Three decades later, Hackers still manages to entertain as a fun sci-fi romp that updates the familiar thriller formula to the modern digital age while throwing a few subtle allusions into the mix. Starring Johnny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, and Fisher Stevens, the movie has garnered a well-deserved cult following. Courtesy of Shout Factory, the keyboard cowboys hack the impenetrable Ultra HD system with a shockingly beautiful Dolby Vision HDR presentation, a highly entertaining DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack but the same selection of bonuses as before. Nevertheless, the overall UHD package makes for a Recommended addition to the 4K collection.
As cheesy and silly as it may be — riddled with lots of absurdly comical dialogue and tons of techno jargon — Hackers still manages to entertain after three decades. At the time of its release, computers and the internet inside the home and in the hands of private citizens were still a relatively new concept. The World Wide Web was still a strange and foreign world to the masses, made more easily accessible to the public thanks to early web browser Mosaic only a couple of years earlier. The world of cyberspace was little known to most moviegoers, and they probably knew even less of the hacker subculture. So, part of the fun in this 1995 sci-fi thriller was the fact that the subject matter was familiar to only a select few while also delivering enough action and excitement to attract a wider audience. In essence, the movie effectively turned its finger on the pulse of a revolutionary new trend into something cinematic.
Admittedly, being ahead of its time or keeping to the latest craze is not reason enough to praise any production, but the fact that it does so in an entertaining fashion is. Director Iain Softley (K-PAX) worked closely with cinematographer Andrzej Sekula (Pulp Fiction, American Psycho) and stage designers to create the world of computers and their interior workings. The end result, of course, is the furthest from reality — a bunch of silly gibberish and ridiculous mumbo-jumbo — but it nevertheless turned the unfamiliar world of cyberspace into visually enthralling displays of fantasy. Softley and his crew transformed the strange and unknown into a flamboyantly colorful universe that seemed enchanting and thrilling, a space where the uninvited and marginalized could feel like Indiana Jones exploring the undiscovered territory. The audience now knows and understands the attraction these talented teens have for hacking into other systems.
Softley and Sekula keep their viewers captivated with other cleverly amusing visuals, other than the wide array of primaries continuously decorating the screen as if to further entice viewers into the forbidden candy shop. The camera navigates overhead and through a circuit board with pulses of electricity beaming in all directions. These imaginative graphics, which again intentionally have nothing to do with how computers work in real life, smoothly dissolve into the busy, high-rise packed streets of New York City, suggesting that the digital age is already here living amongst us, working unseen behind the curtain of daily life. Almost all of society is controlled by computers, from traffic lights and oil tankers to banks and the personal records of private citizens. The movie turns that last part into a bit of comedy of relief when Secret Service Agent Richard Gill's (Wendell Pierce) — "Hacker enemy number one" — life is turned into chaos.
With great direction and excellent photography already on its side — however, corny and unrealistic as it is — the only thing remaining is a good story to match, and even in this respect, the film successfully infiltrates the expectations of moviegoers. It isn't a masterpiece by a long shot, but Rafael Moreu's script immediately catches our attention with the news of an eight-year-old genius who cashed 1,507 systems in a single day. Seven years later, the kid grows up to be Jonny Lee Miller, a high school senior year haunted by his past but still up to his old tricks, only much more low-key. It doesn't take long before he makes other hacker friends (Renoly Santiago, Matthew Lillard, Laurence Mason and Jesse Bradford) while also making a rival in Kate Libby (Angelina Jolie). The tale is simple and straightforward, a comedy of sorts set in a modern high school where Miller's rival soon becomes the love interest.
But in a movie in touch with an underground subculture that seems threatening to the mainstream public will obviously introduce an outside conflict to demonstrate that the group is a threat to no one. Yes, this makes the plot a bit predictable, but it's the ride to that foreseeable conclusion that matters. For the first half, Moreu goes out of his way to make these kids likable, good-natured and innocent of inflicting harm to anyone. But when Fisher Stevens enters the picture as hacker turned computer security officer "The Plague," Miller's "Crash Override" is forced to call upon his talents to prove he and his friends are innocent of a potentially destructive computer virus.
