Starring Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin, Juanin Clay, Kent Williams, Dennis Lipscomb, Joe Dorsey, Irving Metzman, Eddie Deezen
Directed by John Badham
Expectations: High, this is one of those catch-up films from the 80s.
WarGames is one of those 80s movies I never saw as a kid. I’ve been told I saw it, but it must have been before my brain was laying down permanent pathways for memories to set up shop, as I don’t remember a thing. It turns out all the hype and the general love thrown towards this film is actually warranted as it’s fun, exciting and still damn entertaining even today. It’s not without its faults though, after the first false alarm does no one ask the computer guy to see if it’s another game? This seems like the first question I’d ask, and I can’t imagine that the people in power would be that clueless. (Insert your anti-establishment jokes here.)
I finally watched this film because of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One. That book is a fucking thrill ride of awesome for anyone that grew up in the 70s/80s and WarGames figures into it pretty heavily, so naturally I wanted to watch it after finishing the book. The book actually follows a good number of the plot points of the film, ripping off details both small and large. The nature of the novel makes this dissection and reassembly of pop culture vital to its success, so I can’t complain about it at all without completely ripping the book apart. And I wouldn’t want to do that to what is easily the most enjoyable book I’ve read in the last couple of years.
In any case, I absolutely loved the first half of WarGames when Broderick’s teen hacker is at center-stage, hacking passwords and systematically dialing phone numbers phishing for a data line. When the film’s stakes get raised, it all starts to get a little too hard to believe for me to fully commit to it. As I said above, did everyone forget about the computer until the end? These are issues I never would have had as a kid and it makes me somewhat sad to realize this. I can’t imagine how they’ll make the story plausible enough for modern audiences in the inevitable remake. The film also starts to drag after the halfway mark as the general nature of the conclusion is fairly obvious to careful viewers, so a lot of the tension that should be there just isn’t.
Regardless of any issues, I had a blast watching WarGames and I think it’s a true gem of the 1980s. Despite its Cold War themes and lime-green computer displays, it maintains a level of modernity and relevance to make the film absolutely worth watching. Matthew Broderick pulls off the cocky whiz kid routine to perfection and Barry Corbin plays military honcho better than most could in their dreams. Director John Badham shoots the film with a gorgeous eye for color and balance, with especially great uses of steadicam to evoke the military efficiency of the opening scene. If you’re like me and you somehow avoided catching this one, definitely give it a go.