Laptops in Recent Movies
Four of the biggest films of 1996 -- Twister, Eraser, Mission
Impossible and Independence Day -- have one thing in common besides
box-office success: in each film, portable computers played a prominent
role. We decided to put the portable computers in these flims to the
test and asnwer once and for all the question, "Hey, if I happen to find
myself in a big-budget Hollywood movie, which portable computer will
give me the
Twister featured a Silicon Graphics laptop, which is intesting
since Silicon Graphics doens't make laptops. Nevertheless, a label
reading "Silicon Graphics" was placed conspicuously on the computer,
because you just never know when you might forget the brand name of your
computer. Overall, this computer performed more than adequately. For
one thing, it was robust. While seemingly everything else in the movie
was sucked into the tornado, the Silicon Graphics laptop was unharmed.
This is incredible when you think about it. Houses, cows and even an
18-wheeler were blown away by tornadoes, but this computer remained
undamaged, even when it was used at one point as an umbrella.
Aside from personal bad-weather protection, another important
feature of the Silicon Graphics laptop was its ability not to
self-destruct due to the complete inanity of the script. My sources tell
me that many lesser computers were unable to make it through the first
third of the film without a system error.
One computer actually exploded in the first 20 mintues after a
particularly silly scene involving the fiancee of Bill Paxton's
character. But not the Silicon Graphics laptop. It kept on performing at
a high level. If the big-budget film you're in happens to have a script
with all the subtlety of a bad Baywatch episode, then the Silicon
Graphics laptop is definitely the computer for you, even if it doesn't
Eraser also featured a portable computer. Unfortunately, I do
not know which portable computer it was. Neither does anyone at Warner
Brothers, including Steve in Product Placement, who informed me, "I'm
sorry, this office cannot comment on that."
It really doesn't matter, though, because the Unknown Laptop is
a real disappointment. About all that can be said in its favor is that
it didn't blow up. Admittedly, that's an accomplishment. After all,
practically everything else in the movie exploded, sometimes more than
once. If you do find yourself in a flick with lots of exploding
buildings and houses, you might want to find out what computer this one
is. Just don't ask Steve in Product Placement, because he can't comment.
Where the Unknown Laptop comes up really short is in
performance. For example, early in the film Vanessa William's character
copies important files onto a CD-ROM(!). When she arrives home and
attempts to open the files with her laptop, she finds that the CD-ROM
will not run, thus making the computer completely useless for the film.
Because of this defect, Williams and Arnold Schwarzenegger must break
into CIA headquarters and open the classified files from within the
Admittedly, this may be more of a software problem than a
hardware problem. Microsoft is now working on a plug-in for Windows 95
that will allow users to open classified documents stolen from the CIA,
but the original release date was set for November 1995. After countless
delays, Microsoft now refuses to set a new date for the release. The
truth is that it might be several years before an operating system is
available that will reliably open classified documents stolen from the
Furthermore, Herbert Naylor, an imaginary spokesman for
Microsoft, claims that this defect is really not a problem. "The movie,"
he rightly says, "was starting to drag at that point, and if not for the
computer failing, the screenwriters might never have come up with a
reason for the characters to break into the CIA." This is a salient
point, and one the serious computer user must consider. Among the
computers reviewed here, the Unkonwn Laptop was clearly the best at
moving the plot along.
One of the stars of Mission Impossible was a Macintosh PowerBook
540C. I know this because I called Apple Computer, and they were
positively giddy to tell me about all the Apple computers used in films
this summer. They'd probably still be talking to me right now, if I
hadn't come up with an excuse to end the conversation.
In this film, the Macintosh advantage is clear. Whereas the
Unknown Laptop was unable to open classified files, Tom Cruise's
PowerBook did not have the same problem. It easily handled classified
information. Nevertheless, the PowerBook 540C did display some flaws.
For example, many of the most popular lists of classified information
take several months longer to be released for the Macintosh platform,
but the PowerBook 540C's superior ability in opening classified files
makes it well worth the wait. One can only hope this will persuade
developers to release more lists of classified information for the
Another interesting feature of this PowerBook is its superior
acting ability. For example, in several scenes the PowerBook managed to
outact Cruise. True, this is not that difficult an accomplishment. (In
one scene, the leg of a table in the corner of the screen outacted
Cruise for several seconds). Nevertheless, it is always impressive when
a portable computer manges to outperform the lead actor.
You may have mixed feelings about this. If you're the type of
actor who likes to be surrounded by superior actors in the hopes that
this will make the movie that much more successful, then the PowerBook
540C is for you. However, if you're at all worried about being upstaged,
you might want to consider another model.
Independence Day (or: How I Saved the World From Destruction
With a PowerBook) featured a Macintosh PowerBook 5300. This movie is
where the Macintosh really shines. While the other computers performed
adequately in their films, no other portable computer was able to save
the world from alien desruction. Therefore, the PowerBook 5300 is our
selection as the best portable computer of the group.
Remember the old days when connecting to alien spaceships by
modem took hours of confusing configuration, and was sometimes
impossible because you lacked the proper drivers? With the PowerBook
5300, that era has come to an end. Everything on it is preinstalled.
Just point and click, and you are all set. Thanks to Apple's new
technology, you can even use your modem to play Doom against alien
Equally impressive is the fact that Apple seems to have
eliminated the problem of screen freezes. Not once in the entire film
did the computer freeze, forcing Jeff Goldblum to reboot. For me, this
was even more unbelievable than the concept of aliens rom another planet
coming down to Earth and trying to destroy the human race.
If Goldblum had had to use my Macintosh, instead, the scene near
the end in which he and Will Smith fly to the alien mothership to upload
a computer virus may have turned out entirely different:
GOLDBLUM: Okay, all we have to do is wait for it to upload the
virus into the alien mothership. Oh, damn! It's stopped! The screen
SMITH: Don't be giving me none of that freeze stuff! I told you
we should have used a PC!
GOLDBLUM: It'll be okay. We just have to restart the computer.
SMITH: We got three minutes.
GOLDBLUM: Three minutes! I can't restart a Mac in three minutes!
Aaaargh! We're all gonna die!
At this point, the human race would have been destroyed, the
movie would have ended, and audiences across the nation wouldn't have
been as pleased. But the PowerBook 5300 in Independence Day saved the
day, proving that Apple has again become a serious player. If you find
yourself in a big-budget film in which the existence of the human race
is in your hands, you have no choice but to buy the PowerBook 5300.