22 October 2016

Notes on Blackhat

Last night I watched most of the movie blackhat, an international espionage action thriller about computer hackers that was released last year.  Here are my viewing notes.


1.  The way electrical signals are portrayed inside computers is interesting.  It's clearly not a portrait of how electronics actually work, but a portrait of how someone imagines them working.  E.g. as the hacker's code kicks in, there are suddenly tons of impulses everywhere, as if it were the quantity of instructions that caused the meltdown.

2.  The failure of a coolant circulation system in a nuclear reactor would only cause an explosion if the coolant were completely contained without any pressure release, or if the resulting meltdown triggered some surrounding combustibles to ignite.  The reactor shown is clearly not contained in this way, and the fact that there is so much (presumably water) coolant still surrounding the core, and boiling, suggests that there would still be a reasonable amount of time for the technicians at the plant to slow down the reactor before a meltdown actually occurred.  In other words, there's no clear reason why an explosion would happen so quickly after the coolant failure.

3. Even supposing the sort of reaction portrayed in the film happened, the level of burn-related injuries shown in the immediate aftermath seems unlikely.  Most technicians would not be in the immediate vicinity of the reactor core.  The real danger of such an explosion is the long-term, uncontrolled release of radioactive materials into the surrounding environment, leading to radiation poisoning and other (slower) diseases.

4.  Chris Hemsworth's character is reading Rabinow's The Foucault Reader in his cell (you only see the cover for a split second).  Dear hacker dude, you should read The Essential Foucault instead.  It's a better anthology.

5.  The unsteady camerawork (rough doc closeups) is unpleasant.  I can't wait for directors to stop using this technique.

6.  Why is it that the computer nerds in this movie wear cool looking hoodies and are generally unblemished, attractive, and confident?

7.  During the briefing at the FBI about the "RAT", the agent giving the briefing displays a large monitor full of old school-style green code.  There is so much code on the display that it's illegible to anyone not standing directly in front of it.  There is no reason such a thing would be displayed during such a briefing.  It's a waste of time.

8.  Hemsworth's accent is not good.  Why not let him be an Aussie?  Would that be so hard?

9.  Is it not odd that they have "routine surveillance tapes" of the inside of a bathroom?  Maybe it isn't odd.

10.  When they find the West Texan guy dead in his apartment, (of a heroin overdose, which killed him before he finished shooting up?), they have an amusing exchange in which they explain to each other what Tor is.  This sort of exposition, where our "experts" in some field explain something very basic and widely known in that field as if it were new information, is consistently annoying.

12.  The Hemsworth character tells the hackers he's onto them.  Isn't this a terrible idea?

13.  It's very nice to imagine computers as pure black consoles with green text that make satisfying beeping noises as they process code or print out lines of text.  But it's not the 80s anymore.  (The trope has become shorthand for the reality.  Film portraits of computers are part of a well-developed semiotic system that is semi-independent of reality.)

14.  They go to China, so they can visit the ongoing nuclear cleanup site?  Which is somehow still a field hospital?

15.  Extended chase scene followed by shootout.  I feel like we just had a genre switchover.

16.  It's unclear to me what the point of that elaborate bait and escape plan was.

17.  After they stole the NSA guy's login info to use the magic data recovery software, I pretty much lost the thread of the plot.  Satellite shots of Malaysia?  Trips to Jakarta?  Conflicts over identity papers?

18.  The asian tollbooth charged them $55?  Am I misreading?

19.  Now the sister is upset?  Tedium.  This romantic subplot was inevitable.  Couldn't they have just implied it to us and spared the onscreen drama?

20.  What's with this shootout?  We just lost 60% of the main characters.  And these villains seem much more interested in hunting down our heroes than actually doing the job (whatever it is) they're supposed to be doing.

21.  Meanwhile the magic bullet armor on Hemsworth and Sister is really strong.  And there are still forty minutes left in this movie.

22.  Now, dramatic music as they fly on the airplane to Malaysia?

23.  Goodness, it was all to temporarily knock out a drainage system so tin prices would rise?  That's really elaborate.

24.  Now our last surviving hero is buying duct tape and screwdrivers, presumably so he can work some MacGyver magic on the bad guys.

25.  I like the stunt with pushing a truck off the edge of the building.  Very amusing.

26.  I also like the bit where Sister uses her coffee stained "presentation" to get the guard to plug her USB stick into his computer.  Very amusing.

27.   Hemsworth is wrapping himself in magazines?  And he has a sharp screwdriver?

28.  Hmm.  The Malay people just saw someone stab a guy through the temple with a screwdriver, but they don't care.  They just keep on processing.

29.  Hemsworth and sister seem to have very extensive wardrobes, considering the circumstances.

30.  And it just ended.  Not much resolution there.