Film Review: WarGames (1983)

Also known as: The Genius (working title)
Release Date: May 7th, 1983 (Cannes)
Directed by: John Badham
Written by: Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes
Music by: Arthur B. Rubinstein
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin, Michael Madsen, Maury Chaykin, Eddie Deezen

United Artists, Sherwood Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 114 Minutes


“Which side do you want?” – Joshua, “I’ll be the Russians.” – David Lightman

In preparation for the release of the film version of Ready Player One, I have been reading the novel. WarGames plays a significant role in the story, at least in the book anyway, and reading about it got me all nostalgic and wanting to revisit the film. So I did.

I haven’t seen this in quite awhile but my fondest experience of this film was watching it in computer programming class in middle school. I had seen it before that but I didn’t have the computer knowledge to properly grasp the film when I was really young. Or at least the computer programming experience gave me more of an appreciation for the film, even if it was hokey and unrealistic.

Sure, the movie feels dated but it’s the best kind of dated. It’s chock full of ’80s-ness and backed up by a talented cast. The threat feels legitimate and the suspense and tension still work really well when experienced today. Maybe it’s because we now live in a time where our world leaders threaten each other with nukes over Twitter. The thing is, Cold War fears didn’t just go away with the Cold War itself, they just evolved in different ways and attached themselves to newer boogeymen.

WarGames isn’t what I would call an exceptional film but it tapped into societal fears, similar to Red DawnThe Day After and hell… Rocky IV. It is effective in that regard. It sort of exploits those feelings for its story but it does it in a cool and hip way, presented for teen audiences that were just starting to grasp their modern world, at the time.

It doesn’t just tap into Cold War fears though, it also taps into fears surrounding emerging technologies like home computers and the Internet. While everyone wishes they could hack their school and change their grades like Matthew Broderick in this film and in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, there was real concern over what these technologies could do in the wrong hands. It also looks at the potential negative effects of technological automation, where certain tasks and decisions are taken out of the hands of human beings and given over to computers. It’s possible that this movie had some influence on James Cameron, who was making the first Terminator film at the time of this picture’s release.

This film was a good vehicle to really launch the careers of Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. Both had done a bit of work before this but WarGames quickly cemented them as teen stars, as the ’80s moved towards teen movies and MTV was becoming a household name: changing pop culture forever. There are also small but good roles here for a young Maury Chaykin, character actor Eddie Deezen and eventual ’90s badass Michael Madsen.

The adult cast is rounded out by the great mix of Dabney Coleman, Barry Corbin and John Wood. All brought some good veteran leadership to the film and each was likable in their own distinct way, even if Corbin was a hot headed general that didn’t want to deal with Broderick and his brainy youthful antics.

WarGames is still pretty damn good and I was glad that I fired it up for the first time in several years. If you ever wanted to have a fun double feature, this pairs well with Real Genius.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Real GeniusFerris Bueller’s Day Off

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