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I was watching Battlestar Galactica and realized the Cylons have Windows on their baseships :). So I thought that may be it could be a good communicty wiki question, like the badastronomy movie reviews but for IT.

What pitfalls have you found on movies or TV series (screenshots or concepts)?

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37 Answers 37

How is it possible that we had two references to CSI, but none to NCIS?

Every single fricking episode has Abby and McGee cracking a custom encryption algorithm read from the magnetic platters of a hard drive that has exploded leading to an anonymous blog that they backtraced through a GPS-enabled cell phone to perform a voice analysis on static that reveals that a train was running through a shipyard where the terrorists are hiding a bomb, at which point the team runs down to their high security room where they can see live infrared images from a satellite of the bad guys hiding in shipping containers.

I want to punch the TV!

My wife makes me leave the room whever NCIS comes on now, I don't know why.

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I am not allowed to roll my eyes or sigh heavily in exasperation anymore while those shows are on, so I end up leaving the room. –  Scottie T Jun 26 '09 at 15:18
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NCIS is like the ultimate in Magic Computer VooDoo land. The number of things they can allegedly do with an IP address alone is enough to make make me froth. –  Laura Thomas Jul 28 '09 at 20:41

I find it amazing they can talk in normal voices in a fully loaded data center and not even a wisper of server can be heard.

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Yes, exactly. I've mentioned this several times! –  Mark Henderson Jun 21 '09 at 22:30
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Sorry, I can't hear that comment –  Chopper3 Jul 16 '09 at 10:32

That would have to be either:

The scene in Jurassic Park where the girl opens this 3D operating system GUI and goes "Oh, it's UNIX"

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFUlAQZB9Ng

-- or --

The scene in Robocop 3 where this 12-year-old alley kid plugs her little "My First PC" into an ED209 combat robot with an alligator clip and "hacks" it to be "loyal as a puppy". Hmmm.. Obviously the concept of "hardened military systems" is a bit misunderstood in Hollywood.

Video: At 8:00. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9QB8v4YopQ

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Dude, that's Jurassic Park one is exactly the one I was just thinking. –  squillman Jun 21 '09 at 14:37
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To be fair, the 3D GUI in Jurassic Park was produced by SGI. Of course, it was written in response to the film. –  Scott Pack Jun 21 '09 at 14:38
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In the german dubbed version of Jurassic Park 1 she even pronounced it more like "oonix" - i.e. the german voice read and pronounced the work as if it was a german word instead of an english word. This combined with the funny 3d-filesystem is even more funny. Unrelated, but my second favourite scene from that movie is the T-Rex, catching up to a car, being visible in the rear view mirror - together with the sticker "objects in rear view mirror are closer than they appear". Hillarious - and even persiflaged in one of the ToyStory movies. Memories... –  Olaf Jun 21 '09 at 15:16
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In all fairness, Jurassic Park did have legit MacOS and UNIX interfaces -- the UNIX interface was of the *Step type, if I remember right (except in that one scene, which existed already as an SGI demo app). –  Andrew Scagnelli Jun 26 '09 at 14:53

How about:

  • the entire duration of "The Net" with Sandra Bullock...
  • CSI NY's "GUI interface using Visual Basic to track the killer's IP address" (fantastic)
  • Nearly every bit of computing in 24 (viva Jack Bauer)
  • Nearly every OS ever shown on film.
  • In Clear and Present Danger when Petey uses a tape library to hack Ritter's password (although I did guess my brother's VM password first try based on common information that Petey rattled off in this scene)
  • Of course, "It's a Unix system. I know this!" in Jurassic Park (already been listed, but well worth additional mention)

Here's a decent top-10 list of general screw-ups

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Somewhat related: Digital Video Recorders that use a PC for the recording process.


SCRIPT SCENE:

The crime lab, or a national security room, take your pick. Something horrible was recorded on a DVR system and a hapless lab tech is performing a playback to see "what happened".

