Movie Plots Ruined by Modern Technology
May 28, 2018 7:25 PM   Subscribe

"The rapid increase in technology over the last thirty years has changed a lot of basic cinematic conventions. Entire plots that once hinged on characters being able to fake identities, get lost in a new place, or have a case of mistaken identity are all but gone from contemporary films because of the internet. [...] Here are some great films from just the last thirty years that would have had their entire premise derailed if they took place in a world where smart phones were available." • The movie plots technology killed8 movies technology made obsolete90s plot lines that modern technology ruins entirely 23 famous movie plots easily solved by text messages17 movies that would be over in 5 minutes in 2017
posted by Eyebrows McGee (100 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Not one mention of Fitzcarraldo. I mean, come on. Helicopter. Boom, done.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:31 PM on May 28, 2018 [22 favorites]


At least we still have lightsabers.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:32 PM on May 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


For any movie in the list whose inclusion assumes that you can always get a cell phone signal or Wi-Fi: ha ha, right, sure.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:33 PM on May 28, 2018 [22 favorites]


I guess Romeo and Juliet would work as well:

NOT DEAD. BRB
posted by 4ster at 7:36 PM on May 28, 2018 [16 favorites]


And now I see that Romeo and Juliet was in the FPP. My apologies.
posted by 4ster at 7:40 PM on May 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


Facebook would have led Romeo and Juliet to a tragedy of epic jealous proportions.
posted by nikaspark at 7:42 PM on May 28, 2018 [6 favorites]


This is one of the reasons why I enjoy films like "The Big Sleep". With no access to modern forensic science and technology, the focus can remain on character interactions.
posted by Brocktoon at 7:43 PM on May 28, 2018 [11 favorites]


No mention of Casablanca?

"We'll always have Paris. But --"
"Here."
"What's this?"
"My cell phone number. Give me a call once this is over."
posted by steady-state strawberry at 7:44 PM on May 28, 2018 [36 favorites]


Mentioning Memento as one of these is particularly annoying because notepads existed. The whole point of Memento was not 'man has a mental disability' but 'man exploits his mental disability to avoid dealing with problems'. Smart phones don't 'fix' that.

And The Ring? They already updated it. The VHS cassette simply isn't a key part of the mythos here.
posted by Merus at 7:46 PM on May 28, 2018 [24 favorites]


If Memento took place in the era of smart phones, all of those bad-ass tattoos Leonard Shelby puts on himself to tell the story of his life would be totally and absolutely superfluous. He could just make notes or voice memos on his phone.

This writer is apparently oblivious to the contemporary world of tattoo art.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:47 PM on May 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Many of today's modern films would have had their entire premise derailed if they took place in a world where smart phones were available had reception.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:48 PM on May 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


North by Norteest doesn’t make sense, James Mason and Co are convinced he’s a spy or CIA asset, of course he’d say he was just an innocent Madison Avenue executive!
posted by The Whelk at 7:50 PM on May 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


Who cares about the impact of technology on plots from the past? What about the mere existence of brains in the main characters? The Idiot Plot is where the story progresses only because the main characters are stupid.
posted by njohnson23 at 7:52 PM on May 28, 2018 [8 favorites]


That period of interminable losing-your-phone-in-a-sink, no signal scenes is thankfully behind us, but Scorcese's "The Departed" was the first movie I can remember that really embraced cellphones; they were actually understood to exist and play a key role in the communications that took place in the film. Was there something earlier?
posted by mhoye at 7:57 PM on May 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


In the case of The Departed, I'd say that's just movies catching up with TV. Mulder and Scully were on the phone all the damned time for the better part of a decade by the time Scorsese made that one.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:59 PM on May 28, 2018 [10 favorites]


To state the obvious: most films made today based on contemporaneous reality will be seen as silly in a decade or two based on the technologically-based reality of those times, if you want to make these tech-based comparisons.

If we are older, or if we have seen films made in the past, we are hardly discombobulated by the sight of a man in a trenchcoat searching for a nickel, a dime, or a quarter or two to make a phone call in a phone booth.

Would Sophocles' Antigone be different if the dad could have phoned her daughter while she was trying to bury her brother's bones in the dry soil outside the city walls? Umm, yeah, I guess so...
posted by kozad at 8:00 PM on May 28, 2018 [17 favorites]


Would Sophocles' Antigone be different if the dad could have phoned her daughter while she was trying to bury her brother's bones in the dry soil outside the city walls? Umm, yeah, I guess so...

Since, IIRC, the uncle was the one forbidding the burying and the niece defying him, no, not really...
posted by praemunire at 8:03 PM on May 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


If we are older, or if we have seen films made in the past, we are hardly discombobulated by the sight of a man in a trenchcoat searching for a nickel, a dime, or a quarter or two to make a phone call in a phone booth.

Exactly. A plot isn't "ruined" by the non-existence of mobile phones in 1945.
posted by davebush at 8:04 PM on May 28, 2018 [11 favorites]


Hackers would have been totally different because they would have had smartphones instead of those sweet pagers and it would have been the worse for it.
posted by 7segment at 8:04 PM on May 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


Facebook MySpace would have led Romeo and Juliet to a tragedy of epic jealous proportions.

