I saw Live Free or Die Hard few days ago and I must say that I’m really glad that I did not actually waste money to see this piece of crap on the big screen. My gut instinct is to automatically pass on any movies that feature hackers or cyber-terrorism because Hollywood always gets these things horribly wrong.
Watching the new installment of the Die Hard was a bit like revisiting The Net all over again. The level of technical expertise and realism is about the same in both pictures. In all fairness, The Net is probably a better movie of the two simply because it contains Sandra Bullock in her prime, and does not contain Justin Long (who seriously needs to get punched in the face with a sledge hammer).
This is the plot of the movie: a bunch of evil terrorists (and you know they are totally evil because they all wear black) hack into the United States and shut everything down. You gonna ask me “United States what?” but no, I did not skip a word there. That is precisely the problem with this movie. These dudes hack into everything! They are such 1337 hackers that they can control anything: street lights, gas mains, tv channels, cell phone networks, the stock market, banking, trains, plains, on board avionics in military jets – hell, they can even take over that shitty $10 webcam in your bedroom and spy on your ass.
The movie is full or ridiculous scenes that look like they were inspired by The Net. For example, at one point the bad guy played by Timothy Olyphant (who we probably better know as The Asexual Hitman Man) goes “McClain, I just deleted your bank account and now I’m deleting your 401k – how do you feel about that? Muahahahaha” as he types something on his keyboard. Next thing you know there is an animation of a page with a big 401k heading and a table with some numbers that suddenly start counting down until they all reach $0 while you hear the ka-ching cash register sound effect. Really? I mean, seriously! Come one people!
The scene is silly in itself but it becomes even sillier when you find out what the bad guys are “really after”. You see, according to this film, after 9/11 the government created a secret facility with some totally awesome servers (and you know they are totally awesome because they like have a lot of blinkenlights) where all financial, banking and social security information from the whole country will be backed up in case of a national emergency. The terrorists want to steal that data because once they have it they will be able to (and this is a direct quote):
“Put it on a portable disk, take it anywhere. They will be able to make transfers, and will be untraceable! Or they could delete it all and send us back to the stone age!”
In other words, the terrorists pretty much shut down the country order to perpetrate some petty identity theft. I’m ignoring that stone age bit because it just doesn’t make any sense and I don’t even want to know what they were getting at. Why do they create a media circus instead of doing things quietly is beyond me. What is even funnier, you have to realize that they already took over computer systems of banks, investment firms, the NY stock exchange, social security systems and etc. It seemed like they already had access to all that information that was supposed to be in the super-secret backup facility. After all they were deleting people’s bank accounts and 401k plans and making untraceable transfers throughout the movie. So why did they needed the backups? I mean, it’s not like they could erase them and “send us to stone age” since every single institution they broke into is likely to have localized and/or off-site physical backups. No super-duper national backup plan would ever replace that. It makes no sense.
Live Free or Die Hard uses virtually every single hated computer cliche in the book. Hacking is done by vigorous typing and you can pretty much tell how hard one is hacking by how fast and hard he is punching the keys. No one ever uses a mouse, or the space bar for anything. Tracing the source of a video chat takes the same amount of time as tracing a phone call, and you must stall the person on the other side of the line making small talk. I mean, I’d just take the IP number and look it up in the whois database to get the address of the registrant but apparently it is a much more complex procedure that displays a big red “ROUTER DENIED” warning whenever you fail to trace the source properly.
It takes exactly 4 key strokes to pull up any information. It goes like this: a bad guy says “locate McClains daughter!”. A dude sitting at a computer terminal goes tap, tap, tap, TAP (you know, the last tap must be like emphasized) and goes “She is stuck in an elevator between 4th and 5th floor in the such and such building on the 34th street”. Then of course they pull up the elevator cam feed to look at her with exactly 4 more keyboard strokes. Justin Long on the other hand manages to reprogram his cell phone to use the super secret satellite network in exactly 4 keyboard strokes. It’s amazing really!
If you plan to watch this movie make sure you keep Clarkes’ third law firmly in mind. In Live Free or Die Hard technology is indistinguishable from magic. Hackers are wizards with unlimited power who can do anything the plot is calling for at the moment: reroute the gas mains, shut down the electrical grid, change stock prices, take over your GPS system, hack into your hamster and turn it into a time bomb (ok, I made this last one up) – you name it. They can shut down the country and bring about the end of civilization and the only person who can stop them is a grizzled, cynical cop who doesn’t know much about computers but can kick serious ass.
