Thursday, April 7, 2011

Flick of The Day: WarGames

Ah, the 1980's. Remember them. After the boundary pushing 1970's, it is tempting to view the 1980's as a step back as in many ways it was, something which we have looked at before in our review of Cutter's Way. A lot of the best movies were not being made at big Hollywood studios or if they were, they were being made for a pittance. Hollywood studios were too busy making blockbusters that reflected the political mood of the day, namely right wing action pictures. Thankfully, there are some exceptions such as today's flick of the day, WarGames, a teen movie that perfectly encapsulates the cold war paranoia of the day. Remember of course, that the '80s were also the last decade in which American children lived in fear that the Soviets would nuke them in the night.
Are there two actors more associated with the 1980's then Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy? I think not. In any case, they lead the cast in this tale of a computer whiz kid, David Lightman played by Broderick who while intelligent pays no attention in school and is constantly in and out of the Principal's office. Broderick is full of his usual boyish charm. Lightman befriends fellow slacker Ally Sheedy, and he introduces her to the wonders of early '80s computer hacking. They change their school grades, book flights to Paris and accidentally login to a military computer and almost launch a nuclear attack on the Soviets. Of course, David and Jennifer think its just a strategy game but unbeknownst to them the computer has recently been put in charge of all of the nation's  missile silos. David thinks the game is over when he turns the computer off but the computer, named Joshua is still playing, counting to nuclear war. It is not long before the FBI catch up with David and he is brought to NORAD to explain himself.  David escapes and with the help of Jennifer seeks to track down the brilliant scientist, Dr Stephen Falken who created Joshua. Together they are in a race against time to stop Joshua from starting a nuclear war.
Released in 1983, the technology featured in WarGames has long since been passed by the shifting sands of human endeavour, however it still stands out as a fascinating drama. Director John Badman has created a film that is a cautionary tale of the dangers of nuclear arms proliferation and of over reliance on artificial intelligence. These are issues which are still relevant today. The film is filled with tension and the scenes at NORAD as the clock ticks down to Armageddon are still powerful. The peaceful message at its core is one that anyone can empathise with.
Apart from being a skillfully created thriller, it is also genuinely entertaining. Sheedy and Broderick seem to be having fun on camera. It is telling that John Badman was the second director attached to this film after the original director was fired 12 days into filming for having too dark a vision for the film. Supposedly Badman's first act in taking over was to get the actor's to enjoy themselves and this comes across on screen.

Stephen Falken: Now, children, come on over here. I'm going to tell you a bedtime story. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. Once upon a time, there lived a magnificent race of animals that dominated the world through age after age. They ran, they swam, and they fought and they flew, until suddenly, quite recently, they disappeared. Nature just gave up and started again. We weren't even apes then. We were just these smart little rodents hiding in the rocks. And when we go, nature will start over. With the bees, probably. Nature knows when to give up, David.

It is difficult to get across how controversial the idea that the best way to win a nuclear was not to start at all in the Reagan '80s. Let us not forget this was the decade of The Evil Empire, The Star Wars system and incredibly right wing films like Red Dawn, Invasion U.S.A and Rambo. The communists were always depicted as heartless and evil, killing civilians while they demolish churches on Christmas Eve (Invasion U.S.A). In contrast to the visceral hatred of those mainstream films, WarGames preaches peace above all else and if for nothing else should be praised for this.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable thriller. Ally Sheedy is young and pretty, Broderick is charming. There is a strong supporting cast including the great Dabney Coleman and John Wood. Its entertaining and has a good message at its heart. Well worth a look.

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