July 27, 2001
10:47 AM   Subscribe

As much as I enjoyed the Blair Witch Project, one had to wonder why those silly kids didn't have a single mobile phone among them. A number of standard plot devices are becoming obsolete as a result of current technologies, while filmmakers are finding new ways to incorporate technology into their stories.
posted by tranquileye (19 comments total)
posted by clavdivs at 11:14 AM on July 27, 2001

A good friend of mine once went over the plot of Blair Witch and came to the conclusion about why it was set in 1994: cell phones would've been extremely expensive, especially for starving young film students. That, and coverage in the middle of nowhere was probably not available then.
Oh, and I'm a big fan of simple movies that don't have to rely on strange technologies to move you... like Kar-wai Wong's In The Mood for Love, which sets us all the way back to 1962...
posted by salsamander at 11:15 AM on July 27, 2001

most movies in existence are set before the late 90's. ;-)

and i say it's about damn time characters start using *69!
posted by elle at 11:43 AM on July 27, 2001

and I suppose once telepathy becomes an established widely-used psychic technology great films like "Look Who's Talking" and "Dr. Doolitle" will also become mundane and full of plot holes too.
posted by mb01 at 12:05 PM on July 27, 2001

and I suppose once telepathy becomes an established widely-used psychic technology great films like "Look Who's Talking" and "Dr. Doolitle" will also become mundane and full of plot holes too.
posted by mb01 at 12:09 PM on July 27, 2001

I think the first time I saw a mobile phone used on TV was in The X-Files. Of course, watching repeats of the first series, it now looks incredibly dated. (How long before The Matrix's tech seems hilariously old-fashioned.)

And that reminds me of the main way that technology has an impact on the big screen: product placement. Nokia and, um, whoever made the headphones for Keanu (Panasonic?); Motorola, Apple, Kodak for MI:2; Ericsson for Tomb Raider. It's as if the days of Q's amazing inventions in the Bond films have given way to showcases for the geek toy catalogue.
posted by holgate at 12:11 PM on July 27, 2001

I've always wondered why Charlton Heston didn't use any shotguns in Ben Hur
posted by matteo at 1:24 PM on July 27, 2001

The Bond movies are also heavy with product placements for automobiles, watches, ski equipment, etc. In fact, it's probably the Bond films that pioneered the "prop as product placement" concept -- the Aston-Martin, the Seiko watch with the gizmos, etc. -- since they were always "gear-heavy".

The difference is that in the 1960s most of the gadgets were made up and now the gadgets are real.

What's even worse, though, is how quickly real technology has caught up with a lot of the gizmos from Star Trek. Tricorders, communicators, scanners, the diagnostic bed in sick bay, etc. Other than the ship itself, a lot of the little tech toys in Trek have become real far ahead of the 23rd century.
posted by briank at 1:25 PM on July 27, 2001

Speaking of the X-Files and cell phones, Mulder has his omnipresent flip phone -- but during the Lone Gunmen origin episode, set in 1988, one of the most striking differences was that Mulder was carrying a brick phone. I thought that was a perfect signal to alert audiences.

I read another article by a writer along these lines recently. He complained that you couldn't write a scene where Charlotte walked along the empty dark street, hearing footsteps behind her, trying to get home before they catch up .... because today, she'd just call somebody on her cell phone "I'm being followed!" Or you can't have a character incommunicado in Aruba while his business is plundered by his untrustworthy partner, because he'd be checking e-mail and web access to the bank accounts today. It's not so much that people will always have this technology at their disposal, but that now you have to invent good reasons why it might not be.

