Obsolete plot devices

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I'm currently watching —a movie classic, by the way. For the five people in the US who haven't; seen it, the plot revolves around police officer John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) who is trapped in an office building which has been taken over by terrorists--well, armed robbers, actually. actually. For the first 30 minutes or so, he struggles to find some way to get police support, finally ending up calling them on a radio he's taken from one of the robbers, at which point they blow him off because he's using an emergency channel.

Die Hard was made in 1988, before cell phones became ubiquitous, but imagine how different things would have been if he'd just been able to dial 911—well, actually the 911 operators would probably have just blown him off too, so bad example, but you get the idea. Lots of movie plots have been overtaken by advancing technology. (For a hostage situation in the post cell-phone era, see Inside Man). Another example is Flight Of the Phoenix, in which a bunch of oil workers are stuck in the Gobi after a plane crash. For under $700 you too can have a personal locator beacon which will notify your friends—or at least some satellites—that you are trapped somewhere in Mongolia.

Here's a partial list of movie problems that seem baffling now or probably will in 10 years:

  • Being out of communication (cell phones, sat phones, PLBs...).
  • Being lost (GPSes and integrated nav systems)
  • Dying of a bunch of diseases. Of course a lot of them are substitutable--we've mostly killed TB here in the West but cancer just does as well--but some are unique. Remember when HIV was a death sentence?
  • Medical mysteries. Even now when you watch something like House the screenwriters have to find all sorts of obscure reasons why the doctors can't run the normal diagnostics. When you can do a complete rapid DNA sequence in a couple hours it's going to be a lot easier to figure out what bacterium/virus/etc. is killing your patient. That doesn't mean you'll be able to cure them of course. Even now our diagnostic ability leads our ability to treat.
  • Any situation in which information takes up too much space, is too hard to search, etc.

Of course, I can think of at least one movie with a plot that wouldn't have been possible 10 years ago: Cellular.


You can't tell me that the infamous Hans Gruber would fail to come prepared with a cell phone jammer: http://antennasystems.com/cellphonejammer.htm

You might be interested in this David Galef a piece on the same sort of theme from 2001.

Die Hard 2 used a similar but infuriating plot element. Everything revolved around the inability to communicate with incoming planes after an airport control tower was taken over by terrorists. What the writers did not seem to realize was that every plane parked at that airport had a radio that could have been used to warn the arriving planes not to land. That little element of reality would have ruined the plot though (such as it was).

BTW the first line of your posting is missing the movie name.

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