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The Friday Five: Great Movies About Technology, With Local Links

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 21, 2009 07:15 AM

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fastcheap.jpgThe Friday Five is a list of five things worth knowing about.

The topic this week is great movies about technology...all of which have interesting but little-known connections to Massachusetts people and places.

- "Blade Runner." A wonderfully dystopian vision in which Harrison Ford plays a contract killer hired to off a group of escaped "replicants" (androids) hiding in the Los Angeles of 2019. The special effects are by Douglas Trumbull, long a resident of the Berkshires. (Trumbull also worked on Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," which deserves its own place on this list.) Here's Globe critic Ty Burr on the director's "final cut" of the 1982 film, released in 2007.

- "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence." One of Steven Spielberg's box-office flops, this film is one of my favorites: a technological re-imagining of the Pinocchio story, this time featuring a robot boy adopted by a human family. Begins with the premise that many of the world's cities have been submerged in water after an ecological disaster (Al Gore would approve.) Like "Blade Runner," it's based on the work of the great sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott called "A.I." "the best fairy tale -- the most disturbing, complex and intellectually challenging boy's adventure story -- Mr. Spielberg has made." MIT robotics researcher Cynthia Breazeal served as a consultant to the film's producers.

- "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control." Engrossing 1997 documentary from local filmmaker Errol Morris, profiling four eccentric people: a wild animal trainer, a topiary gardener, an expert on the naked mole rat, and a robot builder. The robot builder is Rodney Brooks, MIT professor and co-founder of iRobot and Heartland Robotics, two local companies. (Critic Roger Ebert doled out four stars, calling it "magical." ) In the poster above, that's Rodney Brooks on the left.

- "Minority Report." Another film based on the work of Philip K. Dick. Tom Cruise plays a police chief in Washington, D.C. who apprehends criminals before they can commit a crime, with the assistance of some mutants who have the ability to see the future. MIT researcher John Underkoffler helped develop the idea that Cruise would use hand gestures to manipulate digital information as part of his job. Underkoffler is now trying to commercialize a gestural interface through his Los Angeles company, Oblong Industries.

- "Tron." Software engineer Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), who creates video games on the side, gets transported into the computer world, where he befriends Tron and does battle with the evil Master Control Program. Writer/director Steven Lisberger studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, learned about computer graphics here, and opened an animation studio in Chinatown before going out to Hollywood to make "Tron," the first movie to make intensive use of computer-generated imagery. Computer graphics pioneer Jeff Kleiser, who worked on the movie, still runs a visual effects studio in North Adams.

What other great tech-oriented movies would you add to the list -- whether there's a Massachusetts connection or not?

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1 comments so far...
  1. Scott -

    I expected to find - an indie film about a crash and burn internet startup - in this list... Though it had a limited run, and I can't seem to find anything about it online... Maybe I have the title incorrect?

    Posted by Barry Horwitz August 31, 09 11:16 AM


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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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