I recently got a chance to sit down and watch Iain Softley's 1995 movie Hackers. It's been well over a decade since I last saw Hackers all the way through, so this was the first time a lot of the little details of the film struck me. What's really remarkable about this movie is that, despite growing more hilariously off-target with its prognostications about computers and the Internet with each passing year, it comes tantalizingly close to an accurate understanding of what would eventually become rave culture several years after its release. Peppered throughout Hackers are a series of directorial choices that indicate the hand of someone who has just recently lost touch with youth and fashion. That, in itself, is fascinating.
Iain Softley only had one film under his belt when he took on the script for Hackers, written by a young movie geek named Rafael Moreu. Had it not been for the fortuitous timing of this project, I doubt it would have ever gotten off the ground. Hackers is an interesting case of a fad-based cash grab that just happened to be about something that would actually change the world. It's obvious that none of the people actually involved with the film had any idea what Internet culture was or what the tech-obsessed youth of the late 90's actually liked. The people in charge of the soundtrack apparently did, though.
There's an amusing disconnect between the music playing in the background of Hackers and what Softley settled on for his set design. Looking at the rooms of the computer savvy teen protagonists, it's like some kind of joke to see them adorned with posters of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and a wide variety of other decidedly Luddite recording artists. As the kids strap on their rollerblades and wear ridiculously shiny clothes, the likes of Prodigy and Orbital take center stage. If these characters are supposed to represent the cutting edge of youth culture, they wouldn't be primarily interested in what were yesterday's bands.
If Hackers was just a total failure to capture the essence of late 90's tech trends there would be nothing to talk about. The fact that its wild mish-mash of styles occasionally dovetails with things that actually would become hip is probably why it didn't just sink the moment it launched. Looking back, no single film actually managed to get a bead on the spirit of rave culture, early Internet trends or even the general state of youth in the late 90's. My generation didn't get its Easy Rider, its Wall Street or its Reality Bites. There are only flimsy, partial documents like Hackers and Groove. They don't even come close to describing what it was like to come of age in the last years of the millennium, but they aren't entirely clueless, either.
In a roundabout way, I suppose it's more fitting that the millennial kids don't have their own movie. Film is, after all, a 20th century medium. The real cultural encapsulation happened on the Internet and on video game consoles. The movies designed for our demographic ended up being little more than quaint novelties.