Lately i’ve been thinking about that weird and almost completely failed subgenre of movie that attempted to light up the LCD screens of our hearts, but instead faded like a broken computer screen: the hacker film. Now, I could ask what good the sub-genre has ever done for us, but the answer to that is clear and just a few inches above this block of text. The genre birthed this iconic Matthew Lillard role from the movie Hackers, in which he plays a (wait for it!) hacker named…erm…Cereal Killer. Because….he likes Cereal? Sure, lets go with that! He’s a character described by June Diane Raphael on an episode of the podcast How Did This Get Made? as “Disgusting”, and she is not completely wrong. He is disgusting, bizarre and the strangest character Lillard has played, and i’m including Shaggy in the live action Scooby Doo films. He’s a character that must be experienced, and once experienced, never forgotten. I mean - you’ve seen what he fucking looks like.
But my point remains: outside of Cereal Killer (I am bolding his name because he is an Important Man), the genre has offered up very little to the world. I admittedly know nothing at all about hacking, and I don’t care at all about Hacking, like, i’d presume, 90% of people currently residing here on earth. But I cannot imagine that people who love Hacking (or Hacker Fuckers, if you will) queuing up to see Hackers, a film that thinks this is what the internet looks like:
Now, i’m no city-slickin’ mouse-clickin’ hacker, but I don’t think that’s what the internet looks like. I could be wrong, and character actor Fisher Stevens (I was about to write “beloved” character actor, but then I remembered Short Circuit) could be skating through a flashing pillar of internet right now. It’s a cool thought! Hackers came along in 1995, when future optimism was higher than it had been in years, as everyone believed the tech-bubble would never burst (spoiler alert: it did!) and that the new millennium would bring a world of positive changes and possibilities. The poor, innocent souls of 1995 could never have possibly imagined the true horrors waiting for them on the other side of the millennium…
But before Fred Durst became a thing in a hat that you had to look at, technology was booming, affordable and exciting. You got transparent Macs that allowed you to see through into the mechanical nonsenseinside it. The new fangled e-mail gave us (I don’t know why i’m saying “us”. I was 3 years old in 1995. Babies don’t get emails) all the opportunity to open your email and then close it again as many times as you liked! So this is what producers saw when they started making movies like Hackers. They put their strongest marketing minds together and came up with “People got computers now. Make comPUTER FILM!”. Those wild bastards actually went and did it! And weirdly, Hackers was kinda ahead of its time. It might’ve been wildly inaccurate in almost every possible way, but it paved the way for a wave of (well, like 3) films. The Matrix wouldn’t be released for another 4 years, and Swordfish a further 2. If it did incite a trend, it was the only trend started by Director Iain Softley, his later film K-Pax tragically failing to kick start a new genre of films in which Kevin Spacey eats bananas with their skins still on.
Good stuff! Hackers does feel like a film that is unsure of whether it’s trying to replicate fads or start them off. I mean, characters rollerblade everywhere for no apparent reason in the film. That might be something Hackers do? I’ve never seen Mr Robot, so I cannot categorically say that Rami Malek doesn’t rollerblade his way around town like a Starlight Express extra who really hates computers. But I doubt it. So with the rollerblading, and the way….ugh…Cereal Killer dresses, it seems like the film is offering you up its own funky ideas that you could follow on from if you want to get murdered on the streets. Did its aesthetic style have influence? Was the game Jet Set Radio from 2000 and its rollerblading theme influenced at all by Hackers? Did Eminem see Johnny Lee Miller’s bleached blonde hair in the film (quick deeply important side note: his character is named Dade. DADE.) and think “huh. that would really compliment my insufferable personality!”? We’ll never know. The film is a weird exercise in style and trends, and the soundtrack, crammed with The Prodidgy and Underworld, is proof that at least the soundtrack department had its finger on the pulse. And, it could be argued that the film’s costume department at least came up with some creative cyber-punk clothing, and were bold enough to make Penn Jillette look like this:
The thing is, I liked the weirdness of it all, I like this misfires in capturing modern life, and inaccuracy doesn’t bother me really if a film is fun enough. I’m not a stickler for realism. I didn’t sit down to Face/Off and complain that it’s totally unbelievable that John Travolta is a human person. That’s not the issue. The issue, really is that with all the giant screen Playstations, pounding trance tracks and references to Coca Cola (weird, I thought Mountain Dew would be the Hacker’s choice), the film is in troubled water because of the fact that Hacking is unbelievably, deeply fucking boring. It is not interesting in seeing someone go clickety clack on a keyboard and make occasional faces to indicate that “oh no! the mainframe is busting my chops!” or “Huzzah! I clicked the mouse really fast just now!”.
