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April 13, 2012 10:59 AM   Subscribe

The Onion's AV Club Asks: Just How Prescient Was Hackers Anyway?
posted by The Whelk (111 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm still looking forward to software compilers that let you watch as they assemble the parts in 3D.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:06 AM on April 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


In my head the correct spelling will always be

teh gibson
posted by wcfields at 11:07 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Yeah, uh...Mister...The Plague?"
posted by kuanes at 11:13 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


HACK THE PLANET!
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:19 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can answer that for you: not very.
posted by Kitteh at 11:20 AM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


i used to rename the My Computer icon in Windows to say "teh gibson". every time.
posted by ninjew at 11:23 AM on April 13, 2012


Can you jam with the console cowboys in cyberspace?
posted by Justinian at 11:25 AM on April 13, 2012 [14 favorites]


I love this movie. Also, the director of Hackers later did the gorgeous period drama The Wings of the Dove, which I also love, albeit in a completely different way.
posted by duvatney at 11:26 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have no idea what you people are talking about. Hackers is hands-down the most accurate depiction of computer programming ever to grace the screen. I have a degree in Computer Science and I couldn't even declare the major without demonstrating solid rollerblading skills. Getting a badass handle was a prerequisite for completing a senior thesis, and we learned to never set a password with more than 3 characters or we'd fail every class. My department spent half its budget on spinning phone booths for the lab. And don't get me started on the 3D environments we did all our homework in, dialed in over 2400 baud modems.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:27 AM on April 13, 2012 [36 favorites]


Of course now when I watch I'm all 'hey, that's Bunk!'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:28 AM on April 13, 2012 [9 favorites]


I love this article, and I love Hackers. A while back some friends of mine got a good laugh as we got wasted and cracked up at the unintentionally funny moments referenced here and in the article (yeah, "Mister...The Plague" is hilarious). But even in the haze of my early twenties I knew that my irony was affected. I'm serious: I love Hackers.

Growing up in central IL, a my introduction to a world that actually meant something to me was a 14.4 modem on a 68K Macintosh that my stepfather brought with him into the household. In choosing a 'handle' on MUDs and chat rooms, making my own outrageously visually offensive Geocities page, and connecting to my big brother's friend's BBS, I was constructing an identity that made me feel like an actual individual in the maelstrom of my parents' divorce and hormonally unfortunate delayed puberty. But as every Atlantic article ever will be sure to intone with wringing hands, at some point it's not really enough to write text back and forth with people you never see in person, and reality wears you down.

Enter Hackers. Good lord -- radly dressed folks listening to awesome music (hey, I was 13, alright?) doing exciting things with computers?! The weight and light of knowing that someone, somewhere shares your aesthetic, the giddy hope that you might be cool for your skill with a keyboard -- that means a lot to a 13 year old kid.

Nearly 17 years later, thinking about Hackers helps me articulate a different lesson: that media (dare I say art?) are not to be viewed and judged sub specie aeternitatus. I didn't grow up to be a computer hacker, or even a computer scientist. But in its own unintentionally hilarious way, Hackers helped me really feel that it was OK for me to be who I thought I wanted to be. So next time you want to say that Hackers is lame, or Fall Out Boy is for vapid 12 year old girls, or Hunger Games isn't literary enough for adults to read, maybe think about the fact that your throwaway irony is some other actual human being's stepping stone, here and now, toward becoming the individual that they actually are.

So yeah. On the real, I love Hackers, full stop, no irony. HACK THE PLANET indeed.
posted by mister-o at 11:31 AM on April 13, 2012 [69 favorites]


Phrases like “the beauty of the baud” may root the quote firmly in another time and place"

I see what they did there.

One thing Hackers really nailed as well, that this article reminded me of, was the completely ridiculous screen names that we (as in me and my friends) all picked back in middle school. and which I still use

Oh, and for some reason, I want to see an alternate universe where Johnny Lee Miller played Neo in The Matrix.

I still really like Hackers.
posted by mrgoat at 11:31 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]




The overall themes are fine. What kills the movie is cheese.

If they had avoided most of the jargon (both technical and cultural), re-styled The Plague, and made the hackers less "cool," then it would have been a halfway decent movie.

The jargon is either invented out of whole cloth, inaccurately used, or glaringly outdated. They should have stuck with relatively neutral, relative terms (e.g. describing a new computer as having a "next generation processor" rather than giving it particular specs).

The character of the Plague is meant to be a mirror image or corrupted version of the protagonists, but it doesn't go far enough. He should have either embraced the corporate culture and become a suit, or he should have been in league with organized crime. The mish-mash they made him doesn't really work.