ENTER PRIMARY CHARACTER #1:

So, you find anything?

TECHIE:

Yeah. (puts down some other distraction) Look at this.

TECHIE PROCEEDS TO PRESS MEANINGLESS BUTTONS ON A KEYBOARD AND MOVES A MOUSE. IF WE ARE LUCKY THE MOUSE MOVEMENT ACTUALLY CORRESPONDS WITH SOMETHING ON THE SCREEN, OTHERWISE WE'RE JUST LEFT TO THINK THAT YOU CONTROL EVERYTHING THROUGH TYPED COMMANDS THAT HAVE NO DISPLAY

PRIMARY #1:

Ok....

PRIMARY EXAMINES VIDEO. SOME KEY PLOT-POINT OCCURS.

PRIMARY #1:

Hold it!

TECHIE THEN PRESSES THE SPACEBAR AND THE VIDEO PAUSES. OK, THIS IS AT LEAST SOMEWHAT IN LINE WITH SOMETHING LIKE WINDOWS MEDIA PLAYER OR QUICKTIME OR VLC...WAIT A MINUTE, THEY DO ALL PLAYBACKS WITH CONSUMER-GRADE SOFTWARE?

PRIMARY #1 (LEANS FORWARD TO SCREEN, OR IF SCREEN IS AN IMPOSSIBLE WALL PROJECTION, OR WORSE, A HOLOGRAM, WALKS UP TO IT, AND WITH DRAMATIC FLOURISH:)

Enhance resolution!

TECHIE THEN DOES MORE MEANINGLESS KEYBOARD TAPS AND THEN DRAWS A BOX AROUND THE PICTURE TO ENHANCE. THE PICTURE "MAGICALLY" ZOOMS IN AND THROUGH THE MAGIC OF BEING ON A COMPUTER, "ENHANCES" TO AN EVEN FINER RESOLUTION, REVEALING THE PERSON'S IDENTITY. OF COURSE THE DIGITAL RECORDING HAS ANALOG LEVELS OF RESOLUTION, NEVER SUFFERS FROM ARTIFACTING, ENCODES INFINITE LEVELS OF RESOLUTION DESPITE USING A FIXED CCD, USES A MAGICAL VIDEO COMPRESSION CODEC THAT ALLOWS YOU TO STORE SEVERAL DAYS OF NON-STOP VIDEO ON A SINGLE COMPUTER, ETC.


This is what drives me nuts. We actually have people at work that think this kind of crap is real. They'll come in and ask for an extract from the DVR system that covers the parking lot (it's an industrial area next to the train tracks, so we get some issues inside the lot from time to time), and then after we find the snippet of video they're looking for, they'll ALWAYS ask, "can you get a close-up of that"? They're fixed cameras with CCDs that are only slightly better than NTSC resolution....

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Speaking of resolution reminds me of the not-so-old Quantum of Solace Bond movie. Notice the mobile phone camera captures at the (was it open-air too?) auditorium. At least they decided to show the captured images with lots of pixalization. But, then, a face-recognition in moments! Is that even comparable to the hay-stack-needle example? –  nik Jun 21 '09 at 16:58
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OK good, that pretty much just saved me from typing out my "CSI: Miami" rant. :-) Nicely said. –  Chris_K Jun 21 '09 at 21:16

I had a hard time keeping myself on the seat when Goldblum infected the mother ship in Independence Day. Here is interesting reading on that.


Then there is the Mission Impossible phrase referring to the new ultra-fast Intel 200 megahertz Pentium 6 chip! it was so anti-climax for the scene. They could have just skipped referring Intel in any way. More entertaining notes here in a 1998 article Computer Movies Suck.


But, moving ahead to another Tom Cruise movie, Minority Report. Lots of interesting interfaces. The most popular being the glove controlled 3D Gesture interface. And, we have moved towards the Sixth Sense since then.

That was after this and related blooper notes, though.

