Monday, July 21, 2008

My Kung Fu is Best

As I'm diligently removing spyware from a client's teenage son's computer today, that son's little brother (about Alex's age) sidles up to me and asks, straight-faced, "Do you have hacking skills?"

Resisting the urge to break out laughing, I answer, "Yeah, I suppose I do." He seemed genuinely impressed. He's of that great age that still has wide-eyed wonder sans irony or sarcasm. Thinking about that humorous exchange carried me through four more tedious clients.

Keeping in the computer milieu, I thought it might be interesting to try and name my top 5 favorite "computer" movies of all-time. To qualify, they have to be either about computers or have a computer as a main character. Be sure to note that these are my 5 favorite and not necessarily the 5 best. Some of these are decidedly bad movies with inaccurate computer portrayals but have a certain campy charm. And some movies (like the Matrix) rate higher here than they would against more important movies (2001) in a normal list I would do because they fit more with the computer theme. Any movie with a hacker will automatically rate higher.

1. Matrix - A seminal groundbreaking movie with cool effects, kick-ass kung fu, just the right amount of philosophy and religion, and a creative plot. And a movie couldn't really be any more about computers than the Matrix.

2. 2001 - Not really about computers but has, arguably, the most memorable computer character ever in HAL 9000. This is the oldest movie in the list and has certainly shaped pop culture and people's views of computers and artificial intelligence.

3. War Games - Again, very dated, but that can be forgiven since it came out in 1983. Like 2001, it helped to give the public an idea of what AI could mean.

4. Hackers - This is one of those cheesy ones I was talking about. The way in which they choose to visually show hacking is embarrassing. Fisher Stevens is laughably bad. And the movie seems terribly dated now. Despite all that, I still get a kick out of it. Hackers has just enough references to UNIX and phone phreaking to give it a little old-school hacking cred. Plus it's got a couple of my favorite actors in Jonny Lee Miller (of Trainspotting fame) and an early Angelina Jolie. These two would later marry in real-life.

5. Pirates of Silicon Valley -- This was a TV movie, but was actually pretty good. It was about the early days of the PC and had Noah Wyle as Steve Jobs and Anythony Michael Hall as Bill Gates. Not a particularly cinematic or crafty movie, it's merit has more to do with giving a pretty accurate history.

You could make a case for some others, like:

The Net
Total Recall
Enemy of the State
Johnny Mnemonic

But some of those are just plain bad (The Net, Johnny Mnemonic), or that I can't remember (Tron, Sneakers), or just use computers as a plot device, not as a focus.

"The most likely way for the world to be destroyed, most experts agree, is by accident. That's where we come in; we're computer professionals. We cause accidents." -- Nathaniel Borenstein

"A computer is like an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy." -- Joseph Campbell


CyberKitten said...

Hackers was fun but *very* silly, both The Net & John Mnemonic were terrible. Sneakers is *very* good as is Enemy of the State (IIRC).

The best computer film has got to be The Matrix though... [grin]

dbackdad said...

I liked Enemy of the State quite a bit and re-watched it a few years ago (talked about it here). It was eerily prescient of the whole post-9/11 mindset.

It's a better movie than everything on my list but 2001 and the Matrix. The only reason I didn't include it was because I couldn't decide if it was enough about computers.

I really need to watch Sneakers again. It's been a long time and I can't even remember what it was about.

Laura said...

I LOVE Wargames. It's so campy and totally outdated now, but it's fun. We were watching Alien a couple weeks ago and laughing at how terrible the "high tech" computer on the ship looked now. Amazinge the difference 30 years can make. In another 30 years, we'll probably be laughing that the Matrix looks awful by comparison too.