And of course all of the roller-blading, skateboarding, and motorcycling is nonsense. The hackers didn't have to be straight out of Revenge of the Nerds, but neither should they be that cool (or, rather, what we are supposed to believe is cool). If they were that social and cool they probably wouldn't have gotten into hacking.

The basic motivations of the hackers are notoriety, curiosity, expression, freedom, and, to use a modern term, lulz. They're mostly young social misfits. The evil hacker is in it for the money. That much pretty well fits, even today. Cut out the cheese and there's room to tell a good story there.
posted by jedicus at 11:36 AM on April 13, 2012


> I love this movie. Also, the director of Hackers later did the gorgeous period drama The Wings of the Dove, which I also love, albeit in a completely different way.

Whoa, had no idea that was the case. I love that movie a ton (one of the best endings ever, thank you Helena Bonham Carter), and Hackers was lots of fun when I saw it in the theater (not sure I'd still dig it, but I'm fond of the memory of it I've got so...especially since that era of Angelina Jolie coincided with my getting real deep into teenage girldom, so I have a special soft spot of affection for that whole mess' o Jolie, stuff like Foxfire etc. which school friends of mine have told me does not hold up 10+ years later, alas).
posted by ifjuly at 11:38 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I own both the dvd and the cd. I, without irony, love that movie.
posted by dejah420 at 11:39 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've had a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the modern Young People aesthetic was from watching Hackers too many times on cable and saying, fuckit, we're making this happen.
posted by The Whelk at 11:39 AM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


If they had avoided most of the jargon (both technical and cultural), re-styled The Plague, and made the hackers less "cool," then it would have been a halfway decent movie.

Trust me, if they'd done that, it would have been unremarkable and forgettable. The glorious absurdity of it is the point; it's unabashed outrageous wish-fulfillment for nerd-kids.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:41 AM on April 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Kinda weak article, though an interesting discussion point. Any movie centered around technology and a small subculture surrounding it is going to fall flat in many places (and Hackers does this gloriously), but have the potential to hit a homerun or two. The cheesy dialogue and dress code don't fare well over time, but there is that memorable scene where Zero Cool calls the security guard (the first clip in the article). It's a very simple scene featuring the kind of social engineering that has recently become en vogue in "hacking" circles (or pentesting or whatever you call it). In fact, Defcon has run Social Engineering contests in the past (not sure if they still do) that have been wildly successful. That exact scene still basically works (with some updated dialogue), though I don't think anyone's asking for modem numbers anymore.

It's in the place that I put that thing that time
posted by antonymous at 11:42 AM on April 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


whelk i can tell you at least from the group of ding dongs out here i hang with that is what we did.
posted by beefetish at 11:42 AM on April 13, 2012


Rollerblades.

Case closed.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:43 AM on April 13, 2012


Also, anyone who thinks Hackers is cheesy should check out Johnny Mnemonic, starring Keanu Reeves at the height of his dramatic powers. It makes Hackers look like...I don't know. Something exponentially better than Hackers.
posted by duvatney at 11:43 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I seem to remember the movie being completely unintentionally hilarious even in the year it was released.

That Orbital song on the soundtrack is still great, though.
posted by naju at 11:43 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


One thing I liked in Dollhouse was Boyd pretending to hack the door card readers, and surreptitiously producing a working card from his pocket, using it and quickly hiding it away again, and Topher in total amazement going "how are you DOING that?" Because he knows perfectly well that in any reasonably designed system, the reader can't actually open the door, all it can do is report what's on the card to a system somewhere else. It's sort of one in the eye for Terminator 2 and the idea that sticking some magic thing in the card slot reader can, for example, make an ATM produce cash. I'm sure ATM systems as a whole are perfectly hackable, but stuffing a magic card-substitute in the slot of a terminal is an end-user's fantasy.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:43 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


My favorite line: Killer refresh rate.
posted by lubujackson at 11:44 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Re social engineering, please see the much superior Sneakers.
posted by Jpfed at 11:46 AM on April 13, 2012 [27 favorites]


Trust me, if they'd done that, it would have been unremarkable and forgettable. The glorious absurdity of it is the point; it's unabashed outrageous wish-fulfillment for nerd-kids.

If that was the goal, then they could certainly have left the hackers cool, but that's no reason not change the others parts.

Consider the Matrix, another nerd-kid wish fulfillment movie (it's about a hacker becomes martial arts badass through the power of his mind, after all). Neo, Trinity, etc are introduced as cool people (consider the early scene at the nightclub), but the antagonists are the embodiment of corporate/government suits. Think how dumb it would have been to have the Agents be styled like the Plague: just like Neo except they work for the machines.

