Monday, 21 February 2011
Sandra Bullock, Online Chess and Serial Killers - Hollywood and the Internet.
The internet has been something of a double-edged sword for the film industry. It has opened a new realm of marketing to the studios as well as allowing film fanatics around the world to communicate with one another. Word of mouth has turned into word of keyboards as the reputation of a film can be made or broken by the general consensus of the online masses. If it were not for the genius of one internet fan boy, Samuel L Jackson may never have muttered the immortal words "I have had it with these motherfuckin' snakes on this motherfuckin' plane". Though whether this can be considered good or bad for the legacy of celluloid is yet to be decided.
On the other hand the web has brought with it the dangers of piracy which has forced the industry to desperate lengths as can be seen with the return of 3D. Former chief of the Motion Picture Association of America, Dan Glickman, believed that piracy had cost the film industry around $6 billion dollars a year from 2003 until 2007 as connection speeds and download limits increased. It is therefore interesting to witness the different ways with which Hollywood has chosen to present the World Wide Web since its arrival.
In the beginning it was used as purely a tool to impress girls by the world's first hacker - Matthew Broderick. WarGames from 1983 shows the rather helpful uses of computers interlinked via a network. Broderick happily changes his failing school grades and does the same for his hot classmate Ally Sheedy with only the slightest twinge of moral conscience. Again in Ferris Bueller's Day Off he mixes boyish charm effortlessly with an extensive knowledge of computers that would suggest he had no social capabilities. This time he alters his number of sick days at school all from the safety of his own room. Thus the internet was a harmless tool. A hobby for mischievous boys with no malice intended. Broderick's motives in WarGames for his hacking are simply light-hearted. His actions carried out in the hope that Ally Sheedy will toss him off in the locker rooms in return for a B+ in Chemistry.
The capabilities and potential of the internet only began to be realised in the Nineties. People saw the ability it had to convey vast swathes of information to an audience other mediums such as television could only dream of. Free from restriction and censorship it became an object of fear to conservatives who were worried by the power at the fingertips of the everyday man and just what they could do with that power. It is no surprise therefore to see this terror reflected in cinema. The middle of the Nineties saw the release of two separate films with the menacing threat of the internet at their hearts. Copycat saw Sigourney Weaver play a reclusive criminal psychologist who is hunted by a serial killer. The killer communicating with her via games of online chess suggesting the web was a tool solely used by academics and psychopathic oddballs. In the same year came The Net with Sandra Bullock where her life is slowly moved into the recycle bin one file at a time by cyber terrorists.
Even when hackers are made the protagonists, as seen in the 1995 film Hackers with Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie, the internet is still at the root of their problems. It keeps some of the jovial hack-flirting that had worked so successfully for Matthew Broderick just a decade before but throughout is underlined the supposed power of the internet to destroy lives at the click of the button.
So where next for Hollywood and the internet? The straight-to-video sequel to The Net went largely unnoticed - an oddity when the original had made over a $100m worldwide. This could indicate that audiences who have experienced the internet for themselves over a period of years recognise the plot to be nonsensical and scaremongering. Though more than likely it is because a sequel to The Net that has no resemblance to the original and made up of a cast of unknowns is probably going to be poor by definition. The release of The Social Network marked Hollywood taking the internet zeitgeist seriously. Far from studios using the internet, the internet used film to tell its own story. Hollywood has realised it is not powerful enough to control our perception of the internet and that the tables have very much turned.