I find it funny how all the evil hackers are smart, educated, and well dressed. They all use big words, they enunciate and act professional at all times. You know, highly educated and well spoken people are all evil elitist bastards with their science, and their logic and etc. The good hackers on the other hand are lovable geeks – clumsy, oafish and mumbling cryptic stuff to themselves all the time. They might be smart, but the writers take special care to show that they would never survive without the big, bad McClain holding their hand and wiping their noses all the time. Both of these portrayals personally offend me as a programmer and IT professional but hell, what do I know.
I understand that no one in Hollywood hires technology consultants anymore – and if they do, they probably fired them on the first day when they start crossing out all the awesome hacker stuff from the script and replace it with boring stuff. I get it. I am not their target audience and I guess someone with less technical knowledge than me could overlook all the flaws I listed above. But the badness of the movie extends way beyond that. It is simply way over the top. You’d think that the 3 previous die hard movies were over the top but they are nothing compared to this installment.
It seems that there is some sort of pissing contest going on in Hollywood to see who can make a movie with more outrageous stunts. This trend peeked and culminated in the proverbial Nuking of the Fridge in Indiana Jones 4. Die Hard 4 is a clear runner up in the same league though. McClain destroys a helicopter by driving over a fire hydrant, blows up another driving a car up a makeshift ramp into it, outmaneuvers and destroys a Harrier jet while driving a tractor trailer. Of course before he destroys the jet he jumps on top of it, and manages to stand upright on one of the wings while the plane spins out of control. I mean, WTF is this? Jet surfing?
This sort of thing has to stop. The fact that CGI is dirt cheep these days doesn’t mean you have to use so much of it. The fact that you have a big budget does not mean you need to blow it all on explosions, crashes and outrageous stunts. The original Die Hard while still stunt/special effect heavy was much more low key. McClain had to use stealth and cunning to survive and dispatch the bad guys. The proportions between realism and ass-kicking action were maintained at a level where the viewer was kept on edge of his seat most of the time. There was just enough realism to allow the viewer to suspend his disbelief, and just enough of unrealistic stunts to make things exciting. In Live Free or Die Hard reality goes out the window as soon as the hero blows up the n’th helicopter, falls down from a 10 story building, dusts himself off and then tries to surf on top of a military jet plane while the pilot ejects from the cabin. You can’t build tension when your character pulls off crazy reality defying stunts every 5 minutes. You can’t escalate the special effects indefinitely and expect viewers to go ooh and ahh after each explosion. The more stunts you have in your movie, the less impressive they become.
This is exactly what was happening to the James Bond franchise – they kept escalating the special effects, and adding crazier and crazier stunts with each new installment and at some point people just started yawning and leaving theaters in droves. Then Bond was reinvented anew. Instead of having him jumping over a helicopter on a motorcycle they made him do some Parkour. Instead of an elaborate trap involving sharks with lasers attached to their heads, they used a bottomless chair and a piece of rope with a big knot on the end (and holly shit, that torture scene made me cringe). Lo and behold they scored a huge blockbuster success. I thought that Hollywood got the message after that one. But it is clear that they didn’t since we have movies such as Live Free or Die Hard or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of Crystal Suck still coming out these days.
I can’t really say anything about Bruce Willis’ performance because any respect I might have had for his character was instantly destroyed when he started doing the condescending “I don’t know about computers so why don’t you say that in English you pathetic nerd” routine every time Justin Long said something. Most of the signature Die Hard attitude and bravado was drowned out by the outrageous action sequences, and the pointless and tedious banter with Long.
Long pretty much plays the same annoying character he portrays in the Apple commercials – a smug know it all with some of the least favorable geek stereotypes. For example he delivers a rambling rant about how “the man” is controlling the media, makes inappropriate star wars references or uses nonsensical technobabble around McClain knowing full well he is a computer illiterate idiot.
Bottom line is that the movie is absolutely horrible. It is incoherent, inconsistent, badly written and nukes the fridge on average every 5 minutes. Plot is nonsensical, and the stunts become more and more far fetched up to the point where all suspense is gone and you can’t help but yawn once you get to the part when Willis is running on top of a flying harrier jet mid flight. Avoid at all costs!
Also, I propose a new rule: Hollywood is no longer allowed to make movies that feature hackers, hacking or cyber terrorism. We will all be better off if they stick to old fashioned lo-fi terrorism which most people can understand and comprehend.
Damn! I thought that I already had a Friday post queued up for this week. I guess I didn’t. Oh well, next week’s post will do. Sorry if this post contains more than the usual amount of typos, or fractured sentences. I was pretty sure I will have ample time to proofread it before it hit the blog next week. :P