teevee movie teevie movie

Our local NPR station has a feature they call film critic at-large, in which critic Peggy Johnson reviews art and foreign films that come to Tucson. Today's review is of the film Enigma, a fictionalized romance about Bletchley Park and the codebreaking that contributed to winning World War II. Johnson was not impressed by the film, noting that the casting is all wrong, the characters aren't believable, and -- after/despite all the criticism of U571's America-boosting truth-spindling -- the movie plays too fast and loose with the truth about WWII codebreaking.

As a corrective, I offer up Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which I serendipitously recently re-read. While Stephenson also plays fast and loose with the truth, he creates WWII-era characters who believably could have broken the right codes at the right time. Further, he inserts a fascinating plot twist, around which one of his multi-layered stories is based: Presuming that both sides in the war have brilliant cryptographers and mathematicians at their disposal, Stephenson imagines that breaking the code is just half of the problem. If the Allies can sink darn near every top-secret convoy that Germany sends into the Atlantic, those German mathematicians will get suspicious very quickly, and change their codes. The trick, then, is to sink U-boats at a rate not significantly different from random, a feat involving herculean efforts from Stephenson's mathematicians, on one hand, and a squad of marines sent around the world to conceal the evidence in a series of increasingly improbable missions.

On top of at least two World War II storylines, Stephenson lays the story of modern-day cryptographers and hackers in the shadows of their WWII ancestors, and he throws in a few love stories as well. It's certainly a fictional treatment of the war, but it's a really good one, and it makes for an engrossing read, whether you're interested in the War or the modern-day story.

At close to 1000 pages, the book would likely defy being made a Major Motion Picture. Still, I can't help but wonder who would star.