It’s not even worth pointing out how quickly technology has advanced. We see it and live it every day. But there are moments where this hyper-acceleration of technologies comes into sharp focus, and this often happens when technology of today is put in contrast with the technology of yesteryear.
We become nostalgic around a pay phone or an image of a phone booth or at the size of old cell phones. We marvel at the size of old computers. “The first computer filled up an entire room,” teachers tell the spoiled youth. Old televisions look absurd with their giant backs storing all sorts of excessive tubing, much like the inefficiency of old cars that got a total of thirteen miles to the gallon.
However, we enjoy these trips down memory lane. They attest to the advancement of man, and recall a simpler time, where there was less technology, so it demanded less of us. But mostly we like to remember the awe we felt at such simple advancements compared to the callous disregard we have for infinitely better technology we navigate so frequently nowadays.
I felt this way while watching Patriot Games, a movie filled with political intrigue and technological warfare. Where they used ‘satellite imagery’ and ‘interpreted data’ and had ‘advanced weaponry.’
All of it seemed so outdated, and the reverence they held for these, at the time, technological marvels felt quaint. But this kind of technology, that was unwieldy and demanded something of its users, was a much better companion to film than what we have today.
Of course, even this belief could be smeared with the grease of nostalgia, but maybe not.
I was struck by this different type of relationship in the climactic scene, when Miller’s rogue IRA sect attacks Ryan’s home. The crew approaches the house in black wet suits, automatic rifles, and these massive night vision goggles that stuck out, what seemed like, a foot from their face. And when the movie cut to images from the view of those goggles, the data green view was objectively worse than the lighting of the dark rooms they were traversing (more of a problem with the cinematography than the tech, but it only served to feed my thoughts). I knew that I was supposed to fear these men. They and their tech-based outfits and weaponry were the height of deadliness and efficiency. But they just looked like giant frog-men to me.
I did not like my dismissive attitude, but I immediately knew why I had it. If this was a movie made for today’s audience, the tech this kill team would have would be infinitely more advanced, sleeker, and deadlier. Technology has advanced so much further since when Patriot Games was made, and so, therefore, has our expectations. The bar for awe and fear of the technological has been raised.
But I also appreciated that the gap in technology and what it could efficiently do at that time, left more room for a story to be told. Ryan, his family, and his guests, were able to use some ingenuity and a couple hand guns to escape the house before the kill team descended upon them. I am not sure, if a technologically advanced kill team descended on a house in a movie made for today, the family would have any chance of escape without technological assistance of their own.
At one point, the people in the house turned the lights on at a well-timed moment and the night vision goggles became an impediment rather than a help, blurring bright white at a moment where the assassin needed to see most. Not to mention, that Ryan and his guests navigated the house just fine without the night vision goggles, making them appear more like a fashion statement then any kind of help.
Earlier in the film, as Ryan tried to find the camp of the men that would become this kill-team, he discovered a series of satellite images of what he assumed was their camp. The images only showed tents. The people who lived and trained in the camp had figured out when the satellite was above them taking images and would hide every time it passed by. So Jack Ryan asked some guy in charge to change the timing of the satellite to get some images of the men and women in the camp. The man protested asking Ryan if he knew how difficult it was to re-route a satellite.
This was a great little storyline. It is clever and advances the cat-and-mouse game Ryan had been playing with his family’s would-be killers all movie long. But again, I was struck by how this is just not a plot point in 2021. This would not be a complication for any number of reasons, drones being the simplest explanation.
There is also another moment when Jack Ryan, with reams of printout paper in his hands, and banks of fat, tube computer monitors surrounding him, interprets data for the crew in charge of finding this rogue IRA sect. It felt so barbaric. The computers printed out facts without any analytics. A world without analytics, where men and women interpreted meaning… wow.
And so I might just enjoy a trip down technological memory lane, but I also feel like this technology and its clear limitations allowed for a more human story. Notice, that in all these examples, the technology was as only as good as the man using it, and technological superiority meant nothing.
Jack Ryan came out of the house alive, and the kill team dead, despite the technology gap because Jack Ryan was the better man. And pre-Jack Ryan, despite the CIA’s technological leg up, the IRA sect had gotten the better of them up to that point. The technology used was not so far advanced that the man no longer mattered. And therefore, great movies can be made about the human.
And, anecdotally, it seems much easier for movies today that have technology as a focal point to make comments about the technology rather than the men who use it. Similar to our own lives, where technology makes demands of us now, technology becomes the point, not the tools the characters use. And the conflicts and solutions become more and more intricate workarounds for why the simple tech solution we all have cannot be used, and therefore human ingenuity is at last needed.
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