Enterprise Software

The good and truly awful celluloid depictions of computers

Ever wonder why your lawyer uncle leaves the room whenever you turn over to Boston Legal? Or why your forensic science cousin can't stand crime drama? You know the answer: it's the horrid trivialisation and dumbing down of an occupation to make it appear entertaining. Sometimes it is so unbelievable that it actually hurts and yelling at the screen is the only outlet.

Ever wonder why your lawyer uncle leaves the room whenever you turn over to Boston Legal? Or why your forensic science cousin can't stand crime drama?

You know the answer: it's the horrid trivialisation and dumbing down of an occupation to make it appear entertaining. Sometimes it is so unbelievable that it actually hurts and yelling at the screen is the only outlet.

Below is a list of the most nauseating moments on film as they depict developers.

The Crap List

  • IP Tracing with Gary Sinise
    As inspiration for this list, it would be wrong not to lead out with the filth that is CSI. Next time you need to trace a route, Gary Sinise endorses dropping the command line tools you've been using for years and use a Visual Basic GUI instead.

    Gary & co do not suggest which form elements you should include — this is obviously an exercise left to the viewer.
  • On-the-fly animation programming
    I'm sure that there is much love in the room for Revenge of the Nerds, but this scene has always bothered me.

    The only way I've ever been able to rationalise this scene is that either Gilbert was able to program the animation on-the-fly without seeing the code he was typing or he was running a prepared program he created earlier with Judy in mind.

    The former is impossible as we hear Gilbert's typing speed thanks to the old school clicky keyboard, and the latter is just disturbing.

    Seeing as how Gilbert is a lonely nerd, I'm tempted to think that it is the latter.
  • A program is a cube
    Whenever hacking raises its ugly head in a movie, you know bad things are about to happen: namely Movie OS. That's the operating system with big red "DENIED" dialogues appear on failed log-in attempts and many other unreal superfluous concepts.

    The highlight of programming Movie OS was Hugh Jackman putting together a worm in Swordfish that has a cube visualisation.



    Also, how many screens does one person need to mirror the same content?
  • It's a Unix system
    It's 1993 and it's unlike any operating system you've ever seen, only one person can identify it — and thankfully she's on the island with you and the cranky dinosaurs.



    Next time you use an *NIX system and you're in a rush, ask for the Jurassic Park file manager over the command line. It's guaranteed to save you from velociraptors.
  • Worst. computer. scene. EVAR!
    Hackers; what a movie — so many bad scenes to choose from.

    The scene that will make any geek writhe on the couch is the following "geek out" over the laptop's innards.
    DADE: It has a killer refresh rate.
    KATE: P6 chip. Triple the speed of the Pentium.
    DADE: Yeah. It's not just the chip, it has a PCI bus. But you knew that.
    KATE: Indeed. RISC architecture is gonna change everything.
    DADE: Yeah. RISC is good.



    Wow. Just Wow. Not even a young Angelina Jolie could detract from such a piece of utter filth.
Not every film that features a computer is necessarily bad. If that were true, science fiction would be in a bad state.

Sometimes we can be inspired by what appears on the screen before us:

The Flip side

  • Minority Report
    If you managed to look beyond Tom Cruise, Minority Report showed an interface that most people wanted then and there.



    It's not all entire fantasy either, as we found out last year.

    It's coming to a computer near you, someday.
  • All voice commands start with "Computer"
    One thing that Star Trek has done in many of its various guises is promote the use of voice-activated interactions with computers.



    Many different companies over the years have tried to reach the level shown in Star Trek, but with Microsoft joining in the voice interaction game, we may see this quicker than many thought.
  • Strange game

    This is far from one of the most realistic movies in cinematic history, but if you ever played an early global real-time strategy game, chances are that it was inspired by this movie or Risk.

  • Old exploits remain
    Sometimes the scriptwriters include concepts that actually involved research or actual knowledge on a topic. Such is the case at one point in the Matrix trilogy where Trinity uses NMap to identify an available SSH service and then exploit it.

    It's a good reminder about not forgetting to patch services — if you don't do it now, it may never get patched (even in the Matrix).

  • It had to be HAL
    Has there ever been a more influential serial killing computer that graces the silver screen? I didn't think so.


There you have it, my initial list of the good and the bad depictions of computers.

I'm sure that there is a killer scene that I've missed, so be sure to add yours in the comments so we can all enjoy it.

About Chris Duckett

Some would say that it is a long way from software engineering to journalism, others would correctly argue that it is a mere 10 metres according to the floor plan.During his first five years with CBS Interactive, Chris started his journalistic advent...

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