One of my photos

Die Hard 4.0

January 15th, 2008 · Posted by Skuds in Life · 2 Comments · Life

Last night Jayne and I unwound by watching Die Hard 4.0 ((or Live Free Die Hard as it was called in the US)) on DVD. The plot is quite easy to explain – its the same as the first three films.

We enjoyed it though. As is often the case with Hollywood action films I almost did myself an injury biting my lip to stop me pointing out anything stupid or illogical. I think I did quite well. There was only one point where I actually said what I was thinking and had to be silenced with one of ‘those looks’. A good job the film was not set in London at all though. I have to be bound and gagged to stop me pointing out location errors, especially if the action goes anywhere near a tube station. ((Bourne Ultimatum required superglue round the lips!))

A pleasant surprise was seeing Kevin Smith pop up as a sort of uber-hacker in his ‘operations centre’ (his mum’s basement) surrounded by monitors and Star Wars ephemera. Everything else was business as normal for the franchise – criminal mastermind causing chaos, Bruce Willis in the wrong place at the wrong time, some crawling over broken glass, McClane getting hold of one of the baddies’ radios. The only difference really is that it was set on July 4th instead of Christmas.

Despite being an enjoyable film, it was really annoying from a computer point of view though, for exactly the same reasons as nearly every other film about computers and hackers. It was stretching credulity a bit to imagine all the financial data from the whole of the US – all the banks, the stock markets, and everything – being able to fit into one server room, but then for someone to try stealing it by copying it all to a portable hard drive… but then the first draft probably had them putting it on a USB stick or something.

Now while I might not understand or sympathise with hackers’ lifestyles and motivations, I have a lot of respect for their abilities, but I still refuse to believe that anyone can be as good as the ones who crop up in films. Faced with a control room full of dozens of consoles to control every aspect of a some complicated operation like a power plant, a traffic management system or a military theatre of operations for the very first time they will be told to turn something on or off, or block access to something or allow access to something else and they just do it. In about 3 seconds.

In real life the people who work there, spend all day working with the computers and understand everything, would take that long to remember which of the consoles to use. In a film the young hacker just does it, without so much as an introductory course, and they do it one-handed while they are reprogramming their mobile phone to use a different network with the other hand.

That is the sort of thing you have to learn to ignore if you want to sit back and enjoy the movie, and you have to remind yourself how terrible the film would be if it was realistic and you had the hackers doing lots of trial and error. At least films have now grown up a bit and don’t patronise you by having every computer speak as it displays words and every person say what they are typing all the time. Remember War Games?

The most amazing thing for me was finding out that the element which most had me laughing at the absurdity of it turns out to be real!

Towards the end of the film there is a bit of a chase between a huge articulated lorry and an F35 jet fighter plane. As the plane finishes flying past firing missiles and bullets it does not then overshoot and take a mile to turn around and come back for another go, as you would expect from a plane capable of 1,200mph. No. It stops and waits for the truck to come along! Flaps open up, revealing a huge great fan in the middle of the fuselage, and it uses this downward-facing fan to hover.

I was overcome with the sheer preposterousness of it, so much so that I had to look it up on Wikipedia, where I found that there is actually a variant of the F35 that does just that. it is called the F35-B, and does indeed have a bloody great fan in the middle. The plane was only unveiled in December 2007 and the RAF, Royal Navy and US Marines will be using them to replace Harriers.

It just goes to show: even if something in a film is totally ludicrous it doesn’t mean that its not possible. So maybe hackers really can get into anything and understand how to use it in a few seconds. If so, they might like to come and sort out my style sheets so that I get some margins around embedded pictures.

Tags: ····

2 Comments so far ↓

  • PooterGeek

    A few years ago, when I actually worked in a research lab, a non-scientist novelist sent me a biomedical thriller to review. I thought it was mostly accurate, but, unfortunately, so accurate that the book was duller than it needed to be.

    The one plot element that I told the author seemed a bit implausible to me turned out to be based on a true story he had been told by someone working in a research lab.

  • Skuds

    Truth stranger than fiction eh?

    I think we all have some episodes or incidents in our lives that would be too unlikely to include in fiction. Unless it was by Thomas Hardy, obviously.