As far as the jargon goes: I guess they could have kept it in so long as it was actually accurate. Or at least semi-believable. But when it's straight-up wrong or dumb it kills the suspension of disbelief, even among people who are merely computer literate and not deeply into hacker culture or the technical side of computing.
posted by jedicus at 11:47 AM on April 13, 2012


I still think war games was a better movie. Had accurate depections of wardialing, plus it had a WOPR with chess.
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 11:47 AM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


peperony and chess
posted by adamdschneider at 11:50 AM on April 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


jedicus,

I'm sorry, but you're coming across as Captain Buzz Kill from the No-Fun Zone. "What if they took out the silly and fun and goofy stuff and left a bland movie no one would care or think about again?"

The cheese is the good part about the movie, not whatever accuracy regarding computers and hacking that you might be able to salvage by chopping out all of the entertaining bits.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:51 AM on April 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Your favorite movie is like four favorite band.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 11:53 AM on April 13, 2012


That Orbital song on the soundtrack is still great, though.

The entire soundtrack is still great! I finally got around to seeing Hackers years after it came out, and my reactions were two-fold: a) holy hell this is awesome and hysterical and 2) this is all the music I *should* have been listening to in college.
posted by asterix at 11:57 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


but neither should they be that cool (or, rather, what we are supposed to believe is cool). If they were that social and cool they probably wouldn't have gotten into hacking.

The hackers weren't cool - it's pretty clear that they were considered to be total dweebs, except for Angelina Jolie. The Plague was also a dweeb. The difference was that the hackers didn't care that they were dweebs - they had a whole little world where their skills were king. The Plague cared that he was a dweeb - no amount of power, no amount of sex with his hot corporate girlfriend, could overcome his Napoleon complex.

Basically, replace the scene in the cafeteria where they're comparing hacker bibles with a scene comparing different D&D manuals. It fits perfectly.
posted by muddgirl at 12:02 PM on April 13, 2012 [15 favorites]


The wikipedia page has this quote from one of the screenwriters:

to call hackers a counterculture makes it sound like they're a transitory thing; I think they're the next step in human evolution

Angelina Jolie was 9 or 10 when she acted in this movie. Yikes.
posted by bukvich at 12:05 PM on April 13, 2012


What? She was 20. Hackers was released in 1995. Jolie was born in '75.
posted by muddgirl at 12:08 PM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Re social engineering, please see the much superior Sneakers.

Yes, Sneakers. Now there is a good hacking movie. Its only real sin is the way decryption is presented (nonsense characters turning into readable text), but that's nothing compared to the 3D Gibson scenes in Hackers.

Sneakers gets so much right: penetration testing, social engineering, the basics of modern encryption (prime number factorization). The cast is excellent, and it deals with themes of hacking for curiosity, hacktivism (to use a modern word), white hats versus black hats, control over information, and government surveillance that are still relevant today.

I'm sorry, but you're coming across as Captain Buzz Kill from the No-Fun Zone. "What if they took out the silly and fun and goofy stuff and left a bland movie no one would care or think about again?"

I would offer Sneakers as a counter-point. It's got plenty of fun parts ("cattle mutilations are up"), but it also manages to be serious and reasonably accurate all without being cheesy. I don't think taking the cheese out of Hackers would necessarily leave it lifeless or forgettable.

The hackers weren't cool - it's pretty clear that they were considered to be total dweebs, except for Angelina Jolie.

I think there's room to disagree on that. One can interpret it that way, sure, but the way I see it we, the audience, were meant to think they were cool. Some of them were cooler than others (e.g. Jolie and Miller versus, say, Joey), but the hacker culture was overall presented as a cool subculture with insider knowledge, power over authority figures, great music, nightclubs, lawbreaking without consequences, etc. Some of the ways the director decided to portray that come across as dorky (e.g. rollerblading), but I think it was honestly meant to seem cool.
posted by jedicus at 12:10 PM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


You wanna be elite? You gotta do a righteous hack.
This continues to be true.
posted by demiurge at 12:10 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ranking of hacking movies in terms of realism:

Sneakers
Wargames
Swordfish
Hackers
The Net

Of course, Hackers is significantly more watchable than Swordfish.
posted by demiurge at 12:14 PM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


It was not very prescient, but it was not very prescient ahead of its time!
posted by Bokononist at 12:14 PM on April 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I knew black-hats who were into skateboarding and urban motorcycling and alternative fashion. Most played an instrument fairly well, and were into stuff like art films, old kung-fu movies, kitsch decor, SCA ren-faires and conspiracy zines.

They weren't being cool, because at the time, this crap wasn't cool. It was counter-culture nerdery. The cool people were into hammer-pants or flannel or velour sweatsuits and got really excited about the new Firebird and put gigantic mufflers on little cars and watched Friends.

