When R2-D2 projected a shimmering Princess Leia in Star Wars, audiences were wowed by the futuristic possibilities of holograms. Filmmakers boarded the technological bandwagon. VFX methods improved and costs lowered. A once-tiny snowball avalanched.
Several years later, Minority Report utilised the tech in a cool new way: the computer UI itself was holographic, allowing Tom Cruise to manipulate the display in a way never seen before. It was exciting and cutting edge.
Two decades on, it’s so commonplace it’s virtually self-parodic. Yet Hollywood still crams in the holo-handling at every opportunity with a straight face. From computers in 2012’s Total Recall (opens in new tab) to Shuri’s entire lab in Black Panther (opens in new tab), directors are now guiding actors through elaborate mimes on empty sets: “I want you to tap away with your fingers at eye level... Swipe right several times like you’re doing a Jedi mind trick... Turn the dial on an invisible safe... Now, with a flourish, please mime parting a set of curtains.”
It’s an easy way to fill the frame with shiny distractions. Productions get more screentime from Robert Downey Jr. or Kate Winslet, as they pretend to focus on images around them. But every vaguely futuristic sci-fi using the same parlour trick lessens the impact. These techniques once screamed “big budget” but are now available to first-timers working on their laptops.
These displays require impractical dexterity. Imagine Ellen Ripley clinging for dear life needing to close the airlock as she delicately swipes at a floating graphic. And why is there never a sunny window behind any of these displays?
Then there’s the aesthetic. It’s so satisfying to see the Death Star laser activated by punching chunky buttons then flipping a smooth silver lever. I don’t want characters pretending to conduct an orchestra amid orange and teal graphics when explaining how a wormhole works; just shove a pen through a piece of folded paper.
Who’s a more iconic AI – Jarvis digitally swirling in the air, or the solid, unblinking red eye of HAL 9000? It’s time to give holographic interfaces a rest for a while... or is it just me?
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