Mr Robot this ain’t! John reviews the 1995 film Hackers starring Johnny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie.
Normally I introduce a retro review with my memories of the film in question and how it integrated into my life. Unfortunately, Hackers has no such link. I remember that the film starred a young Johnny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie, apart from that, zilch, nada, nothing!
Somehow, it came up in a conversation with my wife recently and she was surprised I had never seen it. I made the effort to rectify that situation.
A teenage hacker finds himself framed for the theft of millions of dollars from a major corporation. Master hacker Dade Murphy (Johnny Lee Miller), aka Zero Cool, aka Crash Override, has been banned from touching a keyboard for seven years after crashing over 1,500 Wall Street computers at the age of 11. Now keen to get back in front of a monitor, he finds himself in more trouble than ever.
The year is 1988 and Dade Murphy (Johnny Lee Miller) is an eleven-year-old boy who has an alternate life as a hacker. He is known as “Zero Cool” in the online community.
As the film opens, Dade is being arrested for causing the simultaneous system crash of over 1,500 computers which cause the New York Stock Exchange to drop by 7 points.
His family is charged $45,000 and Dade is banned from using any form of computer or touch telephone until he is eighteen years old.
The film jumps forward seven years and Dade has just moved to New York with his divorced mother. Despite his history, he still likes to hack and we watch him take control of a local television station.
Zero Cool gets to work hacking the television station.
During the hack, he is messaged by a fellow hacker calling themselves “Acid Burn”, they warn him off and then sever his connection.
During his first day of a new high school, he meets Kate Libby (Angelina Jolie) who pranks him claiming there is a pool on the top floor. This results in him getting stuck on the roof just as a heavy rainstorm starts.
During computer class, Ramon “The Phantom Phreak” Sanchez (Renoly Santiago) watches as Dade hacks the school network and changes his timetable so that he’ll be in the same English class as Kate.
Ramon invites Dade to a hackers nightclub, Cyberdelia, where he meets the rest of Ramon’s circle of friends including Kate.
One of the friends, a young boy called Joey, desperately wants to prove his hacker credentials and decides to hack into the “Gibson”, a supercomputer at the Ellingson Mineral Company.
He attempts to download a garbage file to prove to his friends what he has managed to do. However, his mother turns off his equipment and forces him to go to bed. This results in Joey only managing to download half the garbage file.
Before Joey was disconnected from the system, one of the I.T. staff at Ellingson, Hal (Penn Jillette – yes the magician!), detects this unauthorised entry and summons computer security officer Eugene “The Plague” Belford (Fisher Stevens), a former hacker.
Eugene is using his hacker skills to defraud Ellingson Mineral Company from the inside. He realises that now that hackers have stolen part of his code, he can use them as a scapegoat for his activities.
Firstly, and foremost, during the watching of this film, just one comment kept screaming through my mind.
THIS FILM IS SOOOOO 90’S!!
According to Hackers, this is how you steal files from a super computer!
If the television series Mr Robot accurately portrays hacking computer systems, then Hackers is the complete opposite.
Hackers uses all of the 1990’s clichés for computers and their use. Examples include talking about equipment that doesn’t exist with the odd real-world reference thrown in to try and keep it realistic.
Nearly everyone’s computer monitor is so bright that the screen can almost be read off the actor’s faces! Have you ever seen a computer screen do that?
But my real favourite was the actual hacking itself. Obviously, real hacking involves using screens of code and text and this wouldn’t be interesting to your average cinema goer.
You also must remember that this was the mid-nineties and the internet was nowhere near the global phenomenon that it is today. The average person on the street had probably never used the internet.
The software used by the hackers is always a glorious graphical user interface made up of psychedelic colours. Hacking into the mainframe system of a company apparently, involves flying through a virtual 3D environment to find the files you are after.
Even the viruses themselves are over the top. Traditionally a virus is a very small piece of code that infects a computer system. In Hackers, a computer virus known as “The Davinci Virus” delivers it’s ransom demands via full motion video.
If you think that sounds over the top, wait until you see Ellingson Mineral Company’s server room! I think it was built using LCD screens rather than bricks and mortar!
Check that keyboard! This is hacking, Hollywood 1990’s style!
It’s all completely ridiculous but at the same time, I found it to be a lot of fun.
I think this was may have been the first time I’ve seen Fisher Stevens outside of his famous role as the Indian robot engineer from Short Circuit films. He really did come across as a nasty piece of work at times and was fun to watch.
A special mention must go to Matthew Lillard as Emmanuel with the hacker name “Cereal Killer”. I did find him to be balancing on a fine line between entertaining and irritating.
But worse than that was the character Joey who is always trying to fit in with his peers as a fellow hacker. I think in that trying to look cool, he was always smoking. Considering none of his friends do It felt out of place and I just wanted him to stop.
Hackers also has an excellent soundtrack featuring several famous 90’s dance tunes including the songs Halcyon & On & On by Orbital, Voodoo People and One Love by The Prodigy. Urban Dance Squad also make an appearance in the film performing their song Good Grief.
Hackers is a film that embellished the world of hacking to create a visually interesting story for the time. This has made the film, I think, even more fun to watch today.
A few niggles aside, Hackers is a lot of fun!
Cliche #137 – Computer monitors will reflect on user’s faces.