At the time, it was ludicrous that these beautiful and well-adjusted people would lower themselves into the nerd-underworld. Now, it's ludicrous that they could be such pitch-perfect avatars of cool.

What a difference across the decades.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:17 PM on April 13, 2012 [13 favorites]


Don't get me wrong, I saw Hackers when it came out and enjoyed it...because I was 14 and thought hackers were the coolest people in the world. The Hacker Chronicles CD (available on textfiles.com, thank you jscott) had just come out and I ate it up.

Now I own Hackers on DVD and still enjoy it, but only MST3K style. As wish-fulfillment for nerdy kids at a particular time who weren't actually part of the hacker culture, I guess it works. Outside of that context I think it's pretty bad.
posted by jedicus at 12:18 PM on April 13, 2012


If they had made the whole thing actually technologically accurate, it would be completely and totally unwatchable now. There are some things that I'm sure Kids These Days wouldn't get--In my day, you whippersnappers, we had these things called pay phones and walked uphill both ways to school...--but if it had had 1995-era computer hacking involved, it would just be awful. As it is, it's totally cheesy, but it's still fun, I think. At the time, my friends and I thought they were cool--in the sense that we thought our friends were cool, not in the sense that the outside world would have seen it the same way. They were cool like my blue nail polish was cool.

And I think that's the part that holds up--the way that the sort of crowd that makes up Anonymous does shit to impress other people they hang around with, not the rest of us. The made-up slang works for me because it sounds like it could have grown out of that whole different set of technologies that they had.

I dunno. To me, now, the distracting thing is remembering that Angelina Jolie used to be hot.
posted by gracedissolved at 12:19 PM on April 13, 2012


The mid-’90s were a rough time for filmmakers—or for cultural commentators of any kind, really—to speculate about the Internet and where it was going both technologically and socially

It's super rare for me to strongly disagree with an article in the first sentence (especially an article I end up liking!) but here we are. The sheer incomprehensibility of the internet in the 90s made that the best time to be writing about it. Hardly anyone understood this thing, no one knew where it was going--but everyone knew it was going to be HUGE--so you could really go in any conceivable direction. Every avenue was just as valid as any other.

I'm partial to the Serial Experiments Lain approach. Instead of trying to predict where the internet was going, Lain celebrated the mythological internet of the 90s and threw in as much early net culture as it could get away with: Usenet, IRC, fractals, HotSauce, Apple couture, conspiracy theories, electronica and club music, drug culture, transhumanism, virtual worlds, FPS and MMORPGs, psychedelics, Marshall McLuhan, Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson and Xanadu... It's aged much better than other films from the decade that tried to be realistic, prescient or cool. In some ways it was prescient, and it's interesting to me that one of the stronger themes throughout the show is this struggle between the exciting, adventurous frontier internet that functions as a special separate world and could blossom into anything and the internet as a tightly controlled aspect of mundane life. On the one hand, Lain and Eiri are doing crazy stuff in an abstract psychedelic world to transfer a physical presence into the Wired, make the internet a literal force of nature and erode the boundary between mind and reality; on the other, Alice and Julie are Facebooking.

That conflict--and themes like it--resonate with me a lot more strongly than aesthetics, which tend to date something automatically. If aesthetics or references are going to be a strong part of what you're writing, you may as well try to embrace the period and catch as much of it as you can.

It also helped that every episode opened with a loud disclaimer that the show was taking place right now.
posted by byanyothername at 12:19 PM on April 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


You had me until 'used to be', gracedissolved.

As wish-fulfillment for nerdy kids at a particular time who weren't actually part of the hacker culture, I guess it works. Outside of that context I think it's pretty bad.

Sometimes I still need a little wish fulfillment for the nerdy kid inside of me.
posted by muddgirl at 12:21 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can't even remember how to operate a computer without wearing rollerblades and leather pants.
posted by loquacious at 12:26 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm partial to the Serial Experiments Lain approach.

Oh god yes. So many details about the way Lain presented the social and psychological ramifications of having an internet presence are dead accurate.
posted by naju at 12:29 PM on April 13, 2012




I wonder - has there ever been a teen movie about a subculture that didn't make the subculture look cool? I remember being really into witchcraft after watching The Craft, even with the 'majik is eeevil' ending.
posted by muddgirl at 12:33 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


She's gone generic Hollywood scary-skinny anymore. Give me Hackers or Foxfire any day of the week. I don't care if she ages, but I don't like looking at a woman and thinking, "You know, if I put my hand around her upper arm, I bet my thumb and forefinger could touch."

