• Hackers

    Released By: Shout Factory
    Released On: August 18, 2015
    Director: Iain Softly
    Cast:Angelina Jolie, Jonny Lee Miller, Jesse Bradford, Matthew Lillard
    Year: 1995
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    The Film:

    Back before Jonny Lee Miller left his mark in cinematic history by playing Sick Boy in the film "Trainspotting", and Angelina Jolie became famous for breaking adoption records worldwide, there was Hackers, the 1995 film by Director Iain Softley (Backbeat). At eleven years old, Dade Murphy pissed off both his parents and the government mightily when, using the handle "Zero Cool", he orchestrated a computer virus that took down thousands of systems . Too young for jail time, his parents earned a hefty fine, and young Dade was prohibited from owning a computer until his 18th birthday.

    Seven years later, we find Dade on the way to the big city of New York with his mother, leaving his friends and his "Zero Cool" persona behind. On a lonely night, Dade decides to pass the evening by hacking into the automated playback system at the local TV station in order to watch The Outer Limits. Pleased with himself for combining both social engineering and an attack on the station's not-so-complex modem system, things seem to be going swimmingly until an angry warning pops up on his screen; somebody known as "Acid Burn" is not happy that Dade is hacking around on turf that doesn't belong to him. Adopting the handle of "Crash Override", Dade and Acid Burn engage in an online battle, warring with each other for control of the automated playback system. After an exchange of brilliant barbs (Mess With the Best, Die Like the Rest), the melee comes to an end when Acid Burn shuts down Dade's connection.

    Dade has bigger things to focus on, however, heading into his first day at a new school, where he's duped into locking himself on the school roof by cruel pranktress Kate Libby (Jolie). Despite her unkind ways, Dade finds himself smitten with Kate, and uses his hacking skills to get placed in her English class. When this tech-savvy move draws the attention of "The Phantom Freak", another hacker, Dade is drawn into the cyber clubbing world, where he meets other like-minded individuals with cool online handles and gets to talk about things like 28 Kb baud modems and ram-doubling, and active matrix displays. In an effort to outdo one another, talk turns to pulling off the grandaddy of all hacks, the hacking of a Gibson supercomputer. Desperate to fit in with Dade, Freak, Cereal, and the others, hacker wannabe Joey pulls off the Gibson hack and copies some files that ties a skateboarding, corporate tech security madman known as "The Plague" to a virus that will wreak havoc on the planet's oceans, and The Plague wastes no time in turning the tables to frame the young hacker as the real culprit. But when he finds out that Dade is really THE Zero Cool and has the potential to expose his criminal scheme, the Plague reaches out to his contacts in government to round up the hackers and have them imprisoned.

    Walking a line between amusing and outright ridiculous (and actually falling quite a few times into head-shaking territory), Hackers is really a product of it's time, when hacking was in it's infancy and people didn't really know any better. Looking at it 20 years later, it's hard to believe that such a film was made, with it's underground clubs with rollerblading ramps, massive-screened video games, and people going off the rails talking about tech stuff. In spite of the real-life hackers who have lent credibility to the story with their tales of meetings and secret societies, the whole thing comes across as pretty laughable.

    However, this doesn't make Hackers a bad film. It is, in fact, pretty entertaining for all of the reasons that make it laughable, and Softly's hyper approach to direction doesn't hurt. Dade's character is presented as seeing things in rapid-fire arrangements of television clips and computer graphics, keeping the visuals entertaining. And as hard as it must be to make a battle of text interesting to the viewer, Softly pulls it off by making the barbs, dialogue, and keyboard motions more exaggerated. It shouldn't work, but it does. The soundtrack doesn't hurt either, loaded with energetic techno and other electronic music, which keeps the film moving along at a good pace. Finally, the performances here are perfectly in synch with the film, which is to say that they range from sturdy to outlandish, but all at the right time and never seem out of place. What should be an absolute trainwreck of a film is instead a pretty fun and somewhat nostalgia-filled trip back to the mid-90's.


    Hackers comes to Blu-ray from Shout! in a 2.35:1 transfer that looks very presentable. Black levels are good, detail is sharp, and a good range of colour is represented. The DTS HD MA 2.0 track is serviceable and not really flawed, but one gets the feeling that a 5.1 track would have opened up the soundfield nicely to let the music breathe. Still, dialogue is readily audible and the effects are nicely balanced.

    The biggest extra on the disc is a three-part retrospective on the film entitled The Keyboard Cowboys (1:03:55). Experts on hacking, Director Iain Softly, Fisher Stevens, Penn Jillette, and Matthew Lillard are on hand to talk about the accuracy of the depictions in the film, the costumes, the visual effects, and the staying power of Hackers. While there were definitely a few "Riiiiiight" moments when discussing the prophesy of the film, it's an entertaining watch; though it's a bit disappointing that more of the cast didn't take part.

    A trailer is also included.

    The Final Word:

    I'm not entirely convinced that Hackers is a brilliant prophesy or an accurate look at hacking culture in the 90's, but it is a fun film, and the Blu-ray is a great way for fans of the film to see it again.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!