01 May 2010


Twelve Things about Hackers
(It is considerably easier to write a "review" of something one has actually seen. My TV Guide editor has also asked me to write about this movie--an assignment made easier and more enjoyable by the fact that it's available in its entirety online.)

12. This must be a huge Cult favourite. I mean, a movie with a pre-Trainspotting Jonny Lee Miller, a pre-Tomb Raider Angelina Jolie, a pre-Scream Matthew Lillard, and a pre-Swimfan Jesse Bradford is all kinds of win!

11. Remember when all of this was so cutting-edge? We were on the brink of a new millennium and dial-up modems made us feel that the future had already arrived.

10. This story begins with a quick look at 1988 before zipping straight back into 1995--and that's perfectly all right! While Hackers has clearly taken its lessons on atmosphere and excess from the 80s, it is a beautiful gem of 90s pop culture.

Beepers! Flannel! Floppy disks! Rollerblades! Cordless phones with long rubbery antennae! A reference to Boy Meets World! Love for the whole "Nintendo generation"!

9. ". . .angel-headed hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo . . ." I'm not really impressed by Allen Ginsberg but there's something about Miller's character quoting him that makes my knees melt. (Or maybe it's just Miller.) It also happens to be a really interesting line: Were these young hackers of the 90s the "angel-headed hipsters" of their generation?

8. A student named Emmanuel Goldstein, aye? The English teacher who sends him out of class doesn't get the reference to Orwell or seem to realise he has at least three good readers in his class. What he does know is that he has at least three smart-asses.

(Something I just learned: there is also an "Emmanuel Goldstein" in the real world's hacker community. Yes, really. I presume the filmmakers did some intensive research into the world of hacking.)

7. And now I wonder . . . are there really Gibson computers or is the name a tribute to William "Cyberspace" Gibson?

6. And are "LOVE," "SECRET," and "SEX" really the three most commonly used passwords? With "GOD" as the wildcard fourth? Or is the writer being really cute?

I find I prefer the latter scenario . . . and just like that, the only other movie Rafael Moreu has written goes up a notch--even if it is The Rage: Carrie 2.

5. Names--or should I say, handles--are a very big deal. Near the start of the movie, the youngest, greenest hacker of the group moans: "I need a handle, man! I don't have an identity until I have a handle!" Later on, "Emmanuel Goldstein" makes good on the literary allusion by rhapsodising: "You can sit at home and do, like, absolutely nothing and your name goes through, like, seventeen computers a day. Nineteen eighty-four? Yeah right, man! That's a typo. Orwell's here and now; he's living large. We have no names, man, no names. We are nameless."

Nameless, perhaps, but not handle-less. Dade was once "Zero Cool" and is now "Crash Override;" his love interest Kate is "Burn Notice" [UPDATE: Read Alison's comment below!]--and so their friend "Cereal Killer" immediately makes a pun for "Crash" and "Burn." Then, of course, we have "Phantom Phreak," "Lord Nikon," the elite team of "Razor" and "Blade," and our baddie "The Plague."

4. Note to myself for the TV Guide review: the plot is meandering and choppy, no? And the acting is B-movie uneven--though I can hardly hold it against a B-movie, can I? I wouldn't watch this if it weren't for the actors, the nostalgia, and well, yes, the assignment.

3. Kate has a poster of a movie called Metropolis on the wall of her bedroom. There is a 1927 SF movie with that title about "thinkers" who live above ground and "workers" who live underground. If this connection is deliberate, it gives us an interesting parallel to Hackers, especially since "The Plague" has already compared the relationship between the hacker community and the rest of the world to that between cowboys and cattle.

And I was too young--and too tame--to understand this with any depth, but the underground cyberpunk and rave scenes (Was that just redundant?) were a huge deal in the mid-90s, weren't they?

2. I'd better address the "unrealistic" visuals at this point, because I actually like them a lot. They're not exactly what a hacker would see on his screen . . . but they make aesthetically edgy metaphors for what does go on in the digital sphere when he enters his code. My favourite is the virus that looks like Pacman and eats up one's files before one's horrified eyes. =)

And is there really a "Cookie Monster" virus that can be stalled--though not completely stopped--by typing "cookie" over and over, in order to feed it? If so, then hackers are funny people, even if they never really grew up.

1. Now I feel like yelling "Hack the planet!" out the window . . . but I don't think anyone within hearing would really understand, and that those who would appreciate it would know better cyber-windows out of which I should do some cyber-yelling. It has been fifteen years since this movie came out, and I'm still that uncool . . .

Image Source: Hackers poster


Sullivan McPig said...

