Ol' Mutant Theatre: "Hackers" (1995)
- by Kazekun, 5 March 2014
Having been born in 1992, I grew up in the age of the electron and the switch, of the beauty and the baud, a world where people can exist cybernetically free of nationality, skin color, and religious bias (well, some of us can). And yes, I did just paraphrase a line of dialogue from the movie "Hackers". As a child of the cyber age, I love to see the exploration of a world totally devoted to electronics. Having seen many stories attempt to do so, this is one that's really special for me.
Written by Rafael Moreu, directed by Iain Softley, and starring Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie this cult classic hit theaters in 1995. I was 3 years old (God). In many circles this movie is often synonymous with the saying “it’s so bad, it’s good” and in professional opinion I would more classify this movie as “it’s so good, it’s good.” Sure, it has its flaws and I’ll get to those, but first let me tell you how this movie is flat-out chill, ya dig?
Fast forward those 7 years and he’s now living in New York with his mom in his senior year of high school, fresh on the market with his new computer. By the time we meet this older Dade, who now goes by the handle ‘Crash Override’, he’s successfully hacking with a computer. So one asks “how does he know how to do that when he was barred from using one for 7 years?” Well the answer is simple: if you had a love for computers, even if you couldn’t use one, you’d probably keep up to date on the latest news and tricks regarding them. And if you knew how to hide yourself, you’d probably grab other electronics when you’re out and about, to use and keep your skills strong.
As the story shoots along Dade meets his romantic foil in the form of Kate Libby, another hacker who goes by the handle of ‘Acid Burn’ (oh, the 90s) and a couple of other hackers from his school; they form a sort of anti-establishment group hell bent on saving their friends who are framed and put in prison thanks to the evil plan of a cyber-security officer of a very prominent company; and he is about to use a virus to gain a lot of money. This easily could have been a purely anti-establishment, take down the man, kind of movie but thankfully the creators smartly made the bad guy a man, who was neither government nor establishment, just another hacker with a higher standing in society. There is also a lot of focus on the various characters of the team, managing to make majority of them likeable despite lack of character growth for some. In fact, I’ll say character growth is something this movie is lacking, as far as several of the major characters go.
There is also some major themes and subplots that play out throughout the movie, like the very important ‘pool on the roof’, an almost dreamy fantasy I’m sure many have about being able to someday swim on top of a roof. The device is used first when Dade meets Kate and she sends him to the roof of their school only to be rained on. It’s a metaphor for the fantasy of being on top and the eventuality of being left wet and looking like a fool, having your dreams shattered. The villain Eugene Belford wishes to swim in that metaphorical pool on the roof by getting loads of money and running off to a place where he can hide with it in peace. Eventually though, someone like him has to get rained on. This metaphor becomes reality when by the end we actually get to see a literal pool on the roof, with our main characters on top of the world.
Speaking of the villain, this is one of the movies biggest flaws. Eugene Belford plays a very over the top and outlandish villain, with many comedic deliveries of his lines, to the point that it’s almost hard to take him seriously. Sure, he means business, but when you see him act more like a big kid bully I feel it drags his character down a notch. He’s supposed to act like he’s better than any of the other characters: more grown up, more elite, but instead he acts like a man-child playing around with a bunch of toys. His motivations are nearly non-existent. He wants power, and that’s that. Sure, there are people in the real world who only want power and money, but the portrayal of it doesn’t really help the story. It just makes the bad guy feel generic and weaker because of it. Instead of struggling with whether we want him to win or not, we want him to lose and we know he has to lose because he’s bad, and that’s the bottom line.
Another big misstep I think the movie took was the lack of resolutions. I’m not the kind of viewer who needs everything force-fed to me, and in many respects this movie was very smart about making sure that didn’t happen, but when the war is over we see the fates of two characters, Dade and Kate, and that’s it. Feels pretty stale. After spending that much time with the other characters and even rooting for one of them to be released from jail it’s a big letdown to not at least get to see or hear about what happened to them after the day is won. The ball is really dropped at the ending and instead of seeing what became of these characters, we get an unnecessarily drawn out scene of Dade and Kate swimming around in a pool.
Another thing: be warned there is dialogue filled with techno babble in this film. Also, make sure to expand your bubble of disbelief for some scenes, as the moment you enter cyber-reality the sense of the real world is completely abandoned. That doesn’t make the movie any less cool (zero cool?), but for some this can take them out of the movie pretty fast. It didn’t for me, but then very few stories accurately portray hacking as it’s done in real life. So just bear with it. Also the soundtrack to this movie is bitchin’ - with a combination of techno and rock it’s a must have for the music shelf. There’s also a lot of really neat pop culture references, some obvious and some not. It’s fun to play try and spot them, and if you’ve seen the Digimon movie, or the anime movie Summer Wars then one scene will definitely get you perked up.
So yeah, go buy the DVD and the soundtrack now, and also perhaps check out some other cyber punk classics while you're at it. Though we don't really rate movies like that in Ol' Mutant Theatre, if I were to give it a Tentacle-Free Anime -like score, it would be 3.5 fantasies about cyber reality out of 5.
Man, it almost feels like we're back in the 1990s! Do you like "Hackers"? Maybe just Angelina Jolie? Let us know in the comments!