But yes, I think my inner teenager still needs wish fulfillment, which is probably why I'm still wearing blue nail polish.
posted by gracedissolved at 12:36 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was interested in cyberpunk, but I somehow missed Hackers when it came out. I got the name confused with Sneakers, which I had seen, so I continued to not see it for the next 15 years.

I saw it for the first time a couple of years ago. And it was awesome.

I think it could have been dangerously influential if I had seen it at the impressionable age that by all rights I should have. I was already an inline-skating high-schooler finding a new world by modem late at night. Presenting the idea that this could be cool? That would have been pretty amazing. Perhaps it's better I never saw it back then. :)

In hindsight, a guy I knew whose behavior changed and did a hard turn into the hacking scene... I'd have to check if the years match, but I bet they do; I would put money down that he saw this movie and it flipped his shit. Not in a good way unfortunately.

I guess movies are unfair in that sense. Much like photoshopping models, movies depict kids whose personalities and styles and wardrobes have been designed by seasoned specialized professionals. Actual kids, who haven't had a chance to learn how to express themselves, or who they even are, just can't compete with that.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:39 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mental note: Acquire some rollerblades again.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:43 PM on April 13, 2012


Aw yeah, The Plague animated gif - he will forever be my Hackers spirit animal.
posted by Artw at 12:45 PM on April 13, 2012


The sheer incomprehensibility of the internet in the 90s made that the best time to be writing about it. Hardly anyone understood this thing, no one knew where it was going--but everyone knew it was going to be HUGE--so you could really go in any conceivable direction. Every avenue was just as valid as any other.

That rings true - and I think this same freedom from knowledge was part of what led to Tron at the dawn of the micro-computer. I was really curious how Tron: Legacy would handle the change from a time when computers were mysterious far-away things to a time where most of the audience had a much more sophisticated grasp of computing. It turned out they just made no concession; accept the premise that anything goes, and now here's a story. I liked that approach :) (But the plot... not so much)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:50 PM on April 13, 2012


The second Matrix had more realistic hacking in five seconds than the entirety of Hackers.
posted by odinsdream at 12:51 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the thing I like best about it is how they've clearly done their research, and do this very earnest job of trying to put it up on screen, but it still comes out as this jumble of garbage.
posted by Artw at 12:54 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Matrix Reloaded? Yeah, that's pretty good proof that accurate on-screen tech doesn't necessarily improve a movie.
posted by muddgirl at 1:03 PM on April 13, 2012 [7 favorites]


I loved Hackers and I still do. Minus the clothing, I knew guys who could've been straight out of this movie.

Crash and Burn!
posted by utsutsu at 1:04 PM on April 13, 2012


jedicus: "Sneakers gets so much right"

Definitely. Plus it has Stephen Tobolowsky in it. :)

"Hi, my name is Werner Brandes. My voice is my passport. Verify Me."
posted by zarq at 1:08 PM on April 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


I can't even remember how to operate a computer without wearing rollerblades and leather pants.

I have transcended this by carefully training myself to operate a computer while wearing no pants whatsoever.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:09 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


mister-o: Enter Hackers. Good lord -- radly dressed folks listening to awesome music (hey, I was 13, alright?)

Wait, WHAT? I will fight you. The soundtrack (with YouTube) is awesome. Halcyon On and On is timeless, One Love is ridiculously giddy fun, Original Bedroom Rockers starts all smooth, then gets silly (Huuuney / Yeah, baby), and The Joker is still fantastic. I forget where Good Grief fit into the movie, but it could have probably been dropped without anyone noticing.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:17 PM on April 13, 2012 [5 favorites]


Er, Halcyon On and On.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:17 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's not forget Cowgirl
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:27 PM on April 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wait, so did everyone else know that Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller got married soon after this movie? Or that 2600 founder Eric Corley was hired as a consultant and "wanted to see how much BS he could spin, all of which was unquestioningly accepted"? Or that Jolie's part was originally offered to Katherine Heigl? Obviously I'm spending too much time in trivia-land, but this is all news to me...
posted by antonymous at 1:27 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


British web-boom TV series Attachments had some great stuff, with any scene in which anyone did anything technical involving a flurry of typing and a closeup of a monitor showing some CSS being edited. Didn't matter what they were supposed to be doing, it was always CSS.

I actually thought Social Network did a REALLY good job.
posted by Artw at 1:29 PM on April 13, 2012


Sick boy has lead a weird life...
posted by Artw at 1:30 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, password security is still a joke, so they got that right at least.
posted by curious nu at 2:13 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't care what you all think, I LOVED the clothing when I saw this film in the theaters. I was 16, I think? Yeah, they were so cool. Oh man, what I would not have given to have had Jolie's dress from the last scene...

...fuck, I'd still kill for that dress.
posted by Windigo at 2:18 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or that 2600 founder Eric Corley was hired as a consultant and "wanted to see how much BS he could spin, all of which was unquestioningly accepted"?

