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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman

Hackers  (1995)

Reviewed for by Dustin Putman

The Film
1.5 Stars
(Release Date: August 18, 2015) – For anyone who was a teenager or older in the '90s, 1995 probably doesn't seem that long ago. However, in terms of technology, watching movies from this era is often like taking a glimpse into another world. The tightly conceived Sandra Bullock thriller "The Net" (released in the summer of 1995) is one of the few that kind of holds up; its vision of the World Wide Web may be on the primitive side, but the incorporation of online restaurant ordering and other more modern electronic conveniences proved to be ahead of their time. Arriving less than two months later in September of that same year was "Hackers," a tech-heavy high-school drama directed by Iain Softley (who would go on to helm 2001's "K-PAX" and 2005's "The Skeleton Key"). Its intention was clearly to be hip and on the cutting edge, not only in terms of its portrayal of computer hacking but also with the characters' fashion choices. In 2015, the attractive actors frequently look ridiculous (but still, in an odd way, kind of good), while their expertise in electronic coding is depicted with such over-the-top brashness that it has to be seen to be believed. Watching it, alas, would require sitting through an onslaught of lame plotting, dopey writing and cornball histrionics.

The premise is silly, to say the least. Jonny Lee Miller (who would later find success as Sherlock Holmes on the hit CBS drama "Elementary") plays bleach-blond whiz Dade Murphy, who, as an 11-year-old, was arrested for writing a computer virus that crashed 1,507 systems. Now 18, his seven-year, court-mandated ban from using computers and touch-tone phones has finally been lifted. Recently relocated from Seattle to Manhattan with his single mother (Alberta Watson), he picks up where he left off and wastes no time getting back into hot water. He starts small, hacking into a cable station and remotely changing the programming, but soon is facing serious criminal charges when he and his new tech-savvy friends break into an Ellingson Mineral Company supercomputer and are subsequently framed by crooked computer security officer Eugene "The Plague" Belford (Fisher Stevens) for an impending ecological act of terrorism.

"Hackers" does everything it can to make playing on computers exciting (and that includes adding actual lightning to the indoor office holding the Ellingson computer mainframe), but it still doesn't quite succeed. The story is preposterous and, while fast-paced, rarely engaging. Dade and his cohorts (including an eye-catching Angelina Jolie as Dade's crush/rival Kate, Jesse Bradford as novice hacker Joey, and Matthew Lillard as colorful live-wire Cereal) are appointed as the heroes of the piece, but they start the film in the wrong and continue to break so many laws on their way toward clearing their names that they deserve to be behind bars for years to come. Director Iain Softley has a stylish eye for visuals, but much of the film's futuristic aims only serve to make it more square and outdated. "Hackers" is notable for its early roles for Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie. Everyone has to start somewhere, and fortunately they went on to things both bigger and better.

Blu-ray Picture/Sound

"Hackers" breaks into the Blu-ray market with a satisfactory 1080p transfer. The master used appears to be dated; there is a fair share of dirt and artifacts in evidence, and some shots have a slightly faded appearance that cause the colors to not pop as well as they could. The bulk of the picture, however, is sharp and detailed (the beads of water trickling down Jolie's face when the sprinkler goes off in the high school practically drip off the screen), and the clothes add consistent bursts of color to the image. Black levels are also solid. When it comes to its high-def presentation, there is room for improvements, but this is still easily as good as the movie has ever looked on a home-video format. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio is excellent, particularly when keeping in mind the film is now twenty years old. The eclectic soundtrack (including tracks from Massive Attack, Elastica, Stereo MC's, and Squeeze) especially comes through well.

Blu-ray Features
  • "The Keyboard Cowboys: A Look Back at Hackers" (1:03:55, HD) - a new three-part documentary featuring interviews with director Iain Softley, actors Fisher Stevens, Matthew Lillard and Penn Jillette, visual effects artist Peter Chiang, wardrobe designer Roger Burton, hacking consultants Nicholas Jarecki and Emmanuel Goldstein, and film critic Mark Kermode
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:36, HD)
Bottom Line
"Hackers" hasn't held up well in the two decades since it was made; what was once meant to be progressive now comes off as quaint and even a little tacky. The most appealing aspect is getting to see early screen appearances from Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Jesse Bradford and Matthew Lillard. While those unfamiliar with the movie will most definitely want to see it before deciding to make a purchase, Shout! Factory's 20th Anniversary Blu-ray edition of "Hackers" (arriving complete with a brand-new, one-hour supplemental documentary) is a must-own for fans of the film.

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© 2015 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman

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