Last week I decided to finally watch the movie Hackers. As a cult film based around cyberculture, I was bound to check it out eventually. It’s more of a computing movie than it is an Internet movie, but the characters having to use the Internet to hack is enough for it to count as such.
A quick, spoiler-less summary
The movie focuses on 18-year-old Dade Murphy who was put on probation as an 11-year-old for hacking 1,507 computers in one day causing the New York Stock Exchange to experience a one-day, seven-point drop. Seven years later, Dade is still a skilled hacker who has just relocated to New York City with his mother.
Dade quickly befriends a hacker from his school, Ramon (“The Phantom Phreak”), who introduces Dade to his hacker friends Emmanuel (“Cereal Killer”), Paul (“Lord Nikon”), and Joey. Dade also meets another hacker, Kate (“Acid Burn”), who becomes a love interest of his. The young group of hackers quickly find themselves faced against an older evil hacker known as “The Plague”. The hackers work together to defeat The Plague before his evil plan is initiated and gets blamed on them.
For starters, this movie is campy as hell and I loved that. From the hacker names to the exaggerated intensity of the CGI “hacking” scenes, it was everything you could expect a cheesy mid-1990’s movie to be. The movie has a good cast in youthful ‘90s favourites Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Matthew Lilliard and others. If you like ’90s trance, trip-hop, or acid jazz, you’ll also like the movie’s soundtrack.
One thing that makes the movie fall short is its representation of hackers at the time. The movie makes cyberculture and hacking look more like a silly sub-culture than a serious community. That’s not to say there’s nothing fun about either, but its use of camp to portray a subculture that not many people knew much about at the time is a simplification gone wrong. With that said, it’s not a movie worth getting uptight over. If anything, “real” hackers, especially those of the time, would probably get more of a laugh at their portrayal more than anything.
As a representation of a “simpler time” where computers were new, fascinating, and also much less secure than they are today, Hackers successfully encapsulates the attitudes towards the Internet at the time. There’s even a cherry on top in oh-so-cliche dialogue between “geeks” (“We have an uncorrupted hard drive”) and the average person (“In English, please!”) to remind those of us watching today how unfamiliar these everyday terms were not too long ago.
One small thing I particularly enjoyed was the whole idea surrounding the “Hack the Planet” TV show, which shows a sense of community not only among local NYC hackers, but also global Internet users, as seen later in the film.
I enjoyed the movie, I enjoyed the camp, the humour, the tacky cyber aesthetics, the soundtrack, and the cast. Overall, I’d probably rate the movie 3.5 out of 5. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to the average person, but instead to those with an interest in cyberculture who also enjoy campy humour.
The movie definitely has not aged well, but that doesn’t make it unenjoyable in the least. If you can excuse the fact that this movie gives an incredibly cheesy portrayal of hackers of the ‘90s, I’d say it’s worth watching at least once.
Bonus – Hacker’s website gets hacked
Being on the web in the mid-‘90s was an appealing idea, so what better excuse was there to put yourself online than to create a website for your cyberculture movie? That’s just what MGM Studios did for their 1995 creation. It wasn’t long before suddenly the website itself got hacked. The hacked website showcased a vandalized movie poster, replaced text with jabs at the movie and its website, and ended the campaign by telling users to watch The Net starring Sandra Bullock instead.
A website for a movie called “Hackers” getting hacked is almost too ironic and funny to be true. And that was the case exactly. It was later admitted that the “hacked” website was actually just MGM modifying the site to create publicity for the movie. The website, as one would imagine, no longer stands today in its original form. The good news is, the site has since been mirrored and can be accessed here for those who are curious.
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