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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Background Screens
No way, we gotta rewind and cross-reference this map with the list of coordinates we saw on the other screen. This Greenland thing could be big.
Title text: No way, we gotta rewind and cross-reference this map with the list of coordinates we saw on the other screen. This Greenland thing could be big.

Explanation

Plot and characters are generally the parts a movie that most people presumably pay attention to, as the plot (the story and its purpose) and the characters (the emotional connection and character development) are generally the things most people find enjoyable about particular films.

Cueball, however, pays particular attention to what's on the computer screens shown briefly in the background. Generally speaking, these screens are shown to the audience for a short period of time, and at a low-level of detail, just to dress a set and make a scene feel more realistic or high-tech. They may contain endless columns of gibberish or miscellaneous data flashing by in an eyeblink (only visible by freeze-framing), or crosshairs zipping across maps. Often the contents of the computer screens are so unimportant or hard-to-read that the filmmakers do not bother to spend much time (if any at all) ensuring that what is shown on the screen is accurate or even relevant to the film. They may be designed by artists not fully aware of the details of the plot, and as a result, their content (where it is intelligible, such as in a map) can have little to no connection to the dialog or other story events going on in front of them. They sometimes even contain jokes. It is rare, if ever, that important information would be communicated to the viewer through background computer screens. Hence, Cueball's spending most of his time watching the screens seems counter-intuitive to understanding and enjoying the film.

Greenland, a large island east of Canada, is 80% covered in ice up to several kilometers in depth, and has a population of less than 100,000 people. It is an unlikely place for aliens to land, especially movie aliens, who generally prefer more densely-populated locations. In the title text, Cueball suggests investigating how a list of coordinates from another background screen relates to the location of the alien craft in Greenland, suggesting that Cueball thinks the filmmakers may have intended the viewers to record the information early in the film and analyze the data to learn relevant plot information - something that is very unlikely. Most of the time, filmmakers take efforts to ensure the audience can easily follow plot points by making them more obvious than they might be in reality.

There are a number of websites which specialize in documenting computer screens as seen in movies, including: (partial list - please expand/improve)

Transcript

What I pay attention to in movies:
[A pie chart with a small piece (5%) in the upper right part labeled:]
Plot, characters
[The rest of the chart (95%) is labeled:]
Computer screens shown briefly in the background
[Below the chart Cueball, sitting on the floor, and Hairy, sitting in an armchair, are watching a movie on the TV. Cueball points the remote at the TV.]
Cueball: Hang on– That blurry map behind the general shows one of the alien ships is in Greenland! Why Greenland?!
Hairy [quietly]: Can we please just watch the movie?

Discussion

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