Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hackers (the movie, not real life hackers)

And here's the second review for today.
Hackers is a much-maligned film from 1995 about, well, a bunch of teenage hackers and their not-so-legal exploits. Much of the complaints that come from my fellow nerds who have watched it stem from the visual representation of hacking. Instead of lots of boring lines of code, the people behind the scenes figured that it would be way super cooler to show what they felt the inside of a computer looked like. And when I say the "inside of a computer" I don't mean the motherboard. No, instead we got large building-like construct thingies representing individual computers with pink numbers floating around and lines I suppose are meant to represent lines of communication. Maybe? It actually kinda looks like "Hello Matrix v0.5". An early beta. It's not hard to see why this part of the movie is derided so much. And really, it deserves that derision. It's kind of stupid. Though you also have to grant that most people are not going want to watch the protagonists typing and nothing else. So, I suppose it was a compromise. They could have done better, but they just as easily could have done worse. And really, when you ignore that part of the movie, or at least disconnect it from anything having to do with real hackers, the movie is actually pretty good and really fun.
I should probably get to what the movie is about, huh?

So, it starts with an 11 year old kid in peaceful suburbia getting a SWAT team. Apparently this kid, Dade Murphy, A.K.A. Zero Cool, wrote a computer virus that crashed a lot of important computers and caused a 7 point dip in the stock exchange. Hey it was the 80s, that was a lot to lose back then, I guess. He's completely banned from computers and even touch-tone phones until he's 18. Fast forward seven years, he and his mother have moved to New York City, where on his 18th birthday he immediately returns to hacking under the name of "Crash Override". (Really? A super-genius hacker and that's the best he could come up with?) Anyway, of course he meets up with other hackers, and even gets a rival in the form of a younger Angelina Jolie. Well, along the way, a young apprentice hacker miraculously manages to hack into a supposedly unhackable computer and copies a trash folder as proof. Little does he know that the trash folder files are actually proof of an evil plot to embezzle millions of dollars from a huge multinational corporation. Of course, the man behind this plot (played by Fisher Stevens, who really seems to be having a lot of fun in the role of a hacker in his 30s who never grew up) uses his authority to pin the blame on this young hacker and his friends. So they have to use all their knowledge to find proof of the embezzlement scheme and clear their names, but the bad guy is ready for them and waiting for them to move so he can make the authorities think they've got the kids red-handed.
I don't know how well-versed you are with William Gibson's books or the genre he spawned, but this movie is basically a cyberpunk film. It just happens to take place in contemporary modern times, so it loses a lot of the sci-fi elements, such as direct neural interfaces to computers, monolithic businesses replacing governments, and so forth> It still has most of the other elements though. Noir-ish anti-hero protagonists straddling the fence on which side of the law they're on, giant corporations (or at least certain individuals inside them) as the villains, police as a hindrance rather than an help... other stuff that I can't think of off the top of my head since I'm not the hugest cyberpunk fan. But you get the picture. In fact, choosing to put it in contemporary 1995 dates the film rather harshly, now that it's 16 years later. I get a chuckle every time I re-watch it and hear them geeking out over a laptop with a 28.8 bps modem in it. I used a 28.8 bps modem in my desktop for years. I wonder how many kids these days have even an inkling of what that is. Still, while it is kind funny to laugh at the datedness of it all, I think that the story itself holds up rather well.

Bottom Line: It's dated, and there are a few legitimate complaints, but overall it's a pretty good movie that's worth watching, especially if you're a fan of the cyberpunk genre. I like this movie. I even like the techno music they use for the soundtrack, though I admit it's not for everyone. C'mon, give this movie a chance. Go out and rent it.

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