Computer Nerds As Superheroes: Sneakers at 25 | The House Next Door

Phil Alden Robinson’s Sneakers is a comic-book movie where the superpowers employed are mental, not physical. Its plot and structure will be familiar to anyone who’s spent any time in the Marvel or DC Universes: A group of uniquely skilled folks from different backgrounds join forces to combat a more powerful, ominous enemy. There’s an overlong yet enjoyable climactic battle where each hero gets a moment to shine; the bad guys aren’t so much defeated as they’re temporarily contained; and the film’s ending hints that the heroes will continue to fight for their brand of justice. Sneakers even has Robert Redford, whom today’s youngsters will recognize from his work in the best of the Marvel movies, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

It’s a surprise to discover a cerebral, 25-year-old film following the blueprint for today’s endless glut of superhero movies. It certainly operates on this level for the masses. But for those of us who’ve been in information technology as long as this film’s been in circulation, Sneakers also offers the chance to geek out on the ghosts of technologies past. The heroes must rely on PCs that are about as powerful as the nine button on a Samsung Galaxy’s keypad. They stare at VGA monitors with crude graphics denoting power grids, air-traffic-control radar, and bank transaction systems. And the most powerful force in this universe is a bulky box that looks suspiciously like a 1980s-era answering machine. This has a quaint, even nonsensical bent in 2017. But in 1992, this played as top-of-the-line techie catnip, especially considering that Sneakers is one of the rare films that has some computer-based proficiency.

That knowledge is courtesy of screenwriters Robinson, Lawrence Lasker, and Walter F. Parkes. Parkes and Lasker, as in their screenplay for 1983’s Wargames, are interested in pushing a brand of technological advancement as cautionary tale, crafting another plot that deals with software that’s too powerful for…

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