Fixed.
posted by Fizz at 8:10 PM on May 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


Horror movie plots seem to catch up the fastest; now it's "No signal!" Or "Technology is all turned off because of the apocalypse/invasion/whatever so oh well!" or, my favorite, GHOSTS/DEMONS IN MY CELL PHONE/THE INTERNET WANT ME TO DIE.

There was a short film that came out a few months ago that used an Alexa as part of the horror (it kept responding to/repeating the demon's whispered threats that the person couldn't hear)

That's a pretty good plot because our unease at what our machines know about us is easy to exploit.
posted by emjaybee at 8:28 PM on May 28, 2018 [19 favorites]


Book plots ruined by cell phones. WARNING: MANY SPOILERS!!!

The Puppet Masters, Heinlein: The compartmentalized communications that allowed the aliens to keep half the country (and most of the world) in the dark fails as soon as Kansas City’s Aunt Mabel calls her niece in Boston and discovers everyone outside of her area is stripping naked. OTOH, given today’s politics, it seems likely at least one of the political parties would choose to side with the slugs.

Lord of the Rings: Could go either way: If Sauron has a cell phone tracker in his All Seeing Eye, he snags the Ring as soon as one of the hobbits, probably Pippin, uses his to update his friends on their escape from Farmer Maggot. Alternatively, Gandolf calls the Giant Eagles from Rivendell and requests an Uber to Mount Doom.

Dune: Paul’s selfie with Chani goes viral, and Rabban uses his Clan’s Atomics to take care of that little irritation once his technicians extract the location data.

1984: Instead of a camera in a hidden TV, the Party uses statistical analysis to figure out Winston and Julia are spending more time together than a leader of the Anti-Sex league and an inner Party member should.

Fahrenheit 451: When the government tries to burn all the books, the intellectuals photograph, OCR, and encrypt the books, keeping them safe for future generations instead of having to memorize them.

Watership Down: Instead of an epic journey to find a new warren, the rabbits check the local Craigslist, Zillow, and airbnb listings to find a suitable home.
posted by Blackanvil at 8:36 PM on May 28, 2018 [17 favorites]


I get it, but these articles underestimate bad writers' ability to use the idiot plot. Also, just as one example, I'm not buying the multiple mentions of Psycho. It'd be easy to update it so that Norman Bates had some computer skills (he's a weirdo recluse, after all) and rigged a misleading internet presence. I've ended up at shitty hotels in the past few years--an AirBnB in NYC last fall was pretty dank and noisy. Just last month I ended up taking three hours to do a one hour trip because I was in the middle of PA and the cell reception was spotty to nonexistent. It was the middle of the night, I was out in the sticks. I could've run into Jason!

So it's a bit exaggerated.
posted by mondo dentro at 8:39 PM on May 28, 2018 [5 favorites]


This reminds me of Roddenberry in the Making of Star Trek. Talking about how difficult it was to write plots in a universe with instant communication conveyed by devices carried around by everyone. Which led to the cliche, in many (or most) TOS episodes, of the communicators & subspace radios either glitching out, or being blocked in some way. Even in the 60's, this was a recognizable problem.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 8:49 PM on May 28, 2018 [24 favorites]


I always wanted to do a rewrite of the Odyssey where Odysseus washes up on an island after the big storm, and suddenly and inexplicably finds a cell phone on the beach, which he is able to use to call Penelope. At first they are overjoyed to reconnect, but gradually as the romantic vision that they held of each other in each others' absence gives way to the more plain reality of their relationship, it takes the edge off of their quest to hold out for each other. Odysseus decides to spend more time exploring the new worlds he finds, and Penelope starts to fall for one of the suitors, but they still call each other and keep up the illusion that they are fighting to reconnect. Eventually they both come to accept that they have new lives and have moved on, and stop calling... That's about as far as I took it.
posted by tarshish bound at 8:55 PM on May 28, 2018 [27 favorites]


Memento: Leonard Shelby cannot unlock his phone

Die Hard: Wore out phone on cross-country flight, requires micro-USB charger and all he can find are lightning and USB-C

The Ring: video goes viral, entire planet dead

Friends on a break fiasco: This is Ross we are talking about, there is no technology that can prevent him from fucking up.

Jurassic Park: They weren't lost without GPS so much as fleeing from rampaging dinosaurs.

Scream: Caller ID is worthless against anyone halfway trying to circumvent it.

Psycho: Sure the Bates Motel gets low ratings, but have you seen their prices?

Dirty Dancing: OK, you got me, the whole plot is due to a back-alley abortion gone wrong, which would never happen now that everyone has easy access to safe and legal abortions.
posted by ckape at 9:04 PM on May 28, 2018 [47 favorites]


I decided to think about my favorite black and white movie "His Girl Friday" which is a funny one to think about because the characters are reporters and are on the phone with each other throughout the movie. The only thing the movie would miss is the phone wires getting tangled up with each other.
posted by bleep at 9:08 PM on May 28, 2018 [6 favorites]




Am I the only one who remembers Sorry, Wrong Number? Great film (though the radio play has an incredible performance by Agnes Moorehead) utter ruined by advances in telephone technology--in this case, the dial tone.

