Hackers – This is the end, thank you for calling

The year is 1995. The only internet you have access to comes complete with screeching dial up tone, and pictures that load in 3 colours, one row of pixels at a time. The most technologically advanced thing in my house at the time that I was allowed to touch was probably our waffle maker. And then I put my chin directly on to the hot plate waiting for them to cook and it became the most hi-tech thing in our house that I was no longer allowed to touch.

When I finally was allowed access to our computer, it wasn’t anything like Hackers had promised me. MS-DOS was just green gibberish, no one tried to talk to me, much less start an argument with me, animated by HTML flames, and I didn’t descend into a pixelated cyberspace every time I turned it on. Also it took like 5 full minutes to warm up. The closest I got to an ambiguous and sinister online identity, was using a thunder and lightning emoticon in my MSN name. It was heartbreaking.

Whatever my experience of I.T. in mid 90s central England, it wasn’t anything like Hackers. I had a lot of oversized American sports jerseys I wore with Doctor Martens, some Encarta Cd-Roms, but that, in 1995, was sadly where the similarities ended.

Pre-Google, post-text books.

Set in the not-so-distant, and now basically bypassed dystopian cyberpunk future of dark, tropical, and therefore perpetually greasy New York City, Hackers doesn’t have androids, no sniff of a Cyberchrist, automated weapon, or VR headset, but it had a number of trench coats, and a whole lot of neon. The online advertising for the film was a “pre-hacked” website, supposedly blocking you from viewing the intended promotional material, and telling you to “Watch The Net instead”. IMAGINE.

The movie opens on 11 year old Dade Murphy aka ZERO COOL wetting his kecks in a courtroom and being banned from using so much as a Texas Instruments calculator until the day he turns 18, after crashing 1,507 computer systems in one day, causing the New York Stock Exchange to drop by 7 points. You don’t really know what that means. But you know it’s bad cos the government LOVE money, so they take his computer off him and don’t even bother trying to explain how he copes for the next 7 years. Jump forward to our current day, and Jonny Lee Miller is Dade Murphy. 17 year old Dade Murphy who has a 5 o’ clock shadow at all times, met by his excessive and protruding chest hair. Look, I’m a girl, and as such can only really speak to female puberty, but like, he looked 30 for real.

Obviously he receives a computer the very second he turns 18, and immediately hacks into a local TV station under his new hacker alias CRASH OVERRIDE, changing it’s scheduled midnight programming to an episode of The Twilight Zone. Start small, I guess? Chaos ensues when fellow hacker ACID BURN pops up demanding to know who is trespassing on their cyber-turf. An argument follows, by the very animated medium of a rich man’s AOL messenger (RIP), and Crash Override and Acid Burn get to a hacking war soundtracked by the greatest Prodigy song, and probably greatest song, of all time – Voodoo People.

Slightly more aggressive Faceparty

We should talk about the soundtrack anyway. Leftfield, Orbital, Massive Attack, extra Prodigy, Carl Cox provide a very excellent, and deliciously British feel to the whole thing. Mainly because I think loads of these songs were in Human Traffic. It also features that Stereo MCs Connected song that should be wiped from history’s record for all time, and if you’d like to argue with me about that, I would recommend you don’t. It is the Smash Mouth All Star of the early 90s. All Star was the All Star of the late 90s. And at least that was in a nice animated Dreamworks film.

The next day, Dade starts at his new high school wearing rollerblades, and is immediately punked by Angelina Jolie’s Kate Libby into checking out the pool on the roof. There’s no pool on the roof. And now he’s on the roof in rollerblades. Obviously because she was a dick to him with her excellent trousers and little pixie haircut, he immediately falls in love with her, and uses a communal school computer to hack his way into the school network and put himself in her classes. He’s noticed by another hacker, Ramon THE PHANTOM PHREAK, who invites him to Cyberdelia, a hackers nightclub. Presumably where they all wear rollerblades (they do). Dade infuriates Kate by beating her high score on Wipeout. You remember Wipeout. I played the demo for hours every day on a cd I got free on the front of Playstation magazine but could never actually afford the game. Glitchy, cuboid, floating Nascar meets bobsled. The soundtrack was also GOOD.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the next day he hacks into the school sprinkler system (is that something you can hack into?), causing pandemonium amongst the squares, and encouraging Ramon to drag him around to LORD NIKON’s house for a hacker sleepover, where they tell Dade that Acid Burn is none other than his beloved teenage pentium witch, Kate Libby.

The only place I’d seen Lord Nikon before this was playing Tin Tin in The Crow. Same leather trousers, but loads more smiling. As well as Lord Nikon, we have CEREAL KILLER Emanuel Goldstein, played by Matthew Lillard as himself in Scream, but sporting a get up not dissimilar to a person you’d expect to be sitting on Camden Lock bridge holding a pitbull on a rope, and Jesse Bradford as the hopeless dimlow they keep around out of pity, who doesn’t even have a hacker name, and smokes like all teenagers do, without inhaling. Bless him.

