Shock-O-Rama: Hackers - The Sounds of Cyberpunk -


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Shock-O-Rama: Hackers - The Sounds of Cyberpunk

Reality borrowed from William Gibson's cyberpunk pantry

By Chuck Francisco     August 07, 2013

Last week Mania's own intrepid guy behind the guy, Joey Campbell, deeply cut into the grooved trenches of movie music in a new column entitled Videodrome (ah the newflesh!) over at Aquarium Drunkard. A man after my own cult cravings, Joey kicked it off by focusing on the musical overtones of the 1971 exploitation biker classic Werewolves on Wheels. This inspired choice stoked the flames in my cult calliope's furnace, goading to the forefront what we like to call a Nerd Confession on the You've Got Geek podcast: I am ass over tea kettle in love with 1995's Hackers. As a part of last week's Shock-O-Rama I emphatically stated that as nerds/geeks/maniacs we should never have to apologize for enjoying a film, and I'm not about to, but it's paramount to the discussion to admit that Hackers is a highly divisive film, which failed at the box office but has grown a passionate cult following. It is, writ simply, the very definition of a cult film, whose exposure to the uninitiated comes through passionate proclamations of its most attendant deacons. 
Hackers was released in September of 1995, a mere two months following the simpatico cyber flick, The Net. Unlike that purely pedestrian Sandra Bullock vehicle, Hackers leveraged absurd levels of embellished style, sucking viewers into the would be counter culture world of elite New York City computer virtuosos. Ironically the most memorable of stylistic choices by direct Iain Softley would form the trigger mechanism setting off atomic hatred in the film's detractors: the actual hacking depicted is sexy, with hot neon mother boarded Broadways below soaring flights between canyons of cyberpunk servers sizzling with electricity, transforming boring numerical code into a swirling soup of brightly projected amazing, and giving the humdrum world of Jolt Cola and Cheetos a gussied up paint job. In sum total, the computer world depicted in Hackers borrows wholesale from the cyberpunk future imagined in the works of William Gibson (for whom the big bad computer of the film is named). Viewer complicity in enjoying the film is linked directly to how hard of a hate-on that have for imagination and stylization. 
Don't misunderstand me here, I'm not saying you aren't allowed to dislike Hackers; I'm saying that you aren't allowed to dislike Hackers because "the hacking in the movie is so fake". That's equivocal to spewing bile at Fellowship of the Rings because hobbits live in hobbit holes, or hating on The Empire Strikes Back because Lando wears a cape (it's because he's majestic and regal, ok?). Softley insisted on a bevy of practical effects for those jaunts through his own cyber matrix, feeling that the computer graphics of the time came across too flat. This ingenious choice rewards viewers with a wondrous feeling of speed and energy as they're whisked along the computational channels. The characters merely sit at terminals, pounding away at well worn keyboards, but we become free to fly through the landscape of early cyberspace, as their minds perceive it to exist. Many slights against the film could perhaps have been eliminated by setting it in the then far flung future of 2013, but Softley instead created what maybe the only contemporary cyberpunk film (loosely jiggling aside the portion of cyberpunk's definition which specifies that it takes place in the future).
Accompanying the cavalcade of stylized futurism is an unrivaled Voltronic soundtrack, combined from the the pieces of lesser singular 90's electronica and techno to form a most perfect soundscape. To quote Eddie from Empire Records "This music of the glue of the world; it hold it all together". The Hackers original soundtrack contains two of The Prodigy's best compositions ("One Love" and "VooDoo Child"), along with tracks by Leftfield, Stereo MC's, Orbital, Underworld, Squeeze, and more. Truly a bitchin accompaniment to Ryan Gosling-esk car cruising moments. If that marked the end of the film's legacy, there'd would be no shame in the dojo of its cultural impact. Let me properly set the stage for what actually followed this opening act.
A 16 year old Chuck Francisco finds himself cruising the wire racks of his local Tower Records on a boring summer afternoon. His Levy's sport the kind of holes that come with carefully considered wear, his dark hair is long beyond adult comfort levels, and his standard issue Converse All-Stars are about ten miles overdue for an oil change. Bounding from section to section in search of that all elusive 90's electronica fix, his eyes unfocused at the sight which causes the kind of joy he can't hide behind a mask of teenage indifference: Hackers 2: Music From and Inspired by The Original Motion Picture 'Hackers'. Time locked into place, unmoved for minutes as the world spun on. It was only later, after much searching of what masqueraded as the information superhighway back then, that I discovered that this was only a soundtrack sequel, which didn't involve getting the band back together for a proper second film. 
Edel American Records would do it a second time in 1999, releasing a third Hackers soundtrack volume. Both sequel compilations contain a handful of songs which were woven into the tapestry of the original film before filling out the track list with like minded techno and electronica. All three albums offer a pulsing, thumping soundscape- rhythmically untangling your atoms and goosing them in gin, before gingerly trying to replacing them in what is hopefully the rightful order. Keyboard cowboys like Moby, Prodigy, Fluke, Orbital, and Underworld appear across the breadth of this collection, which can seamlessly be played straight through from start to finish. Throw all three albums into the blender of an IPod playlist, shuffle the hell out of it, and set phasers to random for maximum enjoyment.
Music is such an integral part of Hackers' charm, but it would have been sunk without the magnetic and charming ensemble cast. Johnny Lee Miller took top billing as Zero Cool, a hacker famous for crashing 1,507 systems as a child in the 80's. His rival Acid Burn, a very young Angelina Jolie with striking pageboy haircut and her sultry pouty lips, is every bit his equal (in fact the two actors married after filming wrapped). Fisher Stevens plays scene chomping corporate hacker The Plague with such difference and camp that it's obvious he enjoyed the hell out of every day on set. His entrance, attired like a modern period Highlander, gliding into the Gibson control room on a skateboard as though he owns the film and everyone there in is 100% awesome style (caveat: for the 90's). A young Matthew Lillard taught us that pasty white dudes look terrible in dreadlocks long before Axl Rose did. Even the supporting cast of perpetual character actors brings their A+ game.
Hackers is a slice of life for a time period that didn't actually exist wholly in our reality; it's a slice of reality topped off with whipped cream borrowed from William Gibson's cyberpunk pantry. Yes, the laughs come pouring in as these elite hackers swoon over a 28.8 BPS modem, but beneath that there's an indomitable spirit of creativity and rebellion at play here. Hackers is a gem which rewards repeat viewing, accompanied by a a triple dose of soundtrack nerdvana. I urge you to desperately seek this quartet out, post haste.
Screaming' Streaming
Want to watch something right now? Check the Screaming Streaming section for suggested viewing which is available right now via the magic of the Internets.