Really, the whole murder-victim-bludgeoned-to-death-with-a-telephone trope had died out by the 1980s, I suppose.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:16 PM on May 28, 2018


So many sit-coms & rom-coms would be over in 5 minutes if people in the same room could only communicate with each other.
posted by ovvl at 9:38 PM on May 28, 2018 [16 favorites]


Pump Up The Volume could very easily be replaced once the Internet and blogging technology started, followed by totally legal podcasts, with no need to set up an entire CB radio (or whatever that was, not a techie) in your basement. I always loved how the parents were so utterly stupid it never occurred to them once that their kid is probably the only one in the area with the ability to set up a pirate radio station.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:48 PM on May 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


one of the best bits of narrative insight I've ever come across is the simple notion that, if the so-called protagonist makes all the right decisions, there is no story. The relevant situation resolves without any serious conflict. Fade to black at the seven minute point.

Which can't help but pose the question: Are Smart Phones The Right Decision?
posted by philip-random at 9:50 PM on May 28, 2018


Smart phones broke the world for at least another 50 years.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:08 PM on May 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


one of the best bits of narrative insight I've ever come across is the simple notion that, if the so-called protagonist makes all the right decisions, there is no story. The relevant situation resolves without any serious conflict. Fade to black at the seven minute point.

A property developer is planning on redeveloping the community's beloved [insert location] and the protagonist has to save it with their special skills.

I mean, this is one of the most hackneyed plots in Hollywood, but there's lots of examples of stories where the conflict is external, and there's quite a few examples of stories outside of the Western tradition where the conflict is with the audience, not within the story. Don't trust narrative insights.
posted by Merus at 10:17 PM on May 28, 2018 [11 favorites]


If Memento took place in the era of smart phones, all of those bad-ass tattoos Leonard Shelby puts on himself to tell the story of his life would be totally and absolutely superfluous. He could just make notes or voice memos on his phone.

The phone's unlock code, on the other hand...
posted by rhizome at 10:38 PM on May 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


I find interesting not just 'which technology broke movies" but "which things are gone forever because of technology"? That 'confess your love to the crush in junior high/high school before you are Gone Forever' was definitely a thing that...just will never exist now. What a world.
posted by corb at 10:50 PM on May 28, 2018 [6 favorites]


The most recent apt anachronism on my radar is a movie called "The Siege," which is a big budget pre-9/11 terrorism movie in which Bruce Willis learns how to make friends with Tony Shalhoub. It is so extremely earnest and involves phone banks instead of computers and Denzel makes a suspected terrorist cry by yelling at him.
posted by rhizome at 11:04 PM on May 28, 2018


I feel like it's one of those concepts that comes up again and again, how would smart phones ruin the conceit of so many classic movies and tv? And it's true enough, but it seems to me that the lack of information is just a plot device. Like, if a character needs to be oblivious to something, they might be Mr Furley. He is on Facebook because he is way into every conspiracy theory he comes across, and that's why he's always plotting and causing problems for his tenants, but in a funny way. Any Three's Company plot involving Jack and Larry's schemes could be confused even further with wacky smartphone mixups, at the Regal Beagle for example, where everyone is on social media and dating apps while they're at the bar, and a lot of people have the same exact phone. It turns out Larry gets Jack in trouble again. Why is Jack still friends with Larry anyway? He does it every time.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:22 PM on May 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


Of course, the real difference in Die Hard is that the screenwriter would've been only a few keystrokes away from knowing it's called Stockholm syndrome and having Hans say "Schieße auf das Glas!"
posted by ckape at 11:28 PM on May 28, 2018


The first big blow-up in what turned out to be an abusive tumultuous relationship was when my mobile telco was having issues and not sending half my texts, leading my ex to go berserk and set off this whole emotionally manipulative scene based on her assumptions of half a message.

And then there's all the drama of "they added a full stop!! They're ANGRY!!"

Smartphones can still cause plot chaos.
posted by divabat at 11:36 PM on May 28, 2018 [5 favorites]


re: cellphones, in 1987 Gordon Gekko was on the beach talking into his $4000 1.75 lb Motorola DynaTac 8000X. "Can you believe I'm talking to you on the beach? Isn't this cool?" pretty much
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:02 AM on May 29, 2018


and Ferris Bueller is probably the worst of all ... Caller ID or *69 would have busted him right away. And assuming they made it to the end, they would have gone on the internet to figure out how to reverse an odometer (or they would have just called a Lyft in the first place)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:09 AM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Fahrenheit 451: When the government tries to burn all the books, the intellectuals photograph, OCR, and encrypt the books, keeping them safe for future generations instead of having to memorize them.


Netflix just did this. Turns out they start burning computers too.
posted by LizBoBiz at 12:19 AM on May 29, 2018


One of the writers behind Cheers once remarked that the question they could never allow themselves to ask in a story conference was "Why wouldn't Sam just call Diane and straighten this whole thing out?" If they'd ever allowed for that possibility, he admitted, the episode's whole plot would have collapsed and they'd have had to start all over again.

This was true even in the era of landlines, but at least then you could plausibly say one of your characters wasn't able to get to a phone for some reason.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:00 AM on May 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


I wonder why it's only smartphones that prompt this discussion? I mean, you could equally argue that giving John Wayne an SUV undermines the plot of a John Ford western, but no-one seems to fret about that.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:08 AM on May 29, 2018 [21 favorites]


Not one mention of Fitzcarraldo. I mean, come on. Helicopter. Boom, done.

