Movie Review by Pete Tutton: HACKERS

In part 2 of our basic cable repertory theater showcase, we present mid 90’s cult fave, hackers. this time-capsule of a techno thriller stars whatever-happened-to-johnny-lee-miller as dade, aka zero cool, aka crash override, a hacker since infancy who rose to infamy after crashing 1,507 systems in one day, dropping the NYSE 7 points, a stat that all of his hacker buddies can quote readily. this of course earns him buku cybercred and at least 1,507 exp points. as a consequence of this criminal act, dade is forbidden from operating computers and touch tone phones until his 18th birthday. rotary phones are still ok though.
so, following the obligatory family breakup, dade and his mom move to ny into a little apartment where dade continues to sit in his room and fuck shit up on the interwebs with his dial up modem and dot matrix printer. next comes the obligatory new guy in school sequence where dade meets the characters who would soon make up his cybercrew. angelina jolie is kate, aka acid burn, a femme fatale who sports a pixie haircut and quizzical eyebrows, a combo that leaves her looking like a disturbingly foxy spock. dade first encounters kate inside the ol’ series-of-tubes in a heated hacker battle over a public access video cassette. yes, a public access video cassette. acid burn got all pissed that crash override was in her cyberturf. why her turf includes the video library of a public access station is really anybody’s guess.
these two develop quite a nice adversarial relationship that is allowed to play out through the whole film and doesn’t pay off until the last quarter of the movie. which is a good thing. dade starts off as a victim of kate’s pool on the roof prank where he and all the other first-day nerds gullible enough to go look at it (wow, I’ve never seen a POOL before! wonder what that looks like!) get locked on the pool-less roof, and he finishes the movie making sweet sweet love to kate in a pool. on the roof. of some other building, not the school.
the conflict of the movie kicks in when a member of dade’s crew downloads (slowly, this is 1995 after all) a garbage file from some industrial supercomputer. a gibson, no less (*all gasp in fear and respect* ). turns out that this file is very important to the eeeeevil fisher stevens who will stop at nothing to get it back. for those of you keeping score at home, that’s academy award winning documentarian fisher stevens. oh no, his skills aren’t limited to affecting an offensive indian accent and chasing johnny5 around, he can also direct him some documentaries about dolphin abuse. and that’s important. fisher steven’s partner in crime is dr. melfi for some reason. she’s completely useless in this film and is there primarily to not understand technical jargon and to shriek about things that don’t go her way.
before we go any further on the plot, let’s talk for a moment about wardrobe. now, i was a teenager in the 90’s and i remember some pretty lame fashions. what i don’t remember however, is people dressing like a scuba diving expedition could break out at any minute. was i asleep during the aqua action gear fashion movement? kate sports a few lycra skindiving shits, and at one point, dade wears a life vest to a party. an actual life vest. with buckles and straps and everything. remember in back to the future when the soda jerk asks marty if he just jumped ship because his puffy vest looked like a life preserver? this is just like that except that dade’s vest would actually keep him afloat if his boat ever capsized.
also, everyone in this movie carries a pager. bright yellow and orange motorolla skypagers abound. I know that cell phones still weighed 8 lbs back then and weren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they are now but i always thought that beepers were just for drug dealers. guess i was wrong.

dade’s other cyberpossee members are pretty fashion forward as well. the interminable matthew lillard portrays cereal (you know, like cereal killa) and he spends the movie sporting some pippy longstockings french-braided pigtails in various locations around his head. his clothing choices tend to involve sleeveless tees and utility belts. and a pager. another character wears a leopard print top with mismatching leopard print zuba pants. tres chic! at one point, kate is shown at home, by herself, on a computer, rocking a sheer top with no bra. this was at best a puzzling choice. it was like, ‘hey nobody, look at my boobs!’

hackers also features a fair amount of hollywood enhanced and overly glamorized depictions of technology use. it would be cruel to the viewer to actually show the mind-numbing banality of realistically fat, zitty hackers sitting in front of computer screens for 90 minutes. hackers forgoes gritty realism for slick, bright and shiny techno action! first and formost, is my most favorite of cinematic contrivances, the computer monitor face projection! i don’t know about you, but when i’m watching videos of frolicking kittens on my computer screen, people who are looking at me do not see the reverse image of that video projected onto my face. maybe they just made monitors that much more powerful back in the mid 90s, but i doubt it.
computer interfaces in the world of hackers look a lot more like screensavers than they probably should. instead of a recognizable set of icons and lists and windows, many of the screen shots we’re treated to feature swirling technicolor math equations, explosions of color, disjointed text and nonsensical shapes. the computer world of the gibson (*hushed awe*) is a cityscape of digital towers lined with file names, a circuitboard of streets pulsates below. the virtual camera glides in through a grid of towers, driven by the eeeeeevil fisher stevens and his techno goon, penn gillette who together co-operate a gigantic bright orange keyboard with round buttons. practical? intuitive? probably not. that’s why it’s up to the misunderstood genius of the hackers to operate these technologically advanced wonders. or something.
in any case, characters periodically drop technobabble references to remind us how tech savvy they are throught the entire movie. a pci bus? no way! at one point, dade stands in front of a mirror doing his best travis bickle using 3 ¼” disks instead of a gun. you talkin’ to me? no sir. no i wasn’t.

and you better believe this flick has a montage. they had to show lots of stuff, happening at once, giving the impression of the passage of time. set to music. techno music. i’m guessing this soundtrack features more than one paul oakenfold track.

the climax of this film is really a wonder to behold. the heroes have eluded the authorities throught the story with varying degrees of success and are now on the lamb. they have no choice but to hook up their laptops to payphones and do something with the garbage file. i forget exactly what that is. it really doesn’t matter. in any case, they are intercepted online by the eeeeeevil fisher stevens and penn gillette and a furious technocyber cage match ensues. there is much pointing and clicking and loading and deleting. the participants get worked up into a frothy boil and in the end, our heroes are the last men and woman standing. The eeeeeevil fisher stevens and dr. melfi are carted off to jail and everyone lives hackerly ever after. the end.

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2 Comments to “Movie Review by Pete Tutton: HACKERS”

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  1. Glass Case of Emotion says:

    Dial up modems RULE! This movie is a great little time capsule for the internets of the 90s. We can show it to our kids someday and they'll laugh at us, like we laugh at our grandparents when they mention the "icebox".


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