‘Hackers’ Invented the Dial-Up Thriller



Hackers, the 1995 cyber-thriller about young computer hackers trying to escape a frame job by a big corporate security consultant (and an unwitting Secret Service agent), has just been released on Blu-ray with an elaborately-produced 20th anniversary edition.

This is yet another movie that flopped in theaters before finding a rabidly devoted fan base on home video. It’s notable for giving Angelina Jolie her first big movie role and she later (briefly) married costar Johnny Lee Miller, who’s recently had his career take off after playing the role of Sherlock Holmes on CBS’ series Elementary.

The 20th anniversary bonus material includes extensive interviews with director Iain Softley and actors Matthew Lillard, Penn Jillette and Fisher Stevens (who has an excellent role as the corporate bad guy). Visual effects artist Peter Chiang goes into elaborate detail about how they created visual effects in an era before extensive CGI was possible and how they tried to make the act of hammering at a keyboard visually compelling.

Most interesting of all, though, are the interviews with the movie’s hacking consultants Emmanuel Goldstein and Nicholas Jarecki. Goldstein founded and edited the legendary hacking fanzine 2600 and led hacker meetings in NYC during the era (and took his pen name from the opposition leader in George Orwell’s 1984). Jarecki was a 15-year-old hacker who inspired the youngest hacker character in the movie and grew up to be the film director who made the excellent Richard Gere movie Arbitrage. Goldstein and Jarecki are adamant that the movie captures the hacker culture of the era better than any other and does a pretty good job of portraying the cyberpunk music and fashion of the mid-90s as well.

It’s only 20 years ago, but going online meant dialing up with a slow-speed modem. Entire corporations were run off rooms full of mainframe computers that were less powerful than the phone in your pocket. Security was weak and social engineering might have been the most important tool in a hacker’s kit. It’s not hard to imagine Edward Snowden wearing out a VHS copy while growing up in Maryland.

Anyone who makes their living staring at a screen should get a kick out of this. There’s an excellent techno soundtrack featuring Orbital, Massive Attack, Prodigy and Leftfield and 20-year-old Angelina manages to look incredibly attractive in spite of a weird Vulcan haircut.