Seriously? I don't think any helicopter could pick up a boat that size.
posted by zardoz at 1:15 AM on May 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


I'm a little perplexed why people are so obsessed with *one particular technology* ruining plotlines. I mean, yes, lack of ability to rapidly communicate is a key element in a lot of stories, but so are other things. Why is no one saying, "Around the World in Eighty Days? Airplanes, boom, obsolete! The Iliad? Missiles, so much for that wall! Boom! From Hell? Forensic technology, dust the bodies for fingerprints, find Jack the Ripper, Boom!"
posted by kyrademon at 1:33 AM on May 29, 2018 [13 favorites]


Sure, focusing so intently on smartphones in these lists is an obvious mistake, but the premise clearly holds up when today's blockbusters are so strongly based on realistic uses of science, technology, and human behavior.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:31 AM on May 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


It seems to me that so many of these examples do the weird thing of assuming that the roots of human conflict and misunderstanding can be undone by technology, when technology, as we see, either leaves such things untouched or simply allows them to happen slightly differently.

Beyond this, one thing people forget is that many of the latest bright-n-shiny apps and tech services aren't used by everyone everywhere, and that access to lots of information isn't the same thing as access to only the best information.

I feel like these lists often buy in to the idea that "disruption" is magical and everywhere, and that everyone knows they're in a film plot, that there are catastrophic consequences coming up, and that they need to efficiently and immediately resolve their situations. And they ignore the ways technology would sometimes amplify the problems of the characters rather than resolving them.

Who's to say, for example, that the website Ferris Bueller and friends look at in the updated Day Off has accurate information, or that Ferris's manipulation of the school computers doesn't take the place of his phone hijinks int he original? Perhaps Ilsa can't give her contact info to Rick because State Security is watching, and they can't afford the sex scandal that would leak out in an age of mass surveillance? Maybe the plucky underground fighting the fascist empire don't keep the same phone and number for every long?

And the Bates Motel seems tech-proof: isn't it basically the only motel around when Janet Leigh needs to stop in her cross-country flight? Maybe she doesn't want to use an app that could be employed to track her when she's, you know, fleeing with a bunch of stolen money?
posted by kewb at 3:22 AM on May 29, 2018 [13 favorites]


Uh, the first link, and the term classic movies? Other than My Neighbor Totoro I am not sure they understand that word.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 3:49 AM on May 29, 2018


The information gap, one of the absolute basic plot elements of fiction forever, is disappearing. Or at least, the version where one person wants to give information to another person, and they can't. The sudden plot excuse to reintroduce that limitation to a modern setting increasingly elicits eye-rolls. I think Get Out did pretty well with it recently, but it's pretty gimmicky.

There are still plenty of information gap plots that don't need it: misinformation and deception and identity theft and misunderstanding and sabotage. Gaslighting and astroturfing and catfishing. Maliciously telling someone something they wouldn't have otherwise known. Getting caught in the background of a video that went viral when you're supposed to be incognito. Finding a screen unlocked with DMs open.

The major problem is trying to do the modern version of classics: if the plot requires one person to be unable to convey information to another person, the writers will have to get more and more extreme to contrive a situation where that's a thing. Maybe a dystopian Romeo and Juliet where parents have total monitoring and control over their devices and everything must be written with that surveillance in mind? Sherlock Holmes can't decode PGP-encrypted dancing men, but he can deduce so much from the metadata that he doesn't have to.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 4:06 AM on May 29, 2018 [9 favorites]


Maybe the plucky underground fighting the fascist empire don't keep the same phone and number for every long?

I think the idea that changing your phone will defeat panopticon surveillance is destined to become one of these laughable archaisms if it hasn't already. It'll be the mid-21st-century equivalent of disguising your identity by wearing a huge fake mustache that doesn't even match your hair color.
posted by XMLicious at 4:25 AM on May 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


I'm a little perplexed why people are so obsessed with *one particular technology* ruining plotlines. I mean, yes, lack of ability to rapidly communicate is a key element in a lot of stories, but so are other things. Why is no one saying, "Around the World in Eighty Days? Airplanes, boom, obsolete! The Iliad? Missiles, so much for that wall! Boom! From Hell? Forensic technology, dust the bodies for fingerprints, find Jack the Ripper, Boom!"

Exactly. I was coming in to say exactly this.

