2 years ago

Starring The Raspberry Pi

Slowly but surely, the Raspberry Pi has been turning up in movies and TV shows. Simon Brew tracks its screen appearances to date...

Read the full feature in The MagPi 37

The lure of gazillions of dollars in product placement revenue, or perhaps just swagging some free kit from the Apple Store, may lead you to think that nobody in the movies would be seen dead with anything less than a MacBook and some overpriced accessories. Heck, in the film Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, no longer could the mythical Medusa now be defeated be spotting her reflection in a sword and shield. An iPod, that’s what they needed.

But could times be changing? Even movie and TV productions face austere times, and thus the days of every ten-year-old owning an array of top-end products from PC World may be coming to an end. Instead? The flexibility, quality, and affordability of the Raspberry Pi have led to it sneaking more and more onto screens, big and small. You don’t need us to tell you just what the Raspberry Pi can and can’t do. But will someone need to tell Hollywood? Let’s take a look. And remember that all these Pis were billable to their respective productions…

Point Break

In brief:

Remake of much-loved action movie. Not many people seem to be looking forward to it, judging by 86% of words written about it on the internet so far.

What does the Pi do?

Blows stuff up. Er, that seems to be it. But as the film isn’t out yet, it may yet turn out to be a major supporting character. You never know.

The C4 Pi case will not be available for sale

The C4 Pi case will not be available for sale

The details:

Nothing cheers people up like a beloved film getting the Hollywood remake treatment.

A lie, clearly, as a quick look around internet message boards will testify. They’re remaking Point Break? And none of the original cast will be anywhere near it? As Edmund Blackadder once mused, “I think the phrase rhymes with clucking bell”.

The new Point Break movie doesn’t arrive until Christmas 2015, so let’s err on the side of optimistic and suggest that it’s going to be an Oscar-winning classic. But already, in the trailer for the film, we can see that the Raspberry Pi is taking on a significant supporting role.

It’s good to see that Point Break is tackling the current lack of quality movie villains by, well, sort of taking their place. So, from what we can make out, the idea is that you attach your Pi to some explosives, and then all you need is one of those wonderful movie products where you have to press one of two buttons to blow seven shades out of everything in the immediate vicinity. We’ve never hung around long enough to find out what the other button does.

We saw this using boring old technology in that other awards-attracting masterpiece, Die Hard 4.0, where the wheeze that time was basically to have an exploding hard drive. Those of us of a certain vintage may remember times when the humble hard drive did have less of a reliable quality to it, but attacking computers in a manner that leaves Bruce Willis diving around your place of residence? It’s a bit of a stretch.

Given that just a few minutes of Point Break have thus far been released, we’ll have to assume that the trailer has happily glossed over the bit where the antagonists excitedly take delivery of their Pi and customise it a bit. But we’re sure that’s going to be in the final cut of the film. It’d be a startling omission otherwise.

Revolution

In brief:

A TV series set in post-apocalyptic times, where the world is on the receiving end of a permanent electrical power blackout.

What does the Pi do?

It still works! Even though pretty much nothing else does. That, friends, is value for money.

A Raspberry Pi-powered Mac?

A Raspberry Pi-powered Mac?

The details:

The idea behind the TV series Revolution, which ran for two seasons between 2012 and 2014, is that electricity’s days are numbered. Thanks to one of those pesky apocalypses that science fiction likes to foist on us from time to time, all electrical devices on planet Earth are done for. A permanent electrical blackout shrouds the world.

The result of all this is an intriguing television show about how humans might cope without Candy Crush Saga, mean tweets, and cat GIFs.

But what’s this? A working Raspberry Pi snuck in there? How could that happen? That’s the beauty of such a low-power device, clearly. Even when there’s no electricity, the damn thing still works!

Actually, that’s not quite true. As Revolution progresses with its intriguing premise, it starts to cheat a bit. Small pockets of power are generated, and so, with that in mind, electronics are sought and utilised. Thus, in the episode The Longest Day, which is the 17th instalment of the first season, the character of Aaron is trying to get an old Mac up and running, but actually – as you can see from the screenshot we lovingly grabbed with our electricity-free supercomputer – something rather familiar, and more affordable, has crept into shot.

Good news, though: the device is being brought into being with the intention of saving someone’s life. So already in this feature, we’ve gone from a Raspberry Pi being a tool of villainy to one employed by heroes. That’s far more like it.

The idea is that apparently early nanotechnology is being assembled, so that it can take hold of energy from someone’s capsule and knit together the wounds of a dying woman. Naturally enough, if it doesn’t go to plan, then we’re back where we were with Point Break. We don’t want to give too many spoilers away here, but the Raspberry Pi at the very least survives. So that’s something.

It’s hard to judge just how realistic an application for the Pi this actually is, as Revolution is set in the year 2027, and a lot can happen in the next 12 years. Rest assured, when a $35 piece of hardware starts performing life-saving surgery, it’ll make more than the cover of this magazine. Especially if it saves a Kardashian bot or something.

Person of Interest

In brief:

A still-running American TV drama series, about a man who seems to have seen Minority Report and
therefore invents a system that can help prevent crimes before they happen. Thus far, Tom Cruise has not appeared.

What does the Pi do?

Brings internet to that scary bloke from Lost. Having seen Lost, we would not refuse his request.

