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On Hollywood and the Portrayal of Computers

Cliff posted about 15 years ago | from the breaking-the-stereotype dept.

Movies 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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Only geeks would watch (1)

Sarek (20380) | about 15 years ago | (#1606017)

If they made it so they didn't mutter what they were doing only geeks would know what was going on

Uhm... (2)

Black Parrot (19622) | about 15 years ago | (#1606018)

> '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?

Sometime in the future (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606019)

I wonder if early hollywood films portrayed cars as steel-toothed monsters? I think the novelty will wear off.

nah (2)

cheese63 (74259) | about 15 years ago | (#1606020)

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.

Well, look at it this way (3)

ElDaveo (90306) | about 15 years ago | (#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.

Short answer: no. (5)

198348726583297634 (14535) | about 15 years ago | (#1606022)

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...

Not Likely (2)

TDR-X (47001) | about 15 years ago | (#1606023)

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.

WarGames nitpick (2)

CrusadeR (555) | about 15 years ago | (#1606024)

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..."

How to make this stuff interesting. (2)

e-gold (36755) | about 15 years ago | (#1606025)

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.

Sneakers... (1)

hyperion (7943) | about 15 years ago | (#1606026)

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!

Programming in not a visual activity (1)

malpern (8521) | about 15 years ago | (#1606027)

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.

the problem with computers is.... (3)

ywwg (20925) | about 15 years ago | (#1606028)

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!

Difficult... (1)

Paulo (3416) | about 15 years ago | (#1606029)

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.

Movies great (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606030)

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."

Same old, same old (1)

else...if (100943) | about 15 years ago | (#1606031)

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.

Accuracy is not Hollywood's purpose in life. (1)

marcusb (12958) | about 15 years ago | (#1606032)

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.

Re:Only geeks would watch (1)

GrassyNoel (85887) | about 15 years ago | (#1606033)

Exactly! Make it so!

Try "Sneakers" (1)

DarkSpirit (24081) | about 15 years ago | (#1606034)

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. :-)

What is reality in movies? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606035)

> Is Hollywood ever going to portray computers > (and the people who use > them) in a light that's closer to reality? Name me a profession which Hollywood portrays in a light closer to reality. Hollywood portrays characters in the way that the movie needs them to be portrayed. And if that means the janitor is going to be a world karate champion software hacker who writes entire virtual reality engines in a weekend, then so be it.

It can be done... (1)

chris.bitmead (24598) | about 15 years ago | (#1606036)

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.

what's dramatic? (2)

timster (32400) | about 15 years ago | (#1606037)

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.

There is a fairly decent hacker movie... (1)

TonyThompson (11889) | about 15 years ago | (#1606038)

Called 'Sneakers'... Not bad at all...

Re:Programming in not a visual activity (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606039)

Sure. "Misery."

Same with police, or anything... (3)

drenehtsral (29789) | about 15 years ago | (#1606040)

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 don't think so... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606041)

Forget it!

Hollywood do not have a mission of *informing* the people about things, but only to make $$$$ on them.

Hmmm... I think a good question would target the Media, and not Movies... oh, but wait... media, advertisement, money,.... oups ;-)

Coverage (1)

Mark F. Komarinski (97174) | about 15 years ago | (#1606042)

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.

Is coding flashy??? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606043)

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

How about 2001? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606044)

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..)

nope, not in this lifetime.... (1)

Amerikan_Science (100236) | about 15 years ago | (#1606045)

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.. (1)

freakho (28342) | about 15 years ago | (#1606046)

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.


Re:WarGames nitpick (1)

rlkoppenhaver (101366) | about 15 years ago | (#1606047)

And If so, why did it take so long to crack the whole code?

General Masses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606048)

I have yet to see this movie but I can probably guess what it was like...Sure it would be great if hollywood would come up with a "techie" movie that would keep me on my toes, but how many "ordinary" people would like? How many people would even understand it? Very few probably. It all comes down to making money, and when it comes to techie movies, lame effects, flashing lights and media buzzwords sell.

