Had to make an account just to comment on this movie and the podcast.
So, my bona fides - I’ve got a Ph.D in computer science, did some “hacking” as a youth, and while I’m not a security professional, I have training in the field and have friends who run in those circles.
First off, I want to say that computing professionals use the term “hack” for all kinds of things, almost never in reference to breaking into remote systems. I can be hacking at code all day long, making short term fixes that are referred to as hacks, on a machine that was hacked together from parts no one was using at the time.
That said, I’m impressed at the level of accuracy in the thread so far. Yes, the hacking world has roots that go all the way back to Captain Crunch, whose whistle techniques got you free long distance calls so you could connect to computers all over the world via dialup. Yes, those infrastructure manuals were indeed passed around back in the day. Yes, ridiculously young people have been arrested for intrusion and security circumvention. According to Kevin Mitnick, the government claimed he could launch nukes by whistling into a touch-tone pay phone, so being sentenced to not using them isn’t too ridiculous. People did use passwords that bad, and trying common passwords was a legitimate way to try to get access to an account. The whole samurai, keyboard-cowboy ideology was a thing, kinda, mostly due to a chicken-and-egg feedback loop between actual hackers and books like Neuromancer and Snow Crash. The VR goggles were indeed a thing, just not a very well made thing. 2600 was a big deal, hackers still have conventions, and hacking collectives definitely still exist.
A lot of what’s going on fashion-wise and character-wise is a caricature of things that did exist in the 90s tech/alternative scene. Chain-smoking at the keyboard? Check. Gender bending fashion? Check. Personalized start-up screens? Check; for some folks, this was their first foray into hacking, since you could do it on your own computer. Dial up the ridiculousness of what was actually going on to eleven, and you get the characters in this movie. Except for the rollerblading - I don’t know anyone who could have listed both “hacking” and “rollerblading” as interests.
As for hacking feeling like flying through buildings made of code? Eh, it never felt like that to me, but I heard someone give a talk once that made that exact comparison, so there’s at least one person outside the filmmakers who feel that way. Whatevs. To me, it felt a whole lot more like mining.
With all that said, here’s where the movie fails for me: even with all of this background that they got right, and all the real-world resources to pull from, the movie fails to make any of it seem real. You can’t just line up a series of true things about hacking, smoosh lingo-laden dialogue between them, then wrap the whole thing around a spy-vs-spy story, and expect the result to make its own verisimilitude like that dog food that makes its own gravy. Bits like the De Niro-mirror-disk thing, the limo skateboarding, the weird camera work, the over-the-top cyperpunk art direction... It all just makes the movie seem like it’s set in a parallel fantasy world that repeatedly slams into the real world, knocking off pieces of believability every time.