When it comes to the depiction of computers, the Internet, and other things technology, Hollywood likes to play loose with what’s plausible or even possible. Of course they have their reasons, often either for dramatic flair or to hold the plot together. Sometimes however, entire plots are centered on a bad understanding of how computers work. Today we will take a look at the worst of the bunch, movies that any IT tech would scoff at. Suffice to say, spoilers are ahead.
The Plot – Keanu Reeves stars as Johnny, an information courier implanted with a device in his brain that allows him to store data. Supposedly, this method is more secure than the Internet for transmitting data, because in the future, they do not have flash drives. As part of the plot, he must expand his storage capacity from 80 GB to 160 GB in a procedure that erases much of his memory and could potentially kill him. Then he is told he must actually hold 320 GB of data. By the end of the movie the data is removed and he regains his childhood memories, including that of his family.
The Fail – So our hero Johnny manages to store 320 GB despite only having a storage capacity of 160 GB because apparently it is only a soft limit. Just like how a 180 GB SSD can actually hold 320 GB if you really try. In addition, if you constantly overwrite data on a real hard drive, you’d likely never recover the original data.
The Plot – In this not so true-to-life movie about hackers, cliché depictions of computers and hacking abound. It tells the story an 18 year-old super hacker that was somehow able to hack into the NYSE at age 11. He and his ragtag group of hackers somehow manage to unite every single black hat, grey hat, and white hat hacker in the world to take down the villain, a supposed super hacker.
The Fail – One of the most annoying aspects of the movie however, was that the computers used non-sensible graphical user interfaces (GUIs). Trying to get any actual work done with one of the computers in the movie would have been difficult at best, as the way the data is displayed makes little sense. But at least they had glass panels for computer screens that scrolled random text.
The Lawnmower Man
The Plot – Very loosely based on a short story with the same name written by Stephen King, the movie Lawnmower Man heavily features virtual reality. Jobe, a mentally handicapped gardener gets transformed into a genius through a combination of medical drugs and virtual reality sessions. During the course of the movie, Jobe continues to develop mentally until he possesses telepathic and telekinetic abilities—because VR can do that. The second half of the movie deals with Jobe wanting to become a digital entity and get revenge on the corporation that created him.
The Fail – The VR scenes are represented awkwardly with puzzling CGI effects and the plot is driven by a lack of understanding about how computers work. Also, like other movies about computers in the 90s, hacking is visualized with CGI sequences rather than actual code.
The Plot – Swordfish is another movie about hacking that doesn’t quite understand its subject matter. In Swordfish, Hugh Jackman played Stanley Jobson, a hacker forbidden from using a computer because of a hack he executed years past. However, Jobson is forced at gunpoint to work for a shady undercover anti-terrorism cell.
The Fail – In one scene, Hugh Jackson’s character goes to town on the keyboard while screens constantly update and change. We do not see any actual typing done. What is actually shown at one point during the movie however, is a 3D rendering of code—supposedly a worm.
The Plot – A movie filled with misinformation about the Internet, things break down fairly quickly—starting when our heroine Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) receives a disk with a link to a website. She then jets off to Mexico for a vacation, where the disk gets stolen. Then after a botched murder attempt leaves her in a coma, she wakes up to realize that her entire identity has been altered. The rest of the movie involves Bennett discovering a conspiracy and evading cyber criminals, finally ending with the conspiracy exposed.
The Fail – The issues with The Net start as soon as Sandra Bullock’s character gets the floppy disk, which contains a backdoor and a link to website with a link leading to a hidden log on page. Why exactly would a webpage have an actual clickable link leading to super an important login page? Would it not be easier to have it reachable only by knowing the URL? Another issue is that the hidden antagonists are actually able to alter her identity in every database in the world, no matter where the servers may reside.
But the movie did get one thing right at least. You can actually order pizza online, without having to leave the house. Surprisingly, a direct-to-video sequel was made in 2006 titled The Net 2.0.
The Plot – In the latest James Bond film, MI6 and its agents are attacked around the world and Bond must find out who is responsible. He finds out that the attacks were orchestrated by an ex-MI6 agent looking for revenge against M. Bond then must defend her against the ex-agent’s attacks until they can bring him down.
The Fail – The most recent James Bond was actually a good movie—except for the part of the villain’s scheme that depended on Bond and company connecting a computer to the MI6 network in order to access the data on it. That entire scene abounds with hacking faux pas you’d expect to find in older movies. For instance, like Swordfish, hacking is represented as a three dimensional model that constantly morphs on the screen. In reality, trying to use such an interface would more likely cause headaches.