5 Film Tropes Murdered by Technology

TVTropes.org, one of my FAVOURITE sites on the Internet, proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is nothing new under the sun. A quick cruise through the site (which, if you’re like me, will balloon to hours of your life sucked down the Internatz hole) turns up so many commonalities between created works that you’re liable to be left feeling there’s no possible way to dream up anything remotely original.

Is he gonna say his catchphrase? i hope he says his catchphrase.

Interestingly, with the advent of certain technological breakthroughs, certain common tropes can no longer be plausibly depicted in film or teevee … though i don’t suppose that will stop anyone from writing these scenes when so much of our creative industry seems to be on auto-pilot. Here, then, are five tropes that have been ruined by technology.

1. Teevee in Store Windows

i’ll admit right away that you don’t see this trope very much these days, but it’s been a staple of film storytelling for a good 40-50 years. In it, characters see late-breaking news about some disaster or other being broadcast from an array of teevee sets being sold in a store window. i was on my way home the other day, and passed by one of the rare independent teevee shops that still exists. The teevees in their front window were showing super-crisp footage of leaves, to showcase the sets’ high definition capabilities. It got me thinking about how, even in the days of cathode ray tubes and lowfi, i had never seen a store window showing live television … it was almost always the latest VHS release on display.

Look what’s on the 6 o’clock news tonight: plot development!

It’s all pointless now, because if you’re one of those uncommon indie teevee stores, the very last thing you’ll use to convince people to buy a teevee is live footage from a 24 hour news network.

2. Families Grouped Around the Teevee While Something Important Happens

Another trope killed by the changing uses of teevee is the one where some big event happens, and we see the teevee’s point of view, peering into bars and living rooms around the world as rapt people stare back at the screen. Now, the bars i’ll buy (even though the only thing i’ve ever seen on a bar teevee has been two well-muscled UFC guys pretending to wrestle, and everyone else in the bar pretending it’s not super gay), but the image of a family snuggled on the couch together watching some announcement about Our Hero, maybe with Jr. in the foreground wearing his cowboy hat and playing with his Howdy Doody doll, is a little too much to bear. There’s no family fireplace any more; instead, we all have tiny fireplaces burning in our individual bedrooms and in our pockets.

Don’t worry: the teevee POV shot is alive and well in home video game console ads.

3. Arguments over Trivia

This one’s a lot more subtle, but i’m sure if you trawled back through hundreds of popular movies, you’d find piles of examples where discussions about researchable trivia would have been stopped dead by one character whipping out a smart phone.

Vincent: And you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in Paris?

Jules: (whipping out a smart phone) A Royale with Cheese.

(15 minutes of bored silence)

If you’re writing dialogue that takes place in the present day and in a wealthy country, you can really only have your characters arguing over opinion … or cook up some excuse as to why they’ve misplaced their cell phones, which brings us to …

4. Slasher flicks

In the 80’s, it made sense to have a maniac terrorizing a group of teenagers at a sleepaway camp. Phones were tethered to buildings, and you had to get to those buildings. And even if you limped your way to a building, face bloodied and missing a high-heeled shoe, you might even find that the phone cable had been cut.

How am i gonna hear the phone over the sound of that chainsaw?

But thanks again to cell phones, the implausibility of a slasher actually getting away with it without anyone placing a call becomes too much to bear – so much so, in fact, that someone made a supercut of all the excuses slasher flicks now need to make to account for missing cell phones or coverage:

5. Last-Minute Airport Reunions

The trope of the couple reuniting at the airport, just as one person has a foot inside the aircraft, hasn’t made sense for decades, but we keep seeing it – even as it’s abundantly obvious to anyone who’s travelled lately that if you run and shout in an airport, or if you try to get anywhere near a plane without a uniformed high school drop-out irradiating you or feeling up your junk, you’re likely going to face a probe (think “alien”, not “Congressional”).

And while it wasn’t set in an airport, the Empire State Building scene in Sleepless in Seattle has always bothered me. The movie makes it seem as though you can just take an elevator to the top of the building and moon over that guy from Bossom Buddies when in reality, even pre-9-11, getting to that observation deck involves buying tickets, waiting in line, going through a metal detector, waiting in line some more, and then “sharing” the deck with a few hundred gawking tourists.

How much are tickets to the Hollywood fantasyland observation deck on the left?

Honorable Mention

i would mention how ridiculous it is that film and teevee still use live-audio recorded-to-tape answering machines, but i’ve spent an entire post on that in the past.

More Data Required

These are just the examples i could come up with while writing this post to keep my web traffic up. i’m sure YOU can come up with even better examples in the comments section below, so have at it!

2 thoughts on “5 Film Tropes Murdered by Technology

  1. KNau

    I’m always amused with the horrible computer / weapon GUIs that vfx artists spend sooo much time faking. Their screens are always alive with spinning, zooming and sliding animated crap that isn’t based in any sort of reality. Contrast the HUD in Iron Man’s suit to one in an actual fighter jet. The real world wants NO extraneous information.

    But mostly I’m fascinated by them because it means that at some point Tony Stark had to stop working on his actual weapons and armour and spend weeks writing something like “targetingSystem.onEnterFrame{ targetReticle.angle += 5;}” just so he could watch them spin.

    And God help him if he forgot to convert radians to degrees first! Or is it the other way around? I always mess that up.

    1. Ryan Henson Creighton Post author

      Of course, they have to do that because the reality of all our computer displays is MEGA BORING.

      So are the gestures we employ when using them. It’s all fine motor movement, so it’s not interesting to watch on screen. Take a look at the trailer for You’ve Got Mail. Whenever Meg Ryan or that guy from Bosom Buddies sends an email, they perform this really exaggerated swan-dive finger movement. Or Minority Report, where in addition to your Iron Man hyperactive HUD, you’ve got Tom Cruise making all these elaborate gross motor gestures to navigate. In the real world, that would be exhausting. Nobody, nohow, would ever want to use Lawnmower Man’s flying mouse for more than five minutes, no matter how cool it looks on film.


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