What is needed.... (1)

DarkBlack (5773) | about 15 years ago | (#1606049)

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 (1)

tzanger (1575) | about 15 years ago | (#1606050)

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.

Other examples. (4)

nebby (11637) | about 15 years ago | (#1606051)

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.

Re:WarGames nitpick (1)

mutagen (30942) | about 15 years ago | (#1606052)

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 (1)

geophile (16995) | about 15 years ago | (#1606053)

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.

Hackers (2)

Fozz (9037) | about 15 years ago | (#1606054)

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.

It's been done (1)

Intermod (13276) | about 15 years ago | (#1606055)

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.

Sneakers? (1)

FascDot Killed My Pr (24021) | about 15 years ago | (#1606056)

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?

Metaphors and Subject Translation (5)

Crutcher (24607) | about 15 years ago | (#1606057)

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.


The Net (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606058)

You were watching "The Net" with **Sandra Bullock** and all you could think of was hacking?

Re:Sneakers... (1)

c-A-d (77980) | about 15 years ago | (#1606059)

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!

Beep beep beep beep. (1)

chrisd (1457) | about 15 years ago | (#1606060)

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.

Hackers - an entertaining movie (2)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606061)

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.

I rather dug PI. (1)

Traivor (4994) | about 15 years ago | (#1606062)

And the soundtrack wasn't bad either.

Ok, the guy was a mental case, but headaches that bad would probably drive me batty, too.

Re:Programming in not a visual activity (1)

mutagen (30942) | about 15 years ago | (#1606063)

"The Shining".

Two words (1)

Evangelion (2145) | about 15 years ago | (#1606064)

Office Space.

They have. (2)

DebtAngel (83256) | about 15 years ago | (#1606065)

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.

Movie portraying spirit of hacking (2)

rheo~umbra (57843) | about 15 years ago | (#1606066)

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.

Cracking is BORING (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606067)

Seriously, its no small feat to bore a programmer, but cracking is just dull. I recall recently reading the detailed description of how the guy who won the PCWeek challenge cracked into the CGI script on the Red Hast box, and I nearly passed out. Yawn. Crack attempt #12241 didn't work so lets try again. And then once in a blue moon you may actually get into the machine. what happens now? I don't know about you people, but most computer systems are really uninteresting to computer has all the neat software I like, and it doesn't take me 3 weeks to log in. For someone who doesn't see the appeal of doing this in real life, I find it hard to imagine how a realistic movie about crackers could possibly be entertaining. Programming is fun because you get to create something, watch it evolve and benefit from your work. Cracking is both monotenous and pointless. In conclusion, I'm not going to pay $8 to see some kid in his basement eating doritos for 7 hours while waiting for portscans to complete. Give me Sandra Bullock anyday :P. -W.W.

You don't even have to show the act (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606068)

Why the act of hacking? As long as you can represent the end result who cares? Simple example: Kid hacks computer system, show kids face, show kids fingers on keyboard, show kid get some coffee or some Jolt. Show kid type more. Cut to next scene, show someone getting a call at 4am and the guy on the other end saying "our systems have been hacked, get down here right away" There ya go Hollywood, now you can send me a big check.

Note the word 'CODE' in coding (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606069)

Its CODING... writing something that is completely and totally unintelligible to the heneral public and discernable only to those who are trained in it. Would you want to watch a movie about the nuances of quilting? Hell no. Movies aren't about accuracy in the slightest, they are about glitz and glamor. Why? because you, you personally, you the one who is asking this very question, would not pay to go see something that is boring. If you WANT to see a guy slumped over a keyboard at 4 o'clock in the morning wired on caffeine, well, you have to start going to see boring movies. Boycott The Matrix and rent movies about washing machine repair or fishing videos. Esperandi

Re:Well, look at it this way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606070)

Noooooo! You mean Get Smart wasn't real!?!?

Re:Note the word 'CODE' in coding (1)

Matt-69 (50913) | about 15 years ago | (#1606071)

'The Matrix' rocked back down :)

Re:nah (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606072)

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?

