy: 6)
Antitrust - 6 (Social Impact: 0, Computer Portrayal: 2, Science Fact: 1, As Plot Device: 2, Drama: 1)
I've got a good friend who's a player in Silicon Valley (the place, not the series) who lets trivial differences from the real world spoil his enjoyment of the series. Nevertheless, Silicon Valley the series is an alltimer about the workplace, typical attitudes of software designers at all levels, and almost all of the comedy comes directly out of plausible, software-driven premises. I'm a fan. As for Tron, if you've seen the original, you're probably scoffing at the interior fantasy world of the computer. Keep in mind, though, the portrayal of the offices and practices of ENCOM which actually have a lot to say about the corporate software environment, I'm dead serious. Office Space only has a low number in that it's less specifically about software business than it is about work in general. I have a hard time believing anybody is reading this article and has not seen it, but if so, then please watch Office Space ASAP. Antitrust, even more than Disclosure, is probably my least favorite movie in this post - cynical, stupid, unrealistic and undramatic.

It’s getting a little long here, so we’re breaking this up into two parts. Click here to read Part 2 and more movies.