Blu-Ray Review: Hackers: 20th Anniversary Edition | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Thursday, June 4th, 2020  

Hackers: 20th Anniversary Edition

Studio: Shout! Factory

Aug 18, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Rarely do movies try—and fail—as hard to be cool as Hackers. Released 20 years ago to a public that largely had no idea what the internet was, the movie played up the barely-existent threat of teenage hackers and phreaks to society’s well-being. This niche subculture was exploited for its edginess and cool factor; Hackers feels like it was dreamed up by the same folks who dreamed up the skateboarding bears and surfing sharks that were ubiquitous on ‘90s kids’ food packaging. (Hackers’ main characters look like the Burger King Kids Club Gang, except everyone dresses like Kid Vid.) It also launched the careers (and brief marriage) of Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller, which is the main reason why people tend to remember it today.

In the late ‘80s, eleven-year-old Dade Murphy—alias “Zero Cool”—is arrested for crashing more than 1,500 unspecified computer systems in a single day and being solely responsible for a seven-point drop in the stock market. He’s banned from using a computer or telephone until his 18th birthday, and so Hackers fast-forwards seven years to show 18-year-old Dade (Jonny Lee Miller) is back to his old tricks. His parents recently divorced, and Dade’s mother was forced to sell the family home in suburban Washington State and move to a more cost-conscious brownstone apartment in Manhattan. Despite being a teenager who identifies with an incredibly niche subculture, Dade is for some reason upset about starting anew in New York City, but sucks it up and embarks on his new life.

In his first days at his new school, Dade quickly befriends a few fellow outcasts who coincidentally also happen to be skilled hackers and skaters, and also played by actors in their 20s.  (This only ever works when all students are played by twenty-somethings; the extras in Hackers were played by actual high school students, which only draws more attention to the awkwardness of this small clique of punkishly-dressed adults walking the hallways and sitting in their classrooms.) Dade—who now goes by the hacker handle “Crash Override”—also meets his love interest, Kate Libby (Angeline Jolie), who at first is a total ice queen but is later revealed to be a skilled hacker known as Acid Burn. (Get it? They’re named “Crash” and “Burn.” Don’t worry if you don’t, because the movie will hammer the pun home every chance it gets.) Dadeand his friends (The Phantom Phreak, Cereal Killer, and Joey) head out to a “Cyberdelic” club, where the city’s hacking-inclined youth hang out and play the PlayStation game Wipeout on a giant-ass TV screen. He sees Kate there and beats her high score at the game, which throws gasoline on their thinly-concealed (and painfully telegraphed) sexual attraction to each other.

Hackers would have only been a melodramatic high school drama with an odd personal computing theme if the fate of the world weren’t somehow at stake. That’s where “The Plague” comes in.  By day, The Plague—played by Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Fisher Stevens—is an IT guy for a Major Corporation. You can tell he’s evil, though, because he has a goatee, and you can tell he’s secretly an elite hacker because he rides his skateboard everywhere, even around his workplace. It turns out he’s written a worm program that’s siphoning money from around the world into his bank account, a program which one of Dade’s dopier friends improbably steals—by accident—while hacking his company’s servers. Rather than cut and run, The Plague decides to create a new virus which will sink multiple oil tankers and irreversibly pollute the ocean—and then frame Dade and his hackers pals for the crime, so that the secret service—led by Wendell Pierce, or Bunk from The Wire—will arrest the teens. This really stupid, really convoluted plan is what Dade, Kate, and their makeshift computer crime-fighting crew spend the second half of the movie thwarting. The stakes couldn’t be much higher (or dumber.)

Hackers only hammers home how hard it must be to be a young actress trying to break into Hollywood. The female lead was a role that Hilary Swank, Liv Tyler, Heather Graham, and Katherine Heigl all reportedly auditioned for, and it’s a garbage part. Angelina Jolie won the role and had the pleasure of playing a part that’s so needlessly sexualized that it would be laughable were it not so honest-to-goodness sad. Her wardrobe seems ripped from the box art of a shareware sci-fi adventure game from the early ‘90s—skin-tight jumpsuits, shiny material, see-through tops. Her fashion here is part Saved By the Bell, part Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner, part sex queen from a hair metal video. If the gaudy outfits weren’t enough, she’s forced to endure a dream sequence that exists only for the sake of several seconds of toplessness. Watching Hackers, you almost feel embarrassed for her.

As a relic from the mid-1990s, Hackers has aged about as well as your middle school buddy’s Austin Powers impression. There are many fantastic, hilariously-inaccurate representations of computer programming—the act of “hacking” is typically portrayed as flights through neon-colored towers of numbers, or math equations swirling out of a psychedelic color palette. There’s also rap metal.

Shout! Factory, to their credit, have done great work preserving a film that really doesn’t deserve it. (Their deluxe release of 1990’s Captain America was arguably a far better use of their efforts.) Still, fans of the movie Hackers—we know you’re out there, so please come forward and explain yourselves—should be pleased with the movie’s nice HD transfer, stylish packaging, and sizeable selection of bonus features. However, those of you who already question why Hackers’ 20th anniversary is worth celebrating certainly won’t be swayed otherwise by this 20th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray.

Author rating: 3.5/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10


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