The Phantom Menace that is Holograms

westwHere’s one of my absolute pet hates with sci fi films and television: holograms. They piss me off no end, its like some kind of fourth-wall busting nonsensical ‘magic’ posing as genuine scientific plausibility. I’m getting really anal about it; its worse than sound in space or artificial gravity or teleportation for me (more on that latter travesty some other time maybe). The ‘artistic license’ that scriptwriters and film-makers exercise with holograms, endlessly frustrates me.

There is a scene in the third season of Westworld… well, there’s not just one, actually, they do this shit a few times and it raised my blood pressure every time… there’s a scene in a boardroom with this guy, Serac (Vincent Cassel in very fine form) holding court, I think he’s sitting down, stands up, the scene is tense, there’s a confrontation, and a character snaps and shoots him in the head and… the bullet goes through him and he flickers and he’s revealed to be a hologram, a repeated gambit of his. But how does this even work? Is his hologram ‘projected’ by hidden cameras, and if so, where are they, why can’t anyone else see them ‘projecting’ the Hologram and how does it work when he’s outside (they do that, they have someone chatting to a hologram outdoors). How does his voice emanate from an empty point of space where his holographic mouth is rather than from a loud speaker across the room, and how the hell does he hold eye-contact with someone when he’s not really there? How does he enter the room,  how does his chair move as if taking his weight, how does… 

How does the person projecting the hologram from some other location even ‘see’ the other people in whatever space the hologram is projected into? He may have a screen in his villains lair that he is looking at but what’s filming that image to broadcast to his screen?  Its just too much like magic to me, and over the years as writers get lazier, its all getting sillier as they take things further and further (what was that ‘hardlight’ bullshit they had in Star Trek in which Holograms could actually pick up items and touch people?). 

I know, I know, its just a sci-fi show. But its not space fantasy like Star Wars, is it, a show like Westworld. Its a more adult, considered and thoughtful piece, a show of bold, often existential ideas such as self, memory, humanity, free-will, purpose, programming biological and digital, all sorts of reflection on technology good and bad. But they slip into these silly sci-fi tropes sometimes, betraying all the good work with lazy writing. Don’t get me wrong, I adore BR2049 but I have such a hard time all the way through that film rationalising Joi and how they portray her in physical space. They sort of nod to it by us seeing lights ‘through’ her but that being said, how does she magically just ‘be there’ in a room or Spinner etc? I’d have an easier time if they just revealed she was something in K’s head and he was ‘seeing’ her in the outside world through his imagination, that he can ‘see’ her but nobody else can. But hey, what am I to do?

One of the things that frustrated me regards the holograms in Westworld is that in a number of episodes they actually manage to rationalise the technology, in that people could only see them when wearing special glasses- you can see something flickering on the interior  glass of the specs so that you can accept them ‘seeing’ 3D imagery in front of them via the glasses, possibly being projected onto the eye’s retina or on the glass itself like a HUD kind of thing. But I have to suspect the showrunners and writers got a bit carried away with it, pushed it too far when suddenly there’s a hologram walking around that everyone seems to see and we’re in bloody Star Trek territory.

I have a nagging theory/suspicion that the way we can tell that the whole third season of Westworld (and by extension seasons one and two too) is actually a simulation within a simulation like a stealth mimicry of The Matrix. You read it here first, just pretend to be surprised when Neo turns up in Westworld Season Five.

Anyway, I may eventually get around to an actual review of Westworld‘s third season, but you can possibly tell by this pointless stream of consciousness/geek rant that I have so many conflicting issues with it. I feel like Indy moaning about snakes, only here its me moaning, “Holograms. Why did it have to be Holograms?”

3 thoughts on “The Phantom Menace that is Holograms

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    The thing you have to remember about these holograms is that they’re the product of technology or science we don’t have yet.
    You’re saying ‘where are they projected from and how can they be aware?’ (I paraphrase), but those questions are predicated on current technology.

    You need to make the leap of faith and imagine something as-yet uninvented, much like watching Blade Runner in 1982 and taking it for granted that in 2019 we’d have reached the point of having created sentient life in perfect, superhuman bodies: that isn’t anywhere on the horizon yet and it’s 2020 now.

    Or the same as watching Alien and noting that they’d cross the galaxy in six months with what must clearly be a revolutionary propulsion system which so far is beyond our understanding.

  2. I think its a subjective thing regards what seems plausible, but things like Holograms just break things for me. You’re right about making that leap of faith, and sure if I’m watching something that’s clearly a space fantasy like Star Wars I’m not too perturbed by anything, really, anything goes in stuff like that. Its really when things claim to be ‘science fiction’ and of course, its not something unique to me and films, I know many readers and authors endlessly debate what’s genuine science fiction in literary works, so its an age-old argument.

    The real source of my objection is from a storytelling perspective, when I feel like I’m being taken for a ride when the writer/s are pulling the rug on my suspension of disbelief just for a cheap reveal, like when Serac repeatedly turns out to be a hologram during scenes when he is assumed to be ‘real’ to the extent of casting a shadow/sitting in a chair etc. You know, its like putting a character in a place of crisis for dramatic effect and then cheaply writing a way out of it. The last few seasons of Game of Thrones pulled stuff like that several times and that bloody mess ST: Discovery just gets by on it endlessly, and it annoys me so much, its so lazy from a writing perspective, its like cheating to me,

  3. One your statement about Star Trek holograms picking things up: those holograms also used forcefields so they were not simple projections of light.

    Overall these days holograms are just a lazy way creators use to let the audience that it’s the future.

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