I knew that Corley had been hired as a consultant, and figured that either everything he said got ignored (which is par for the course in Hollywood) or that he'd decided to see what he could get away with. Nice to finally know the answer!
posted by asterix at 2:35 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone remember this bit of internet humor? From around 2000, cr0bar's bastardization of Hackers.
posted by bobo123 at 2:38 PM on April 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


The guy in the scene linked in the article (with the "crunchy" laptop) describes it as having a 28.8bps modem. Either he's missing a "k" in there, or that's gonna be a REALLY slow connection.

"Active Matrix" was something of a buzzword at the time, but it gave way to being referred to as TFT very quickly, to my recollection. Active matrix sounds cooler though.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:42 PM on April 13, 2012


The second Matrix had more realistic hacking in five seconds than the entirety of Hackers.

The real hacking wasn't done inside the movie.
posted by scalefree at 2:43 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]




Are you sure you don't mean Sneakers, Onion AV Club? Because Sneakers was awesome. I used to get the names confused too.

On preview: I see I am not the only one. Good, I feel less dumb now.
posted by maryr at 3:12 PM on April 13, 2012


I love Hackers, for many of the same reasons as mister-o.

HACK THE PLANET
posted by fake at 3:17 PM on April 13, 2012


Hackers is one of two movies I have stopped less-than half-way through, ejected from my player and returned to the rental store in the same day. Maybe I missed something but I was in college studying programming and could barely contain the compulsion to puke with rage as I watched.
posted by Dark Messiah at 3:34 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyone remember this bit of internet humor? From around 2000, cr0bar's bastardization of Hackers.

You have just dropped me in a deep hole with steep sides made of pure polished internet nostalgia that I never want to escape.
posted by helicomatic at 3:43 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I still regularly use the line "ugh, hard copy" from The Plague.
posted by Joe Chip at 3:43 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


ID this mystery hacking scene (I saw the scene, but not the movie, so I don't know what the movie is). The hacker is female, and her equipment is a room, she goes to the center of the room and is surrounded by a holographic globe-like assordment of UI and data screens, and uses this computer system to hack. The size of the screens arced around here might be reminscient or inspired by the size of the Dactyl Nightmare VR units.

I don't think it was Tekwar, but it had a similar near-future-fantasy-scifi vibe. (Eg, I don't think she could walk down the street where I live without her attire sticking out as... not normal)
Any guesses?
posted by -harlequin- at 3:48 PM on April 13, 2012


Wow, we just watched Sneakers this week. I had fond memories but it fell kind of flat for me -- the characters are so thin, and I remembered more social engineering than was actually there. About halfway through I wished I'd picked Hackers instead.
posted by nev at 3:50 PM on April 13, 2012


There might have been more than one "computer" system (and hacker) in the room, like it was a hangout or base or something, but I might be confusing it with another movie.
posted by -harlequin- at 3:52 PM on April 13, 2012


So, I read the entire article, and started reading the comments here, and the whole time was kind of baffled:
  • Was it really as bad as everyone's saying? I mean, I know I saw it a long time ago, but I remember thinking it was pretty great!
  • The Plague? Huh? Teh Gibson? Man, my memory must be totally shot - I don't remember any of this stuff!
  • Angelina Jolie was in it? Maybe I don't remember because I didn't know who she was at the time. Maybe she was the government agent who River Phoenix asked for a date with?
Then I read this comment:
Re social engineering, please see the much superior Sneakers.
Ummmmm... never mind.
posted by Flunkie at 3:58 PM on April 13, 2012


-harlequin-: The Questor tapes?
posted by spasm at 4:03 PM on April 13, 2012


Wargames FTW. Why do you think wardialing is called wardialing.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:49 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spasm - no, but that leads to another clue, the special effects were modern CG. I'm guessing mid to late 90's.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:28 PM on April 13, 2012


-harlequin-, this scene from Tekwar (German overdubbed)?

Man, I remember really liking the Tekwar tv show, and then trying to put this fact out of my mind after reading the godawful books. Turns out memory serves, and that scene was actually, on its own terms, pretty badass.

Just like Hackers.
posted by 7segment at 7:36 PM on April 13, 2012


I loved hackers. I was in high school when it came out. Yes, it's completely absurd. It's ridiculous. So what? The movie isn't meant to be taken seriously and it doesn't take itself seriously.

It's also kind of funny just how precisely dated it is. They talk about a "P6" chip, that was the code name for the Pentium II, so there's like a six month time span when that chip (with that name) would have been cool.

It's almost sort of a period nostalgia type film, that just happened to be made during the period it tried to portray.

