It’s a great time to be a tech geek with a love for the cinema. Not only is film technology evolving at a breakneck pace, the subject matter for films is also targeting tech audiences in a more nuanced, fulfilling way (which is obviously good).
The gaze in which technology enthusiasts are portrayed in film has changed too. The model of the “hacker” or “computer enthusiast” is still here, but in the best films, that model has evolved.
I set out to make a list that represents the current landscape of the film industry and technology (Only Hollywood… Sorry). You won’t find films like War Games, Hackers, The Matrix or The Net on this list. Whatever the respective merits of those films are (or aren’t), they’re not an accurate representation of where film and technology are today (That’s what i think…Let me know your views about this in the comments below).
In no descending order, here are 10 of the best movies for modern tech enthusiasts.
10. 2001: A Space Odyssey
Stanley Kubrick is the quintessential auteur; like Fellini, Hitchcock and Allen, his vision permeates every aspect of the final product and his style is unmistakable. This is true of nearly every Kubrick film, but it’s particularly true in the context of 2001: A Space Odyssey. An expansion of Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s short story, “The Sentinel,” Kubrick co-wrote the script with Clarke and set out to make, in his words, “the proverbial great science fiction film.”
Released in 1968 after five years in development, the film wasn’t exactly a hit with audiences or critics. Decades later, it is considered one of the most influential and important films in modern history. Its portrayal of the computer HAL, in many regards, shaped how computers and the overarching ideas of technology would be portrayed in cinema.
The thing about 2001 isn’t that it was especially prescient, certainly not in the way that Minority Report is. It’s very much a product of its time. Still, the film encapsulates the wonder of technology and raises questions about how machines intersect with our lives.
The film had a tremendous amount of influence on directors of the post-New Wave era of cinema, with filmmakers like George Lucas, Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg all citing 2001 as key sources of inspiration. Its influence, especially when you look at films like WALL-E and TRON: Legacy, still continues today.
9. Minority Report
I wasn’t including Minority Report on this list, but more than eight years later, the film continues to influence the technology we use and develop.
What made Minority Report so striking in 2002 was its realistic and quite frankly, reasonable projection of how the world would look in 2054. From tablets with instantly changing/updating content, to touch- and motion-based UI controls, to stores that greet you by name and ask about your last purchase, very little about Minority Report, except perhaps for the “precogs” themselves, seems unreasonable.
Steven Spielberg worked with technology innovators and researchers when creating the film and designing its interfaces. Beyond that, it’s impossible to deny the influence Minority Report has had on consumer electronics and industrial design in general.
Collapsus.com is one of the most impressive film projects i had ever seen. Its press kit describes itself as “a new experience in transmedia storytelling that combines interactivity, animation, fiction, and documentary.”
The film is an exploration of the imminent energy transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources. Its plot reads like something out of a cyberpunk novella, which in and of itself, would probably make for interesting tech geek viewing.
What makes the film — an the entire project — so far beyond that is the way in which the material is created and brought together. Tommy Pallotta, who produced Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly and co-developed the rotoscoping animation technique of those two films, is the director of the project. Produced by SubmarineChannel, this is a project worth keeping your eye on.
WALL-E, the story of a lonely, forgotten robot who loves Hello, Dolly! and manages to find love — and life — is one of Pixar’s best films.
Almost completely free from dialogue for the first third of the film, it’s incredibly impressive visually. Its story, which some criticized as being a morality play, is thought-provoking, especially in the context of how technology can make things easier, but also make living less of an experience.
For tech geeks, the Easter eggs scattered throughout the film — from the technology of the past to the Macintosh start-up sound — just round out this very cool film.
6. We Live in Public
In her award winning documentary, We Live in Public, Ondi Timoner profiles Josh Harris, a dot com millionaire from the Web 1.0 bubble. Harris, who the film bills as “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of” was truly ahead of his time in his business plans for video and social communication over the Internet.
Harris was also ahead of his time when it came to living out his life in public. Long before Facebook ,YouTube and Twitter made sharing personal photos, videos or missives commonplace, Harris was living out his life in avant-garde public displays and streaming that content online.
Consequently, Harris also experienced the downside of living so publicly long before the privacy implications of Facebook became front page news.
Not only is Avatar the most successful motion picture of all time, it’s also one of the most technically impressive.
Using a 3D camera system pioneered by director James Cameron, Avatar manages to toe the line between animation and live action in a way like never before. The story is secondary — Avatar is all about the journey. The visuals of the film, especially in 3D, go beyond what i and you can express in words.
Avatar, like Star Wars before it, has set the tone for how technology will be used in film going forward.
Christopher Nolan is a geek’s geek. From Memento to The Dark Knight to Inception, he manages to create films that are intelligent, thought-provoking and not quite what you would expect.
i think Inception is one of the best films of the year. The film has many technical elements, but this is the sort of film that is more about the puzzle, rather than the gadgetry.
Still, the visuals, the music and the overlying subject matter — which the nature of the film necessitates we not spell out — makes this one of the best science fiction thrillers to come out in years.
3. Iron Man/Iron Man 2
Historically, some of the best comic book films are also great tech films. Think about it; the gadgetry of Batman, the mutated abilities of Spider-Man or the X-Men and the extra-terrestrial powers of Superman are all really well suited for the silver screen.
That said, one of the most impressive comic book films in recent years was Iron Man. It and its sequel Iron Man 2 manage to appeal to the die-hard comic book/tech geek, while still resonating with mainstream audiences.
Plus, Tony Stark and Stark Industries have some of the coolest gadgets around. In fact, aspects of the Stark character are purportedly based on a real tech titan, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison!
Watching Iron Man 2, who didn’t want a go with Tony’s personal communicator? I know I did.
2. The Social Network
When it was first announced that a “Facebook movie” was going into production, the world scoffed. When The Social Network was released this fall, we stopped laughing.
Perhaps more than any other film to date, The Social Network effectively captures the experience of hacking code. The film is about much more than just the website Facebook, but by the same token, it still manages to effectively bring the online experience to the big screen in a way that accurately portrays the reality of the experience — something past films like The Net and Hackers just never achieved.
The film has already been honoured by the National Board of Review and i expect to see the names David Fincher, Aaron Sorkin and Jesse Eisenberg pop up throughout award season (Golden Globe or Globes for sure and maybe an Oscar).
1. TRON: Legacy
When the original TRON was released in 1982, it was a breakthrough not only in how computers were portrayed on screen, but how computers and technology were used in the creation of motion picture. That didn’t mean that TRON received a warm reception. As writer/director Steven Lisbeger said in a TV interview last month, TRON was shut-out from the technical categories at the 55th Academy Awards because “what we did was considered cheating.”
Twenty-eight years later, the technical reception for TRON: Legacy is quite different. If you ask me “This film is going to be beautiful”.
Combining not just a technical story, but also 3D visuals a la Avatar and CGI motion-capture technology from the same company that did the visual work in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, this film is incredibly advanced.
In its story and its execution, TRON: Legacy is the sort of film that tech geeks yearn to see. It hits theaters on December 17, 2010 i.e., Tomorrow .
So what are your picks for some of the best modern (or even classic) films for tech geeks in 2010? What films have you seen that best capture what it means to love technology? Let me know in the comments.