Eddie: The Sleepwalking Cannibal

Year: 2012
Rating: NR
Runtime: 90 minutes
Genre: Horror/Comedy
Availability: VOD via Xbox 360, PS3, iTunes, Amazon Instant, YouTube
The title insinuates quite the level of camp, but truthfully Eddie offers a genuine dark comedy experience. The film follows Lars, a struggling Scandinavian painter, who once tasted success but has found himself completely unable to create any longer, lacking inspiration. Taking a teaching position at an art school, he befriends gentle hulking mute Eddie, whose nasty nocturnal predilections are just what the artist ordered. Nearly devoid of scares, Eddie succeeds by tickling the macabre funny bone. We spend a plethora of time with Lars, and so it's a blessing that actor Thure Lindhardt brings a charming, Paul Bettany-esk performance, which is a necessary ingredient in this alchemy. Eddie: The Seepwalking Cannibal isn't perfect, but the unique nature of the premise coupled with rough and tumble, modestly budget execution, offers something new and entertaining. It released yesterday (August 6th) as a VOD title for Xbox 360, PS3, iTunes, Amazon Instant, Vudu, and YouTube. Let me know what you thought of it, Maniacs.


Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous  Colonial Theatre  in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.


Showing items 1 - 7 of 7
Whiskeymovie 8/7/2013 8:29:27 AM

 Like I was saying on Facebook, this movie cause me to go out and buy a $500 DVD player in '98, just so I could own this movie (Hackers was not out on VHS). This is one of my all time favorites. Plus, the soundtrack, actually all three f them, are awesome. I credit the Hackers soundtracks for my mid-90's "Rave" phase. Candy Flipping at the Tunnel in NYC at 4:30 in the morning was a part of life. Good times. Thanks for the good memories Hackers....


redhairs99 8/7/2013 9:29:29 AM

Such a damned fun movie.  Sure all the hyper-futuristic (the 90's) the hacking special effects were not a reality, but it added to the experience of the movie.  It made hacking cool.  

