Is Modern Technology Taking Away The Thrill And Drama In Movies?

from the period-pieces dept

Textually points us to a movie critic speculating that so many new thriller movies are set in the recent past because of the lack of technology like mobile phones and the internet. The reasoning is a little thin, as it basically says that since things like mobile phones make tracking people easier and the internet makes researching people easier, it takes away much of the drama. Of course, that ignores the many movies out there these days that use those technologies as a part of the plot. The article does mention these movies, but brushes them off by saying that people are sick of “technothrillers,” without offering any actual proof of that. It does, however, have this fantastic line: “The public doesn’t want to see bad guys get hacked. They want to see bad guys get whacked,” making me wonder if the entire thesis was built around that line. It’s an interesting thesis, clearly, but there doesn’t seem to be very much to support it other than the fact that there have been a few recent movies set in the 60s and 70s.

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Comments on “Is Modern Technology Taking Away The Thrill And Drama In Movies?”

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Rational Beaver says:

Good call on the Bourne Ultimatum. Live Free or Die Hard, on the other hand, had such stupid and completely ridiculous computer “hacking” that it made me want to cry. That was one film that should have just stuck with the whacking (which was great).

Taking out a helicopter by jumping a car off of a toll-both = visually believable and awesome. Hacking a mainframe using a nice looking palm pilot and your leet hacking skills = obviously impossible and dumb.

In conclusion: It’s not that I don’t like to see hacking, it’s that my suspension of disbelief doesn’t go as far when computers enter the picture.

Ima Fish (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“obviously impossible and dumb.”

But is this really any different than all of the sci-fi space movies where the actors would jump in a rocket ship and be on a different planet within hours (minutes of screen time). As of now that’s impossible, but we accept it to move the plot along.

Maybe it’s just that we know more about technology nowadays. In the 50s (when all the space movies started being made) how many people really knew it was impossible to travel so quickly.

Because I agree that I found the hacking dumb in Live Free Die Hard, I’ll sum up by saying that the main problem is that those producing, directing, and writing movies are ignorant about technology. If you fudge what’s possible in technology to move the plot, you really should be more aware of the limits of the technology than your audience.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am certainly sick of movies where the ‘new’ technology drives the plot – especially when that technology is blatantly wrong, magical, and overwhelming.

Sooner or later, people who write the movies will be more comfortable with the new technologies, and the films will catch up. I mean, we’ve been basically telling the same stories now for a couple thousand years or more – the technology is just a backdrop. Some films are already dealing with this well – the others will catch up. The integrated those new fangled tele-mc-phones and horseless carriages into the stories, they’ll get cell phones and the interweb sooner or later.

Thom says:


With a background in the sciences I’ve always been prone to spotting the scientific and technical hiccups in a movie as I imagine most reading this blog have.

I think this suggests a part of the problem. It’s not modern technology itself that takes the thrill away but that the pervasiveness of some technologies have better educated the public at large on things that can be done. Many technical plot lines are readily identified by moviegoers to be patently and blatently in error.

Another part is that many of us, weepy women excluded, don’t want to see movies that reflect what we see every single day in our lives. We want some escape. Science. Magic. Future. Past. Show me anything but what I see in my home, my job, my trip down the street.

Future is getting harder to represent because science fiction technology either closely resembles what we have already or it’s a leap that’s already been taken and seen in any of a 100+ movies or Start Trek episodes.

Past is easier to represent because, aside from invoking memories of forgotten times for the older generations, it brings something new and unseen for the younger ones.

comboman says:

What takes away thrill and drama in movies...

What takes away thrill and drama in movies are trailers that give away the entire plot!

Back to the point of technology in the movies, I watched “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” recently and if Caller ID had existed in the 80’s, he wouldn’t have gotten away with half the stuff he pulled in that movie.

Anonymous Coward says:

I tend to agree in principle with the author, except the root of the problem in movies is that the writers do not know enough about technology, especially cutting edge technology to know the difference between what is realistic, and what is just possible, but stupid. Just imagine a movie about FBI wire taps that get cut off because the fbi forgot to pay the phone bill. Who would believe that?

Cory says:

Re: A related but still off topic rant

Although problem I had with the plane in Die Hard 4 was that if you take out the lift fan the plane won’t start spinning like helicopter, it will go nose over and pitch straight into the ground.

