I was there Gandalf, 3000 years ago when Hackers took the world by storm. It’s funny to think that even this Lord of the Rings reference might seem outdated now, some twenty years after. However, if you think that that’s outdated just get a load of this horrific mess. First of all, this is another one of those movies that I loved watching when I was younger. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be this cool hacker and have Angelina Jolie as a girlfriend? Over the years, I periodically checked it out and each time I saw it, it was a different experience. Who would have thought that such an over-the-top blunder with atrocious acting could be this entertaining? Just suspend your belief, go along with every silly line and revel in all the cheesiness.
You could easily watch Hackers as a movie so bad that it’s good. However, I have such fond memories of it that I simply could not do it. Plus, it has a lot of true and very interesting references and homages to a couple of very real hackers. For example, although this isn’t mentioned anywhere, Dade’s character is eerily similar to Kevin Mitnick, a veritable legend in the community. Moreover, when Joey is listing all the possible handles, they’re all used by real hackers. This goes on with the Hacker Manifesto by Loyd Blankenship and the Gibson computer of William Gibson’s glory and so forth.
Combined with all this are simply ludicrous hacking representations, simplistic dialogue, and the insistence on this “youthful vibe”. Like a bunch of out-of-touch adults came together and decided to make a movie on this new hip thing. So good guys are rollerblading while bad guy has his skateboard. Just keep an eye out for it, it’s freaking hilarious. They’ve also tried to bring it closer to your Average Joe, trying to explain what it is exactly these computer nerds do. It’s all so freaking adorable. If you’re a purist looking to see an accurate representation of this lifestyle, you will not find it here. Hackers is bordering the exploitation genre when it comes to the subject of hacking. Check out Silk Road or The Fifth Estate if you’re looking for more serious approaches.
After crashing 1,507 computer systems some eleven years ago, Dade Murphy can finally touch a computer keyboard again. His sentence was that he couldn’t interact with computers until he turned 18. He and his mother just moved to Manhattan and on his first day in a new school, he meets a girl of his dreams. Kate is smart, sexy, and also a hacker, like him. She introduces Dade to the rest of the hacking gang and soon they’re all hacking into shit like it’s 1998. However, they don’t know that trouble is just behind the next corner.
If you were into computers during the nineties you will enjoy all the outdated lingo. CRT monitors, BPS modems, Pentiums, and all the rest of the slang will fire off long-forgotten neural links. I vividly remember looking at the first Voodoo graphics card running Star Wars Rogue Squadron 3d a couple of years after this movie trying to pick up my jaw from the floor. It were the textures that blew me away, they looked so good compared to everything I was playing at that time on my pretty shabby ‘puter. Ahhh, to be young again.
To add even more to the atmosphere we have a phenomenal soundtrack. It features such artists as Prodigy, Orbital, and Stereo MC’s. There’s this strange potency and wild energy just flowing from every scene of Hackers. It’s sexual, righteous, youthful, and above all honest. The simplistic motives are righteous and altruistic in nature, not to mention still very relevant. The graphics albeit totally wrong are surprisingly effective and ahead of their time.
This representation of the subculture of hackers as a community of outcasts who stick together and stick it to the man brings joy to my heart. Hackers also toy with gender roles and is one of the few commercial movies daring to go there. They even managed to slip a nipple or two in this PG-13 movie. The key thing was not to take the movie too seriously and let it unfold naturally. We shouldn’t forget that this is also a high school movie with a couple of coming of age moments. We have all the usual tropes that come with this type of movie, bolstering that “youthful vibe”.
Finally, we just have to talk about the acting here. Almost the entire cast, apart from Renoly Santiago, was awkward and overacting half the time. In some scenes, this actually works but in some of them, it’s pretty cringy. This includes both Miller and Jolie. Which is strange since Jolie was great in Cyborg 2 and Miller went on to nail Trainspotting just a couple of years later. I also liked Wendell Pierce who seems to be playing law enforcement characters all his life. On the other hand, everybody seems to be having such a good time and giving off great vibes that you forget what you’re watching.
If you’re looking for more of the same, check out The Net, Johnny Mnemonic, Swordfish, and Enemy of the State. Lawnmower Man is a bit more serious but its imagery and style are very similar to Hackers. Enjoy and don’t forget: Hack the Planet!
Director: Iain Softley
Writer: Rafael Moreu
Cast: Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Jesse Bradford, Matthew Lillard, Laurence Mason, Renoly Santiago
Fun Facts: All of the books identified by Dade at the club were real manuals. All but two, the Pink Shirt Book and the Unix Bible, were published by the DoD and were part of a set of books known as the Rainbow Series.