Welcome to Unproduced & Unadapted
Hello and welcome to Unproduced & Unadapted! Have you ever watched a movie and thought "I wish that character got more screen time" or maybe "that character's backstory is way more interesting than our hero's" or even "my god they didn't include my favourite character from the book!" Well, you've come to the right place!
We're here to talk about the sequel, prequel, spin-off or adaptation they should have made. We're talking sidekicks tragically overlooked. Villains done wrong. Background characters that stole the show. And characters missing from adaptations. We'll also talk about all those movies that setup the sequel and then we never got them!
This goes without saying given we're talking about movies but just in case: spoilers from the outset for this and every episode!!
On this episode we will be talking about Hackers, the much overlooked mid 90s classic. I think it's a classic anyway! This tragically ignored movie gets a bad wrap from some - probably those who haven't seen it - but it has everything you need: it has a love story, it has wild secondary characters, it has a child genius and an evil bad guy, and has the good guys defeating the bad guys - I did warn you about spoilers.
So, sit back and enjoy my ramblings about the missing Hackers movie.
Ok, let's do a quick rundown of the basics for the movie:
- it was released in 1996
- and Directed by Iain Softley (who previously directed Backbeat, a fairly good movie about the early days of The Beatles, and went on to direct The Skeleton Key, K-PAX and Inkheart, which are all...fine)
- I t was written by Rafael Moreu - who has only written Hackers and a late 90s sequel to Carrie. His IMDb profile says he wrote a draft for Basic Instinct II but it was never used.
- The main cast is: Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie. Jesse Bradford, Matthew Lillard, Laurence Mason and Renoly Santiago. Fisher Stevens, Lorraine Bracco, and Wendell Pierce. And the two we'll be focusing on today: Darren Lee (Razor), Peter Kim (Blade).
- That's a pretty stellar cast! That would be a good cast now!
- the Cinematographer was Andrzej Sekula - who also worked on American Psycho, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs
- so a pretty good credit list there!
- A quick aside - I'm going to throw a lot of names at you on every episode! If you check the episode notes for this and every episode of Unproduced & Unadapted there will always be a link to a full episode transcript and there you'll find links to IMDb profiles and the like for every actor, director, and every film and TV show I mention so you can check them all out and see what you think of my suggestions.
- It had a budget of $20million, but only made $7.5million at the box office.
- A few movies came out at the same time that could have stolen audiences attention, including The Usual Suspects, which I remember being quite big, Se7en, Devil in a Blue Dress, The Bridges of Madison Countyand Screamers. That's quite a lot of competition so I can see why it struggled at the box office.
So, what's Hackers all about. The official plot goes like this:
A young boy is arrested by the U.S. Secret Service for writing a computer virus and is banned from using a computer until his 18th birthday. Years later, he and his new-found friends discover a plot to unleash a dangerous computer virus, but they must use their computer skills to find the evidence while being pursued by the Secret Service and the evil computer genius behind the virus.
That 'evil computer genius' is the movie’s somewhat cartoonish villain, Eugene “The Plague” Belford, played by the excellent Fisher Stevens, who writes a program that embezzles small amounts of money from the company he works for, thus amassing millions of dollars in a secret bank account.
He tries to distract from his crime by framing our young hackers with a computer virus that he has setup to capsize an oil tanker. Interestingly, this "embezzlement-by-increment" plot is the same thing that Richard Pryor’s character does in Superman III.
So, let's get one thing out of the way: I love this movie. I've seen it about a dozen times. I was 10 or 11 when I first watched Hackers. I seem to remember my older sister telling me about it after she had gone to the cinema to see it I think and I was so jealous.
But I knew a few things about the internet and I knew how to download movies - thank you Limewire and Kazaa! - so I got myself a copy of the movie after maybe 48 hours of downloading it on 56 kilobit dial-up internet connection.
After watching it, I became obsessed with the hacker culture it portrayed. I got some rollerblades and I probably wore terrible clothes. I listened to too much Prodigy and got really into technology. All of those things have kinda stuck with me. Well, maybe not the rollerblades. Sadly.
Ok, back to the movie.
At the time - 1995 - this movie had a virtually unknown cast. This was both Angelina Jolie and Johnny Lee Miller’s first major film. He had done all the classic British TV shows and she had mostly done music videos. Fisher Stevens was probably the most well known (Short Circuit). And of course Lorraine Bracco had done Goodfellas a few years earlier.