Thankfully, the film has some fairly decent editing which intersperses the clickety-clacking with some long exposure, sped up shots of New York City just in case you forgot it was the 90′s. The fact that they need to cut away to exciting, zooming shots that have nothing to do with anything highlights the fact that the Director and Editor knew exactly what i’m talking about: HACKING IS FUCKING BORING (if you’re a hacker reading this, please don’t hack me). And they’ve built an entire film around it! A whole nonsensical plot which involves (as far as i can remember) big ships and evil corporations that want to sink the big ships is built on Hacking. Thank god this film is so wildly ridiculous, which keeps it from being entirely boring. It’s smart in that it knows to not make the film actually about hacking, but then you kind of ask yourself the question: why is this film about Hacking at all? Why is it called Hackers? Maybe a better name would’ve been ‘Bladin’ Teenz’, as an ode to their endless rollerblading. It’s a fun film, but a dumb film and proof that films entirely about hacking cannot really work.
The Matrix was a wise film. Exploiting that hip, late-90s techno excitement that everyone was buzzing over, it featured a hacker at its centre who really doesn’t do much hacking at all. In fact, Morpheus might as well have said “You Hack? Dude fucking grow up. Come on, i’ll make you a treat”. Sure, you’ve got the iconic green gibberish that turns up on the computers and would inspire a million shitty screensavers, but again the hacking is intercut with other action going on in the film. You have characters typing away and yelling shit like “I’m nearly in!” or “i’m not nearly in!” or “I am unsure of whether I am, in fact, in, nearly in, or not nearly in!”. But that is manageable and minimal, and in the end there’s so much more to remember about The Matrix that I don’t think anyone, when asked what it’s about, would say “Oh it’s about Keanu Reeves hacking on his dell”. It understood this caveat, and created its own style which would influence every single music video ever produced over the next 5 years.
These are screenshots from the video for Don’t Wanna Let You Go by 5ive, a very bad UK Boy-band that had 4 singers and 1 rapper, all of whom it’s safe to assume have passed away.
The Matrix had the style, and the smarts to sidestep bland hacking scenes. You know what film doesn’t understand that hacking is boring? Fucking Swordfish.
FuckingSwordfish. A film so aesthetically ugly and repulsive in every way that it does the unthinkable and makes you hate Hugh Jackman. But it commits the biggest sin of all by giving John Travolta a teeny tiny beard - a decision which we still feel the fallout from today, whenever a new red carpet photo arrises of John’s new chin abomination.
Looking like a cup of concentrated Michael Bay piss, the film leans heavily into stylishness - or lack thereof. Hugh Jackman is basically…sigh…DADE in the movie, and Travolta is regularly outfitted with funny sunglasses. It borrows a lot from Hackers, but while that had a naive, 1995 goofy charm, Swordfish is an aggressively stupid and oblivious movie, that gives us a LOT of Hacking. Like…so much Hacking. The Most Hacking. Oh, The Fucking Hacking. Its a reminder of just how boring Hackers or The Matrix could’ve been if they’d fallen into the wrong hands, and a big, horribly colour-corrected reminder that films about hacking really aren’t the best. Instead of cutaways of cityscapes, Swordfish tries to build the tension during one hacking scene in the grossest way possible: by having Hugh Jackman’s character receive forced fellatio while he works, and while John Travolta smiles. It doesn’t make a boring scene exciting, it makes a boring scene fucking disgusting (the movie’s grossness doesn’t stop there. Halle Berry was heavily pushed into taking her top off in the movie, and promised extra money if she did it.). The Hackers method of randomised cutaways feels a million miles away during these scenes, and you will be willing to pay any earthly sum to make the scene unfolding in front of you stop. Maybe that’s how hackers should make their money from here on in: stop hacking, and just start blackmailing people by forcing them to watch Swordfish. FuckingSwordfish.
