The great thing about the 90s is that computers were still magic. They were a one-stop shop of power, a wand of wisdom which, when waved, could shut down governments and destroy society. Teenagers had the power over the adults, perhaps a typical Generation X fantasy, combined with a newfound fascination with technology and pure, unadulterated screenwriting ignorance.
In this series, we’ve covered the depictions of video games in TV and movies, both old and new, but the advent of the internet brought with it a lot of interesting offerings to our cinematic pallet. Here’s a few.
Internet in the 90s: You’ve Got Mail
Who knew that internet correspondence could be used for sex? Oh, everyone, nowadays? In the 90s, this interaction is nowhere near as sinister as craigslists “personals” section, but proper internet dating is advertised on prime time television, and is nowhere near as obscure as this movie made it out to be. In the intervening years it’s been entirely normalised (if not 100% foolproof, as some of my friends can attest to).
Sure, the movie is actually pretty good, and I just remembered that Dave motherflipping Chappelle is in it, but it also just reminded me that AOL was a thing once.
Bit of an admission here, I haven’t actually seen this movie, but I followed a few Reddit recommendations (sometimes a mistake) and found it. I’m going to guess what it’s about based on this clip from YouTube:
Oh man, Dan Akroyd is in this thing? Awesome! So 90s. It looks like a standard “hacker” affair, shutting down the government and all that. Once again, computers = magic. All jokes aside, this is actually a pretty well-remembered movie, it’s just a shame it got so dated.
Largely remembered as “Sandra Bullock orders a pizza ONLINE”, The Net is actually a complex political thriller that really pushes the boundaries of… okay, I can’t finish that sentence. Let’s just look at this trailer, which starts like an advert for 80s home gadgets; all it needs is a business man talking on an enormous cellphone which he then clips to his belt and it’s complete.
From the very first shot of that huge, clunky keyboard, its clear we’re taking a trip in a really dodgy time machine for this one. “We live in an age of information”, the narrator intones. “We are all interconnected.” It’s pretty cheesy.
Little did Hackers know that, just a short decade or so later, it would be pretty sexy and lucrative to be a “hacker”, or at least tangentially associated with computers and techno-crime. Look at Assange, Snowdon, or Kim Dotcom, who are hitting the headlines on a regular basis.
However, that doesn’t really excuse the fact that he wears sunglasses inside, in the dark, and there’s absolutely no way Angelina Jolie would be that heavily into computers, even with her cute rock-chick bob.
When I was fourteen, I did a book report on six Michael Crichton novels out of my sheer, unyielding love for Jurassic Park (I think I may have covered this). What I was expecting from Disclosure was a techno-thriller set in high-octane politics. What I did not see coming was all the moaning and skirt-hoisting that would occur in the meantime.
Of course, the movie didn’t shy away from the sex, given that the main plot was about sexual harassment in the workplace. However, looking back from our now positively decadent times (thanks Game of Thrones) its arguable that the most offensive thing about this movie is the part where Michael Douglas has to go into the “virtual reality” database of his company – complete with pillars and awnings!
So in conclusion, the depiction of the internet, along with MC Hammer, is yet another reason we should all forget that the 90s happened. Is it fair, making fun of movies that were only using the technology and knowledge available to them at the time? Absolutely not. Is it possible that, twenty years down the line we’ll be be looking back at Out of Time, or Source Code with such a callous eye? Probably. But by then, we might all be entirely hooked up to a giant network of computers, speaking of which…
Special Mention: The Matrix
Kind of counts, right?