Anime (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606073)

Just yesterday, I picked up a new Anime called "lian". I had no idea what it was going to be about. I was just trying to get into some new anime... something different from the typical Macross type stuff. Well, it has programming, hacker, and net themes in it. It is a very abstract series. If you are interested, then take a look at the official USA site for it: .htm And if you want to get the DVDs, then head on over to or some other similar site. If you dig anime, and you want something that is nice and "hacky", then check out _lian_.

Stealing sources (2)

Imperator (17614) | about 15 years ago | (#1606074)

"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."

Here's one movie that portrays real computers... (1)

SaxMaster (95691) | about 15 years ago | (#1606075)

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...

Pi (1)

Finni (23475) | about 15 years ago | (#1606076)

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.

Until then, appreciate the camp value (1)

freakho (28342) | about 15 years ago | (#1606077)

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.


Re:Try "Sneakers" (1)

kaniff (63108) | about 15 years ago | (#1606078)

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

Re:Programming in not a visual activity (2)

Mr. Slippery (47854) | about 15 years ago | (#1606079)

"The Shining"
I can see the hacker version now..."All kernel and no games makes Linus a dull boy!!!"

Re:It can be done... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606080)

Books are not movies...a lot can be done with the written word that is well nigh impossible with the film medium. couple that with the fact that movies made for mainstream audiences need to be dumbed down by default, and it probably can't be done

Re:Coverage (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606081)

Actually they made a short film based on "The Cuckoo's Egg" I watched in one of my comp science classes a few years ago.

Re:Note the word 'CODE' in coding (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606082)

"discernable only to those who are trained in it." Funny, I remember coding when i was in my pre-teens. Needless to say, no one had or was training me at the time.

Ever see clerks? (nt) (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606083)

nt = no text

Re:Sneakers... (2)

MindStalker (22827) | about 15 years ago | (#1606084)

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??

"essentially abstract" (1)

Imperator (17614) | about 15 years ago | (#1606085)

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.

What the hell are you thinking? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606086)

I don't know why you would think that there is anything special about programmers that would make Hollywood portray them accurately. As a rule Hollywood doesn't portray anything accurately, and even if they ever manage to you can bet that it was just dumb luck. To ask if "our world is something that is just beyond their comprehension" is just moronic. Of course it is, but so is just about everyone elses world as well. Again I don't know why you would think that there is anything special about the computer world that makes it any more or less complex than that of other peoples.

look. (2)

jdube (101986) | about 15 years ago | (#1606087)

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.

Jurassic Park (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606088)

I remember the girl in Jurassic Park saying "that's a UNIX system" (I watched the film in german translation, they didn't even pronounce it correct) and then she plays with some sort of 3D-filemanager. Well, on my desktop SGI and Linux systems. While the SGI machines deliver COOOOOOOOLEST 3D-gfx, none of the systems has such a (dumb IMHO) filemanager. come on. hollywood must dramatize. they do everything in this manner...

Sphere (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606089)

As for a movie that actually used real computers, I think Sphere showed some examples of shell scripting on a *nix system. Remember the scene where they are trying to translate what the computer says into English ?

A possible way to show it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606090)

Here you go, all you film-makers to be, I'm giving an idea away for free:

Main dramatic scenes in both crackers rooms and sysadmins room. Make sure the crackers have a non-trivial plan, so the audience can see problems coming for the sysadmins. Picture the sysadmins/crackers (must be more than one, so they have to communicate) during the heat of the attack. Intense activity, short phrases passed back and forth. Have a manager-type (boss/villain) of some kind on each side so they'll have to explain some of it, but most of the drama can come from the sysadmins/crackers expressions rather than flashy screens. Cuts back and forth between crackers and sysadmins to see how they react to each others actions.

I'm sure there are some monitoring tools out there (Cheops or hopefully better) that would give the impression of everything just tumbling down around the sysadmins heads.

Would take a helluva scriptmaker, and I'm not expecting to see this happen, but I'm sure it can be done. Best example I've seen is Contact You get the intensity, the tenseness, from the way people react.


Portray ANYTHING? (1)

Bilbo (7015) | about 15 years ago | (#1606091)

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...