I can only come to the conclusion that we all have been developing a growing unconscious regret about smart phones and how they've impacted society, and this regret and dislike has been manifesting itself with things like Black Mirror and "how this technology ruined movies" listicles.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:43 AM on May 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


previous thread on cellphones ruining old movie plots Not intended to imply this is a double, though maybe we ought not retread the ways in which Blair Witch could or could not have been solved by having a GPS and therefore implying that, in real life, a GPS is actually a valid replacement for having a map and compass when you're in the woods.
posted by bl1nk at 5:05 AM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


In the 2007 radio version of Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency there's a fair amount of "oops, left my phone at home/in the car" and "crap, my battery's flat" to make the story work. It's a bit grating, but it works.
posted by farlukar at 5:15 AM on May 29, 2018


I definitely think it's silly to say old movie plots are "ruined" by the fact that cell phones exist, but I do get annoyed by the flip side: when filmmakers, in the year of our lord 2018, are still regurgitating plots that only make sense without cell phones and jump through a bunch of narrative hoops to pretend they don't exist. It would be so much more interesting and relevant to figure out how to plot out a thriller or horror movie where phones are available and have reception and it still doesn't help.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:17 AM on May 29, 2018 [11 favorites]


"Hi, Denton Triple-A? I'm Brad Majors, me and my fiance, Janet Weiss have had a breakdown just a few miles up the road from that old castle outside of town... Yeah, it is kinda strange to have a castle out here in the country, now that you mention it... Well, whatever, probably just foreigners with ways different from our own... Anyway, could you send a tow truck? Sure, here's my callback number...."
posted by Reverend John at 5:29 AM on May 29, 2018 [16 favorites]


Horror movie plots seem to catch up the fastest; now it's "No signal!" Or "Technology is all turned off because of the apocalypse/invasion/whatever so oh well!" or, my favorite, GHOSTS/DEMONS IN MY CELL PHONE/THE INTERNET WANT ME TO DIE.

I want to see more horror movies set in contemporary times where having a cell phone and signal just doesn't matter. Like, it doesn't save you from whatever the horror is.

Uh, the first link, and the term classic movies? Other than My Neighbor Totoro I am not sure they understand that word.

Here in the US Fathom Events and some of the movie theater chains do regular seasons of movies that are considered classics. A recent series was all movies made in my lifetime (including Die Hard from this list). Assuming you're encountering the same phenomenon: welcome to middle age? On that list, Road Trip is the only one that I can't see plausibly being called a classic. The others are all absolutely classics by both cultural position and age.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 5:31 AM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


From the last link:
Tyler would never have been able to save Marla because she would have called the Narrator on his cell phone. Obviously Tyler never would have seen the call and picked up the phone.

Um, I think one of us really misunderstood that movie.
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 5:36 AM on May 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


In (the book) Ender's Game, the antiquated bugger ships that humans sent first to the invasion surely would have been replaced with updated technology, 3D printed along the way in space.
posted by klausman at 6:08 AM on May 29, 2018


I wonder if we could see more movies taking place in the recent past to avoid this dilemma. If a film is set in 1985 then of course there are no cell phones to muck about with. Neo-retro-noir maybe?
posted by Query at 6:13 AM on May 29, 2018


22 movie plots from the 2040s solved instantaneously by transporter technology!
10(+1!) plots from 2100-2110 movies rendered obsolete by the Alcubierre drive!
19 movies from 2000-2309 that are incoherent in a universe with infinite accessible energy!
87 movies that only make sense when viewed from the perspective of a human being with drives and urges!
10000+ films The Hive no longer has any use for!
posted by logicpunk at 6:14 AM on May 29, 2018 [19 favorites]


Given that about 90% of all movies center primarily around a plot of protagonists not actually talking to each other about really important things when they are together in person I don't think that technology is really the big issue.

Mouths how do they even work?
posted by srboisvert at 6:22 AM on May 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


I wonder if we could see more movies taking place in the recent past to avoid this dilemma.

I think/hope that as more people from younger generations become filmmakers, we'll just lose the plots that are stubbornly reliant on a lack of cell phones.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:41 AM on May 29, 2018


Citizen Kane:

(Jerry Thompson checks his cell phone)

[Charles Foster Kane] Rosebud...

THOMPSON: I wonder what he meant by that?


Nope, still checks out.
posted by delfin at 6:53 AM on May 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


re: cellphones, in 1987 Gordon Gekko was on the beach talking into his $4000 1.75 lb Motorola DynaTac 8000X. "Can you believe I'm talking to you on the beach? Isn't this cool?" pretty much

I don’t remember the exact year but the first time I saw a cell phone was on a train. A dude, in the packed car, was yelling proudly into his phone “I’m CALLING you on my PHONE from the TRAIN!”

The movie/book plot device that I dislike is people not talking about something obvious and important. Having cell phones just gives another way to have them not talk, which doesn’t change my irritation with the cliche.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:56 AM on May 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


It would be so much more interesting and relevant to figure out how to plot out a thriller or horror movie where phones are available and have reception and it still doesn't help.

Scream did this and it worked. But then again that film is based on using tropes and stereotypes to upend expectations and it is a satire of that genre.
posted by Fizz at 6:57 AM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Fahrenheit 451: When the government tries to burn all the books, the intellectuals photograph, OCR, and encrypt the books, keeping them safe for future generations instead of having to memorize them.

Oh sure. Text doesn't take up much storage. You could probably get a whole book onto a single 5 1/4 inch floppy disc with CBM DOS - readable by every Commodore 64 in the world! And don't even get me started on Zip Discs! The new ones will hold 750 MB! That's like a library right there!
posted by Naberius at 7:17 AM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Movies and TV shows that rely on characters inexplicably not sharing important information when it would be entirely possible to do so -- failing to blurt out the plot-important thing when you're talking to the person who needs to know, telling a dumb lie when the truth isn't a big deal but the plot demands a character not know the information -- is one of my pet plot peeves. (If they have a reason, supported by the character's thoughts/feelings/personality, that's fine. It's when there's no reason except that the plot is weak so they're going to create an unnecessary information gap.)

