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TUCoPS :: Cyber Culture :: thackers.txt

Review & Outline of the movie "Hackers" by -=( Tommy )=-





"Hackers" - an outline and review by Tommy (Tommy's Rating: ** 1/2 )

Before anyone posts strident flames about this movie, it should be
remembered that Hackers is entertainment for the masses - the formula of
lowest common denominator that has served Hollywood well for decades.  With
that in mind, and a lot of forgiveness for the creators' failure to listen
to their hacking advisors, I actually found Hackers reasonably entertaining
and enjoyable.

Hackers has a storyline that is thin, formulaic and ultimately predictable,
but the plot is somewhat forgivable thanks to the character conflicts and
the dazzling graphics throughout the movie.  If I could ask for one thing
in this department it would be for more intellectual conflict - especially
online - between the protagonists and their nemesis, "The Plague".

I found myself biting my tongue when the "Elite" cable TV show "Hack The
Planet" showed a way of getting red box tones that just doesn't work and
isn't as practical as generating them on a computer, and I nearly threw up
when the hackers oooed and ahhhed at the PCI bus notebook computer
(notebooks today use the PCMCIA bus) and marveled at the "288 bps modem".
The hacking scenes, however, weren't done in text or even a GUI, but in a
surreal virtual reality environment - one that would require far more
bandwidth to transmit than even a 28800 modem could deliver, despite that
all the hacking takes place over regular phone lines, sometimes through
acoustic couplers!  In that respect, even WarGames was closer to the real
thing.  Clearly, the scriptwriters weren't paying attention to their
technical consultants as these and many other gaffes bear witness.

If I weren't a retired denizen of the Computer Underworld myself, I might
have given Hackers three stars.  They could have listened to their advisors
and done a hell of a lot more for realism without giving away dangerous
secrets or worse, making the movie less entertaining.

If they make a sequel, I'll advise them for free if they promise to listen
to me!

In an increasingly techno-literate world, the fact is that stunning
graphics and an equally stunning female lead aren't enough in a movie about
hackers.  Not when I'm groaning at every other scene.

Nevertheless, it's still a real feast for the eyes (and ears, if the show's
decidedly nineties soundtrack is your thing) and will be well worth
catching on video - or on the big screen if your theater has a discount
night.

                                                -=( Tommy )=-


(Spoilers!  Read at your own peril!)

Movie Outline:

At the beginning, the lead character, "Zero Cool", is busted and tried at
the age of eleven for writing a virus that crashes 1,507 computers and
causes a seven point drop in the stock exchange.  Guilty as sin, he's
ordered not to own or use computers (or even a touch tone phone) until his
eighteenth birthday.

Cut to 1995.  Zero is 18 now and back online with a new lunchbox PC and a
new handle, "Crash Override".  His parents now divorced, he and his mother
move from Seattle to Manhattan, the city that never sleeps.  He immediately
starts hacking again, running up against another hacker on his first system
penetration.  It is at this point that we must begin to suspend our
disbelief - all the hacking seems to be done in a very slick and
impressive, but extremely improbable graphical VR interface.

Crash begins meeting his fellow protagonists on his first day of school.
He is immediately attracted to Kate Libby, a gorgeous but devious young
woman who pulls a freshman prank on him.  Crash does not yet know that she
is actually "Acid Burn", the belligerent and r0dently (in online
appearance only) cracker who kicked him off the first system he hacked in
New York.  Nor does she know that he's a hacker, much less the legendary
Zero Cool.

He gets even with her for the prank by penetrating the school
administration system and altering the classroom assignments so that they
share a class, and then by scheduling an unscheduled test of the school's
fire sprinkler system (Kate's prank had left Crash "all wet"). Later, their
character conflict grows when Crash beats Kate's high score on a video game
which she had totally dominated.

In school, Crash meets "Phreak" and "Cereal Killer", both brilliant and
eccentric, and Joey, an ankle-byter so naive he still can't even think of a
decent handle.  Crash, Phreak, Joey and Cereal party and rave and meet up
with "Nikon", who derives his handle from his eidetic memory - which serves
them well later. Eventually, Kate/Acid Burn's identity is revealed to Crash
at a party at her place, and their psychic conflict heats up even more,
taking on mildly sexual overtones as they exchange double entendres and
witty one-liners, each trying to outdo the other.