If you wish to make your own internet-giving secure Pi, check out Onion Pi

If you wish to make your own internet-giving secure Pi, check out Onion Pi

The details:

Persons Of Interest is a bit of a bumpy series, and certainly the first season of the show did it few favours. But like many American dramas, it has matured, become more interesting, and tried to placate people like ourselves by inserting agreeable technology in from time to time. We’re easily
bought like that.

The show has enjoyed four seasons so far, and the fifth is in production. Reports suggest that this might be the last one, so the production team are running out of chances to squeeze a further Raspberry Pi in there somewhere, as is their constitutional duty. But at least they’ve already managed one.

Okay, so it’s not a starring role, but a fresh Hollywood agent should soon sort that out. And at least the Pi gets to sit in the centre of a shot. For now then, Harold Finch – played by Michael Emerson – has shown his technical taste by using a Pi in the season three premiere of the show. Here he is, with a Pi in an Adafruit case attached to the back of his laptop. Because sometimes, you can’t trust a wireless hotspot, right? Better to invest a few quid and bring some cables out with you.

Oddly, it’s a practical use for the Raspberry Pi, which goes against the way computers tend to be dramatised on screen. So even though it’s implicit use, and the Pi isn’t arresting a terrorist or the like, we can but salute it.

Relatively realistic tech usage in Hollywood productions? At this rate, they’ll be making funny Adam Sandler films again soon. Or is that where we get too far-fetched?

CSI: Cyber

In brief:

The CSI show that’s not set in Las Vegas, Miami, New York, London, Los Angeles, or Bridlington. The one that is also laughed at a lot by people who have used computers for more than ten minutes.

What does the Pi do?

Potentially brings down the entire world. Messes around with lift doors. Gets a price increase.

The best thing that happens in CSI Cyber is when a man plugs an iPad into a server and starts screaming about source code

The best thing that happens in CSI Cyber is when a man plugs an iPad into a server and starts screaming about source code

The details:

The never-ending CSI television franchise has of late decided to turn its documentary-esque levels of accuracy and focus (go with us on this) towards cybercrime. Naturally, therefore, they all use movie-style computers that make a little noise whenever a single digit of text appears on the screen, but let’s gloss over that for the minute. In fact, if you’re looking for realism, it’s probably best to gloss over most of the show. But that’s concessions to TV drama for you.

For there are atrocities to battle! And, wouldn’t you know it, the Raspberry Pi is sat near the heart of them. In this case, it’s a roller-coaster crash with assorted fatalities, and the team soon realise that a computer had been hacked to switch off the necessary safeguards. Final Destination 3 ensues. Then, we learn that it’s being used to help control subway trains, too. By the end, we wouldn’t be surprised if they’d said it was being used to put the wrong flavouring in crisps.

Don’t worry, though, as there’s a non-stereotypical bearded, slightly overweight nerd on hand to get to the bottom of things. He helpfully points out to Patricia Arquette’s boss lady that these devices “can be found online for about $50”, and then demonstrates how one can be used to comedically open and close lift doors while people are still in it. “Anyone can hack in,” he warns, sagely, standing next to his non-stereotypical messy desk.

So, can all this be done? Can’t say we’ve tried, to be honest, and, just for the sake of clarity, we have no intention of doing so. Can a Raspberry Pi be used to control the operations of things like doors, and, er, roller coasters? Well, you know the answer to that.

We look forward to future episodes of CSI: Cyber, though, given that it’s got a second season on the way. Expect the Raspberry Pi to be at the heart of further villainy, and inaccurate price projects. After all, $50? They should shop around a bit…

Charlie Brooker’s Election Wipe

In brief:

Ahead of the UK general election, Charlie Brooker and a chum or two dissected the campaign, and fitted in a Raspberry Pi joke.

What does the Pi do?

It allows Charlie Brooker and Philomena Cunk to talk to each other, if, ahem, you take it at face value. But mainly, it lets them poke fun at election coverage.

The details:

Via his series of Weekly Wipe programmes on the BBC, Charlie Brooker has regularly taken a spear to the conventions of news reporting, and exposed its limitations. He does it with cutting humour, too.
We like him.

But then Brooker cut his teeth on computer magazines, and for some time was a writer on the long-lost PC Zone, a British computer magazine we still miss. For his Election Wipe programme, broadcast ahead of, as you might expect, the 2015 UK General Election, he turned his gaze to the most “unpredictable” election that the British Isles had faced since, er, the last one. Naturally enough, his satirical dart-throwing was accurate.

So where does the Raspberry Pi fit in? As a punchline of a gag, as it happens.

It pops in at the end of a sequence where ‘Philomena Cunk’ is trying to make head or tail of the assorted of graphics and data that surround an election campaign. All the gubbins, basically, that
you get from experts ahead of an election, who prove to be entirely incorrect, and then turn up a few years later to do it all again. As Cunk switches back to Brooker, we see that he is holding a Pi, and using it to talk into. It’s as if he’s making a joke about people not being able to wrap their head around technology or something.

This is the bit where it’s important to recall that Brooker more than knows his way around technology. The joke doesn’t work so well otherwise. So chortle along and just remember that he’s one of us. He’s just paid a lot more.

  • Adam

    You forgot Mr. Robot!

  • LJ

    Definitely Mr. Robot. How else is someone going to wire their own control into someone else’s building… Of course there is also no explanation of how this board is going to communicate without anyone seeing the packets going across the network and no indication of another form of networking… unless it’s WiFi but I thought the point was that it wasn’t possible?