The part of Kate "Acid Burn" Libby was originally offered to Katherine Heigl, but due to prior commitments to Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, the awful 1995 sequel to the not terrible original Under Siege, she had to turn Hackers down. I feel that was a mistake on her part but who knows. Hilary Swank, Heather Graham, and Liv Tyler also auditioned.
We're here to talk about the underground talk show personalities in Hackers: Razor (played by Darren Lee) and Blade (played by Peter Kim).
This flamboyant duo who run an unlicensed hacker-TV show, advertise Jolt Cola, and live at the back of a nightclub are only in a few scenes but they stuck with me. Not least because they're the ones who ultimately help save the day by uniting hackers from around the world, but because this make-up wearing larger-than-life pair are clearly at the top of the hacker game. As the other characters say, 'they're elite'.
So, how did they become elite? There's a story there, there's a missing movie there.
Razor and Blade are played by Darren Lee and Peter Kim, the latter having more acting credits than the former and having minor roles in shows like Sex and the City, Chicago Med, Law & Order. After Hackers Lee started doing Broadway work, staring in the movie and Broadway versions of Chicago and a whole host of other productions. Kim has been working steadily since Hackers, which looks like it was his first official acting credit, and you've probably seen him in something.
We don't get a lot of Razor and Blade in the movie. I think they only have a few minutes of screen time. And most of that is dominated by their looks: the Geisha-style makeup, the leopard print suits and whatnot, but still they are pivotal to the movie. As with pretty much all the characters we'll discuss on The Missing Movie podcast, we get just a little bit of info on the characters and we end up with more questions than answers.
We want to know more. We don't even know their real names. How did Razor and Blade become elite? Is the makeup just a choice or a way to look cool or is it a way to hide their identities? They seem to be quite professional hackers, with a wide network and extensive resources. So how did they get to that level?
Razor and Blade seem to inhabit this cyberpunk Club Kid style world where it's perfectly acceptable to wear what you want and just be you. That's kind of a theme running throughout the movie: just be you, and come together to do good. I love that.
On reflection, the movie was far more progressive than I would have expected for a mid-90s film. Characters seem fairly fluid. Both our main stars have gender swapped dreams, for example. Yes, Angelina Jolie is Jonny Lee Miller's love interest, so not that progressive, but she is without doubt skilled and knows her shit. She was the female hacker before Lisbeth Salender.
The club Razor and Blade seem to live in is a bit more 90s grunge than the clubs in The Matrix, which were definitely more leather and BDSM, but it's the same kind of feeling and I would be shocked if the Wachowskis hadn't seen this movie!
The costumes in this movie are ridiculous. I remember thinking they were crazy, but crazy cool at the time, and, honestly, I could see people wearing them today. The main characters look like they've fallen into an Urban Outfitters and just grabbed a random selection of items. But it works.
Dade - Jonny Lee Miller - wears a pair of black jeans, massive Doc Martins and then a little cut-off-above-the-belly-button red t-shirt and nylon thigh strap thing one day to go to school. It's crazy.
Kate - Angelina Jolie - is definitely the coolest. She rocks a pixie cut hairstyle, a giant ring, and biker gear. At one point I think she's wearing a wetsuit tucked into some jeans. It's bonkers. There are hints of fetish gear and crossdressing many of the costumes, which is kinda cool and, again, quite progressive given the time this movie was made.
Having said all that, the aesthetics of the entire movie are fairly grounded given the time and the setting. Yes it's neon and every set is packed to the rafters with stuff - every surface has a poster or a street sign attached to it, but it does all look right. It's all a bit 90s rave culture and that fits with the soundtrack - more on that later! It's kind of a mash-up of every cultural reference at the time: rave, grunge, techno, console wars.
This is particularly evident at Cyberdelia, the the hacker sanctum in New York. This hacker hangout is full of things that teenagers probably would have had in their bedrooms at the time and the place just works and feels like where the cool kids would hang out. Fun fact, Cyberdelia was actually filmed in an old swimming pool in a town just outside London.
And that is actually quite interesting because in this world: the computer nerds are cool. Yes they're outsiders, but they're still seen as cool. They're confident in their abilities. I think this movie did a lot for making computer nerds seem cooler than they are and probably helped define what it is to be a 'hacker', even today.
Also, just to go back to Cyberdelia, I always wanted that giant Wipeout game they play! Man, I really want that!
So we have to talk about rollerblading. You can't talk about Hackers and not talk about rollerblading. I'm pretty sure there's more rollerblading in this movie than any other movie. Well, maybe not The Mighty Ducks or Rollerball - that ridiculous John McTiernan remake with LL Cool J. Anyway, there's a lot of rollerblading in this movie and I love it!