E (1)

frantzdb (22281) | about 15 years ago | (#1606092)

In terms of cool looking computer UI in movies, translucent text windows are frequent, as well as far out window shapes. Clearly Hollywood has found Enlightenment.... and Eterm.

Remember, the UI in a movie is *never* inacurate. They just have an E theme you dont.


Hackers (1)

smark (103759) | about 15 years ago | (#1606093)

Geez, I thought HACKERS was pretty realistic.

Haven't we all been the victim of that rabbit virus (flu shot! flu shot!) and surfed through three dimensional operating systems over a 14.4 modem connection by typing commands such as "fly up" and "fly down"?

Who cares? (5)

Weramona (23619) | about 15 years ago | (#1606094)

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.

Re:Well, look at it this way (2)

wrenling (99679) | about 15 years ago | (#1606095)

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....

Sounds like something I'd pay to see _OR_ do... (1)

Superdave (8390) | about 15 years ago | (#1606096)

I'd love to participate in that. :)

FreeLSD (4)

Joseph Vigneau (514) | about 15 years ago | (#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"... :^)

Re:Beep beep beep beep. (1)

jeckman (79505) | about 15 years ago | (#1606098)

I've always been more annoyed by the elaborate regalia that accompanies incoming email- three d rotating letters flying around the screen, chimes, animation showing the envelope opening, etc.

Hollywood may not be able to get hacking/cracking, but couldn't they at least use real interfaces running on real computers, rather than paying some graphics video-production outfit to make one up?

Closest they ever came.. (1)

nebular (76369) | about 15 years ago | (#1606099)

Closest the ever came to portraying the true nature of a programmer was in the matrix. Asleep at the keyboard, works in a cubicle and answers to an executive who doesn't know jack. But you notice the movie hardly focuses on that. Just think about a movie about a person staring at a screen for hours on end. Doesn't matter what's on it, they won't be interested

Never (2)

grappler (14976) | about 15 years ago | (#1606100)

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.


Re:Well, look at it this way (1)

spencerogden (49254) | about 15 years ago | (#1606101)

I think this goes for any topic, not just career's. If someone is knowledgble in a particular topic, and they see a movie about it the exprience is usually negative. As a sailor and a computer guy I find movies done on either topic to be extremely painful. Suspension of Disbelief is just impossible when you know how fake everything on the screen is. I'm sure every CIA, Police Officer, Doctor, ect.. feels the same way during just about every movie. Oh, and cowboys too...

Re:Two words (1)

poohbear_honeypot (9704) | about 15 years ago | (#1606102)

PC Load Letter? What the fuck does that mean?!?!?

Joseph Foley
InCert Software Corp.

Re:Movie portraying spirit of hacking (1)

jdube (101986) | about 15 years ago | (#1606103)

Pi is one of the best movies I have ever seen. Unfortunatly, you need a brain to even begin to grasp what it is about, so it wasn't that popular for the public. I omn it and have watched it at least 10 times and I still get something new out of it each time. It is a perfect exemple of why real (or near-real) computing isn't publically interesting.
If you think you know what the hell is really going on you're probably full of shit.

Re:Movie portraying spirit of hacking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606104)

I would just like to say that as a mathematician I felt the movie Pi was a very accurate portrayal of mathematicians. Myself, as well as most of the other mahematicians I know, are just like that.

Cuckoo's Egg (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606105)

I'll tell you exactly how they'd do it.. they'd concentrate on Stoll's personal life. They'd concentrate on his relationship with his wife and his actual day job.. you know, the stuff that he was supposed to be doing when he WASN'T tracking the ~75 cent accounting error. ;-) They'd concentrate on his hippie style and his dealings with the spooks. Now that I think of it, it'd probably make a pretty decent movie. The only sad part is they'd replace the printers sitting around on the floor logging all the net activity with some high tech 50" monitor, alarms, and stuff that is completely made up just in the name of catching the audience's eye. In the end, I think it'd make a better documentary than an entertaining movie.

