- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

You can blame Jean, my wife, for this week’s subject: she persuaded me to go and see “Swordfish,” the new John Travolta-Halle Berry flick in which computers play a central role.

Let me note that “Swordfish” ends up more interesting than it began. The initial minutes of the flick are violent in the extreme (this is not one for the kiddies), and the underlying premise of the film is a bit on the far side of reality.

But the main thing about the film is that it got the computer part right, at least mostly. When it talks about various bits of technology high speed communications circuits, computer “worms” and other means of probing networks to sniff out passwords and achieve other nefarious ends the language matches reality. Only the sequence showing a paroled computer “hacker” at work in actions that more resembled Mozart or Beethoven in composing mode seemed rather contrived. But, then, this is a production made in Hollywood.

Contrast that, if you will, with Arlington native Sandra Bullock and 1995’s eminently forgettable flick, “The Net.” A purported computer “whiz,” Ms. Bullock’s character has her identity stolen via the nascent Internet. But so many of the minor details of the film as they relate to computer technology were just plain wrong, such as pairing in 1995 Apple-made computers with Compaq-branded monitors, or having Bullock’s character type UNIX commands in capital letters, details I found by searching at www.nitpickers.com. This Web site is devoted to the art and science of catching things shown as reality in films that just aren’t so. Of the 40-odd “nits” that were picked by viewers of “The Net,” the vast majority involved computer snafus.

In “Swordfish,” however, the equipment almost all of it made by Dell Computer Corp., which achieved a new level of “product placement” here was the right stuff and it worked properly. Some of the graphics and screen layouts were definitely enhanced for dramatic effect, but overall, the end result didn’t seem half as hokey as “The Net,” just six years earlier.

I guess this means that computers have “grown up” as a Hollywood subject. I just can’t wait to see what Jackie Chan does with one in his next effort.

But the greatest improvement between computers and movies took place away from the theater and Mr. Travolta’s latest effort. It started before the film, when I saw a trailer for “Big Trouble,” a movie due out this fall with Tim Allen, Dennis Farina and Renee Russo, the latter two having yukked it up in “Get Shorty.” This new picture is based on a Dave Barry novel, and like Mr. Barry’s sidesplitting columns, this looks to be a funny, funny movie.

I like the trailer so much, I decided to look for it on the Web, and found it at www.apple.com/trailers/touchstone/bigtrouble.html. Why at an Apple Computer Web site, you ask? Because the trailer is available as a QuickTime 4 movie file, unlike some other trailers out there, and because QuickTime is an Apple product.

It is billed as “the world’s leading cross-platform multimedia technology,” and Apple Computer says that 150 million copies of QuickTime 4 have been distributed worldwide.

In April, the firm announced QuickTime 5, which it said offers an enhanced user-interface, new audio controls, a “Hot Picks” guide and QuickTime TV channels display; a new digital video, or DV, codec for enhanced speed and quality; the ability for content creators to design custom interfaces for the delivery of their QuickTime content; and a component downloader to add various plug-ins on the fly. Apple said the new version also supports MPEG-1, Flash 4 and QuickTime’s new Cubic VR technology.

Besides watching movie trailers, those QuickTime TV channels are a nice touch. As I write, I’m able to watch (and listen) to the BBC’s “World” channel, which features a world news broadcast every hour on the hour. Other channels include ESPN, The Weather Channel and FOX Sports.

Picture quality and ease of use are better in many respects than Real Networks’ Real Player, and like the basic Real Player, QuickTime 5 is free to download at www.apple.com/ quicktime/ download.

So whether it’s watching movies about computing or watching movie information on your computer there seems to be a fair amount of improvement these days.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to MarkKel@aol.com, or visit the writer’s Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.

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