Thanks to CGI, we get to watch Sandra Bullock spin frantically in space, Sam Neil roam with dinosaurs and Kate and Leo declare their love on a majestically sinking ship. But while technological advances have opened visual doors for directors, it’s also served up a fresh set of narrative challenges. Movie plots can require a good dash of mystery, isolation and/or serendipity to get things rolling, and that's a hard thing to realistically convey in the age of the iPhone.
The horror genre has been most affected, which is why scary movies now often include at least one disjointed scene of a character saying some variation of the phrase "looks like we've lost cell service!" before the slaughtering begins. (Romantic films have also taken a significant blow – nothing kills serendipity or the romance of a missed connection like Facebook.)
In that vein, here's a look at classic films that would have been, if not entirely destroyed, at least dramatically altered or rendered wildly implausible by modern technology.
The movie: Office Space
The culprit: The cloud
Mike Judge may be currently satirizing all things Silicon Valley, but back in 1999, he was busy satirizing daily life at a typical 1990's software company with the cult classic Office Space.
Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) leads a pack of dissatisfied, bored, perpetually mistreated programmers working at the generic software company Initech. They decide to stick it to the man nerd style by infecting Initech's accounting system with a computer virus designed to skim fractions of pennies from the company every time it completes a transaction, with the intention of keeping the slow but steadily growing pot for themselves. (They also beat the shit out of their work printer). Unfortunately, a misplaced decimal point causes the virus to steal thousands of dollars over a single weekend. When Gibbons and co. show up at Initech's offices on Monday to face their fate, however, they find the company has helpfully been set on fire by another disgruntled employee (Stephen Root), incinerating all incriminating evidence.
Why this wouldn't work today: All that incriminating evidence? As Judge's current characters on HBO's Silicon Valley could mutter at you, destroying evidence is no longer as simple as burning down a building. Two words: The cloud.
The movie: You've Got Mail
The culprit: Online dating (see also: Facebook)
A Nora Ephron-directed romcom classic, You've Got Mail (1998) chronicles two New Yorkers falling in love via email. Meg Ryan plays Kathleen Kelly (screen name: "Shopgirl"), the owner of The Shop Around the Corner, an independent children's bookstore, and Tom Hanks plays Joe Fox (screen name: "NY152"), owner of the big bad chain bookstore moving into the neighborhood (another reason this movie couldn't exist today) that's putting Kelly's store out of business.
The two exchange a series of increasingly personal emails, all without revealing their true identities. Meanwhile, they've unwittingly met in IRL ("in real life") at a publishing party, exchanging insults over caviar. (Is it OK to eat the caviar if it’s meant as a garnish?)
Eventually, via email, the pair decides to go on an actual date; Kathleen will be waiting with a red rose, but when Joe spots her and realizes “Shopgirl” = Kathleen Kennedy, he confronts her as himself (not revealing that he is actually "NY152"), leading to much romantic confusion until the big reveal.
Why this wouldn't work today: This is simply not how people behave on the internet anymore. You don't meet strangers on a chat-room, and even if you did, you certainly wouldn't agree to go on a date with him or her without doing some Google-stalking, identity-verifying to ensure you don't get 'Catfish'ed or murdered.
Nowadays, "Shopgirl" and "NY152" could maybe meet on Match.com (book lovers both, they'd have a high compatibility score), but that makes for a far less interesting movie (See: He's Just Not That Into You). And, depending on your persuasion, sadly/happily the AOL "you've got mail" message is a thing of the distant past.
The movie: Before Sunrise and Before Sunset
The culprit: Facebook
In Richard Linklater's 1995 cult classic Before Sunrise, Jesse (Ethan Hawke), a young American and Céline (Julie Delpy), a French student, serendipitously meet on a train and disembark in Vienna, where they spend one night together exploring the city, falling in love and, implicitly, sleeping together before Jesse's plane leaves early the next morning for the States. The movie ends with the couple saying farewell at a train station, deciding not to exchange numbers but vowing to meet at the exact spot in six months' time.
In Linklater's next film in the trilogy (Before Sunset, 2004) we learn that while Jesse showed up, Céline didn't (she wanted to! It's just that her grandmother died – her funeral was the same day), and so the two don't see each other again until they reconnect nine years later Paris, by which point Jesse is unhappily married and Céline is in a serious relationship. Although they're still clearly meant for each other, both have grown-up responsibilities now (Jesse has a son!) and are less naïve about romance, life etc. The movie ends on a brilliantly ambiguous note -- will Jesse stay in Paris with Céline or go home to his wife? (For the answer to that question, check out the third installment of the trilogy, Before Midnight).
Why this wouldn't work today: It's a good thing Facebook wasn't around in 1995, because it would have been one giant trilogy-killer. Even though Jesse, as a young man, presents himself as an artsy free-spirit, he would have definitely been on Facebook and he would have found Céline on the site when (if not before) she stood him up. The pair would have exchanged flirty Facebook messages that may or may not have led to an offline meeting, completely eliminating the basis of their sequel.
The movie: An Affair to Remember
The culprit: The internet
One of the most romantic films of all time, according to the American Film Institute, An Affair to Remember (1957) stars Cary Grant as Nickie Ferrante and Deborah Kerr as Terry McKay, two star-crossed lovers aboard a ship traveling from Europe to New York. Unfortunately, as is the way with romantic movies, when the two initially meet, both are involved with other people.
They become friends, however, and when Terry vacations with Nickie and his grandmother on the Mediterranean coast, they fall in love and agree to meet in six months at the top of the Empire State Building if they still want to be together.
Six months later, Terry still wants to be with Nickie, but she’s running late. In her rush to get to the Empire State Building on time, she darts across the street and is hit by a car. Seriously wounded, she is taken to the hospital.
The accident robs her of her ability to walk, and Nickie – wanting to conceal her disability – refuses to contact Terry, who waited for her for hours, and believe she stood him up. Eventually, the lovers are reunited in dramatic fashion when Nickie unexpectedly turns up at Terry’s apartment on Christmas Eve.
Why this wouldn’t work today: It’s very difficult – almost impossible – to remain off the internet. After spending hours waiting for Terry, there’s no way Nickie wouldn’t have Google-stalked her, and most likely, he would have been able to piece together details about her condition.
If An Affair to Remember was set circa now, Carey Grant may have sent Deborah Kerr an unexpected/romantic text, but the age of randomly showing up at people’s apartments is pretty much over.
We now exist in an era of constant communication, we’re the norm is to post a series of pictures, updates and posts chronicling our lives. People are rarely unavailable or unreachable, and that hasn’t just changed the way movies would be made, but how we live more generally.