It also would have made for a better scene since it would have flung Bruce Willis off the plane instead of spinning to where he could hop off.

Eliot says:

I think many are forgetting...

A good movie is a good movie. Either the moviemaker can incorporate technology into the movie in such a way that we can suspend our disbelief and enjoy the movie, or its used as a plot device that sticks out like a sore thumb. Technology isn’t the issue, the issue is the number of people who make movies that suck.

Old Guy says:

Tech in movies

Technology as part of of movie plot is not really the major issue with movie quality. What is the problem, is that there are way too many movies where the technology that goes into the actual production of the movie replaces good writing, directing and acting.
Compare the original King Kong (1933) to ANY of the subsequent remakes.
Compare The Haunting (1963) to the remake of 1999.
The 1st Matrix was an example of exactly how to use technology to enhance a movie.
Starship Troopers is an example of crap hidden under eye-candy.
How many people out there believe that the latest three Star Wars movies are actually better movies than the originals (ok Return of the Jedi sucked)
What it all boils down to is talent & skill..not tools

Hulser says:

I’m rewatching all of the Seinfeld episodes on DVD and I’m amazed at how many of the plots would have been impossible (or at least implausible) given the existance of a cell phone. This is echoed in movies too. I don’t have any kids yet, but I can imagine watching an “old” movie with my kid and them asking, “Daddy, why don’t they just call home to let their family know they’re in trouble?”

Another example is the movie, Secret Window. Throughout the entire movie, I’m thinking to myself, “Uh, why don’t you two geniuses just go to the library and look up the date of the story online?”

I don’t think the problem is bad usage of technology in movies, like implausible hacking scenes. It’s more about a a delay between the introduction of new technology and its integration into how stories are written. Instead of taking the standard plotline and learning to adapt it to today’s technology, it’s just easier to set it a few years in the past and keep your existing bag of writer’s tricks.

At least some shows and movies are paying lip service to this change. It’s a lame start, but when you hear the actor say “Oh, darn! I’m out of cell phone range” at least you know the writer’s made an attempt to acknowledge that most of the audience isn’t Amish.

Celes says:

Re: Technology

Depends on where you are. I’d believe it about some horror flick set in a state park in West Virginia or something. (Last time I drove through that state, I found out there’s a pretty sizeable area where cellphones don’t work, car radios won’t pick up anything, etc. Either the signals are being purposefully blocked or there’s some really weird natural phenomenon going on out there.)

Jack Ward-Bolton (user link) says:

Isn't this all irrelevant?

The fact is that the *industry* can’t handle not producing things. Shutting the production line down makes no sense, so it will produce anything rather than nothing, and then use advertising to persuade people that their movie is worth seeing. Advertising is easier than coming up with good movie ideas, as all you have to do is appeal to desperate people’s emotions.

It used to be that people made films once they had a good idea. Now studios desperately seek ideas (or rehash old ones) so they have something to get into the cinema.

The drought in ideas comes from three things:

1. People are running out of ideas because modern society does not cultivate creativity (it inhibits it, through copyright and patents, and through teaching kids facts rather than getting them to think about things)

2. The industry is bigger and so there are more films competing for your attention and so whoever grabs it with advertising first wins. You end up watching whatever the studios pay you to watch (with their advertising). Those with money get more money. Those with no advertising budget have a real hard time getting attention.

3. People are more scared of loss than they appreciate gain. So they take less risks, less inventive steps, leading to the same stories over and over.

The entertainment industry needs to die, and creative people should just be allowed to make things and share them for free. If YouTube wasn’t owned by Google, I would see it as one solution to this problem, but it is going to be ruined by advertising!

Hulser says:

Re: Isn't this all irrelevant?

>People are running out of ideas
It’s not that people are running out of ideas. We’re just at a point in history where a critical mass of people are starting to understand that for the most part, there are no new ideas. Barring the rare, truly new idea, almost all stories have already been told. Modern authors, whether they know it or not, just spruce up the standard story line (which have existed since there were stories) in current terminology and concepts.

Rob says:

Studio system

Many of the movies released today started as concepts more than a decade ago. A writer might come up with an idea, bang out a draft, then spend a few years trying to sell it. After a studio purchases it, it could sit on a shelf for years before being made. Think back to 1998–did you have a cell phone then? Updating a thriller to today’s technology often makes the story pointless.

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