In Minority Report, the characters operate a complex information space by gesturing wildly in the space in front of their screens. As Tog found when filming Starfire, it's very tiring to keep your arms in the air while using a computer. Gestures do have their place, but not as the primary user interface for office systems.

Many user interfaces designed for the movies feature gestural input and 3D data visualizations. Immersive environments and fly-through navigation look good, and allow for more dramatic interaction than clicking on a linear list of 10 items. But, despite being a staple of computer conference demos for decades, 3D almost never makes it into shipping products. The reason? 2D works better than 3D for the vast majority of practical things that users want to do.

3D is for demos. 2D is for work.

Ok, I am not inviting a discussion on that last point here! Bear with me for another para.


It would be fun calling these movie bluffs and looking back (say some 40 years from now?) to see which ones we thought were possible and which actually happened. Remember StarTrek communicator devices? (yeah, we can still do only international calls with our mobile phones). Wonder when the first Star Ship One mobile call will be made.


Ok, this can get quite catchy! these things just keep popping up in my mind. Wee bit distracting I'd say...

I really liked the movie DejaVu. That's how these things should be handled. Take them far into specialized physics. At least I will probably not be around when things are proved one way or the other, and probably not have too many strong doubts (pushing towards hilarity) on the concepts driven around. Look at the alternate reality of the new StarTrek. I am all for it!

But, its still enlightening when someone pulls a blooper in there. I always felt (note I did not say 'knew') that laser pointer into the system display was a bit over the edge. I absorbed it looking at all the hard-science sprinkled in that movie. But, guess what. Not everyone will take these things as lightly -- and, I quote,

Doug Carlin, played by Denzel Washington sits watching this electronic expression of the past, and shines a hand held laser into the apogee of the stable wormhole, and the person in the past sees it, but the very act shuts down the hardware. A laser is no different from the ambient light and albedos of the room as they all sit there watching the wormhole. It is just a bit stronger and focused. Either the subject in the past can see and hear and smell them or it (she) cant. A laser pointer would not pierce the veil there, and besides…it was a video screen replete with character generated text from the computer interface it ran through whenever the camera angle on the past (or more accurately, the stable wormhole event horizon) was moved or expressed at another location. It was all computer controlled and therefore, impossible to pass light or information to the past, even if it was possible under different circumstances in that story and idea of a wormhole.

I enjoyed seeing the movie and then, I enjoyed reading this article.

There is a certain amount of entertainment in identifying some of these bloopers,
while there are others that choke you to near death with their hilarity.

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I always thought the best comment on "Independence Day" was "Luckily the aliens had GCC installed". –  Ronald Pottol Jun 21 '09 at 22:47

Every week (without exception) on CSI:Miami.

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How about ANY of the CSI shows. I don't think star trek has the tech those guys have –  Jim B Jun 22 '09 at 2:11
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I actually cannot watch any of the CSI's anymore. Somehow a crime fighting lab of super geeks that specialized in EVERYTHING (including computer hacking) is too much to take anymore –  SpaceManSpiff Jun 22 '09 at 10:30
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@LEAT: I know what you mean. The skillz on NCIS are similarly over broad. But I'd much rather watch it than CSI, even with its magic tech-stretch and occasional evil Bond-villain silliness. –  Dennis Williamson Jun 22 '09 at 13:32

Just about any movie or serie where they can zoom and/or sharpen a cctv tape.

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I COMPLETELY Cracked through this whole scene of Swordfish (ROFL), check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rUY8HysBzsE

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Hugh getting a blowjob while cracking the 128-bit encrypted DoD database with gun to his head, as well as dancing around while creating his "worm". Gold. –  LiraNuna Jun 22 '09 at 8:56

Terminator Salvation - Fortunately the Terminator bikes have a USB slot, good to see the standard is still going 20 odd years from now!

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I've always thought of the CSI series as being the worst offenders when it comes to unrealistic use of technology. I think this episode where they zoom in a surveillance video to get the reflection from a person's retina (!!!) really takes the cake.

