Hackers [retro review]

“Spandex: it’s a privilege, not a right.”

The Scoop: 1995 PG-13, directed by Iain Softley, and starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, and Fisher Stevens

Tagline: Their only crime was curiosity

Summary Capsule: A group of rebellious computer hackers fight gnarly oppression by the feds and an evil computer guru.

Justin’s Rating: C:\format *.*

Justin’s Review: Sometimes I feel as if I’m on a quest to defend movies that no one else likes. This is partially the reason I have no friends:

FRED: What shall we watch tonight?
SALLY: You’ve Got Mail!
LARS: Terminator!
JUSTIN: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!
ROOM: [very silent]

But I am a valiant soul on valium (that is such a cool phrase, I am so cool, la la la), and again promote a movie that’s slammed in the critical community: Hackers. Tottering on a thin line between “cool” and “ridiculous”, between “techno-geek” and “techno-babble”, between Angelina Jolie’s “lips” and Johnny Lee Miller’s “sunglasses” (that he wears at night), Hackers is this weird little package of conflicting emotions and spurts of all kinds. Kind of like watching someone go through puberty at a rapid pace. In any case, as many fun and positive qualities I can pull out of my mutant-rabbit’s hat, I’m sure a serious critic could dig not-so-deep and find a matching number of distracters.

So what I’m trying to say is that the key question isn’t whether Hackers is an accurate portrayal of the hacker community — now or then — or whether Hackers even has a clue what computers can and cannot do (more on that later), but instead, whether Hackers is a situation where you should just cast off the nit-picking and sarcasm to just enjoy something that’s energetic and wildly nuts. I think it is. I also think you should switch deodorant brands to something that can better cover up your supernaturally bad B.O.

Like Cinderella and Snow White before it, Hackers lives in a fairy tale world where computer geniuses are actually cool and not irritating 1337-spelling morons that infest website forums everywhere with no (or ALL) capitalization and angry swears completely played out in acronyms. Dade (Miller) was a child hacker caught by the government in the 80’s doing Very Bad Stuff, and forbidden from using a computer for a Very Long Time. The now-high school student has moved to NYC with his mother, where he meets a group of underground computer science rejects. They are, in the class photo from left to right, Kate (Jolie), Joey (Joey Pardella), Emmanuel (Matthew Lillard), Paul (Laurence Mason), and Ramon (Renoly Santiago). They boast about their hardware and software, roller blade everywhere, play high-tech pranks on the FBI, and style ludicrous outfits that just… might… work. It’s all fun and LAN games until “The Plague” (Fisher Stevens) sets the group up to take the fall for a computer virus that steals millions. Also, Penn Jillette (from, you know, Penn and Teller) hangs out to collect a paycheck.

Even die-hard fans of Hackers will grow shy and suddenly feel the need to urinate if you bring up the depictions of computer use in this movie. Having seen the film a dozen or so times, I cannot say, in conscience, that the filmmakers even grasp what a computer is. Any time a computer is referenced or used, prepare yourself for goofy graphics, slick clip art and nonsense galore. If you were completely clueless, you might swallow this whole thing without a murmur of indigestion; otherwise, any basic knowledge of computers whatsoever will throw you into stark contrast with Hackers. Hackers’ computers work in the following ways:

  • On screen information scrolls two different ways in four columns
  • When you hack a TV station, you start receiving images of different broadcasts
  • Photo-realistic fire graphics can be generated on 1995 computers
  • 3D models of menus, decorated like they’re Tron
  • Random floating algebra equations that are apparently “code”
  • Computer screens project their images onto the user’s face
  • Oh, yeah, they can pretty much do anything, including controlling the weather and programming the animatronics at Disney’s Hall of Presidents

So we see that hacking is pretty much done by pounding on the keyboard and having cool graphics sail off the screen and onto the faces of the hackers. So easy, your momma could do it if she weren’t cleaning up after your latest bout of bedwetting.

So, the computer stuff is not quite up to par. Why watch? Well, for one thing, the music jams. Really sweet techno. Hackers was a film where the soundtrack sold far more than the movie, due to a rockity-bop collection of top trance, techno and house tunes — so much, in fact, that they quickly released Hackers 2 and Hackers 3 albums (no movies to match, however).

The music ties in with the energy of the story, which shamelessly sacrifices accuracy for smooth watchability. Our characters are ultra-geeks; in most movies, they’d be the despised, teased ones. Here, they’re the ones who really have the power and the wits to outsmart their enemies. They dress in funky, $5,000 outfits, sail up and down streets on roller blades, hang out at the coolest geek club you’ve ever seen, and don’t hesitate to pop out their laptops, jack in to the telephone system, and do their voodoo. While Dade is a bit of a dud, personality-wise, he does get into a sparkling duel with Libby over the course of the film to see who’s the better hacker. Sexual tension galore. By the way, Angelina Jolie has never, ever looked hotter than in Hackers. Just a warning to those of you who are pregnant, have heart conditions or neck problems.

Hackers is both a visual and dialog ballet between these characters as they jockey for top dog while spitting in the face of computer illiterates. I just had a great time watching this film even ten years later, eye candy or not, and continue to watch movies alone because my friends have all gone to see lame dreck like Man in the Iron Mask.

