Top-10 tech tricks we're sick of seeing in movies

For every thrilling example of tech in movies, Hollywood seems to produce a tired cliche. Here, the tricks that bug us most. (We're looking at you, dying-cell-phone-battery scene in scary flicks.)

Swordfish
Note to Hollywood: multiple monitors does not a supercomputer make. OffDutyGamers.com

Think how awesome it was the first time you saw a lightsaber in action. Or how your mind was officially shredded when Neo mastered the Matrix. Technology in movies is cool. When artfully filmed, gadgets, gizmos, robots, and computers can captivate and amaze audiences.

But for every thrilling example of cool tech, Hollywood seems to produce a tired, dated cliche. There's the obligatory no-cell-phone-service scene in horror flicks. There are robots with ATTITUDE in science fiction. There are impossible user interfaces in action films. The list goes on and on.

Here, then, are the top-10 tech tricks that are officially played out.

10. Zoom in! (aka, enhance!)
You know the scene I'm talking about. Someone (usually a detective) loads a fuzzy photo or video into some sort of software that can manipulate images in implausible ways. Pan left! Zoom in! Bam! There's the clue we were looking for, now clearly visible. This scene was cool in "Blade Runner." Anything after 1982? Not so much. BoingBoing alerted us to this smart montage showing just how cliche this image-mapping tech trick is.

9. AI with attitude
Computers and robots that talk with any sort of personality are a terrible cliche. They are also a bad idea. Examples of this tech tragedy include evil computers (HAL from 2001); sad robots (Marvin the Paranoid Android from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"); neurotic androids (C-3P0); and annoying holograms (the doctor from "Star Trek Voyager"). Even Jarvis, the computer program from "Iron Man," can get snippy.

The presence of emoting robots begs an important question: why would anyone make a machine that was capable of getting angry? Or sad, depressed, lonely, and vindictive? If taken to its logical conclusion, emoting machinery would produce a future kitchen in which my coffee pot got jealous of my tea kettle because I use it more often. I have enough problems in my life without fighting with my toaster. Leave the emotions out of machines.

8. Preposterous user interfaces
In general, computer interfaces are horribly represented in movies. Low-lights of this bad tech trend include the laughable 3D Unix security system in "Jurassic Park" and Swordfish's absurd worm that looks like a Rubik's Cube from "The Matrix." And, oh yeah, the Matrix.

7. Beep! Blort! BING!
You can tell characters are using computers in film because of all the beeping, whining, and whirring noises coming from their devices. From the birdlike chirping of "Star Trek" communicators to the squawking of Ziggy, the handheld computer from "Quantum Leap," there always seems to be some kind of racket when technology comes onscreen.

If these gadgets were real, those bleep and bloops would drive any user crazy. We get that the characters are using technology. Enough with the bells and whistles.

6. It's a supercomputer--because it has 10 monitors
I'm looking at you, Swordfish.

5. Cell phones as plot points
Whether it's the dying cell phone battery as a source of tension or the no-cell-phone-service plot device, using a telephone to advance a story got old as soon as E.T. wanted to phone home. Don't believe me? Go buy "Cellular." I dare you.

Horror movies, in particular, love to isolate their characters to increase dread and tension. The result? The I-don't-have-signal scene is now a scary-movie cliche along with car-breaking-down-in-the-middle-of-nowhere and protagonist-falls-down-while-running-away-from-the-monster.

The video below, while hilarious, uses extremely strong language. Women who are nursing, pregnant, or may become pregnant should avoid playing it, along with people who are at work and don't have headphones to put on or an office door to close.

4. Autopilot
James Bond has done it. Knight Rider has done it. Shia LaBeouf has even done it. All of these characters have engaged in some kind of godlike autopilot onscreen and made their cars pretty much drive themselves.

In "Tomorrow Never Dies," 007 controls his BMW from his smartphone (I'm sure there's an app for that). The transformers and KITT take this concept one step further and just drive themselves. Which made me stop and think: if a car can drive itself, why would it need a human in the driver's seat?

Would Steve McQueen drive a computerized car? No, he wouldn't. Would Dirty Harry? No way. And neither would any other self-respecting hero. Enough of these shenanigans. No more self-driving robo-cars .

James Bond autopilot
Connery got to drive his own cars. Paul Liddon

3. Laptops as powerful as supercomputers
This trend has been around for a while. Whether it's Dick Tracy's radio wristwatch or Penny's computer book in "Inspector Gadget," characters have always packed a huge tech punch into small packages. Perhaps the most egregious use of superlaptops is "Independence Day." If you wanted to save the world in 1996, apparently all you needed was an Apple PowerBook.

2. Easy-to-defeat biometric security
If biometric security is so easily defeated in the movies, one wonders why it's even installed in the first place? Characters steal someone's voice in "Sneakers" and someone else's DNA in "Gattaca," but my favorite example of the overused biometric hack is probably the pulling-out-someone's-eyeballs trick.

This happens more than you think. People lose their peepers in "Minority Report," "Demolition Man," "Numb3rs." Even "The Simpsons" has a take on this.

laptop
My trackball will save the universe. Starring the Computer

1. Copy the hacked data before you are found out scene
You've seen this scene more times than you've seen your weird uncle who stops by every other Thanksgiving. You know the one I'm talking about. The movie cliche, not the uncle. Some character is trying to copy information onto a disk inside an enemy lair (yawn).

"Mission: Impossible" has this scene. "Jumpin' Jack Flash" has this scene. Almost every movie made in the second half of the 20th century has this scene. Memo to Hollywood: this scene isn't interesting anymore. It's tired, just like my Uncle Pauly.

Got some movie tech pet peeves of your own? Let us know in the comments.

About the author

Crave contributor Jeremy Toeman, an expert in the convergence of digital media and consumer technology, has spent more than 10 years designing and marketing consumer electronics and Web services. A founding partner of Stage Two, a consumer product experience firm in San Francisco, he's seen more gadgets fail than most people have ever purchased. Jeremy is not an employee of CBS Interactive.

 

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