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Someone at work showed me a clip from The Wire where they were using Windows Search to locate a suspect in the police database...

The Matrix also has a load of BS for hacking; with the exception of the scene in Reloaded where you see Trinity using nmap, and then an SSH exploit to hack into the powerplant.

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The Wire actually did computers a lot better than most movies and TV shows, including the shipping container-tracking program in the second season that looked exactly like every goofy LOB software package out there with graphics created by developers instead of actual graphic artists. –  phenry Jun 21 '09 at 16:43
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The Wire goes out of it's way to portray the local police department as low-tech, so scrounging up off-the-shelf software to get something done isn't such a stretch. –  Hirvox Jun 23 '09 at 5:18

Hackers. Everybody's computer has big letters and wierd graphics, and within a few days they hack the FBI, the city police, and nearly every service in the city.

Oh and countering a cookie monster virus by giving it a cookie.

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Eagle Eye.

GLaDOS-like computer controlling EVERYTHING that is connected to electricity around the world in a matter of nano-seconds.

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Not completely along the line of your question, but:

I really liked the StarTrek movie where they come back to the 1990's to take back some whales and someone (damn - who was it - it's so long ago that I saw it) from the team sits in front of a Macintosh (early version), stating "Computer..." when he's told that this is the 20th century and he'll have to use the mouse.

Needless to say, he shrugs, holds the mouse in front of his mouth and dictates: "Computer..."

Now if I only could remember the context of the scene after all this time... someone help me...

Edit: Thanks to the commenters for bringing my memory back on track. I promise, I won't forget again. Especially now that I've fount this story on slashdot: Transparent aluminium is 'new state of matter'. And - yes - it really is this scene

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Scotty is presented as an expert on material science or something at a company and is trying to enter the formula for transparent aluminum into the computer. They need this to transport the whale into the future. –  SvW Jun 21 '09 at 15:30
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I remember this, because they kept talking about "aloominum" where as we pronounce it "Aluminium". I had no idea what they were talking about until someone explained it (I think I was still pre-teen) –  Mark Henderson Jun 21 '09 at 22:32
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"How do we know he didn't invent it in the first place?" –  Matt Simmons Jun 22 '09 at 19:52
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Why does everyone always say they needed transparent aluminium to transport the whales? What they did was barter with the acrylic glass company (Plexicorp) by giving them that formula they got regular thick acrylic glass walls in return that they used for the whale tanks... ^^ –  Oskar Duveborn Jun 27 '09 at 21:21

It's funny how they have the so-called "hackers" crack into just about any system in under 5 minutes by just pressing some keys. And that still sounds realistic compared to those VR things they use to open 3D boxes and move stuff around to make their way in.

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I like the growing trend for unworkable IP addresses in things like "24", where at least one of the octets is >255. Presumably it's the TCP/IP equivalent of a 555 phone number, but I don't know what was wrong with any of the three perfectly good private address ranges that we already have. Talking of 24, I wonder how Bruce Schneier feels about one of his encryption algorithms apparently having a back door in it.

And yes, the seamless connection from Jeff Goldblum's laptop to the mothership in Independence Day was a little hard to take. Although...AppleTalk being of alien origin? Makes a lot of sense.

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I seem to recall him posting when it came up: schneier.com/blog/archives/2009/03/blowfish_on_24_1.html - He took the high road and didn't comment. –  Matt Simmons Jun 22 '09 at 19:54
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That's because Bruce Schneier is awesome - see schneierfacts.com for details. –  RainyRat Jun 22 '09 at 22:36

Someone already mentioned the Jurassic Park "It's a UNIX system!!" scene. However, there's at least one more epic computer fail in that movie. There's a scene where they're supposedly watching a live feed from a security camera. However, the "live feed" is obviously a simple quicktime movie and the little progress bar at the bottom is moving steadily from left to right.

Interestingly, I just did a Google search to find more info on it and someone mentioned this very gaff over at Stack Overflow.

