Online But Out of Touch: The Internet in Movies and TVHollywood has struggled to properly portray the Internet since it became aware there was an Internet. Films were greenlit quickly to take advantage of the new phenomenon, in some cases faster than the producers could figure out exactly how the Internet worked, and how it looked. Hollywood’s version of the net may not always be realistic, but at least it’s usually good for a laugh. Would You Like to Play a Game? For many of us, the first piece of entertainment that taught us computers could talk to each other across a phone line was probably “War Games.” In this movie, Matthew Broderick interacts only with a Defense Department computer instead of other people. The program he interacts with acts in an unrealistically human fashion, and Broderick’s keyboard commands are rather literal. Yet today, we can interact with computers in this fashion, using standard English commands to tell Siri exactly what we want our iPhone to do. So while the producers of this movie may not have had a firm grasp on what the Internet was like, they scored some points for foresight. Hack the Planet! Your grandchildren will someday ask you what it was like to grow up in the 1990s. In response, you will show them this clip from the film “Hackers.” Your grandkids will be amazed, and tell you how cool you are. That will be a good day. Sometimes, there’s a film that’s simply perfect for its time and place. For the mid-1990s as we first got to actually experience the Internet, 1995’s “Hackers” is that film. More than accurate, the movie absolutely had to make the Internet and hacking lifestyle look cool. So instead of people eating Cheetos and drinking Mountain Dew in Mom’s basement while using an FTP client to make interminably slow dial-up transfers, we got whatever this is, an amazing soundtrack, Matthew Lillard as a guy named Cereal Killer, and Fisher Stevens skateboarding while hanging off the back of a limo. The Net Unlike “Hackers,” “The Net” is pretty forgettable. Also from 1995, it does at least depict a fairly period-correct Apple operating system, but it has more than a few flaws, such as suffering from the need for constant dialogue. Sandra Bullock has to speak the exact words she’s typing out so that the audience doesn’t get bored as she chats online and gets her Hrefs in order. Then there’s the fact that the sinister group of villains has made their super-secret web portal a visible link available to any user, which doesn’t seem particularly elite. The movie’s depiction of Pizza.net should make Domino’s jealous, as it’s far easier and faster to use than any other pizza site I’m aware of. We’re Afraid This Movie Wasn’t Very Good The previous two films may not be that realistic, but at least they have the excuse of coming out before most of us ever spent a minute online. “Feardotcom” gets no such free pass. By 2002, those of us who were old enough had a pretty good idea of what the Internet was like, and it’s not a whole lot like this. The film depicts a website so scary it kills its audience, though the only really scary thing about it is its awful design. And if I’m not mistaken, someone actually types fear.com.com. Every Procedural Ever Internet use is common in current TV shows, especially procedurals. And for the most part, these shows do a much better job of depicting the online experience than the entertainment of the past. You’ll notice, though, that virtually all sites mentioned don’t actually exist. There are exceptions of course, such as the “South Park” episode devoted to Facebook. Real sites are seldom mentioned because network lawyers don’t want to risk any lawsuits from those sites. That’s not much of a surprise, but what may be a surprise is that every time your favorite TV show mentions a fake website, the studio typically buys that URL. It would be bad for NBC, for instance, if after one of its shows mentions a site, someone buys that URL and fills it with offensive content. The Common Theme Every movie, no matter when it was made, supplies the characters with an enviable Internet connection, flawless software compatibility, and intuitive user experience. We never saw the movie in which the website that’s the key clue to the big case uses Flash, and the detectives are all using iPhones. And we missed the one in which the heroes fail to save the world because their little sister picked up the phone, disconnecting the modem. Pages load instantly, regardless of browsing device, connection, and content. Actually, that last part sounds pretty good. If you’re after Internet service that loads at Hollywood speeds, enter your zip code below to see what’s available in your area.
Will Smith is a copywriter living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. His favorite word is “petrichor,” and aside from wordplay, he loves reading history, watching Dodger baseball, and racing with the Sports Car Club of America.