This sort of already-weak and very silly writing is thrown into ultra high relief by smart phones. "I can't tell my sister this crucially important information she needs to know because our parents might overhear us!" Okay, but maybe you could text her, since you're both spending the whole movie playing with your phones?

And it's totally possible to create non-communication situations in normal ways in the 21st century! Like, my BFF is weirdly anti-technology, so she turns off her cell phone when she's at work (it is maddening, she is a weirdo) so I get more than average emergency calls about her kids at school when she's away from her desk and they can't reach her! You could make a character who uses their phone in limited ways (they could even be sanctimonious about it and annoy their friends) so you can never reach them. Or, once I had a pregnancy medical emergency, and my husband was in court with his cell phone off (obvs), and there followed a comedy of cell phones that ended up involving half the Peoria legal community as his secretary and my emergency contact's (also a lawyer) secretary were calling around to every courthouse in a 100 mile radius trying to find him because his hearing had been noticed wrong, and calling lawyers they knew were at those courthouses but not in court asking them to peek inside courtrooms looking for him. He was eventually converged on by like four people at once (court personnel, lawyers he knew, secretaries on the hunt) who were like "dude, go to the hospital!" which luckily was two blocks away. And then of course they had to activate the phone tree again to let everyone know to stop looking. And then we got like 500 e-mails from every lawyer and judge in town wanting to know how it all turned out! (It was fine.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:27 AM on May 29, 2018 [13 favorites]


I reject Die Hard being on the list. McClane having a smart phone would simplify the initial 911 call, which is played for laughs - part of the movie's conceit of showing that the "people in charge" are often buffoons - but it really changes nothing after that; the plot of a group of thieves taking over the Nakatomi building doesn't get changed at all. Plus, given the methodical level of planning that Hans showed, he surely would have brought a cell phone jammer along to restrict communication. I mean, he is an exceptional thief.
posted by nubs at 7:45 AM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


I wonder if we could see more movies taking place in the recent past to avoid this dilemma. If a film is set in 1985 then of course there are no cell phones to muck about with. Neo-retro-noir maybe?

Atomic Blonde seems like an a great example of this, set during the fall of the Berlin Wall.
posted by SPrintF at 8:01 AM on May 29, 2018


I like to do this with songs: "Dad, what's 'Your phone's of the hook, but you're not' mean?" or, "What's a skypager?" Get off my lawn.
posted by punchee at 8:11 AM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


• Here are some great films from just the last thirty years that would have had their entire premise derailed if they took place in a world where smart phones were available.
• The movie plots technology killed
• 8 movies technology made obsolete
• 90s plot lines that modern technology ruins entirely
• 23 famous movie plots easily solved by text messages
• 17 movies that would be over in 5 minutes in 2017


-- NO SIGNAL --
posted by Thorzdad at 8:14 AM on May 29, 2018


There's a great episode of Mad Men where Betty Draper abandons Don at an out of the way Hilton restaurant they're visiting and wanders off into a strange town.

It struck me at the time the real terror of Don not having any idea where his wife was, not being able to contact her or expect a call or text, and pretty much just being stranded at a diner in a pool of fear and regret with nothing he can do.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:41 AM on May 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm a little perplexed why people are so obsessed with *one particular technology* ruining plotlines. I mean, yes, lack of ability to rapidly communicate is a key element in a lot of stories, but so are other things. Why is no one saying, "Around the World in Eighty Days? Airplanes, boom, obsolete! The Iliad? Missiles, so much for that wall! Boom! From Hell? Forensic technology, dust the bodies for fingerprints, find Jack the Ripper, Boom!"

I feel like McSweeney's probably should be, and honestly I'm tempted to nick this premise and write it myself
posted by Merus at 8:49 AM on May 29, 2018


kyradaemon had some illustrations above that seem to have been overlooked:

Why is no one saying, "Around the World in Eighty Days? Airplanes, boom, obsolete! The Iliad? Missiles, so much for that wall! Boom! From Hell? Forensic technology, dust the bodies for fingerprints, find Jack the Ripper, Boom!"

It seems like it's communication technology that seems to be the focus of all these types of listicles. No one says the same thing about travel or weapons or forensic advancements. In fact, there's a movie where a popular favorite part involves an advanced weapons technology running into an arcane one.

It's an interesting thing to ponder, I think. We have no problem when movies go old-school with weapons why do we freak out about "this much newer communications technology would ruin these older classic films!"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:50 AM on May 29, 2018


It struck me at the time the real terror of Don not having any idea where his wife was, not being able to contact her or expect a call or text, and pretty much just being stranded at a diner in a pool of fear and regret with nothing he can do.

One thing I'll miss about Last Man on Earth is the post-technology setting. There are a good handful of scenes like this, where someone gets separated from the group, and my first instinct is always "just send a text, dummy!" before the awful sinking feeling upon realizing that there is no such technology in that world anymore. It's a great premise.
posted by witchen at 9:02 AM on May 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


No one says the same thing about travel or weapons or forensic advancements. In fact, there's a movie where a popular favorite part involves an advanced weapons technology running into an arcane one

There are successful examples of certain types of stories being updated into the modern era - how many times has Sherlock Holmes been brought forward to be a "consulting detective" even with modern forensics? Mystery stories have changed with the technology, but the core is still there, I guess. And travel has always seemed to move at the speed of plot. Changes in weapons technology at times forms the core of some alternative history stories.