I thought the plague character was kind of ridiculous. The CG flying around stuff was kind of absurd. Figuring out how to show hacking/programming 'visually' has always been a challenge. The Social Network is probably the best example of making programming look interesting on screen.

(Interestingly, the P6 core still forms the basis for the Intel core CPUs. They came out with another architecture for the Pentium 4, but that had been designed to scale up well to 8-10Ghz, and didn't perform as well as the P6 at the same clock speed. Eventually, the abandoned it)
posted by delmoi at 7:39 PM on April 13, 2012


delmoi: That was before RISC architecture had gotten around to changing everything.
posted by 7segment at 7:43 PM on April 13, 2012


7segment - thanks! I don't think that's the exact scene, but I'm certain it's the same characters and tech. I guess I must have walked in on a scene from Tekwar that didn't have any of the characters I recognized (I've only seen a few episodes). Mystery Solved!

(A little sad that it's a show I'm aware of rather than another "Hackers"-level of how-have-I-never-seen-this-before?! delight :)
posted by -harlequin- at 8:03 PM on April 13, 2012


RISC architecture was already in place in the PowerPC chips. (as well as most minicomputer systems)

"P6" chip, that was the code name for the Pentium II

P6 was actually the code name for the Pentium Pro, not the Pentium II. (the story I heard was that they had to change the name to Pentium Pro because P6 wasn't able to be trademarked.)
posted by ShutterBun at 8:14 PM on April 13, 2012


Er, Technically "P6" refers to the entire '6' generation of chips from Intel, which runs from the P-Pro all the way through some of the "core" chips. The chip generation isn't as important these days as they were in the 286/386/486 era, obviously. I think the latest generation is Sandy Bridge from Intel and Bulldozer from AMD. They don't really follow a strict numbering system like they did in the 90s
posted by delmoi at 8:45 PM on April 13, 2012


Certainly correct. Intel abandoned the "strict numbering system" due to the aforementioned "inability to trademark numbers", since their competitors were starting to release chips with similar sounding names. I was just pointing out that the Pentium Pro was the chip they were referring to at the time, not the Pentium II.
posted by ShutterBun at 9:13 PM on April 13, 2012


The key to my deep and abiding love of Hackers (and blistering disdain for just about everything else hacking related vis a v is the media) is simple - Yes it was unrealistic and cheesy, but it was unrealistic and cheesy with UNABASHED STYLE AND ENERGY.

And, yes, I was a real hacker back in the 80's. Had a friend from high school get popped for 42 counts of wire fraud and the lucky bastard ends up with a short term best seller from Microsoft Press. (Bill Landreth, Outside the Inner Circle). Best of luck figuring out who I was back then, although a small hint is that I dropped out when they started trying to blackmail Ford Motor Company for unlimited superuser access to their boxen. That shit was too heavy for me. I was just in it for the get in and sniff around things. No one of us was sexy or athletic enough to get past bicycles in the hierarchy of wheeled things.

Two questions are nagging me as I type -

1] Why DID Jonny wear an unpowered monocle when I so deserve one more than him? Although powered and connected would be lovely.

2] How in the nine hells could you forget this?
posted by Samizdata at 9:24 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


ShutterBun: "Certainly correct. Intel abandoned the "strict numbering system" due to the aforementioned "inability to trademark numbers", since their competitors were starting to release chips with similar sounding names. I was just pointing out that the Pentium Pro was the chip they were referring to at the time, not the Pentium II."

And I loved how they got pee pee spanked for trying to trademark a number...
posted by Samizdata at 9:26 PM on April 13, 2012


George_Spiggott: It's sort of one in the eye for Terminator 2 and the idea that sticking some magic thing in the card slot reader can, for example, make an ATM produce cash. I'm sure ATM systems as a whole are perfectly hackable, but stuffing a magic card-substitute in the slot of a terminal is an end-user's fantasy.

Alternatively, it's James Cameron (who is tech-savvy to an extraordinary degree) and the producers not wanting to get blamed for ATM hacking by showing a more realistic method, say, the bolt-on card skimmers that include a camera that records the PIN entry (if those existed in the early 90s). It's the same reason why you don't know how to cook meth from watching Breaking Bad, even though Walt and Jesse are shown cooking every other episode. (And that sort of simultaneously-averting-and-lampshading-a-trope thing from Dollhouse is, frankly, one of Whedon's more annoying tendencies.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:42 PM on April 13, 2012


The character of the Plague is meant to be a mirror image or corrupted version of the protagonists, but it doesn't go far enough. He should have either embraced the corporate culture and become a suit, or he should have been in league with organized crime. The mish-mash they made him doesn't really work.

Well yes, those options are the traditional movie-version-of-reality options.