It's a fun sci-fi romp that updates the familiar thriller formula to the modern digital age while also throwing a few subtle allusions into the mix. Lillard's Emmanuel Goldstein is from George Orwell's classic novel, "The Gibson" supercomputer refers to sci-fi author William Gibson, Santiago's Phantom Phreak is a phreak, as opposed to the stereotypical hacker, and one character quotes from the actual Hacker Manifesto by notorious hacker "The Mentor." It's a smart display of knowing and entertainment that makes Hackers a great deal of fun to watch and has garnered a well-deserved cult following.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Shout Factory brings Hackers to 4K Ultra HD as a two-disc Collector's Edition combo pack. The triple-layered, UHD100 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region A locked, BD50 disc on the opposing panel. Both discs are housed inside the standard black keepcase. At startup, the disc goes straight to a menu screen with the usual selection along the bottom, full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The keyboard cowboys hack the impenetrable Ultra HD system with a shockingly beautiful and outstanding HEVC H.265 encode that delivers a remarkable upgrade from the somewhat disappointing 2015 Blu-ray. Struck from a new restoration and remaster of the original 35mm camera negatives, this native 4K transfer shows sharper details along buildings, streets and the interior of various rooms, exposing every nook and cranny and the smallest object decorating the background. The lettering of billboards, posters and computer screens is always intelligible, and the individual hairs of the cast and the threading in the costumes are striking.
Although more nuanced and subtle than initially expected, the Dolby Vision HDR presentation nonetheless supplies the cinematography with a better, more accurately saturated palette, boasting a fuller, richer array of the colors, particularly the warmer, animated secondary hues of the creative computer visuals. Gone are the odd magenta-pink tones that plagued the previous Blu-ray release, making for healthier, more natural facial complexions while revealing every pore and minute wrinkle in the entire cast. Contrast and brightness balance also enjoy a notable improvement, furnishing the action with cleaner, on-target whites and crisp, sparkling specular highlights that allow for impressive clarity and definition of the finer aspects within the hottest spots. Awash in a very fine layer of natural grain, the video comes with inky raven blacks throughout and excellent shadow delineation, which gives the photography some appreciable depth.
It appears that the framing has also been corrected for this UHD edition, presenting the movie in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio whereas the Blu-ray showed the movie in a 2.39:1 frame. Overall, this 4K HDR presentation is a fantastic upgrade, looking more film-like and cinematic than its predecessors. (Dolby Vision HDR Video Rating: 88/100)
Like the video, it seems that the original sound design has also been given the remaster treatment, offering fans of the movie a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack whereas the previous Blu-ray came with only a DTS-HD MA stereo track. In either case, fans will not be disappointed, as both lossless options deliver a wide and spacious soundstage with lots of background activity and off-screen effects that convincingly pan across the screen. The hip, techno-infused songs make the most of the upgrade by bleeding into the surrounds and filling the room with a vigorous, upbeat energy. The mid-range exhibits excellent separation and distinction in the upper frequencies for the most part, but the 5.1 track reveals very mild hints of distortion although thankfully, they don't detract from the overall experience. It's also worth mentioning that dialogue reproduction can be lightly drowned out in the new surround sound mix, especially when the electro music kicks in while characters are still chatting in the background. But again, it's nothing too egregious so as to ruin the enjoyment of the movie since those moments are frankly inconsequential to the story. While the low-end could be stronger and weightier, the bass is nonetheless more commanding and palpable, providing the music-heavy design with a more appreciable sense of presence. (Audio Rating: 82/100)
As cheesy and silly as it may be, Hackers still manages to entertain three decades later, and it's garnered a well-deserved cult following. Starring Johnny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, and Fisher Stevens, this is a fun sci-fi romp that updates the familiar thriller formula to the modern digital age while throwing a few subtle allusions into the mix. The keyboard cowboys hack the impenetrable Ultra HD system with a shockingly beautiful Dolby Vision HDR presentation and a highly entertaining DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, giving fans a much need and fantastic upgrade over the last disappointing Blu-ray release. Porting over the same selection of bonuses as before, the overall UHD package makes for a Recommended addition to the 4K collection.
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