Twenty years ago, Hackers gave code-savvy outsiders everywhere reason to let their freak flag fly
Technological advancement anxiety? Check. Outrageously latex-heavy fashion? Check. Excessive product placement? If Hackers wasn’t a predictive emblem of everything 2015’s Miley generation represents, we don’t know what is. Light years (or at least two decades, seven iPhones and countless internet scandals) ahead of its time, director Ian Softley’s cult classic is a faultless exploration of myriad punk elements. It tackles contemporary consumer culture and inspires looks for days, underpinned by a pioneering electronic soundtrack along the way.
At first glance, Hackers is a little bit of a catastrophe – seemingly style over substance, carried by its outrageously pretty co-stars and the nuts cyberpunk wardrobe that pretty much inspired anything still going at Camden Market – it really is weighted by much more than a boyishly beautiful Jonny Lee Miller and the crushingly sassy object of his affections (both on and off screen circa 1995-7): Angelina Jolie. Their characters offer a more interesting look at the ‘alternative’ kids in class, the ones bearing any genuine gusto or zane, and in doing so, make up a bizarrely colourful band of busily-hacking merry men (and Jolie) as they dive head first into a corporate extortion scandal. Twenty years on, Hackers paved the way for the cyber phreak aesthetic and handed the keyboard to a girl who could hold her own.
Rafael Moreu’s screenplay is an almighty bow to the cyberpunk community, binding them with purpose and style with hacking and as a result, with this particular set of characters and plot, relinquishing them the baton that enables them the inevitable dictation of human evolution. Inspired by an initial interest in the subtle title 2600: Hacker Quarterly, the story name checks early figures from computer invention to cyberpunk literature, paying homage to the likes of Charles Babbage (father of the computer) and “noir prophet” William Gibson with a story that impressively stands the test of time.
Without wardrobe goliath Roger Burton (Quadrophenia, Absolute Beginners and long time consultant to Westwood & McClaren/The Beatles/David Bowie) the film would certainly be lacking kaleidoscopically. Each scene is bursting like a bumper bag of Skittles, all E numbers and clashing reds, yellows, blues and purples. Miller’s character Zero Cool is dressed dominantly throughout with bold red gilets, trousers and even a pillar-box PVC body in one particular sex dream of Jolie’s character, Acid Burn. To think we thought Britney was heading the game in Oops, I Did It Again.
Testament to the American high school movie, Hackers is brimming with teen angst, romance, braggadoccio. But where romance is so often a girl being rescued by her prince, we get to lay witness to one of the first instances where a defiant, intimidating goddess is a complete match for the boys in skills social and technical. Surely she paved the way for The Faculty's sublime Stokely? Also interesting is the sheer drag aspect to these cocky teens’ fashion, including the openly gay Ramon “Phantom Phreak” Sanchez – who initially inducts Zero Cool into the crew – there is an unabashed and unapologetic queer display which is curiously and sadly missing from so many teen movies that followed.
“We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias... and you call us criminals,” dictates the Hackers manifesto. “Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiousity.” If you don't much feel like getting heady on the philosophies of Hackers, merely sit back and admire the plaits, puffa jackers and animal prints, and enjoy the noise of early Prodigy, Orbital and Leftfield (obviously featuring none other than John Lydon).