Hackers: Back to the Future

Today’s world speeds ahead faster than anyone can keep track. No sooner does Facebook oust MySpace when Twitter swoops in to dethrone them both; paperbacks are threatened by the Kindle, and CD players are obsolete. In this swiftly changing culture, sometimes it’s nice to revisit a simpler era, when camouflage was edgy and passwords were letters—only: the world of 1995’s Hackers.

One of the most rewarding guilty pleasure movies of all time, Hackers explores the life of a handful of cooler-than-thou tech savants who find themselves framed for a virus written by a snotty over-thirty systems admin. These hackers, who look like the bridge of the starship Enterprise after an run-in with Hot Topic, have to escape the Feds, unite the hackers of the world, and break into the mainframe of an oil company from some payphones in Grand Central.

Ah, cinema verité!

As a technology time capsule, the film’s a scream. The hackers crowd into a bedroom during a party to drool over a laptop with a 28.8 modem; the main MacGuffin is a 3.5″ floppy disk. (Imagine how an entire sequel could be framed around the desperate search to find a computer that can read a 3.5″ floppy in time to discover what’s on it before evil plan launches.)

However, the film functions beautifully as a snapshot of the computer culture of 1995, when most people were fumbling their way through Windows and tearing the edges off their dot matrix printers, but some people had discovered the potential of socially networked computers. In 1995, the Internet was still a brave new world that only the elite could grasp, an alien landscape of translucent skyscrapers through which the hacker could fly, searching for the file that would set him free from the clutches of The Man.

Aesthetically, the film is a checklist of Things Moviemakers Hope Young, Edgy People Liked in 1995:

– Rollerblades. (The first sign that corporate system admin Plague can’t be trusted is his arrival by skateboard, a tool of The Man.)
– TV stations that run off a single modem.
– Well-behaved rave parties.
– First-person, blurry, public video game consoles.
– Techno music. All the time.
– The Canadian mom from La Femme Nikita.
– Rollerblades.
– Jolt Cola.
– Pay phones.
– Mock turtlenecks.
– Matthew Lillard.

The film holds up remarkably well even against the many and egregious infractions against reality, largely because of the cast, which elevates the script from workmanlike to quotable. (Let the one who has never used “It’s in that place where I put that thing that time” cast the first stone.)

The archetypal plot, which pits a spunky band of outsiders against the powerful machine of the state, is nothing new; the hackers who join our heroes’ cause and overwhelm the Gibson mainframe at the film’s climax are PVC-armored Rohirrim, marshaling behind Johnny Lee Miller’s comely Frodo. On the other hand, if your archetypal trope ain’t broke, don’t fix it–and the idea of a company out to smother the spread of information is a theme that has become more, not less, timely in the last decade.

But it’s not the attack on freedom of information that has kept Hackers popular; the key to Hackers’ enduring camp appeal is that, like all weirdly—costumed cinema manifestos about our future, Hackers is 90% deliciously inaccurate and 10% frighteningly prescient. When Acid Burn summons Cereal Killer and he gets the emergency message on his beeper, howl with laughter and record the sound as your iPhone ring. When the Secret Service hands Plague a police report and he groans, “Ugh, hard copy,” realize that someone looked into the future and saw us all.

Remember, citizens of 1995–on the Internet there are no text prompts; there are only imaginary buildings that you hack into with a four-character password.

[This post originally appeared on Tor.com.]

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    Catwoman: The Closet, Part 1 - Selina

    One of the first things I did after we’d sketched the bare bones of this Catwoman arc was to sit down and decide how everybody was going to dress.

    Comics are cinematic in their use of clothing to indicate character; it’s a great psychological and expository shortcut. The shift from Catwoman into Selina Kyle, Mob Boss would mean a lot of changes in her wardrobe, and everything she wore would necessarily reflect that change. It was also important to me just on a vaguely-fashion-aware level, because I will never forget being a kid and reading the issue of X-Men where Gambit shows up to take Rogue on a date and Rogue is wearing a full-body lace bodysuit underneath what I swear was a handkerchief skirt and tight peasant top with matching headband. That was a lot. Nobody wants any more of that.

    What did I want for Selina? This.

    The “hero” tux was exactly the mood we wanted for her out-of-uniform uniform; it’s a graphic statement, it connotes both power and privilege, and it’s sexy without being too revealing, at a time when Selina’s very much in a masculine sphere. In fact, we were careful to make sure there are variations on her signature suit specifically so that when she deviates from it, it’s significant. Bottom right corner is her “off duty” suit, which we see her in at times when she thinks she’ll only be dealing with family concerns. Top right corner is the suit we see her in at the open of #36, when she’s making the rounds to have the families kiss her ring, so to speak; it’s deliberately more feminine, but it also has the broad lapels that feel ever so slightly like a mark of state.

    But one of the things we knew was going to happen was that the tenor of the clothes would shift over the course of the arc. She starts out on top, and as things become increasingly murky, the more her clothing looks like armor. The ballgown she wears in 35 is an amalgamation of Charles James and Zac Posen gowns, and represents a deliberate opulence and vaguely frigate-y comfort that we don’t necessarily see from her at any other time. This is her coronation, and she’s dressed for it. By the time she’s wearing the cocoon coat at the top center, in which she looks slightly like a beetle, it’s because she feels the need to protect herself; it’s a coat you can disappear inside of.

    Overall, though, this is a Selina that’s not messing around. Clean lines, black everywhere, tailored but rarely tight. She’s too skilled an opportunist to let this chance go to waste; at a time when she doesn’t have any weapons close to hand, she’ll dress like she is one.


2014 Appearances

Often updated. Please check back!

March 19-23: ICFA (Orlando, FL)

May 23-26: WisCon (Madison, WI)

July 11-14: Readercon (Boston, MA)

August 4: Books Beneath the Bridge, Brooklyn

October 10-12: CapClave (Washington, DC) [GOH]