Twenty years ago, the internet was there, but the super information highway was slower than a Los Angeles freeway at 5 p.m. It felt like hours would pass before the 56K modem could dial into a free line at AOL. Then it took three minutes to download a single picture of your alleged chat buddy. The process was a drag, but it was faster than responding to the personal ads in your local weekly rag. For many Amercans, the internet was born during that time. Which is what made Hackers such a futuristic vision to audience. Imagine a world where kids with computers didn’t have to sit around listening to a busy signal instead of the connection whine. Hackers: 20th Anniversary Edition is a brave view into a tomorrow that predicted so much including Angelina Jolie (Gia) and Jonny Lee Miller (Trainspotting). While the film seemed to be ultra futuristic with the wardrobe and haircuts given Jolie and Jonny, the movie takes place what would eventually become 1998.
Dade “Zero Cool” Murphy brought down thousands of computers in 1988. He was busted for this crime except he couldn’t be locked up for decades since he was only 11. Now that he’s 18, Dade (Jonny Lee Miller) can once more use a personal computer and a touchtone phone. He has a whole new world to explore online and in real life since his mom has moved them to Manhattan. He gets online and fakes the password to get into a TV station’s computer. He wants to change the programming. But he finds another Hacker is already inside. The two battle for control. As a great shock, he loses. He also finds himself less cooler than imagined at his new high school. Kate Libby (Angelina Jolie) is so ultra-cool that she can look hot while wearing a Spock haircut. She treats Dade as scum. But he can’t resist her. Luckily he does make friends fast with Ramon “The Phantom Phreak” Sanchez (Renoly Santiago), Emmanuel “Cereal Killer” Goldstein (Matthew Lillard), Paul “Lord Nikon” Cook (Laurence Mason) and Joey Pardella (Jesse Bradford). The gang hang out at an ultra cool club that has large size video games and a skating track. The kids exchange great hacking tips such as how to get free long distance from pay phones. This knowledge is rather useless today since payphones have vanished and cellphone plans can include unlimited long distance. But they also point out the lamest passwords for when you’re trying to bust into a secured account.
Joey is the only one of the gang without a cool online nickname. He wants to earn one so badly that he hacks into a major computer system and downloads what should be a garbage files. His actions do not go unnoticed. Penn Gillette (magician) notices the intrusion and calls in their top security guy Eugene “The Plague” Belford (Fisher Stevens). He’s a hacker who now works for the man. He traces Joey’s computer. The Plague needs to nail Joey because the garbage features a secret program that he’s installed to get rich like in Superman III and Office Space. The only person in on his scheme is executive Margo Wallace (The Sopranos‘ Lorraine Bracco). They now want to use Joey and his pals as their patsies to get rich quick. They get the advantage of calling in the feds including U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Richard Gill (The Wire‘s Wendell Pierce) and Agent Ray (Marc Anthony). They put the pressure on Dade since he’s the one who will get serious time if he doesn’t rat out his new friends. Can he resist?
There’s a major problem to films about computer hackers. There’s something boring about watching someone type on a computer. Does anyone get a rush watching the clerk type away info at the DMV? There’s little for an actor to do besides type and stare at a computer screen. Luckily director Iain Softley (Backbeat) comes up with great ways to cut back on the keyboard. The last act of the film is all about putting the kids into motion with their big hack scheme. Hard to say what is more shocking about realizing Hackers is now 20 years old. Is it the way our access to the internet has changed? Or the fact that Jonny Lee Miller is a TV star on Elementary and Angelina Jolie is worshiped in several countries as a deity? Perhaps it’s the fact that Fisher Stevens is an Oscar winning documentary filmmaker. Hackers is an enjoyable look back because the computer talk feels real, the cast inhabits their characters and it’s more than just people with funny haircuts typing.
The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the special effects of when they get inside the mainframe. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The mix fills us with the sounds and squeaks of the mid-90s techno kiddies. The movie is subtitled so you can figure out the jargon.
The Keyboard Cowboys: A Look Back at Hackers (63:55) is a three part documentary that goes deep into how the movie was created. Director Softley and the screenwriters were eager to get it right. They worked with real hackers so the film wasn’t just kids talking cool and typing code.
Theatrical Trailer (2:36) makes the film look like it’s taking place in a future world.
Hackers: 20th Anniversary Edition takes us back to the future cyber dreams of 1995.
Shout! Factory presents Hackers: 20th Anniversary Edition. Directed by: Iain Softley . Screenplay by: Rafael Moreu. Starring: Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Jesse Bradford & Matthew Lillard. Rated: PG-13. Running Time: 107 minutes. Released: August 18, 2015.