Friday, February 03, 2006

It's movie night at Log Base 2!

And tonight's flic ... Enemy of the State, a 1998 movie starring Will Smith and Gene Hackman. I picked it up the other day for $7.99 (Canadian dollars, eh). The link above is to reviews of the movie at Rotten Tomatoes (an excellent site if you're not familiar with it). On the Tomatometer it scores a 70%, which would suggest that it's a reasonably good movie. Which it is. But given the recent revelations about NSA monitoring of telecommunications within the USA and internationally, the Tomatometer needs a little recalibration ... say an additional 20%? So rent this movie!

Don't worry, it's lots of fun. You gotta love Will Smith, and Gene Hackman is--as usual--top notch. John Voight plays the baddie with verve. And several other well-known actors (like Jack Black and Gabriel Byrne) have minor parts. It's a Jerry Bruckheimer co-production, so there are some wicked action sequences. Woo-eee!

Stealing from the box, it's "a dynamite thriller" (Rolling Stone), but it's also a techno-geek-fest (GPS tracking, 23 GHz transmitters, and directional mics), and a buddy movie (there's good chemistry between Smith and Hackman) with a dash of light humour skillfully blended into the mix. There's lots of other good stuff, but I'm sure that's been well covered in the reviews you can read via Rotten Tomatoes.

Although the action never let up, the plot was predictable enough that I had time to ponder the technology. Some of it was pure Hollywood fantasy. A fuzzy security camera image from a bad angle? No problem: just sharpen it, and then (!) do a 3D rotation to get a better view. On the other hand, the wiretapping and traces seemed quite believable. Other times, I just wasn't sure. Can they really take those fancy satellite videos on the fly?

Of course the intellectual meat of the movie is the concern that we're becoming a surveillance society, with security cameras wherever we look (and more importantly, where we don't), sophisticated electronic eavesdropping, and linked databases of personal information (like financial records and employment history) that Big Brother can access with a keystroke. Throw in a murderous conspiracy, and--voila!--an engaging movie experience.

But this movie was released in 1998, and the conspiracy had to come from a rogue NSA bigwig hungry for power. Watching the movie today, we have a somewhat different perspective. If you can get past the "high-powered suspense thriller where nonstop action meets cutting-edge technology!" (I'm stealing from the box again), the movie seems remarkably prescient.

If I can quote from box one more time, the byline on the front says "It's not paranoia if they're really after you." Well, they're really after you.

Update 12Feb2006: This is just too weird!

Update #2, 12Feb2006: It just gets better and better: the NSA website has a privacy policy!
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Blogger Zeno said...

Another paranoia-inducing movie is Sean Connery's Wrong is Right. Connery plays a cynical journalist who is trying to cover a story involving nuclear terrorism and upheaval in the Middle East. There are also suicide bombers. Having seen it years ago, I don't remember many details, but it played out as darkly humorous against a background of electronic surveillance and clandestine operations. It's probably not as humorous as intended in today's world. Given that the movie was released in 1982, it's exceedingly creepy to see how prescient it was.

1:22 AM, February 04, 2006  
Anonymous Peter said...

I had forgotten Wrong is Right - wonder if its on DVD? - and recall the v funny last scene, in which he pauses before jumping out of an airplane (I think) to throw away his toupee! The overall theme being how much news repoting is just spin or manufactured - all illusion.

But my reason for commenting was to say that Canada is not the US, whatever its problems (or new cabinet) and I dont really worry about the US spying on its citizens. Which has a long tradition behind it anyway.

But I agree: a fun movie, and a superior thriller.

3:51 PM, February 06, 2006  
Blogger Dave said...

It is really quite remarkable how accurately movies like this can reveal technology developments. I found an article today on digg about the development of an EMP device - designed to knock out electronics in an enemy's headquarters. The EMP(Electro-Magnetic Pulse - I think)was used to great success by the rebels in the Matrix trilogy if you recall...

4:00 PM, February 06, 2006  
Blogger jon said...

Also on the topic of surveillance, try Coppola's "The Conversation" (1974)...extremely quiet, and suspenseful.
Now available on DVD.
It also stars Gene Hackman!
I always turn on the english subtitles these days. Eastwood and others mumble alot.

2:30 AM, February 07, 2006  
Blogger Zeno said...

This is just too wierd!

"Weird", Nick. It's "weird".

But yes, definitely peculiar. Ever see The Last Starfighter, where it turned out an electronic video game was a recruiting device for interstellar warriors? Maybe the guys at NSA saw it, too.

1:50 PM, February 12, 2006  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

Thanks — I fixed my (ahem) weird spelling. My mother has a mnemonic for this: "either, neither, seize, and weird". Unfortunately, it turns out there are many more "ei" spellings. My father-in-law did a dictionary search and found a bunch more.

Don't think I've seen The Last Starfighter but looks like it might be fun.

You know, I do wonder if the NSA guys really are just a bunch of techno-geeks who just think it's way-cool to intercept messages, etc. By the way, does anyone know if they can break PGP? (NSA please note: I'm just curious, it's not like I have anything to hide! Gulp.)

2:07 PM, February 12, 2006  

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