Hacker sleepover involves popcorn, making fun of Jesse, and watching Hack The Planet, a pirate TV show fronted by Razor and Blade, two Japanese Americans dressed like spare members of Cirque De Soleil. Kind of like Blue Peter for hacking.

Sick of getting his arse handed to him on the daily, Jesse/Joey, the Dawson Leary of hacking, decides to prove everyone wrong by needling his way into The Gibson, a supercomputer owned by a mineral company. Eager for proof of the cool thing he did so he’ll stop getting wedgies, he downloads a garbage file as proof. Turns out the garbage file is a worm implanted by another hacker called THE PLAGUE (Mr The Plague) to defraud the company, whilst all their oil tankers have been hacked to capsize the next day as a distraction. Good job Penn off Penn and Teller is on the security checking then, and informs Mr The Plague (Eugene, played by Fisher Stevens, who you might remember as Iggy from the Mario Bros. Movie, or Ben from Short Circuit) that someone is nosing around. The Plague decides to leave the teenage baby hackers to take the fall for him, and the next day, Dawson/Jesse/Joey is dragged from his shower by the secret service.

You already know that the hackers successfully prove their innocence by a) providing proof on a floppy disc and b) hacking themselves free in their perfect retrofuturistic outfits in grubby New York phoneboxes as instructed by the Juggalo mimes Razor and Blade, and that Jonny and Angelina snog it up as Crash and Burn, so let’s discuss what else caused me to instantly have my mother purchase this movie for me ex-rental and buy me a Casio watch.

Despite the fact that at the time, our MASSIVE PC couldn’t load a photo in any time less than 15 minutes, and it took a full day and half to get you an album, Hackers was one of the first films I saw to boast a mostly positive outlook of the rapidly approaching cyberfuture. Sure, a bad man tries to steal money from a big faceless corporation, but there’s no one poking around in anyone’s brain. The whole world hasn’t been incinerated by Skynet’s drones. No one in the film is anything but human. There was no fear. Sure, there was a man walking around a bit in side a computer, but the computer manifests as a Da Vinci painting and screams “HELLLPP MEEEE” when they destroy the virus, so how is that scary? It’s not. Unless you’re my mum, an avid viewer of Watchdog who refused to buy things on the internet for fear of identity theft. To be fair, she was right about that in the end…

Hackers was my dystopian future starter pack. It was the portal through which I dived properly into the themes offered up by Terminator and Robocop. The warm up. The gentle cajole. Don’t get me wrong, I had seen all those films, but as an 11 year old, I wasn’t all that ready to embrace the reality of an impending lifetime under robot rule and certain death at the behest of our cyborg overlords. Saw a video this week of a robot holding open a door for another robot so I know as well as you do that we’re fucked, but after 20 years of watching Judgement Day, The Matrix, and Bladerunner, I have my duster ready, and I believe a sufficient Brownie badge-based skillset in order to survive off the grid. Hell, I welcome it. At least the future won’t have Facebook.

Hack the planet.

2 thoughts on “Hackers – This is the end, thank you for calling

  1. Possibly one my favourite films of all time, i freely admit im a complete and utter fucking IT nerd, but this was the filmscape to my youth fucking with shit i shouldnt, like hacking msn chat and kicking the admins out 😉 😀

    Possibly the best thing about the film was how dated it was on release, the whole tech gasm scene in libby’s bed room at the party when they come out with “yeah RISC is good” and “OMG its got a 28kbps modem” or even talking about the graphics tech which was obliterated by the early voodoo 3d accelerator cards lol ahh fun times, also one of the first outings of macs being purported to be able to hack anything like in independance day (they cant, and were totally imcompatible apart form slaughtering some digital chickens and having all sorts of digital voodoo invoked with windows and unix based machines when this was filmed).

    Its kinda sad that jurassic park has (to date) one of the most realistic depictions of real world hacking (my name is tim, my misses is called lex, difference is i know unix!)

    Any way some “fun” factoids about the film:
    The gibson is named after william gibson, as cray wouldnt license there super computer to be “hackable”.
    The whole plot is based around kevin mitnick’s real world hacking exploits as a kid, along with the l0pht crew (mudge, moxie marlinspike – the dude who wrote telegram which powers whats app, and is pretty good at allowing real free speech from areas of the world that need it)
    Joey grew up to be micky flannigan (possibly not true)
    The hackers manifesto was pretty much co-opted by the EFF as their manifesto.

    In the early days of tinterweb (pre mysapce) there were some rather funny bastardisations of this film on a site called detonate.net someone has preserved them here: http://attrition.org/archive/www.detonate.net/hackers/ probably not as funny as it was 18+ years ago…

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