My vote goes to _Sneakers_ (1)

dmiller (581) | about 15 years ago | (#1606106)

I loved this film - a neatly plausible plot (with a decent basis in reality), interesting characters (again based on real people), aesthetic cinematography and a good story with lots of wit and "in-jokes".

Aliens story (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606107)

Did anyone ver read the article years ago in Omni about the aliens landing sequence? If you've seen the movie you'll remember the wiremapped terrain on the computer screen when they were landing. Apparently, this guy (I can't recall his name) was contracted to render some sort of computer output to be played on the video screens in the cockpit. The results were "too real" the producers said, no one would believe it was a computer. So the guy went back and dumbed it down to the wireframe that is now in the movie. That my friends is how concerned Hollywood is with portraying computer accurately. P.S. - If I see one more movie where the text output scrolls slower than I can touch type and beeps with every letter I am going to go postal!

Re:Not Likely (2)

dourk (60585) | about 15 years ago | (#1606108)

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?

It *can* be done. (1)

webslacker (15723) | about 15 years ago | (#1606109)

Anyone saw Sneakers? IIRC, all the monitors ever displayed was text and some vector graphics (OK, and one splashy graphics scene when their phones were being traced), and that was a pretty damn exciting movie. The excitement really came from what the audience knew that the characters were breaking into, and knowing how much trouble the characters could get into, not from what was being displayed on the screen.

Hang in there. I'm sure some screenwriters will read this slashdot article and catch on. =)

Re:Well, look at it this way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606110)

Hey, wait till they make a movie on medical billing! The suspense never stops in our office ; )

- Rei

My beef with movies... (1)

mrsam (12205) | about 15 years ago | (#1606111)

Off the top of my head, here are some of the things you see all the time that just make me squirm, and want to get up and leave.

  • Typing without a cursor. In almost every movie where the lead jock/babe tries to hack into the bad guy's system, they enter the password/access code/whatever one character at a time, AND WITHOUT A CURSOR. They show a blank screen with some lame password prompt, and each time you hear them peck at the keyboard, the next character comes up.

    You can almost visualize the producer running over budget and hiring some high school kid to throw together a half-baked simulation of a logon screen, and that's what you get.

  • After dialing in over a phone line and breaking into the super sekret computer system, they pull up a screenfull of text and fancy high resolution graphics ... in less than a second.

  • Who can forget Richard Pryor's elaborate computer program in one of the early Superman movies, where he supposedly had a bank's accounting program skim fractional interest into a slush fund account. He accomplished this amazing feat by simply sitting down, and typing the following command into a blank screen: "Transfer all half-cents into my account." Presto, he's a millionaire.

  • 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 believable.

  • Independence Day. Enuff said.


Re:Other examples. (2)

Imperator (17614) | about 15 years ago | (#1606112)

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.

Re:Not Likely (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 15 years ago | (#1606113)

The computer that the hot chick in "hackers" used was a P6 (about 3 or 4 years before the P6 was know to ppl in real life) inside a Mac laptop running some sort of unix OS. Can you say oxymoron? -- Jason

Pi the movie (1)

Baccus (101036) | about 15 years ago | (#1606114)

This film is not directly about hacking but does show a mathematition programming on a text terminal in a dark room. It even has the whole cpu / mb everywhere thing that us overclockers love to see

Re:Here's one movie that portrays real computers.. (1)

ajlitt (19055) | about 15 years ago | (#1606115)

When one of the characters gets angry at the "fax" machine, he shouts "PC Load Letter? What the hell does that mean?!". The POS HP LaserJet 4M printers around here all spout "PC Load Letter" to the display when it's out of paper. I believe it stands for Paper Cartridge Load Letter (size paper). Not particularly the most realistic portrayal of computers, IMHO, but at least something was gleaned from the Real World(tm).

When I think about it (1)

nebular (76369) | about 15 years ago | (#1606116)

The only movie I can think of in which a hacker/cracker portrayal would be amazing would be a movie based in the future (ie. a Neuromancer movie) because whatever is around right now seems boring because it's mundane and normal. however if you made a movie about the modern programmer in, say the 30's, then they would seem amazing (using typewriters to crack governmant security).
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