I think the focus on communication devices is simply because they are common & relateable - we all have one in our pockets now (whereas I don't tend to think about modern forensics or the like) - and they resolve so many instances of plot problem instantly; current stories often have to work some reason in to explain why a cell phone wouldn't work (forgotten/lost, low battery, no reception, etc) to keep things moving. It's a interesting thing to look at, in terms of dependency of a particular issue for plot in stories.

(Not to derail, but the wonderful scene you've linked is the result of Mr. Ford being too sick with dysentery during filming to do the elaborate sword vs. whip fight sequence the script called for, which says something about how, sometimes, less is more)
posted by nubs at 9:06 AM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Citizen Kane

BERNSTEIN:  A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't looked at the creeper pic I took of her.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:31 AM on May 29, 2018 [6 favorites]




Ferris Bueller would also have ended earlier if the principal had been even the slightest bit bothered by seeing Sloan make-out passionately with a man who appears to be her FATHER instead of just saying, "Oh, so they're that kind of family." Talk about failing in your goddamn job, dude.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:11 AM on May 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


Honestly, I think with the prevalence of instant messaging, instant replies have ironically become less of a thing. At least among my circle of friends. I know a lot of people who won't answer the phone unless you text them first. And texts tend to be a get to them when you come to them thing. Honestly, if I needed help from a friend or tell them something important in the next two hours, there's a good chance I'd have been better off in the land line era.

Also, the assumption that cellphones just work is also wrong. There's a lot of rural places that are really patchy reception with a particular provider or another. And getting cellphone reception in a ravine in the backcountry? Yeah, no. That isn't happening.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:11 AM on May 29, 2018


How about a horror movie set during the 5 minutes when Yo was a thing, and the protagonist is really dedicated to it and their friends are just getting increasingly frequent Yos.
posted by ckape at 10:13 AM on May 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


I know these are goofy, time-wasting listicles (and I'm definitely not the market for them) but looking through these lists, a lot of the plots of "films ruined by technology" are simply plots where there is an element of poor communication. As others have mentioned above the smartphone or even the dumb phone hasn't solved humanity's issues with communicating to one another. If anything I think smartphones have negatively impacted our ability to communicate and connect with one another. It strikes me as a strange & shallow thought experiment to have. Personally, I'd be more interested in seeing discussions of greater depth but harder perhaps to talk about like how the presence of discrimination behind and on the screen ruins classic movies or if you want it in listicle form "10 beloved movies that if you removed their misogyny and/or racism the movie would be ruined".
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:35 AM on May 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


It's not technology that ruined it, but I was saddened at the end of last year when the FCC relaxed ownership rules on local TV stations and, as a result, ruined the plot twist that resolves the conflict in UHF.
posted by twjordan at 11:27 AM on May 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


Oh sure. Text doesn't take up much storage. You could probably get a whole book onto a single 5 1/4 inch floppy disc with CBM DOS - readable by every Commodore 64 in the world! And don't even get me started on Zip Discs! The new ones will hold 750 MB! That's like a library right there!

I get where you're going here, but "the nearest functioning computer in free hands is 1000 miles away, we're going to have to wait a few months/years to replicate this cache of txt files on hundreds of these pinky-nail sized micro SD cards that we disperse everywhere and that it will only take one functioning drive to transfer to a new standard eventually and start the whole process over again" is more plausible than "the only person with book x memorized died but they'd already taught it to someone else, so no worries and also we have a person for every single book that it's worth preserving". Like the former makes it way more likely that we'll still have Melville's "Pierre" when the future takes a better turn than the Fahrenheit 451 solution.

(Okay, yes I'm overthinking a spinning 10 inch storage platter of Bradbury beans.)
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:11 PM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]



I have experienced things you wouldn't believe.

Zip disks failing in the iomega drives. RW arms flailing in blue plastic.
Laser beams writing bits out of alignment. All those sectors will be lost to FAT.

Time to reformat.
posted by srboisvert at 12:46 PM on May 29, 2018 [6 favorites]


Tyler would never have been able to save Marla because she would have called the Narrator on his cell phone. Obviously Tyler never would have seen the call and picked up the phone.

Somebody didn't watch the whole movie.

With iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and a million other ways to stream music, there's no way a town could ban a music genre in 2017.

Dancing
was banned, not music.
posted by Mitheral at 2:56 PM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Fight Club is mentioned in the last link and that's kinda dumb because Nokia and Motarola sold hundreds of millions of cell phones by 1999.

We might as well make a list called ten thousand movies that would be ruined if the characters had a competent mental health team helping them through the hard times in their life.
posted by peeedro at 4:38 PM on May 29, 2018 [10 favorites]


Kind of off topic, but in the last of the Final Destination movies, cell phones are one of the few reveals that hint at the, ahem, giant, series altering twist at the end of the film. Say what you will about the series (one and two are great, three is okay, four and five are a slog) but having a payoff like that after six movies is kind of amazing.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:31 PM on May 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


This discussion reminds me of A Winter's Bone . I adore both the book and movie. It really could have been over in 5 minutes. At least 6 characters could have said - "Rhee. Your dad was killed by meth dealers for being a narc. Stop looking." Instead they gave her weird runarounds. It's about communication, or lack thereof, and cell phones wouldn't have solved the problem.

