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