My current personal beef with Sony aside, hats off to their product placement folks: I actually enjoyed some prominent placement for the PlayStation 4 in the new movie “Chappie.”
Very minor plot spoilers follow.
Normally, product placement is like this clip from “I, Robot,” and it sucks, because it has nothing to do with the film. It’s distracting, the cinematic equivalent of a pop-up ad.
“Chappie,” which was distributed by Sony subsidiary Columbia Pictures, centers on a robot designed for policing in a riot-torn near-future Johannesburg, South Africa. The robot becomes artificially intelligent when its inventor programs a conscience (try not to think about it too hard). At first, it behaves like a child, but Chappie learns quickly and soon is able to invent things of its own.
There’s plenty of run-of-the-mill product placement in “Chappie,” including for Vaio laptops (um…). But at one point, the robot comes into possession of a stack of PlayStation 4 consoles, and wires them together to do something significant and techno-magical that I won’t spoil here.
This is smart on a couple levels: It directly services the plot, making the PS4 more essential than a product the main character just happens to be near; it plants the idea in the viewers’ heads that a cluster of the consoles can be made to work like a supercomputer; and it alludes to the fact that, in the real world, smart people actually have wired together PlayStation consoles to work like a supercomputer.
In 2003, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications hooked up 70 PlayStation 2s to make a powerful machine that could simulate quantum chromodynamics calculations. Sounds impressive!
“It took a lot of time because you have to cut all of these things out of the plastic packaging,” the center told the New York Times.
Early models of the PlayStation 3 were able to run alternative operating systems like Linux, enabling computing clusters like the 16-console one built by the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth to perform astrophysics simulations. The U.S. Air Force took this idea to an extreme, building a 1,760-console array that at the time was the fastest interactive machine in the Defense Department.
With a handful of PlayStation 4s, just what Chappie does requires — like the rest of the movie — a vigorous suspension of disbelief. And unlike academia or the military, which used Sony’s consoles to take advantage of consumer-priced processing power, its choice of hardware is driven more by circumstance than cost.
Still, for those who recall the real-world link, that’s a seriously clever little nod.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.