The movie was also a bit of a death knell for a subgenre that never really took off. People realised “Oh, this is dull and crap to watch!” when it came to hacking, and technology moved on rapidly that there was a lot more to do with it than watch some guy slapping the keys of his iMac. I find it a really interesting subgenre to look back at, because i’m a huge fan of outdated technologies, fashion styles, turn of the millennium culture, and really quite poor films (besides The Matrix which holds up nicely). Hollywood has tried to make a manner of subjects interesting. Stock markets. Fishing. White people who buy zoos. Some work, some don’t, and it’s all about the way the subject is handled. Because of their reliance on technology, these hacking films feel so dated that maybe Hollywood doesn’t want to risk dipping its toes back into the cyberwaters again. I kind of hope they don’t, because I would literally rather never see a film again than have to even know that a film about Anonymous is being made. I don’t want an ‘edgy’ modern movie that’s made for Banksy to watch while he plunges his hands down his pants and goes to town. I want silly old Cereal Killer and towers ofnonsense computer languagedammit! I want rollerblading, coke-drinking cyberpunks! Oh well. Whatever happens to the genre, at the very least, we’ll always have Dade and The Gang….
Fish babes are pretty weird lookin. Whale and dolphin mers are pretty cute tho.
In this world, there are two different kinds of merfolk, warmblooded and coldblooded. Warmblooded children are live born; beautiful, cute children that learn to swim quickly on their own, and grow even more quickly when nursed, and… over time they mature into equally cute adults.
Cold blooded merfolk, however, have the lucky trait of born looking like complete aliens, and also at an extreme small size (hence why children are called “fingerlings” as many are the size of a single finger). Some are born in great egg broods, others are live birthed, some with yolks still attatched. Cold bloods have been known to reproduce in great numbers in the past, although often not as much in recent centuries, nor at the same rate as their familiar fish cousins. They forego the pitfalls of being overpopulated by having significantly shorter life spans than warmbloods.
Depending on how they are raised, these fish mers will EITHER grow into looking more fishlike, or human. This depends on where the mer lives, their relationships to their self, to others, and religion.
Children living in Pilgi, are usually followers of Coral Gods, trading the gift of fertility to that of a prolonged life span and Dream telepathy. These mers are highly social, will integrate coral organisms into their own biological system through Seeding, in order to create highly intricate social structures and shared thought processes, called the Dream. Many merfolk following this religeon, and following the Seeding, will find their bodies undergoing a shift from their big eyed facade to sea anime, to human-like features.
In contrast, those fish born in Banthi, the deep sea, are often highly independent, and will sometimes be born without every seeing their kin. These mers have to learn to rely on themselves, often from birth (many will be able to feed themselves and be fully capable of basic survival as soon as they are hatched). Many follow the god Wyrm, a religeon of self reliance, of inner strength, fertility, and passion. These merfolk take comfort in their familiars, and they will tend to change over time to look more like them. Some rare few will even shift so far as to become nearly indisginguishable from the fish itself, others might become draconic in nature- and become feral. These kinds of mers are called Naguals, and it is looked down upon, even illegal to make a full shift due to the danger a feral mer-creature presents, they are very uncommon.
Change to either side of a spectrum can happen at any time in a mers life, with some difficulties. Interestingly enough, there is no aesthetic preference among coldbloods, they find both fish-like and human-like features equally attractive, but religious reasons may decide how they pick their mates on appearances.