Culture

The 'Hackers' Curator Is a Style Guide for Our Favourite Hacking Movie

Want to know what pager Acid Burn uses in the movie? These 'Hackers' superfans have tracked it down.
16 September 2020, 7:34am
Cereal Killer pwning ThePlague
Image: Hackers

This article originally appeared on VICE US.

The 15th of September marks the anniversary of Hackers, the 1995 film starring Angelina Jolie and Jonny Lee Miller about a bunch of teenage freaks and weirdos who use their skills with computers to take down a major corporate conspiracy. At the time of release people thought it was over the top and goofy, and it was maligned by hackers themselves who didn't exactly appreciate the totally unrealistic representation of hacking in the movie. After 25 years, the film has found a devoted niche audience, including real life hackers, and two Hackers mega-fans have collected its ephemera, as well as its ties to fashion, music, and technological history, in a browseable archive.

Hackers Curator is a project from Erik, a VP of development at a healthcare company in Colorado and Jenn, who is a sneaker designer in the fashion industry in New York. Like characters Acid Burn or Zero Cool, they also go by their monikers Nandemoguy and Teenprez on the site itself.

The intersection of their careers and their interest in this movie make complete sense once you realise how ahead of its time it was, especially in the realm of fashion and music. Erik, who Jenn described as the "true mastermind" of Hackers Curator over email, first saw the movie at the same time as he began to be interested in techno and EDM—in case you weren't aware, the Hackers soundtrack is truly banger after banger, featuring artists like Underworld, Massive Attack and The Prodigy.

For Jenn, she said that her mind was, "short-circuited by this punkish tribe of teen hackers, their outrageous outfits, and by Angelina Jolie’s short hair." She'd picked up the movie on VHS at her tiny local video rental shop, only realised how forward thinking it was later in life.

"Hackers came out when the internet had barely begun to enter homes, and if you were the right age, at the right time, with the right interests, it may have spoken to you in a way you never forgot," Jenn said.

As a movie, Hackers didn't try to represent a literal truth of what hacking is like, but more of an emotional truth. In the real world, teenage hackers weren't going out to hacker bars and watching Razer and Blade, but they were often young teens with a contempt for authority who gave themselves cool names. The New York of Hackers is one that's black, brown, queer, young and rebellious, capturing a snapshot of the city that still exists in its art and technology scenes.

"Hackers was never trying to show you the mundane details of technology (although everyone involved certainly did their research!)," Jenn said. "It was trying to show you a world that was just slightly out of our grasp, to show you what it felt like to take control of a world that most people didn’t comprehend at the time, what it might be like to live 15 seconds in the future. And that resonated with certain people. The artistic decisions that were made by the director, costume designer, and everyone else involved, reflect and support that vision, and in the end they had something that remains very unique to this day."

Perusing Hackers Curator gives you a clear sense of what director Iain Softely was able to accomplish. On the site you'll find a catalogue of every character's costumes, as well as all the technology they used in the film. Jenn and Erik even went to the lengths of finding the exterior locations in New York where Hackers was shot. The ephemera of Hackers is remarkable, showcasing the attention to detail that the Softely and his team imparted into the film, creating their wholly ridiculous, but somehow still believable world.

"At one point in the movie, Matthew Lillard wears a glitter knit tank top with Lou Reed’s Transformer cover on it," Jenn said. "We were able to locate the designer who knitted it, and not only did she have a great story about the design and NO idea about her sweater’s appearance in the movie, she was able to determine it was one of a handful of pieces Lou Reed personally commissioned from her for his tour (we still have no idea how it ended up in the hands of the costume designer)."

Jenn and Erik have also been able to interview much of the cast and crew of the film, including the aforementioned Lillard, who played the misfit hacker Cereal Killer.

The goal of Hackers Curator isn't just to be an archive, but to be a guidepost for fans of the movie who can't forget the clothes, music, and technology featured in the film. Despite having a voracious fanbase, Hackers has remained niche, still burned by the initial rejection from audiences. After 25 years, it seems like time for a critical reassessment, and Hackers Curator is part of that ongoing project.

"We’ve spent hundreds of hours speaking with cast and crew, pouring through screen caps, Google image search, obscure auction sites, vintage computer forums, and old zines and magazines to try to document its creation, tech, and aesthetic," Jenn said. "It’s our hope that when someone rewatches it or sees Hackers for the first time and wonders if Zero Cool’s laptop was a real computer or why so many hackers are rocking Vivienne Westwood, there will be an answer out there for them."

If you throw Hackers on today and want to know where Angelina Jolie got that slammin' blue rash guard she wears in the beginning of the movie, check out Hackers Curator. And remember, hacking is more than just a crime. It's a survival trait.