One of my favorite movie subgenres is about hacking. Movies such as WarGames, Sneakers and The Matrix are probably the reason why I am doing a PhD in Computer Science (besides the toiling work of writing about Science Fiction). Another movie that should be on that list is the 1995 movie Hackers by director Iain Softley. A week ago this cult-movie has finally got its 1080p blu-ray treatment it long needed. Now neither Angelina Jolie nor Jonny Lee Miller look as pixelated or washed-out as they did before.
The movie stars Jonny Lee Miller as hacker Dade Murphy A.K.A Crash Override and Angelina Jolie as Kate Libby A.K.A Acid Burns. The real fun of Hackers is the competitive spirit between the two leading character which can be exemplified as a relation that is part sexual and part homicidal (Dade’s words not mine). Beneath the competitive hacking and quips both are youths struggling to deal with the responsibilities of adulthood. Luckily the movie does fall into the teenage angst pit that has buried so many other movies. The over-arching story is the plot by two employees of the Ellingson Mineral Company to blame the groups of hacker Dade and Kate belong to with sabotaging their systems as they steal 25 million dollars. However, the plot never really thickens. The real attraction is still the interplay between Dade and Kate and their eccentric friends. The only thing that I found plausible was the depiction of the tactics used by the US Secret Service in trying to obtain confessions and sentences.
Hackers is an odd movie. It probably isn’t really that good, but it is certainly not bad either. The movie aged very quickly. Even by the late 90’s when I got it on DVD it had already aged. The comparison with a movie such as The Matrix from 1999 is very stark, the latter is visually still stunning (except for the cell phones). But after seeing hackers again in this beautiful 1080p format I will say that I don’t care it has aged. It is a child of the 90’s. Along with movies such as The Net (Sandra Bullock), GoldenEye and Assassins (Silvester Stallone) it occupies a special part of my childhood memories.
Hackers has since its release developed quite a cult following. Taglines such as Hack The Planet! have become a saying in popular culture. The movie is probably equally famous for its soundtrack (more on that below). Hackers spawned two unofficial sequels that have absolutely nothing to do with movie. Please stay away from them.
The visuals of Hackers has always been a love-hate-affaire. The movie is colorful, for a mid 1990’s cinematography. However, the hacking that is performed by Crash Override and Acid Burns is purely fictional. Some concepts may be correct, but you can’t just press the button with ‘launch’ written on it to hack into the government. The sequences similar to TRON are impressive enough considering director Iain Softley was set against the use of CGI. The movie is furthermore delightfully optimistic about the myriad of colorful clothing youth of the future would wear. It may be a be too 1990’s but it does appear perfectly on this blu-ray transfer.
Hackers became a cult-movie in part of its impressive soundtrack and the follow-up soundtracks it started. This 1080p transfer sports a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 that does the movie justice. Sadly in a few scenes the audio is noticeably less impressive. In one scene where villains played by Lorraine Bracco and Fisher Stevens the audio becomes hollow and distant. Luckily the plentiful of audio cues taken from the soundtrack are excellent. Songs such as Halcyon On and On as well as One Love from Prodigy come through excellently.
Despite it being the 20th anniversary edition of a popular cult-movie that hasn’t seen a major release since 1999 the set has few extra’s. Two to speak of actually. The first is the original trailer whose only significance amongst male fans is that it supposedly shows more of Angelina Jolie’s than does the same scene in the movie. The second extra is documentary lasting just over an hour with details on the 1990’s hacker culture as well interviews with some of the cats and the film’s director Iain Softley. The documentary was put together by the Blu-ray editions producers, Shout! Factory and reminds me of the I, Robot transfer which also had documentaries that were probably better than the movie itself.
Hackers has been a fantastic trip down memory lane. To me it seems only like yesterday that Angelina Jolie starred in The Bone Collector and Tomb Raider yet Hackers seems like another life-time. It has been fun seeing back a movie that cemented the hacker culture into so many that have an interest in computer science and tech stuff. While it may not be as well known as WarGames or The Matrix I can still see the influence Hackers had on so many people that I meet almost everyday. Making a movie about hacking and hackers is no easy thing. Blackhat failed earlier this year and so did Takedown a long time ago. Hackers is one of a few that straddle the extremes of good and bad hacking movie.
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