The hacking scenes in this movie are still great. They may not be technically accurate - hardly any such scenes in movies are - but I love the look they went for. Instead of just screens of green code on black, which admittedly we do get now and then, we get hyper stylised and animated scenes which I think are great.
They also take 'hacking into a computer' quite literal and we see inside the computer network. The camera flies through what looks like a futuristic cityscape where the ground is a microchip and the buildings are computer files. There are neon lights zooming around as - I guess - data zips around. It's all quite cool and I think still stands up today and definitely inspired a lot of other movies and TV shows that followed. Blackhat, the slightly disappointing 2015 Michael Mann film staring Thor, does a similar thing but it's more muted, more subtle. I think Mann went for total realism and it came off as quite dull and weirdly grey and the VFX don't really hold up. They have that plasticy look.
Interestingly, to create the visuals of cyberspace, Softley, the director, didn’t opt to use CGI, which was quite primitive at the time, and instead went old-school. They created miniatures and models and used traditional optical animation. They used motion-controlled cameras to create the flying motion and it really works. I think this was an excellent decision. Given the state of CGI at the time and this movies budget, I think if they'd used CGI for these scenes it would have dated horribly - I'm looking at you Lawnmower Man!
Also, I'm pretty sure God, Sex, Love, and Secret were never commonly-used passwords. I bloody hope not! I know we're all forced to use 28 character passwords with special characters and fingerprints and the like, but sex wasn't a valid password, was it!?
I briefly mentioned this earlier but the soundtrack for this movie is great! I still listen to it to this day! You have “Voodoo People” from Prodigy, “Open Up” by Leftfield and “Heaven Knows" by Squeeze - which plays the movie out. It's all great. I thoroughly recommend you check it out on Spotify or elsewhere. There are actually 3 volumes of the soundtrack and a special 25th anniversary edition came out in 2020.
How this movie wasn't a bigger hit at the time astounds me. Reflecting on it now, it really does feel like it represented the mid-90s quite well.
Potential sequel, prequel or spin-off ideas
OK, on to our potential sequel, prequel or spin-off ideas. What would we like to see, who would we recast, who do we want to direct and write, and are we talking about a movie, TV show, comic or anime?
So I appreciate this is not going to get made now. But what I wanted when I first watched this movie and what I wish existed is a spin-off movie. Something focused on Razor and Blade that shows us more of their world.
Are they regular Joes during the day, then on a night the makeup goes on and they party and hold hacker events? Part of me likes that idea. We see them living this double life: they're the 'IT guys' in a bank or something. Wearing boring suits and going to meetings and resetting passwords. But on a night they get together and rule the cyber world.
Or maybe that's how it started out. Maybe they did that for a while and then eventually hacking (and Jolt Cola sponsorship) paid well enough for them to go full-time.
I'm picturing something like The Matrix, where Thomas Anderson (Keanu) is at work and it's clearly very dull and he isn't maximising his potential. Then he goes home and becomes Neo. He becomes the elite hacker.
Maybe we throw in a bit of The Net, the more successful hacker movie that came out in 95/96. In that we have Sandra Bullock playing Angela who is a Computer Analyst who gets caught up in a big Washington DC conspiracy. She's not living two lives, but her skills get her in trouble and then her elite hacker skills get her out.
We could get into the realm of Swordfish, the 2001 Hugh Jackman and John Travolta hacker movie, but that I feel is too far. I don't picture action, I picture something more grounded. Maybe something more like Mr Robot or maybeHalt and Catch Fire.
I say grounded like Mr Robot but that show became very complex and involved global conspiracies and the like, but its style and the actions of Rami Malek’s Elliot Alderson always felt realistic.
And Halt and Catch Fire is tech-related but is far from Hackers in style and tone, it's just I can see a Razor and Blade-focused spin-off movie, or maybe TV show, having that tone if it were made in our current streaming age. It would likely be a lot more toned down in style so that our main characters really stand out and shine when they turn into their alter egos. That assumes Razor and Blade are their alter egos. Perhaps that's not how they see themselves. Like Halt and Catch Fire, I could see a Razor and Blade TV show really focusing on the characters and their relationships.
Maybe we take elements from all the above. The character working the dead end job. They stumble upon something they shouldn't. That feels a little prosaic though. It's been done a number of times.
Sneakers, a hacker-related movie which came out a few years before Hackers and stars Robert Redford and Sidney Poitier features a fair bit of hacking but it focuses heavily on social engineering and penetration testing, which we see a bit of in Hackers. Maybe this is what our Razor and Blade spin-off focuses on. We see our duo adapting and blending in to gain access to offices to obtain info for their hacks. I think that could be really interesting. We've seen touches of that in Mr Robot but I would happily watch more.