Chuck, you are dead on with the ensemble of the cast.  Johnny Lee Miller, Fisher Stevens, Angelina Jolie and Matthew Lillard were fantastic in the movie and hit just the right notes for each of there characters.  Lest we forget Jolie's boobies.  Even outside of the main 4, we had great supporting actors like Renoly Santiago from Dangerous Minds and Laurence Mason (Tin Tin in The Crow) playing the Obi-wan of Hackers, Nikon. Oh and the sexy, Lorraine Bracco in all her pre-Sopranos glory.

The soundtrack was fantastic and fit the movie perfectly.  That said from someone who's not generally a fan of techno.  I like it here and there, but this film was built to put bands like Prodigy out there and thrive in their element.  I didn't know about the sequel soundtracks until now.  But to this day, whenever I hear Prodigy and bands of that ilk, I immediately think of Hackers and I smile.

Everything melded together to make this hyper-realistic world that (as you say Chuck) never actually existed, but dude it would've been cool if it had.  It was in that infantancy of the world wide web where anything was possibly on even a 15kbps dial-up modem.  I liken the look of the hacking computer imagery to the look Spielberg used in Jurassic Park.  We all know it doesn't look like that, but we wished it did.

I'm trying to recall exactly, but I don't believe my 15 year old self even had access to the internet in 1995 when this movie was released.  If so, I hadn't had it very long.

You can see the cyberpunk influences from Gibson on the main cast of kid hackers for sure even if it's taken out of the future where cyberpunk is generally seen.  Maybe you can look at it as the very beginnings of what would become Gibson's Neuromancer world.

Looking back there's just so much that make this movie funny, entertaining and just a darn cool flick.  Or maybe it was just Angelina's boobies. ;)


MartinMcFriend 8/7/2013 3:27:50 PM

This column rules. As much as I love new and upcoming films, you can't judge true quality until a little time has passed. You have to allow the flavors of the minute to subside and perish from your mind the success or failure at the box office. Only when you have watched a flick, low budget or otherwise, that is completely out of any conceivable spotlight can you make a fair, pure assessment of its artistic value. And using that spectrum, there is a huge world out there of classic films. Hackers was a pretty strong film. It's more ridiculous qualities aside, it captured a distinct cyberpunk vibe that few other films have before or since.


Btw, the scream stream idea is great.

SinisterPryde 8/8/2013 12:05:34 AM

I also thought there was a sequel to Hackers when I bought the second soundtrack and was disappointed to find that wasn't the case.  Still, looking back, a sequel might have gone to the same territory as, say, Lawnmower Man 2 (and nobody wants that).

To this day I still can't believe cyberpunk is still a nich genre not often touched in cinema.

jrok78 8/8/2013 6:13:26 AM

Nice work, Chuck....great point about cyberpunk. I guess you can include the Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, Strange Days and Blade Runner in that genre. But I don't know if it has received its fair attention in film recently.

CyanideRush 8/8/2013 6:25:04 AM

 Thanks everyone- as you can tell I had quite a bit to say on the subject. There's also a laundry list of topics I'd planned to include but cut for length- many of the things Redhairs brought up are on that list. 

I'm a very big fan of Cyberpunk and Steampunk, but both seem trapped in books (and sometimes video games), and haven't made a fully successful leap to the cinema. Speaking of: Is anyone else playing the newly release Shadowrun Returns for PC? Amazing throw back to the 1990's SNES Shadowrun game. 


redhairs99 8/8/2013 7:23:18 AM

Speaking of Gibson and Cyberpunk, here's a cool little quote from the man himself regarding seeing Blade Runner:

"BLADERUNNER came out while I was still writing Neuromancer. I was about a third of the way into the manuscript. When I saw (the first twenty minutes of) BLADERUNNER, I figured my unfinished first novel was sunk, done for. Everyone would assume I’d copped my visual texture from this astonishingly fine-looking film."




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