I went and saw Swordfish last week. In the film, John Travolta plays a terrorist named Gabriel who is extraordinarily wealthy, good-looking and smart, but couldn't get a better job than as an "evil mastermind". The film opens with Gabriel in extreme close-up, discussing his theory that Hollywood movies are no good because they lack realism. This diatribe promises the movie we are about to see will break from this tradition, and will offer realism.
Gabriel's plan is to liberate a sum of billions of dollars he knows has been left idle in a US government bank account for decades. To do this, he recruits the services of the world's best hacker. Enter our hero, played by Huge Ackman. To prove his worth, he is told to crack into the Department of Defence computer within 60 seconds.
What follows is a classic demonstration of the "actors can't type, but gee they can bash a keyboard" thing so often seen in Hollywood movies. Hugh's fingers fly about the keys of his Dell laptop, often visibly pressing two or three at a time. When we see the screen, it's obvious Jackman, or whoever is really generating the display, only knows the "ls" command in Unix. And we know for sure then that realism is not an option.
Later, when we see the super-snazzy computer Gabriel has lined up for our hero to use, it's also a Dell. All of the computers in the movie are Dells, by the way. Very realistic, as you know, because you never ever sell any computers. As our hero assembles the "worm" he intends to use to pull off his scheme, it's represented onscreen not as lines of code - which would be visually uninteresting, although realistic - but as a sort of floating polyhedron with cubic bits drifting into place like some bizarre four-dimensional Tetris. Right.
The piece de resistance comes when the government spooks are spying on Gabriel's compound. We watch as the key players in the film gather on the balcony. Then the image quality changes, as a honeycomb pattern of round pixels appear, signalling a shadow mask, indicating that we are, in fact, watching proceedings through a video monitor. The camera pulls back to confirm this, as the events we have just been watching continue to play out on the screen. The screen of a laptop. With an LCD. Which doesn't have a shadow mask. Indicating that the people who made this movie know nothing about technology.
I've seen less realistic movies than Swordfish in my time, but few of them have opened with such a promise of realism, and then so thoroughly disappointed.
Matthew JC. Powell remembers when they used to make good movies. Reminisce on email@example.com