Stupid tech in Christmas films
Christmas TV may be cheesier than the average Fondue addict thanks to dozens of old repeats and schmaltzy family films, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had amid the predictable seasonal schedules.
Take the hundreds of movies that are churned out by dozens of channels over the festive period: while some just aren’t worth bothering with – with guff like Santa Clause: The Movie or White Christmas the worst offenders – others are worth a watch simply for their off-the-wall technology.
We’ve scoured the listings and hunted down our favourite examples so, if you’ve got a spare moment between the Queen’s Speech and Top of the Pops, you can take a peek at some of the oddest tech ever commited to celluloid.
Take The Matrix trilogy (9pm, ITV2, 28/29/30 December), for instance. It may be one of the most technologically advanced franchises ever made – but also one of the most ridiculous. Take a step back from Keanu’s sunglasses, Morpheus and bullet-time, and consider the movie’s main idea: a virtual world powered by human bio-electricity that, at the same time, keeps regular folk sedate enough for the Matrix itself to try and take over the world.
It’s all a little bit silly.
That, however, is exactly why it’s one of our favourites – it’s full of insane tech that can only be fully understood by the geekiest of geeks and, if you need some peace and quiet come the holidays, we’re confident that it’ll reduce elderly relatives to a confused stupor. Much like The Matrix itself, in fact.
Another movie that takes tech to the extreme is Blade Runner, which is being shown on the BBC iPlayer until Boxing Day – a suitably high-tech format for a movie that paints a bleak, dystopian and tech-filled Los Angeles.
Some of the movie’s futuristic tech was, to say the least, a bit wide of the mark. We’ve all seen blurry images zoomed into pixelated messes on Crimewatch, but protagonist Deckard took it to a new extreme: mere seconds after looking up an image, he’s able to zoom in, make out detail that can’t possibly have been in the original picture, and then follow the image around a corner.
That’s not the only example of over-zealous futurism, either. Flying cars regularly appeared in movies after Blade Runner, but few managed to look so outlandish while also boasting the kind of chunky GUI normally found on the BBC Micro.
Of course, some of Blade Runner’s predictions weren’t quite as outlandish. Airship advertising may have seemed silly at the time, but it’s now possible to buy your own flying billboard, and the movie’s neon umbrellas are also available to buy.
The Terminator franchise is another that revels in harebrained technology, and another that’s getting a good airing over the festive season – the first movie is on BBC3 on New Year’s Day, and the second appeared on ITV2 on the 23rd. As well as featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cyborg assassin, both movies include Skynet, the self-aware AI system that tried to blow up the planet with nuclear weapons before telling more robots to rid it of any humans who happened to survive the blast.
The silly tech continues in the second film. Skynet’s back, but the most influential piece of kit is, arguably, a humble CPU – albeit a processor that was rescued from the arm of a previous Terminator model and was then being used to reverse engineer a new and improved version of Skynet. You know, the AI system that was planning to carpet-bomb the planet and then rid it of the human race.
It’s a good thing it all got blown up in the end.
Bridget Jones on the edge of sanity
The Christmas schedules aren’t all action, with dodgy technology cropping up in family films and even the odd romantic comedy. Take Bridget Jones: the Edge of Reason, which was shown on December 23rd but is surely ripe for Sky+ and DVD outings over the festive season.
It’s set in the modern day, so it’s not entirely unlikely the characters will come into contact with computers – although, in the grandest Hollywood tradition, they’re not the sort of PCs that you or I probably know. After all, it’s not every day that emails appear in our inboxes, in real-time, letter-by-letter, as they’re typed.
Then again, perhaps Miss Jones was being alarmingly prescient: once somebody finally figures out a proper use for Google Wave, real-time email might become a reality.
Inspector Gadget is another family-friendly movie that makes a mockery of the rules of physics, technology and, well, everything else. It’s fair to say that your sense of disbelief might have to be suspended in order to watch a film where Matthew Broderick is turned into a helpful cyborg after being attacked by a bowling ball, but what follows is even worse.
One particularly grating moment sees the good Inspector attempt to discharge oil from his bionic finger, only to see a torrent of toothpaste emerge from a previously-unknown orifice that, naturally, has to store said liquid. Where does he keep it? How does he fill it up again? It’s also worth mentioning that this crime-fighting machine has a left foot that shoots fireworks, but no-one thought to fit him with a gun. Clever.
At least Inspector Gadget proves that there’s only one real choice when it comes to law-enforcing cyborgs – Robocop. Also being shown over the festive season, it doesn’t mess around with toothpaste dispensing: instead, he boasts a machine gun, flamethrower and grenade launcher. On the same arm. Weedy Matthew Broderick, quite frankly, wouldn’t stand a chance.
Holy FSB, Batman!
Thankfully, there are plenty of other movies to keep the tech-minded brain occupied over the holidays. The team behind Adam West’s 1966 classic Batman movie obviously knew something that we still don’t when they made this camp classic, which is being shown on Film 4 on New Year’s Day.
Take, for instance, his PC: while we make do with poxy power supplies, Batman’s system was powered by the Bat-diamond and overclocked by the Accelerated Concentration Switch, which sounds far easier than having to fiddle around in the BIOS. There’s also such witchcraft as the BatComputer Ingestor Switch, BatComputer BatResistance Signal and the BatCorrection Signal, which put Batman, Robin or Alfred in their place when they’d made a mistake – a feature that’s literally decades ahead of the fabled Clippy when it comes to usefulness.
And that’s not all: Batman’s turbo-charged PC also included a Special Escaped Archcriminal BatLocator and Anti-Crime Voice Analyser, and produced illustrated BatSlides, which were far more useful than the usual text-only cue cards. We’re also incredibly impressed by his ability to discover exactly where Gotham City’s worst offenders are located when his PC seems to be made entirely of blinking lights.
Batman’s roster of gadgets could, in some ways, prove as prescient as Bridget Jones’ real-time emails. His BatPrinter produced forged documents, the BatSpectrograph Criminal Analyser recorded biological information of anyone in close vicinity, and the BatCrime Computer studied a felon’s movements and then predicted his next crime.
It’s a shame that few Christmas movies include such madcap technological wonders but, amid the snow and the presents, it’s possible to find the odd gem. Take Tim Allen’s 1994 movie The Santa Clause. While most of the movie is typical seasonal fare, keen-eared gamers will be able to hear the sliding door noise from seminal FPS Doom, which was released the previous year. It’s famously popped up elsewhere, too – including in episodes of Doctor Who, Babylon Five and Mystery Science Theater 3000 – due to its status as a favourite stock sound effect.
You may have to avoid the seasonal favourites – and, after all, who wants to suffer through Billy Elliot, A Christmas Carol or ABBA: The Movie – but, if you prefer technology over turkey, these movies prove that there’s no need for the Christmas season to be bereft of techy joy.