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Computer in the Movies...

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Computer in the Movies...
Four of the biggest films of 1996 -- Twister, Eraser, Mission Impossible and Independence Day -- have one thing in common besides box-office success: in each film, portable computers played a prominent role. We decided to put the portable computers in these flims to the test and asnwer once and for all the question, "Hey, if I happen to find myself in a big-budget Hollywood movie, which portable computer will give me the best performance? TWISTER Twister featured a Silicon Graphics laptop, which is intesting since Silicon Graphics doens't make laptops. Nevertheless, a label reading "Silicon Graphics" was placed conspicuously on the computer, because you just never know when you might forget the brand name of your computer. Overall, this computer performed more than adequately. For one thing, it was robust. While seemingly everything else in the movie was sucked into the tornado, the Silicon Graphics laptop was unharmed. This is incredible when you think about it. Houses, cows and even an 8-wheeler were blown away by tornadoes, but this computer remained undamaged, even when it was used at one point as an umbrella. Aside from personal bad-weather protection, another important feature of the Silicon Graphics laptop was its ability not to self-destruct due to the complete inanity of the script. My sources tell me that many lesser computers were unable to make it through the first third of the film without a system error. One computer actually exploded in the first 20 mintues after a particularly silly scene involving the fiancee of Bill Paxton's character. But not the Silicon Graphics laptop. It kept on performing at a high level. If the big-budget film you're in happens to have a script with all the subtlety of a bad Baywatch episode, then the Silicon Graphics laptop is definitely the computer for you, even if it doesn't exist. ERASER Eraser also featured a portable computer. Unfortunately, I do not know which portable computer it was. Neither does anyone at Warner Brothers, including Steve in Product Placement, who informed me, "I'm sorry, this office cannot comment on that." It really doesn't matter, though, because the Unknown Laptop is a real disappointment. About all that can be said in its favor is that it didn't blow up. Admittedly, that's an accomplishment. After all, practically everything else in the movie exploded, sometimes more than once. If you do find yourself in a flick with lots of exploding buildings and houses, you might want to find out what computer this one is. Just don't ask Steve in Product Placement, because he can't comment. Where the Unknown Laptop comes up really short is in performance. For example, early in the film Vanessa William's character copies important files onto a CD-ROM(!). When she arrives home and attempts to open the files with her laptop, she finds that the CD-ROM will not run, thus making the computer completely useless for the film. Because of this defect, Williams and Arnold Schwarzenegger must break into CIA headquarters and open the classified files from within the high-security building. Admittedly, this may be more of a software problem than a hardware problem. Microsoft is now working on a plug-in for Windows 95 that will allow users to open classified documents stolen from the CIA, but the original release date was set for November 995. After countless delays, Microsoft now refuses to set a new date for the release. The truth is that it might be several years before an operating system is available that will reliably open classified documents stolen from the CIA. Furthermore, Herbert Naylor, an imaginary spokesman for Microsoft, claims that this defect is really not a problem. "The movie," he rightly says, "was starting to drag at that point, and if not for the computer failing, the screenwriters might never have come up with a reason for the characters to break into the CIA." This is a salient point, and one the serious computer user must consider. Among the computers reviewed here, the Unkonwn Laptop was clearly the best at moving the plot along. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE One of the stars of Mission Impossible was a Macintosh PowerBook 540C. I know this because I called Apple Computer, and they were positively giddy to tell me about all the Apple computers used in films this summer. They'd probably still be talking to me right now, if I hadn't come up with an excuse to end the conversation. In this film, the Macintosh advantage is clear. Whereas the Unknown Laptop was unable to open classified files, Tom Cruise's PowerBook did not have the same problem. It easily handled classified information. Nevertheless, the PowerBook 540C did display some flaws. For example, many of the most popular lists of classified information take several months longer to be released for the Macintosh platform, but the PowerBook 540C's superior ability in opening classified files makes it well worth the wait. One can only hope this will persuade developers to release more lists of classified information for the Macintosh. Another interesting feature of this PowerBook is its superior acting ability. For example, in several scenes the PowerBook managed to outact Cruise. True, this is not that difficult an accomplishment. (In one scene, the leg of a table in the corner of the screen outacted Cruise for several seconds). Nevertheless, it is always impressive when a portable computer manges to outperform the lead actor. You may have mixed feelings about this. If you're the type of actor who likes to be surrounded by superior actors in the hopes that this will make the movie that much more successful, then the PowerBook 540C is for you. However, if you're at all worried about being upstaged, you might want to consider another model. INDEPENDENCE DAY Independence Day (or: How I Saved the World From Destruction With a PowerBook) featured a Macintosh PowerBook 5300. This movie is where the Macintosh really shines. While the other computers performed adequately in their films, no other portable computer was able to save the world from alien desruction. Therefore, the PowerBook 5300 is our selection as the best portable computer of the group. Remember the old days when connecting to alien spaceships by modem took hours of confusing configuration, and was sometimes impossible because you lacked the proper drivers? With the PowerBook 5300, that era has come to an end. Everything on it is preinstalled. Just point and click, and you are all set. Thanks to Apple's new technology, you can even use your modem to play Doom against alien lifeforms. Equally impressive is the fact that Apple seems to have eliminated the problem of screen freezes. Not once in the entire film did the computer freeze, forcing Jeff Goldblum to reboot. For me, this was even more unbelievable than the concept of aliens rom another planet coming down to Earth and trying to destroy the human race. If Goldblum had had to use my Macintosh, instead, the scene near the end in which he and Will Smith fly to the alien mothership to upload a computer virus may have turned out entirely different: GOLDBLUM: Okay, all we have to do is wait for it to upload the virus into the alien mothership. Oh, damn! It's stopped! The screen froze! SMITH: Don't be giving me none of that freeze stuff! I told you we should have used a PC! GOLDBLUM: It'll be okay. We just have to restart the computer. SMITH: We got three minutes. GOLDBLUM: Three minutes! I can't restart a Mac in three minutes! Aaaargh! We're all gonna die! At this point, the human race would have been destroyed, the movie would have ended, and audiences across the nation wouldn't have been as pleased. But the PowerBook 5300 in Independence Day saved the day, proving that Apple has again become a serious player. If you find yourself in a big-budget film in which the existence of the human race is in your hands, you have no choice but to buy the PowerBook 5300.
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Entered on: 05/18/1998
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