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I have literally never seen an accurate representation of computer use in tv or film.

I've worked in 'intelligence' and NOBODY had 3D wireframe maps of buildings to track 'hostiles' as red dots and good guys in green though.

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The ONLY (yes ONLY) accurate representation of computer use in and tv or film that I know of is the way they hacked a computer in the Matrix reloaded movie. it.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/05/18/1416213 –  Niels Basjes Jun 22 '09 at 18:57
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really? NONE that are accurate? stackoverflow.com/questions/175462/… –  warren Sep 10 '10 at 13:16

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swordfish_(film) is a funny example with one nicely animated explosion scene and lot of computer "hacking" crap.

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Laser printers and fax machines sound just like dot-matrix printers from the 1980s!

When a computer is running some heavy calculations (such as cracking a password) that involves animation on the screen showing the calculation in progress, the computer make beeping and chirping sounds.

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How about the Live Free or Die Hard scene in the NSA datawarehouse where the bad guy is jacking into this super secure mainframe using fiber optics, copper ethernet AND BNC coax!

Or as others have mentioned how MacOS integrates perfectly with alien technology in Independence Day...

The money transfer screens in XXX on the Sony Vaio Picturebook running "MovieOS"...

The super secure mainframe in Mission: Impossible that has an easy to use GUI to make it easy for Cruise to access while suspended from the ceiling...

There's the scene in Firewall where Ford is talking about putting in a Cisco firewall ACL to block a hack attempt and the words coming out of his mouth sound realistic but if you watch what he's actually doing it is totally useless...

I'm surprised no one has even mentioned any of the hacking scenes within Hackers or Sneakers... loads of laughs in any of them...

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Life Free Or Die Hard where they copied something like 500 TB in a few minutes using an external USB drive. Riiiiiiiight.

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What would you expect a Cylon Basestar to run on, Linux, Mac OS X? I know if I'm working on wiping out human existence I want an OS that doesn't use command that sound like speech disorder symptoms (grep, sed, awk, and du).

Plus I need text to speech and surface technology on my baseship - Windows is what I'd run.

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BeOS all the way –  Chopper3 Jun 21 '09 at 14:32
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Given the impending doom of robotic overlords, you would actually think the opposite - commands would devolve into a shrill-sounding modem modulation in pure binary. I guess there's an advantage to being a human and using cumbersome audio emissions. +1 for speech disorders ;) –  Avery Payne Jun 28 '09 at 0:24
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frankly, the Windows machines were just for show - the real OS turned out to be a hot brunette floating in a milk bath. Now that's more like my idea of a UI. –  gbjbaanb Jul 19 '09 at 14:36

WarGames, seriously. I mean who ever used a physical phone as a modem and large black plastic squares to use a computer? I mean come on!!! That's almost as crazy as paper cards with various holes in them used to program on computers! How crazy is that?!?

That's all, play through....

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Using a computer on TV or in a movie uses an incredible amount of typing, even for GUIs.

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I find it astonishing that windows and GUI have got so much of a spread when almost every screen character seems to be a mouse denier. And then, when they type (and they type a lot, apparently blindly, because you see no feedback/echo on the screen at most times), they seem to neither use the space bar not modifier keys, despite beeing in a GUI, not a command line interface.

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"Ill make a GUI in Visual Basic to track an IP Address in Real Time."

I love that quote, anyone else know it? CSI technology, making me lol since 2000

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Any call to Penelope Garcia on Criminal Minds that gets answered in 30 seconds no matter how complex the query would be and how much research would be required.

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I'm going to add another one, while not a pit fall I think it's the classic line of all time, sorry if I get it a little off, been a while since I've seen the movie.

"Oh a mouse...how quaint"

Anyone name the movie? :)

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Is it Stuart Little? –  Joseph Jun 21 '09 at 14:17
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if you meant 'Keyboard. How quaint' it was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. –  Chopper3 Jun 21 '09 at 14:34

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