A very nice list of things about Hackers.
My extra entry would be:
I'll never be able to take the bad guy in this movie seriously as he also played in an episode of Friends as Phoebe's boyfriend.
Quite an entertaining movie though.

Enbrethiliel said...


LOL! I didn't see that episode, but I can understand what you mean.

On the other hand, I don't think he is supposed to be taken seriously. Fisher Stevens certainly cheeses him up! (I've just finished writing my review, in which I said that the heroes are so poorly developed that the baddie becomes the most compelling character by default.)

r said...

From what I know (and I know), the most common passwords are things like "password", "123", "qwerty", and "letmein". Things that require both letters and numbers in a password have led to the recent rise of "password1".

Not much romance there, really.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Since most computer guys never would go dancing, cracking was certainly not redundant with raves. Which is not to say that there was no overlap, because computer guys often do have strong feelings about music, and some of them like chemical experimentation and such.

But the evening hours were primetime for IRC and such, and the night was for staying up doing stuff, not socializing. :)

Enbrethiliel said...


R: I can sympathise with the Password1 users of the world, as I have a similar system. There was a time I got too imaginative with a password and then wasn't able to access my account for years. (I had also forgotten the password for the e-mail account that other site sent all the "Change Password" e-mails, too. Go figure . . .)

Banshee: Well, these characters are definitely ravers, though there is one night when they all stay up until the weird hours to crack something together. I guess the writer was trying to cram as much of "underground" culture into one movie as he could--and I do appreciate the effort!

David said...


Yay for using "cracking". I'm not and never was a hacker, and probably never will be, but I've written a few hacks in my life, and I know some of the history and language (thanks to my father and Eric Raymond).


I agree with r on passwords. The most commonly used are variations of "password" and "admin". P@ssw0rd! is pretty common amongst computer people who don't care about securing the particular location (test machines, for example).

Hackers is one of those movies that real hackers or even pedestrian developers like myself can enjoy only ironically (I hope that doesn't make me a hipster...). It's sooooo bad, so unbelievably horrible. Hollywood knows about as much about computers as it does about the south (er, southern U.S.). Unfortunately, southerners and hackers and mathematicians don't write screenplays, so we get bunk like this and The Net (which was not as bad) and people think, "yeah, that's so cool and edgy and cultural" and nod their heads as if they've gained understanding of some foreign world.

Heh, sorry to rant on you, it's just that I have images in my head of my equivalent of your neo-Caths sitting in their cookie cutter puritan suburban households, imagining they've actually learned something, that they actually know what different cultures are like.

Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, wow. You mean it's that bad? LOL! I just wrote a 500-word review recommending it to every reader of Atlas TV Guide. =P

David said...

Eh, It's been a while since I saw it, but I remember thinking it was dumb. On the other hand, I'm neither a cracker (which is what the movie portrays) nor a real hacker (which is something completely different) so I'm probably the wrong person to offer an opinion. Mostly we just laughed at it, which isn't a bad thing.

And hey, I'll bet Crossroads offends some people with its '80s sensibilities influenced take on the delta blues. It doesn't keep me from loving it (I think mostly 'cause Ry Cooder did the soundtrack, and 'cause Jami Gertz was cute...)

ninjapeps said...

I thought the movie was so cool the first time I saw it. when I grew up and started learning more about computers, I realized just how stupid all the computer scare movies were. they went from exciting to hilarious.

there was this comic strip I saw some time ago that showed the difference between fictional and real life responses to remote computer hacking.

movie: the hero "fights" the hacker in cyberspace with all his cool anti-hacker programs and what have you.

real life: the hero unplugs his modem.

Enbrethiliel said...


Dauvit:Everyone else on the Internet pretty much agrees that it was a dumb movie, but I was asked to find its silver lining and I hope I was able to do so without seeming too ignorant!

I think the only movie I have decisively trashed on Shredded Cheddar is The Twilight Saga: New Moon!

Peppy: And there's that unplug the modem thing, which never came up.

Yet I think I can defend the villain's choice not to go offline, at least when it comes to Hackers. We already know that his hubris is amazing; his illusion that his virtual fortress is impenetrable and his decision to let them keep lobbing viruses at him are totally in line with that.

With more reasonable, level-headed people who understand how modems work . . . then, yes, we'd have a problem.

Alison said...

its "Acid Burn" not "Burn Notice" come on people! have you actually watched this movie! *sigh*

Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Alison! Yes, I have actually watched this movie! =) But I saw it only once, and later checked an online source to get the names "right" for this post. Obviously, the source was as wrong as your use of punctuation. I hope this "Twelve Things" didn't ruin your week too much. Thanks for visiting!