Everything wrong with 1995’s Hackers
I want to come right out of the gate and say: “I like Hackers”. It’s easy to rag on, but I can honestly say I was entertained and impressed by everything they actually got right. The hacking culture, and indeed computers as a whole, have a tendency to be completely misrepresented by film and television. It’s one thing to spice up the look of a user interface to make it interesting on screen, but it’s a whole other, and terrible, thing to suggest that every computer has the ability to take video, zoom in, enhance and even change angles to catch a criminal in the reflection of a bald man’s head.
So I find no fault in the filmmakers’ decision to animate paisley motion graphics and add little lightning bolts to their computer screens to avoid the boredom that comes with watching someone throw UNIX bash commands at a terminal. With that in mind, let’s talk about where Hackers genuinely fails.
Passwords go with user names
The oil company’s security expert talks about the most commonly used passwords, one of which being God, but then turns to the female exec and asks “her holiness” to change her password when he clearly means her username. Later on, our heroes go out of their way to collect dozens of passwords, but there’s no mention of logins or usernames. I’ve been a computer user for 3 decades or so, and I don’t believe I’ve ever used a system that didn’t require my name first, then a password, to unlock it’s goodies.
It’s true that the Secret Service is charged with investigating computer crimes, but M-16 toting SWAT members don’t break down doors and smash through windows to arrest computer criminals. We’re talking about, arguably, the least violent criminals like, ever. Assault weapons and riot gear are simply unnecessary.
Dade, our lovable hacker hero, exacts revenge on Kate by reprogramming the fire sprinklers in his high school to test themselves at 9:30am. Couple of problems with this. First, sprinklers are largely individual and activate based on a heat increase. They are not activated by pressing a button found on a screen. Secondly, testing a sprinkler system by setting them all off in a building at once would cause thousands of dollars in water damage. I find it improbable that, even assuming there was a computer controlling them, that such a test would be possible. (side note: this scene shows a clock that displays 4:16 in the a.m. right before it cuts to Dade’s computer that says “current time – 7:00a.m. . . . oops.).
All of our heroes are high school kids with personal computers hooked up to modems, allowing them to dial in to perform their mischief remotely, from their homes. Why does the Fisher Steven’s character, chief of security of a multi-million dollar oil company, have to drive down to the office and log in when something goes wrong?
The face of a virus
Leonardo DaVinci is the name given to the virus created by the computer security expert to cover up his theft. It sends a “calling card”, a psychedelic video of a man posed like DaVinci’s Vetruvian Man, speaking its demands. Problem is, this is someone’s face. In 1995, CG technology wasn’t to the point of creating realistic humans speaking. Wouldn’t take a genius to identify whoever the person in the video is and arrest him for his participation.
Special guest agent
The Secret Service would not take an oil company executive with them to arrest a suspect. They would not let said executive interrogate said suspect in his home. They certainly wouldn’t allow said executive threaten the investigation by dealing property damage to the suspect’s belongings.
Blinded by the light
Computer screens can be bright, sure. However, they do not project crystal clear images onto the user’s face. That would blind them. (okay, maybe that’s a little nit-picky since it’s kind of a creative choice to enhance the scene, but still.)
No virus, ever, has been eradicated or otherwise delayed by typing one word. Ever. “Type cookie, you idiot”. Um. No. If there were such a virus, you can bet it was created by the stupidest hacker to have ever lived.
Editor’s Note: As a couple of commenters have recently pointed out, a Cookie Monster program did exist in the late 70’s, created as a gag to annoy students at Brown University. You can read more here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cookie_Monster_(computer_program). It lacked any sort of visual feedback seen in the film, but as I pointed out earlier, with computer hacking, sometimes you need pretty pictures to keep the audience interested.
Angelina Jolie looks like a clown at the finale
Seriously, white face makeup, bright blue eye shadow and more red lipstick than Ronald McDonald. I can dismiss the weird dress, but why would she make herself up to be a French mime on acid for a first date?
You could probably nit pick out a dozen more, but these stood out to me one day during a repeat viewing. Like I said, I really enjoy this movie, even to this day, but some things just can’t be defended. Put yours in the comments below.