One of the better examples of their adversarial courtship occurs when Crash
is typing at lightning speed until Kate asks him if he screws like he
types.  Not missing a beat, Crash slows his typing to a two-finger
beginner's pace.

Meanwhile Joey, admonished by Phreak and Cereal for getting into systems by
accident rather than by intent, stays home and purposefully hacks at a
fictional "Gibson" computer until, hallelujah, he makes it inside with
superuser access.  Here we see more of the dreadfully surrealistic but
visually enthralling graphics, as Joey navigates the Gibson's virtual
towers of glass and light, roadways of electrons teeming with data in
transit below.  Joey decides to download something to prove that he made it
into the system, to show his friends that he's worthy.  Meanwhile, he is
traced by the system's security manager, "The Plague", himself a hacker.
Knowing he might have something valuable, Joey hides the disk to which he
downloaded the file in an air vent, and the next day is busted by the
Secret Service.

Word of Joey's bust gets to the other five hackers, who are incensed by the
head SS man's canned anti-hacker rhetoric on the TV news.  Crash gets an
unpleasant visit from the SS and from Plague, neither of whom have anything
on Crash but succeed in pissing him off royally.  Meanwhile, tensions
between Crash and Burn (a cutesy name coined by Cereal Killer, who was the
only one laughing) are at an all time high, so they decide to settle things
once and for all in the best way they can think of: by getting back at the
head SS G-Man. The stakes: If one wins, the other must wear a dress on
their first date - a prospect that seems more unthinkable to the tomboyish
Burn, who doesn't "do" dates, than Crash.  The two engineer a hilarous
array of pranks and shenanigans that prove very disruptive to the hapless
SS man's life, exchanging taunts all the way, while Cereal keeps score.

Meanwhile, Joey is released (sans Macintosh) and retrieves his disk,
bringing it to Phreak to find out what is on it.  Their bubble is burst
when Phreak is raided one morning by SS agents and taken into custody.
There he learns the real particulars of Joey's bust and phreaks an extra
call onto his one phone call to warn Acid Burn about Joey's disk.  This
leads to an entertaining scene wherein Kate must retrieve the disk, which
Phreak had stashed behind a condom machine in the boy's washroom at school.

The remaining free hackers put aside their conflict (after Crash is
blackmailed into giving Plague a copy of the disk) and resolve to find out
once and for all what the disk has that is so valuable.  They uncover a
worm which skims pennies from millions of transactions, leaving the
resulting millions of dollars in a numbered bank account.  They also learn
that they're all about to be arrested for that crime, and for that of
creating a virus that causes oil tankers to capsize (this virus is missing
from the disk), and that they have been set up by none other than The
Plague.  Desperate, they enlist the assistance of Razor and Blade,
androgynous "elite" hackers and cable-TV show hosts who in turn summon
hundreds more hackers worldwide across the nets.  Their mission: to
retrieve the virus, expose The Plague, and totally crash Plague's company's
Gibson system before it can execute the tanker-toppling "Da Vinci" virus.
Operating from payphones in Grand Central Station, our heroes manage to do
all of this just before the SS finally catches up with them and they are
busted, big-time.  Only Cereal, who was in charge of setting up a system of
relayed payphones on another level of the station to act as decoys, avoids
the bust.  Cereal goes to Razor and Blade, who manage to hack their TV show
onto a satellite, at which point we again suspend disbelief as every TV set
in the world carries Cereal's questionably credible visage and he spells
out the story, exposing The Plague and his mistress, a P.R. executive in
the company, whose position had bought him the time and the access to pull
his scam.

Cleared at last, Crash and Burn finally resolve their conflict: Crash wins
(by decision of the other hackers, who agreed that this was the only way
Crash would ever get a date), so Burn has to wear a dress to their first
date.  They shed their rivalry (and their clothes) and make out in a
rooftop swimming pool, and we suspend disbelief one last time as the
skyscrapers in the distance light up: "Crash and Burn".  The End.

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