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'Doing things that are not real'

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Nearly six years after it was filmed, Hollywood's trouble-plagued movie version of the hunt for hacker Kevin Mitnick is headed for video stores in the US

Originally titled Takedown, then Cybertraque, the film is set for a September 28th U.S. release on DVD with the new title, Track Down.

The movie is from Miramax's horror and sci-fi label Dimension Films, and is based on the book Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw - By The Man Who Did It, authored by computer scientist Tsutomu Shimomura and New York Times reporter John Markoff.

Shimomura electronically tracked Mitnick to his Raleigh, North Carolina hideout in February, 1995, and sold the book and movie rights for an undisclosed sum amidst the storm of publicity following the fugitive hacker's arrest.

Early versions of the screenplay for the movie adaptation of Takedown cast Mitnick - played by Scream star Skeet Ulrich - as violent and potentially homicidal. In July, 1998, supporters of the then-imprisoned cyberpunk rallied against the film outside Miramax's New York City offices. Writers later revised the script, and shooting wrapped on the project in December, 1998.

The film then languished without a US release date amid rumors of poor test screenings and a re-shot ending. Perhaps hoping to recoup some of their losses, Miramax finally released the movie to French theatres in March, 2000, as Cybertraque. It was generally panned by critics: a reviewer for the newspaper Le Monde noted the film's problems in translating a virtual manhunt to the action-adventure genre. "Can the repeated image of faces sweating over keyboards renew the principles of the Hollywood thriller?," the paper asked. "It's easy to say that the filmmaker hardly reaches that point, regardless of his saturation of the soundtrack with rock music to defeat the boredom of the viewer."

Cybertraque was later released in Europe on DVD with French subtitles, and enjoyed some underground circulation on peer-to-peer networks, often misidentified as the sequel to the 1995 film Hackers.

The real-life Mitnick cracked computers at cellphone companies, universities and ISPs. He pleaded guilty in March, 1999, to seven felonies, and was released from prison on 21 January, 2000, after nearly five years in custody.

Now a security consultant and author, the ex-hacker says he's not happy to see the movie come to America. "I didn't expect the film would ever be released to the US, so this is kind of shock to me," he says. "I'm kind of disappointed because the film depicts me doing things that are not real."

The fictionalized plot of Track Down centers around Shimomura's efforts to capture Mitnick before the hacker can access a terrifying computer program capable of causing blackouts, disabling hospital equipment and scrambling air traffic control systems. Hollywood's Mitnick character is portrayed somewhat sympathetically, but is prone to random outbursts of rage, and suffers a creepy penchant for electronic eavesdropping and a lurking hatred of women.

"You wouldn't believe the amount of emails I get from all around the world saying, 'I saw this movie about you, it's great, you're my hero, it was a fantastic movie,'" says Mitnick. "I'm thinking, these guys are a little bit off... It's not an interesting film. I think it was done pretty poorly."

Copyright © 2004, SecurityFocus logo

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