Yesterday brought news of another social networking film, a thriller to be produced by the Weinstein Co.'s genre banner, Dimension Films. It's apparently like Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians (aka And Then There Were None, per our PC times) in cyberspace. The classic novel assembled ten people who had committed murder, often of the gray and unprosecutable kind, and watched them all perish on an island at the hands of a mysterious killer. With that in mind, expect at least one of the victims to be a cyberbully, perhaps one who posed as a teen boy and drove a teen girl to suicide (see the Lori Drew case). I'm also curious to see how the filmmakers can make the Internet cinematic. If you look across film history you can see the variety of ways telephones, then answering machines, mobile phones, pay phones, etc., evolved as a plot device. There's the scratchy long-distance connections in It's A Wonderful Life and Meet Me in St. Louis, the clever party line-dependent plot in Pillow Talk, the dozens upon dozens of films that play answering machines to empty houses, for that "just too late" effect, thrillers that use pay phone chases, etc.
With so many years lapsing from page to screen, viewers are frequently confronted with anachronistic uses of technology, one of my biggest pet peeves. It's surprising how many movies fall victim to this. Sure, the answering machine is a great plot device, because it allows for a missed connection, but at this point can't we just switch to voicemail? Did He's Just Not That Into You really need a scene of Ginnifer Goodwin waiting by her phone? A phone with a cord? And no answering machine? The scene no longer makes sense in today's world, and it's certainly not a scene anyone young can relate to. Compare to the follow-up scene of her keeping her phone handy during yoga class. This is actually more realistic, since yoga studios require phones to be silenced, so it would make sense for her to keep her phone within her visual reference so she could dash out if he called. Just cut the first scene! Pay attention, Hollywood! Ask your young assistants!
As I see it, one of the big problems with the Internet is that it's a written, not spoken, form of communication, which is much less interesting onscreen. Of course, there are many ways to fix this. Video chats, reading aloud (ick), mumbling to yourself (better), or even digitally projecting the computer screen to the side of the screen instead of the over-the-shoulder computer shot. A teen genre picture that released late last year, Sex Drive, did this to great effect, probably because the filmmakers themselves were young and well-poised to understand a demographic only slightly younger than themselves. I remember being slightly squirmy during Nora Ephron's remake of pen pal romance A Shop Around the Corner into email/IMing romance You've Got Mail. Some of the ways the characters used technology just weren't right. Admittedly, this was exacerbated by the generational difference between myself and Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan--even I am not as immersed in technology as those just a few years younger than me. Dimension, make the Internet proud with your social networking thriller. The Internet is counting on you.