We know very little about Razor and Blade so this is just my version of their history for our proposed spin-off.
Let's say the two have grown up together in New York. From a young age they've been obsessed with computers. They have natural rebellious sides and used their computer skills to better their lives through school and college: changing grades, selling access to tests. Maybe they get caught and get chucked out of college. And that's how they end up in dead end IT jobs? The the only jobs they can get.
Our duo spend their days in offices doing IT work way below their skill level but it's simply to pay the bills and to support their secondary hacker lives.
Perhaps the makeup and the dramatic style is to cover up their identities and help separate their work and hacker lives.
But what turns them into the Razor and Blade that we know from Hackers? I think the two would eventually end up spending more time in their hacker lives than their corporate lives. Maybe it gets harder to separate the two. Like in Fight Club, where the Narrator (Edward Norton) gets into problems at work because of his extracurricular activities. But, you know with far less violence!
New Cast and Crew
So who would we cast? Well, obviously, if this was made back in the 90s then I’d cast Lee and Kim again. But if we were making this spin-off now I think I’d cast Charles Melton, or Reggie from Riverdale and few episodes of American Horror Story, and Manny Jacinto who played Jason in The Good Place and more recently was in Nine Perfect Strangers, I Want You Back and the Top Gun sequel.
I think they'd both be great. Manny Jacinto may be mostly known for being the goofy idiot in The Good Place but the guy can definitely do drama. I think they'd both be great in these roles. Plus, I think they'd look great in the Razor and Blade makeup and animal print outfits!
Or maybe we go for Harry Shum Jr (from Glee and The Mortal Instruments TV show) and Henry Golding (from Snake Eyes and Last Christmas). Simu Liu (from Shang Chi) could be a bit fun, but not really. And he’s too old for the role now but I love Daniel Dae Kim (from Lost, and Hawaii Five O) I think he would've been great.
Would we recast anyone else? What about Fisher Stevens' character, Eugene “The Plague” Belford? Maybe Razor and Blade have a few run ins with him as the three are becoming the elite hackers we know? Maybe he becomes the series big bad and that is why Razor and Blade unite hackers from around the world in the movie: they have history with The Plague and they want to get rid of him once and for all.
Who could be our younger Eugene Belford? My first thought was Ben Whishaw, probably because of his role as Q in the recent Bond movies. He has the right hair but I think he's too British. I am picturing the character as more nerdy than cool at this stage though. He's not quite become the character we know as The plague but as the character develops we see hints of him becoming the more of the self-centred, selfish, over the top, money focused hacker we know.
Caleb Landry Jones could be good. He does crazy, disheveled looking quite well. Not exactly the look I'm thinking of though. Elliot Fletcher from the short lived Y: The Last Man and the US version of Shameless I think could be good. With the longer hair...yeah...yeah...I think we have our young Fisher Stevens with Elliot Fletcher!
Writing and Directing
On the directing and writing side I think it’s a no brainer to say Sam Esmail, the creator/writer/director of Mr Robot. But I’m also a massive fan of Alex Garland. He wrote and directed Annihilation, Devs, Ex Machina, and wrote Dredd, 28 Days Later, and The Beach.
Actually, I don't know if Alex Garland is right for what I'm picturing. His work is quite...cerebral. Often dark and haunting and always mysterious. But they're always well written and almost hypnotic to watch so I'm sure it would end up being a wonderful movie or TV show if he made it but just not what I have in mind.
The Safdie brothers, who made Good Time with Robert Pattinson also known as RoBatBattinBat, and Uncut Gems with Adam Sadler which I loved. It's so intense. In fact both movies are non-stop. It would have quite a different feel from what we've pitched so far, but it really could be great fun!
This is actually quite hard.
Duncan Jones directed Source Code, Mute and Moon. I really like all three of those. They all have a techno vibe to them. I'm a big fan of his so would definitely watch it, but I don't know if that's the vibe I'm thinking of for this.
Hmmmm. I think we're getting away from what I really want. We're getting too action-y here. I think I want more grounded.
Actually, I realise I've been pitching a Razor and Blade spin-off movie, but then referencing TV shows like Mr Robot and Halt and Catch Fire a lot and I think that is the aesthetic and world I want for this spin-off. So what about a TV show?