Andie’s Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 4 Elite Hackers.

Andie’s Review: Hackers is a look into the world of top secret computer files and the high schoolers who find them. It starts out back in 1988, when an 11-year-old boy named Dade Murphy, aka Zero Cool, (Johnny Lee Miller) crashes 1507 computers in one day. He is restricted from using a computer til his 18th birthday.

Hackers then skips ahead to 1995 when Dade, now going by Crash Override, is conviently turning 18 and moving to New York with his mom. He hooks up with a group of elite hackers, called so because they all can do high tech hacking. They include Phantom Phreak, Cereal Killer, Lord Nikon and Acid Burn. The one female of the group, Kate Libby, aka Acid Burn, (Anjelina Jolie), immediately hates Dade for treading on her turf and this starts a war of the hackers between Dade and Kate.

The war is halted, however, when members of the group are being framed for implanting in a computer a virus that capsizes oil tankers. Dade and Kate, along with the other hackers, team up to clear their friends and get the bad guys.

All in all, Hackers is fast-paced and wildly entertaining. Matt Lillard is my favorite hacker, Cereal Killer, and his comedic antics steal the scenes. The only reason Hackers didn’t receive 4 elite hackers is because at times it becomes a tad hard to understand if you don’t know a lot about computers.

What rebels! Staring upwards with no regard whatsoever for neck cramps!

Intermission!

  • Felicity Huffman (Dana on Sports Night) is the prosecutor in the opening scene
  • BLT drive?
  • This was back when modems were on the OUTSIDE of computers
  • His computer’s named Lucy? Weak.
  • One of the FBI guys is playing with Joey’s NES Powerglove
  • Ooh a 28.8bps modem? WOW. We’re living in the future now!
  • Jolt cola
  • I don’t think it’s that good to spray paint your keyboard
  • The computer they break into is a fictional mainframe computer called a “Gibson” – a homage to cyberpunk author William Gibson.
  • Eugene Belford uses the pseudonym Babbage at the end of the film. Charles Babbage was the inventor of an early form of the computer.
  • Penn Jillette’s character is named Hal in the credits, most likely a reference to the HAL9000 computer system from the sci-fi movie 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • The term “hacker” has many meanings, but typically means a computer user who is exceptionally skilled with programming, computer security, and computer tricks. “Hacker” isn’t necessarily a negative term, as it could denote someone just really good with computers, but the word typically is used to describe people who perform illegal acts with computers, such as electronic fraud, illegal access into other computers, and malicious attacks on other computers (such as creating viruses). The hacker subculture started in the 60′s, with early computers on college campuses.
  • The high school scenes were filmed at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, one of a few elite, exclusive high schools for students gifted in math, science and computers. Real school seniors were extras in many scenes. In the real school, the pool is on the first floor.
  • The “Hacker Manifesto” read by Agent Bob was actually written by a hacker of great renown in the 1980s who went by the name of The Mentor. It was published in PHRACK magazine, issue 07, file 03 in 1986.
  • The character name “Emmanuel Goldstein” is taken from George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. It is also used as a pseudonym by Eric Corley, who publishes the magazine “2600, The Hacker Quarterly”. Corley was a consultant for this film.
  • Around the movie’s release, the official website was actually hacked into and digital graffiti was added to many graphics on the site. Appreciating the irony of this, the studio decided to leave the website and not remove the graffiti.
  • The game being played in the arcade is a high-quality prototype of the Playstation game “Wipeout” by Psygnosis. It is done on a high-end SGI server and allowed the development team to try out tracks and gameplay, before porting it to the Playstation. As a result, there are features and graphics in the movie that do not exist in the actual game, including the “high score smashing” sequence.

Groovy Quotes

Dade: You look good in a dress.
Kate: You would have looked better.

Ramon Sanchez: It’s in that place where I put that thing that time.

Cereal Killer: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things. What? It’s Corinthians one, chapter thirteen verse eleven.

Cereal Killer: We have just gotten a wake-up call from the Nintendo Generation.

The Plague: Kid, don’t threaten me. There are worse things than death, and uh, I can do all of them.

Kate: I hope you don’t screw like you type.

The Plague: There is no right and wrong. There’s only fun and boring.

Agent Bob: [reading the Hackers Manifesto] “This is our world now. The world of the electron and the switch; the beauty of the baud. We exist without nationality, skin color, or religious bias. You wage wars, murder, cheat, lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals. Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto.” Huh? Right? Manifesto? “You may stop me, but you can’t stop us all.”

Cereal Killer: Spandex: it’s a privilege, not a right.

Ramon Sanchez: So, uh, what’s your interest in Kate Libby, eh? Academic? Purely sexual?
Dade: Homicidal.

Curtis: If it isn’t Leopard Boy and the Decepticons.

Razor: Remember, hacking is more than just a crime. It’s a survival trait.

The Plague: Someone didn’t bother reading my carefully prepared memo on commonly-used passwords. Now, then, as I so meticulously pointed out, the four most-used passwords are: love, sex, secret, and… god. So, would your holiness care to change her password?

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3 Comments

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