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Where Are All The Good Computer Movies

April 22, 2021

This is NOT why I became an actor!

– Sir Ian McKellen on filming the Hobbit entirely with a green screen

When filming the original Star Wars (yes, I know it’s called Episode IV, but it wasn’t when I saw it in the theater back in 1977) George Lucas and crew spent hours setting up an elaborate set with models in order to film a few seconds of a rebel ship exploding. The entire movie was filmed the old fashioned way.

Today, computers are as much a part of movies as the actors and the music. All the interesting backgrounds in your favorite Marvel movie, or Lord of The Rings movies are all done via computer, after the acting is complete.

That’s what caused “Gandalf” to complain. The actors who played the dwarves in the film are average height, as is Sir Ian. To make the dwarves appear short and Gandalf to appear extra tall, McKellen had to do all his acting alone with a green screen and the dwarves were added later.

So, CGI, or computer-generated imagery, is the norm for movies today. But, what about movies that feature computers? They are much tougher to do.

It’s easy to pick movies that do a poor job of featuring computers and technology.

It’s easier to set a story 500 years in the future than it is to get it 50 years.

– Sir Arthur C Clarke

Too often movies that try to focus on technology end up aiming too low. Think of the Star Trek universe. When the original series was released September 8, 1966 it was way ahead of its time. The technology was mind boggling. It should be. It represented the year 2265.

Today? That technology isn’t so futuristic.

Here are just a few examples of the cool Star Trek tech that we ended up with courtesy of

  • Tablet computers
  • Tricorders
  • Flip communicators (and wearable badge communicators)
  • Hyposprays
  • Voice interface computers
  • Transparent aluminum
  • Bluetooth headsets
  • Google Glass
  • Portable memory
  • GPS
  • Automatic doors
  • Big Screen displays
  • Real-time universal translators
  • Teleconferencing
  • Diagnostic beds

Had Star Trek been a series interested in highlighting cool computers, it would have hopelessly been outdated. The fact that it’s not is because the series wasn’t about technology. Technology was used to tell us stories about human interactions. Star Trek addressed many social issues of the day. It managed to skirt the censors by making the racism about aliens. Literal aliens, not just people in the United States illegally.

Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek imagined it as “Wagon Train to the Stars.” In other words, timeless stories set somewhere else.

Stories have to be able individuals. It’s hard to make computers, real computers, very interesting. I once saw a report about a show where a network was going to broadcast a real hacker breaking into a real computer system.

I’m not sure it ever broadcast. Because, unlike the movies, hacking is boring. Finding an exploit involved typing the same command over and over while changing a single parameter.

I have 13 children. The last two are about to graduate from high school this year. Out of 13, only 1 has decided to follow me into IT/Computer Science.

Apparently he didn’t pay attention to Dad’s job as carefully as his siblings did growing up.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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