The whole Ozark subculture is one of not discussing issues. We won't ask the cousins why they're not providing venison for us like family should, because we don't ask about family to do what the already know is correct. (You're being ostracized because your dad's a narc and you're the only one who doesn't know). It's exacerbated by extreme poverty - Rhee has to walk, bum rides, or ride the bus everywhere. Cell phones wouldn't help (even if if they worked in the mountains and Rhee could afford one), because people wouldn't answer questions when asked.

That's narratively convenient, but used to explore secrets and a non-communicative subculture based on not saying what's important. A great read.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 6:18 PM on May 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


And with Die Hard... crocs! You just slip them on! There was no reason for him to get all those pieces of glass stuck in his feet.
posted by XMLicious at 8:12 PM on May 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


I know a lot of people who won't answer the phone unless you text them first. And texts tend to be a get to them when you come to them thing. Honestly, if I needed help from a friend or tell them something important in the next two hours, there's a good chance I'd have been better off in the land line era.

Yep. I had to break down and CALL a friend because he hadn't returned my texts in 48 hours and it was unusual for him. (He has a medical condition and lives alone, thus my worry.) He told me he took an impromptu road trip and when he uses turn-by-turn navigation, texts get sent to purgatory.
posted by AFABulous at 8:29 PM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


It would be so much more interesting and relevant to figure out how to plot out a thriller or horror movie where phones are available and have reception and it still doesn't help.

Lovecraft Country was set before cell phones but I loved how it combined horror with post-WWII era racism to isolate the protagonists. In stuff by H. P. himself the victims need to act stupidly, in Matt Ruff's take what good would asking for help do if you're black?*

Thrillers almost need the characters to be isolated; certainly the isolation opens up some options even though the mechanism to isolate them is a cliche. It's similar to the tendency of whodunnits to wanting a finite list of suspects and so the many settings in little self-contained worlds (country manors, trains, cruise ships, hospitals, theaters, etc.) Or the fantasy / SF that uses the travelogue form to explain things to a reader and gets a naif on the road or on a spaceship to do so.

I'm developing this theory reading the complaints of this thread: fans of a genre are the sort of people who hit that setup cliche and think "Oh, great, cell phone battery is dead, that's out of the way, now the fun can begin" and the ones who think "Oy, that tired trope again" are approaching the book more as a general reader**. I think everyone appreciates a clever new way to get the thing rolling but for genre fans that's just icing.

I wouldn't call myself a thriller fan but FWIW I usually like the physical isolation (which now has to include cell phone outages) better than what I think are the second and third most popular ways to isolate someone in a thriller, disbelieving them by (1) suspecting them of the crime or (2) deciding they are crazy.



*OTOH the one resource they do have is family, which I thought was a nice poke-in-the-eye to H. P. who was so afraid of black blood infecting Anglo-Saxon bloodlines and yet had all these yahoos either unconnected to family or betrayed by it.

**I'm absolutely not implying some judgment in favor or against genre fans here.

posted by mark k at 10:37 PM on May 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


It would be so much more interesting and relevant to figure out how to plot out a thriller or horror movie where phones are available and have reception and it still doesn't help.

Get Out is a very good modern thriller that has the characters using their phones.
posted by bleep at 11:31 PM on May 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Get Out is a very good modern thriller that has the characters using their phones.

But it does have a key moment built around availability of a charged phone.

You're Next had a semi-novel solution to the problem, but it really only works as a fresh idea once. By the time I saw it in another film it felt hacky, or as mark k points out, just part of getting past a trope of the genre that irks me. And my preference does tend more towards the supernatural horror and straight up weird end of the spectrum, so fair that I'm less inclined to just go with it in the same way.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:14 AM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Many of today's modern films would have had their entire premise derailed if they took place in a world where...

...the characters just told each other stuff just like real people do. All those plots based on a person withholding a secret or true feelings, or failing to loudly and completely correct a misunderstanding, or not totally and completely spilling the beans? ~poof~ ->gone<-
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:28 PM on May 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


I feel like McSweeney's probably should be, and honestly I'm tempted to nick this premise and write it myself

McSweeney's Presents" Stories That Would Have Turned Out Differently If the Characters Had Had Cell Phones."
posted by Naberius at 1:18 PM on May 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


Saw Othello a few months ago. Contemporary setting. Cell phones. Actors spoke same lines as in Shakespeare's time.

Plot held together just fine.
posted by yohko at 8:15 AM on June 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


OTHELLO (texting):

The servants of the duke, and my lieutenant.
The goodness of the night upon you, friends!
What is the news?

CASSIO (texting):

The duke does greet you, general,
And he requires your haste-post-haste appearance,
Even on the instant.

(I'm now thinking of creating a bunch of FB accounts based on Othello on Facebook, and performing the play on FB)
posted by nubs at 8:34 AM on June 1, 2018 [2 favorites]


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