In real life, I know all kinds of guys just like this from various subcultures. He's not NOT a suit, he's a sub-stereotype within the suits.
posted by desuetude at 9:52 PM on April 13, 2012


Or it's just the fact that brute force password cracks* are easily understood by the public. (even though ATMs generally have a "three strikes" policy on bad passwords) Though really, if he's got a stolen card that happens to have the encrypted PIN number in the mag track, he ought to be shown using a card reader, then applying the proper decrypting to get the PIN. Way less cool looking than his mystery gadget and all of those cascading numbers, though.

*that's essentially what it looked like to me
posted by ShutterBun at 9:57 PM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's sort of one in the eye for Terminator 2 and the idea that sticking some magic thing in the card slot reader can, for example, make an ATM produce cash. I'm sure ATM systems as a whole are perfectly hackable, but stuffing a magic card-substitute in the slot of a terminal is an end-user's fantasy.
Not really. The card may simply be executing a buffer overflow or something like that to cause the ATM to malfunction and give out more money then it's supposed too. There was a story a story just a couple of years ago about someone who stole a bunch of money from ATMs just by using default passwords he found in a manual.
posted by delmoi at 11:24 PM on April 13, 2012


delmoi: "Er, Technically "P6" refers to the entire '6' generation of chips from Intel, which runs from the P-Pro all the way through some of the "core" chips."

Sort of. When Hackers was made, P6 referred specifically to what was to be the Pentium Pro. Only later was the term P6 used to differentiate that family from the NetBurst processors. Prior to that, there wasn't much of a need for a general term. It was probably around the PIII when I first saw it used that way, although I'm sure someone started earlier than that.

It's also somewhat arguable whether or not Core-series CPUs ought to be lumped in with the post-Pentium not-Itanium and not-NetBurst chips. Up to the PIII, there was a pretty clear lineage. Die shrinks, extra cache, SSE, and some minor tweaks were about all there were to differentiate the three operationally. (Obviously there are packaging differences)

Core, while a return to P6-style thinking over the crazy long pipelines and high clock rate of NetBurst, is still dramatically different than its predecessors in more than just clock speed and process node.

Hackers was terribly cheesy to me given that I was busy racking up charges at the time, but it was still entertaining. Oh, the fun you could have with spoofing (and amplification attacks, and buffer overflows freakin' everywhere, and even plain old cracking tools since half the servers on the Internet still weren't using password shadowing) Oh, and poorly written web apps. Early CGI programming was atrocious. You think people do bad work now? Pshaw!
posted by wierdo at 11:34 PM on April 13, 2012


Well Joey is based on me, or maybe one other person where the circumstances of us getting raided was similar, so I've always thought the movie was hilarious.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:08 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure it is me, the other dude is much more leet, and my raid was much wider documented.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:15 AM on April 14, 2012


And if you need an epic illustrated drinking game to go along with Hackers, look no further.
posted by atlantica at 4:50 AM on April 14, 2012


Bill Landreth, Outside the Inner Circle

I still have a copy of this somewhere. It remains one of the better of its kind.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:46 AM on April 14, 2012


Ad hominem - I always thought you were black.
posted by Artw at 7:03 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


There were some black hackers in the 80s/90s. Supposedly the animosity between LoD and MoD was partially racial. And I don't see why any IRL inspiration for Joey couldn't have been turned into a white kid to suit moviegoers preconceptions.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:25 AM on April 14, 2012


Heh. That was a quote.

Pretty sure The Hacker Crackdown was their bible on hacking and raids and the like, so i you;re in it, it's you.
posted by Artw at 10:00 AM on April 14, 2012


For those curious, there were two other hackers soundtracks released afterward, including some more of the score:

Hackers Soundtrack 2
Hackers Soundtrack 3
posted by softlord at 4:05 PM on April 15, 2012


i am pretty sure RISC changed everything for me. yeah. RISC is just that good.
posted by AaronRaphael at 3:13 PM on April 16, 2012


I want to make it clear that I'm white. "lord Nikon" was, I think, based on a well known NYC black hacker who specialized in VMS.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:43 AM on April 21, 2012


*updates database accordingly*
posted by ShutterBun at 2:06 AM on April 21, 2012


"lord Nikon" was, I think, based on a well known NYC black hacker who specialized in VMS.

Who has since gone on to become a filmmaker.
posted by scalefree at 5:52 AM on April 22, 2012


snuffleupagus: "Bill Landreth, Outside the Inner Circle

I still have a copy of this somewhere. It remains one of the better of its kind.
"

Indeed it is. Makes me fire up the cerebral Wayback machine.
posted by Samizdata at 6:35 AM on May 6, 2012


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