I believe in binary Zen. You're either at one with everything, or at zero with everything.

A Hacker's Movie List

Date/Time Permalink: 03/18/06 04:26:09 pm
Category: Geek Culture

Ahhhh, winter is upon us in full, and the Holidays wane. Perfect time to curl up on the couch with a movie or two to rest our weary brains from our code. Herein, my list of every movie that I know of which is fit to be called "a true hacker's movie". In no order at all, subject to my biases, prejudices, quirks, kinks, and downright chauvinism.

Sneakers: An "all-star cast" doesn't begin to describe Robert Redford, Ben Kingsley, Sidney Poitier, David Strathairn, Dan Aykroyd, and River Phoenix in the same movie. This light-hearted romp has all but one of the principles working as a "Tiger Team" which tests security for corporations. It's a Hacker's movie because nearly everybody in it is hellishly clever and the plot moves quick and sneaky like a ninja, as a cat-and-mouse game over a cryptography secret unfolds between Redford and Kingsley, old friends turned arch-rivals.

Pi: A black-and-white psychedelic mathematical thriller. How's that for exploring new territory? Max is a man with such a brain on his shoulders, that he is trapped within it and at war with it at the same time. And he knows the secret of the universe is a NUMBER, DAMMIT, if only he can *pant* *pant* figure it out in between the hallucination-inducing migraines, Wall Street goons dogging his heels, religious mystics harassing him, general annoyances of the outside world, and his mentor Sol berating him that his research is madness, as they play the occasional Go game. Tickles your brain in just the right places. Anybody who's tried to push their minds to the maximum working on a difficult project while having their cubicle invaded every ten minutes by another random idiot has sounded, if only briefly, like Max at his worst-tempered.

The Fifth Element: While this flick works as a standard action-adventure in space, and it is one of the few I can actually call "A Science Fiction Comedy" - rich genre, that! - that isn't what makes it a hacker movie. What makes it a hacker movie is that Bruce Willis's character has to save the world while apparently being the only sensible person in a Universe filled with comically bumbling idiots, be they alien or human. He goes through the whole thing with the same wry/confident smirk you wear when you're approached by a CompUSA sales-drone. He also saves the day when he reminds everybody to RTFM.

Brazil: DRM in your motherboard? Rootkit on your CD? Third party databases getting your email address? RIAA lawsuits got you down? You must be feeling paranoid. Like a character from Orwell's "1984". Now take that story, increment the year by one, and feed it through the Monty Python mindset of Terry Gilliam right after he did "Time Bandits" and just before he did "The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen", with a generous dash of enough mind-blowingly elaborate sets and hallucinogenically weird characters for *several* movies. This is literally the "Everything but the Kitchen Sink" movie, which works in *every* *genre*. It's a horror movie: "What have you done with his body?", Science Fiction: "Somewhere in the 20th Century", War Movie: "We're all in it together, kid!", Screwball Comedy: "Put it on, big boy, I won't look at your willy!", Love Story: "I mean...in my DREAMS I love you.", Paranoid Thriller: "Until all this blows over, just stay away from me.", and absolutely, positively everything else. You have to watch it something like 20 times just to *catch* everything. You have to watch it once just to read all the satirical posters and billboards flying by in the background. Oh, wait, I didn't mention the giant Metal Samurai. And watch what happens to Mrs. Tulane's Chinese Crested lapdog in the restaurant. Can you even COUNT how many explosions there are in this movie? Wait, I forgot the daring rescue in the cooling tower set by Henry Tuttle the vigilante heating technician...Salt? It's a hacker movie ("You have to say the NUMBER!" "Computers are my forte!" "This is Information Retrieval, not Information Dispersal!" "Bloody typical! They've gone back to metric without telling us!" "'Ere I am...J.H....the Ghost in the Machine") by virtue of it's being an *everything* movie.

The Conversation: Two people have acknowledged that this is a science-fiction movie: one of them is Harlan Ellison and the other one is me. Even though this movie revolves around technology that was then current and now outdated (1974), it nevertheless captures the present spirit of the times today, as humanity struggles more and more with the new powers technology gives us and the ways it can be abused. A gripping conspiracy flick with Gene Hackman as a surveillance technician struggling with his conscience as he obsesses about a tape he has made. This movie was done by Francis Ford Coppola in between Godfather shoots during the Watergate era. Need I say more? It all started here.

2001: At last, a famous one I don't have to explain. What makes this a hacker movie? HAL, of course! Now, pop open Emacs and type "M-x doctor". Or go visit JabberWacky and talk to Jabberwacky. Now ask yourself, could you outwit these programs if they were bent on killing you? That's what makes it a hacker movie.

Tron: This bizarre museum piece makes the list because, let's face it, at the time it was made, it showed a world never before possible. About half the ray-tracers you meet were inspired by the movie Tron as kids...myself included! Tron recently had a little attention on Tom's Hardware. Be sure to check out the immersively true-to-the-movie Light Cycle game for the Linux desktop: Armagetron.

And as a disclaimer: I'd of course appreciate tips from commenters on movies I either forgot or don't know about...but I'm deliberately not including "The Matrix" series or the movie "Hackers". The former is badly overrated (I thought it sucked. I thought it was Final Fantasy with some obscure metaphysics thrown in to trick people into taking it seriously and so many plot holes it was Swiss cheese. And if you don't like it, I'll...blog about something else!), and the latter is disparaged by even script kiddies as wanna-be fodder. "Wargames" treads the line, but I chucked it because it was basically made from a naive perspective. "Independence Day" simply sucked for it's brain-deadedness, and Jeff Goldblum *himself* is disparaged by even script kiddies as a wanna-be. "Antitrust" sounds interesting, but I've never seen it. I've never seen "The Net", either, and it sounds like it's good that I don't. I don't mention "Rocky Horror" or the blindingly obvious "Monty Python" movies or Star Trek or Babylon 5 simply because they are cultish hits in their own right outside of the hacker culture altogether...they are movies that hackers typically like, without being hacker movies.

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