Trek is a good example to bring up. Remember that the transporter was "invented" simply because they didn't have a special effects budget (nor did Roddenberry wish to spend the story time) to show a shuttle landing in different surroundings week after week. It was simply a convenience so they could cut to the chase, the action sequences that were the heart of the story, without being bogged down in minutia. But once you've established it, the writers are bound by its convenience as well. Crew stuck on planet, surrounded by alien guards? Hell, just beam 'em out! End of tension! So that's why you end up with dozens of transporter glitches over the run of the series, from power fluctuations to atmospheric disturbances -- all because the writer had a story that wouldn't work with instant transportation. Makes it look just as dangerous and unreliable in story terms as McCoy always claimed ....
posted by dhartung at 1:50 PM on July 27, 2001

This was one reason I really liked Freaky Links - it was one of the only shows I've ever seen that did a semi-realistic job of incorporating people who REALLY used technology and whose lives revolved around a web site, into reasonable plot events. One episode had them finding an inactive hidden server in a wall, pulling out the hard drive, and reconnecting it to their computer to get the information they needed. I suppose it didn't really appeal to a mass audience, but it really reflected my OWN tendencies. (The Lone Gunmen did NOT incorporate technology and knowledge well into plot lines, among other problems, but that's another thread.)

If someone was walking down a city street at night, people would wonder why the HELL they didn't have a cell phone. But... I live in a cell phone dead zone in the mountains - just yesterday a surveyor came knocking on the door wanting to use our phone because his wasn't working - LOL. So this person, in a modern story, better have a DAMN good reason for not having a cell phone, but it could still work. I don't own one and don't know if I ever will - I don't know if I want to be THAT reachable. And someone who writes that kind of person will have to know WHY someone would make those choices. But anyway... :-)
posted by thunder at 2:07 PM on July 27, 2001

You're completely right about the Bond films, briank, and the Fleming novels are just as rich with product placement -- the Rolex Oysters, the Pierre Cardin suits -- though it was always for luxury items rather than gizmos.
posted by holgate at 2:10 PM on July 27, 2001

the transporter was "invented"...

Early on, Amazon should have concentrated on this technology; the only way to make selling books over the Web will ever be viable. : )
posted by ParisParamus at 2:16 PM on July 27, 2001

rovers(ultimate adhoc prop)
posted by clavdivs at 2:46 PM on July 27, 2001

There's a great scene in American Beauty where the Dad calls his daughter's friend (whom he's lusting over), and then hastily hangs up when she answers. He then hurries out of the room. His daughter then strolls in, just as the phone rings. Daughter picks it up. Friend says "Did you just call me and hang up?" Daughter says no. Friend says "Well, someone just called and hung up, and when I *69'd it called you."

Probably a perfectly routine event in the life of today's teens, but to a guy who just turned thirty it seemed like the most astoundingly clever plot device of all time.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 2:58 PM on July 27, 2001

...shotguns in ben hur...hehehe
posted by clavdivs at 6:29 AM on July 28, 2001

Shadowkeeper, the American Beauty example also shows the generation gap in information: I don't know about you, but I doubt that my parents are *69ing anybody. But my teenage brothers probably are....
posted by bjennings at 8:55 AM on July 28, 2001

People are always asking why the Blair Witch kiddies had all of the mod tech cons except for a mobile phone.

They also ask how these same kids managed not to conserve the batteries for their cameras for the entire three days or so that they were walking around in circles.

If you think about this question long and hard while you are eating peanut butter on toast (not my favorite combination, but the bread was so stale I needed to cook it) you will realise these two conundrums are related.

The kids in the Blair Witch movie did have mobile phones, but they wanted to conserve the batteries for their cameras. Fair enough I say.

I want you all to note they also had a map which some people might reasonably consider to be as helpful as a mobile phone or even more so. But have you tried lugging a map around when you are lost in the wilderness? It's no small wonder that they threw it away.
posted by lucien at 5:00 PM on July 28, 2001

I'd suggest that any movie that revolves around the absence/presence of a mobile phone probably isn't worthwhile.
posted by solistrato at 8:22 AM on July 30, 2001

That's a bit knee-jerk, solistrato: I was talking to an Oxford tutor a few months back about the impact of technology on literature, and he told me about an essay he was writing on the role of the telephone in Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, and the way in which the introduction of the phone affected the English novel, just as the penny post in London had made it possible for Sherlock Holmes to send a letter at breakfast and receive a reply by dinner-time. And you can go back and back to, say, Richardson's Clarissa, a novel that relies upon the failure of a communication technology -- the mail-coach -- for one of its most important narrative twists.

So it's often just a case of being sensitive to the technology and the way it affects interactions.
posted by holgate at 8:48 AM on July 30, 2001

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