Dirk’s Five – Daft Computers

Back in 1982, when THE THING was released, the appearance of a desk top computer was something really special. The home computing boom hadn’t really started, so we were gleefully ignorant about how ridiculousness of the computers in THE THING.

Losing a game of chess to the computer is one thing, asking it the chance of survival of an alien encounter is another thing entirely. The Vic-20-like characters fill the screen announcing their certain doom: “Probability that one or more team members may be infected by intruder organism 75%. Projection: If intruder organism reaches civilised areas … entire world  population infected 27,000 hours from first contact.” Where is it getting its information from? What kind of programme is that?

Film makers have a problem with computers. Usually they appear as glorified adverts, usually for Apple, but they date the film quickly and, I’m afraid to say: They are just not that interesting.

If the plot hinges on the dramatic tension of a computer screen, then the film-maker has to work hard to engage the audience in the slow movement of pixels. Many directors, even accomplished ones, usually result in producing something daft in order to make it more interesting.

Here are some of my favourite silly computers, and one really stupid one:

HAL 9000

1)     DISCLOSURE (1994) is a subtle, tense and brilliantly executed office-politics thriller, much better than you remember – watch it again and you’ll see what I mean. It is completely let down by its overly literal interpretation of the internet as it is depicted as a sort of ‘second life’ where Demi Moore’s face is more static than in ‘real life’.

2) eXistenZ (1999) Cronenberg’s virtual-reality-body-horror features computers made from the contents of a KFC bargain bucket.

3) TRON (1982) If there wasn’t TRON then the world would never have had The TRON Guy:

The TRON Guy

4) MINORITY REPORT (2002) The dream of sedentary middle-managers everywhere, computers that work by waving about like tai chi in the fog that pre-dated the Wii by some years.


5) JURASSIC PARK (1993) “You forgot to say the magic word,” must be the most irritating giffs ever. ‘Amusing’ avatars are one of the annoying ticks of the web #justsaying (that’s another).

Coming soon – next week sees the return of the Dom and a new look for the site!,

4 responses to “Dirk’s Five – Daft Computers

  1. Some things that annoy me about computers in films:

    * ACCESS GRANTED. The hero has to guess a password and gets a series of big red ‘ACCESS DENIED’ messageboxes. Fair enough. But then just before the countdown hits zero he gets it right and it rewarded with an equally big green ‘ACCESS GRANTED’ messagebox. Have you ever seen a computer do this? Why would it waste your time with a message telling you you got your own password right when presumably you’d be expected to get it right 99.9% of the time? It would just take you to your desktop/application start page right?

    * Monitors so bright that they project onto people’s faces. You want to look for the little button with a picture of the sun on it mate.

    * STUPID USER INTERFACES. Voice-operated computers. 3D data visualisations (“It’s a UNIX system! I know this!”). Full-body gestural interactions. The probability of these appearing increases exponentially the further into the future the film is set, but the vast majority of them will never happen. Because of technological limitations? No, because they’re fundamentally shit ideas. Even if the computer could perfectly grasp your meaning 100% of the time, imagine trying to use a voice-operated version of Adobe Photoshop.

    * Enhancing a tiny section of a photo into a perfect image over and over again. Like those blocky things called “pixels” are just a mild annoyance getting in the way of the true image which is hidden beneath them. This isn’t just limited to computers as there’s a particularly bad example of it in the James Stewart film ‘Call Northside 777’. This one is connected to Dirk’s example from ‘The Thing’ in that Hollywood seems to think that computers can produce output with literally no input.

    My favourite computer is the evil WOTAN in the 1966 Doctor Who story ‘The War Machines’ which calls the lead character “Doctor Who” throughout the story. As this is the name of the programme, not the character, we can only assume that WOTAN is so intelligent it can break the fourth wall.

  2. Worse still – monitors so bright that they reflect in their EYES!!!

    Great post – Andy – had me laughing while decorating which is an achievement!


  3. You’d never guess I used to be a software developer would you. I left off word processors all displaying 2 inch-high letters but no cursor and Macs seamlessly integrating with all other systems and file formats as slightly too geeky.

  4. Pingback: Dirk’s Five – It’s Not Paranoia | The Dirk Malcolm Alternative·

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