A TV show would allow us to see the duo slowly develop in to the Razor and Blade we know: perhaps from humble IT guys just trying to get by and doing small-scale hacks on nights, to the elite hackers and style icons in this Hackers universe. I think a TV show would be a great idea and give us a good amount of time to explore these characters and this world. And I'd still stick with Charles Melton and Manny Jacinto.
This is a bit left field, compared to big names like Sam Esmail, Alex Garland, but I've been watching Strike, or CB Strike if you're in the US. The show follows Cormoran Strike, a war vet turned private detective who solves brutal murders in London.
The show is based on the novels by Robert Galbraith, actually J.K. Rowling, but the is written by Tom Edge who has written episodes of The Crown, Lovesick, Vigil, and You Don't Know Me. And most episodes have been directed by Susan Tully. She has been involved in pretty much every classic British show: Line of Duty, Silent Witness, Eastenders, The Bill and was even in Grange Hill when she was a kid.
Or maybe Breck Eisner. He has directed a bunch of episodes of The Expanse and although that's sci-fi, the techno thriller feel is there. Plus he directed The Crazies, a great little zombie movie staring Timothy Olyphant, and Sahara based on the Clive Cussler books which we may have to do an episode on.
But what if we wanted to go a slightly different route? We don't want to remake Mr Robot and Halt and Catch Fire and the style of Hackers demands colour and bright modern graphics and crazy over-the-top characters. Yes I picture the show starting with a kind of grey tone as our duo work the dead end IT jobs but I think that develop into a brighter more colourful spectrum as Razor and Blade progressively become the characters we know: more makeup and crazy outfits, we watch them becoming bolder and more flamboyant, and, of course, becoming elite.
What about Bryan Fuller? He has written and created some great TV shows and they're such a mix: Pushing Daisies, Heroes, Hannibal, American Gods and various Star Trek show, most recently Star Trek: Discovery. I really think his mix of fantastical, stylistic, bold and often beautiful would work for a Razor and Blade TV show.
We could go a slight surrealist way, lean more towards Mr Robot in terms of Hacker realism but throw in shades of craziness and whim and colour like in Pushing Daises. That sounds bonkers as I say it, but, it would be like nothing else on TV and would be an excellent challenge that could really pay off.
Finally, this is just a slight add-on but I've become quite a big comic book fan and I think this Razor and Blade/Hackers world would make a great comic book. I know most people think of comic books and think of super heroes, but there are so many more comics out there focusing on real people in realistic worlds. Obviously there's almost always a fantastical element injected into the storyline to be the hook, be it a character actually being a murderer or a god or something, but that's not always the case.
For example, Stumptown by Greg Rucka focuses on a PI in Portland, Getting It Together by Sina Grace, Omar Spah and Jenny Fine focuses on a group of 20-somethings having relationship issues. And Monolith by Roberto Recchioni is about a woman trying to get some time away from her smothering husband and getting into some major problems thanks to his fancy new car that she borrowed.
The right writer and artist and I think we could get ourselves an excellent Razor and Blade spin-off comic series. Get a Donny Cates or a Tom King or a James Tynion to write, and Greg Smallwood or Fiona Staples or Tula Lotay to do the artwork and we've got gold! I'd love that! Something that runs in parallel with the TV show but expands the world and maybe gives us more side-characters.
OK, I think that is it for this episode. I think we've done quite well and pitched a Razor and Blade spin-off idea that really could be a movie or TV show, though I'm now leaning towards a TV show now, staring Charles Melton and Manny Jacinto and maybe written by Bryan Fuller and directed by Susan Tully and/or Breck Eisner. We've also maybe hit upon a comic book that could expand this Hackers world a bit. There's a lot to explore so let's do it!
I hope you've enjoyed this episode of Unproduced & Unadapted and that it's got you thinking about all those potential sequels, prequels and spin-offs.
Our next episode will focus on The Marauders from Harry Potter. Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs who created the Marauder's Map, were in the original Order of the Phoenix, and generally played very important parts within the Harry Potter world.
After that I have quite a few episodes lined up so hit subscribe and join me for episodes on: Cabin in the Woods, Hunger Games, Jurassic Park, Tremors, The Fifth Element, Underworld, Speed and The Little Mermaid. We'll have Halloween specials, Christmas specials, comic book specials and many many more. There'll be something for everyone!
In fact, there'll be a teaser for upcoming episodes on Twitter soon so look out for that.
So, if you like the sound of all that, hit subscribe and join me for future episodes.
If you have any suggestions for future episodes send them my way on Twitter at @UnprdcedUnadptd or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for listening and I’ll see you on the next episode!