HACKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE! The battle cry of the poor, misunderstood legions of computer hackers in the 1995 film “Hackers.” With a pounding techno-driven soundtrack and a then cast of unknowns the likes of Angelina Jolie (briefly topless), Jonny Lee Miller and Matthew Lillard, the film managed to find a nice little cult following of sorts amongst computer geeks and film folk alike. In fact, since moviegoers were introduced to the mysterious world of computer hacking with the 1983 film “War Games” there has been some degree of fascination with hacker culture and various stories of some anonymous teenager in Blah-blah, Ohio with a Commodore 64 hacking into the Pentagon or his school or wherever. All of which in some convoluted way, brings us to the matter of “Takedown.”
Shooting was completed on the film version of “Takedown” (known better to net-izens as “Hackers 2: Takedown”) in December 1998. Featuring Skeet Ulrich and Tom Berenger, the film was based on the real-life exploits of uber-hacker Kevin Mitnick who was sentenced in 1995 to 68 months in federal prison for access device, wire, and computer fraud. Under the terms of his probation he is restricted from use of computers, cellular phones and virtually being in the same room as anything with buttons and wires until sometime in 2003. Mitnick managed to elude federal authorities for two years and became a legend amongst his hacker comrades and cyber enemy number one to the FBI. The film was directed by Joe Chappelle (“Phantoms” 1998) and based on the 1996 book by Tsutomu Shimomura and New York Times reporter John Markoff chronicling his pursuit and capture.
Why then has this film never seen the light of day? There seem to be several different reasons depending on who is asked. For one, after a strong backlash from the hacker community (including protests at producers Miramax and Dimension films offices) at what was deemed an unfair portrayal of Mitnick, bootlegged copies of the film became widely available on-line and were freely exchanged in the various IRC channels and file sharing communities on the net. Having never been released in the United States the film is widely available to watch from the comfort of one’s computer to anyone with a modem.
“Emmanuel Goldstein,” (sometimes known as Eric Corley), editor of “2600: the Hacker Quarterly”, wrote a review after obtaining an early draft of the screenplay. “i honestly don’t know how they ever thought they could get away with such blatantly libelous material. one thing is for sure: if this film is made the way the script reads, kevin will be forever demonized in the eyes of the public, and mostly for things that everyone agrees never even happened in the first place.”
The film was then released in France on March 15th, 2000 under the title of “Cybertr@que” yet has never seen any sort of release (theatrical or otherwise) in Mitnick’s home country. Another reported reason for the delay is a supposed defamation of character suit filed by Kevin Mitnick against the producers of the film. Kevin Mitnick was released from Lompoc Prison (which, incidentally is one of the prisons featured in the film “Out of Sight”) on January 21st, 2000 and was reportedly less than pleased by his portrayal in the film.
Yet another lawsuit can be further attributed to the mystery surrounding the film. This one by Jonathan Littman, author of “The Fugitive Game”, another 1996 book about federal pursuit and capture of Mitnick, alleging that aspects of his book were used without his permission. He is seeking unspecified damages.
Then, of course, there is the mouse behind it all. No, not the one connected to your computer but that Mouse that is Miramax parent company Walt Disney. Always one to avoid controversy at any cost, (I present to the jury the railroading of one Kevin Smith and his film “Dogma” and the all too P.C. silencing of the classic “Song of the South” by said Mouse), it is indeed a possibility that is merely an easier out for them to take the loss for the film than it is to see it through with any sort of release.
So what of all this? Well, for the time being at least “Takedown” is being kept under wraps somewhere deep in a vault at Miramax. When I called Dimension Films, the “genre” subsidiary of Miramax (and U.S. distributor of the film) I was told that there is no information on the film at this time and no date proposed for a U.S. release. That said, the various on-line factions who swear allegiance to Mr. Mitnick (think “The Warriors” with computers) have appointed themselves exclusive worldwide distributors of the film to anyone willing to take the time to download it.
Hackers – 1 ^ Disney / Miramax / Dimension – 0
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