- Movie Rating -

WarGames (1983)

| June 3, 1983

Very early on in WarGames, I became aware that the people behind this movie have little to no confidence either in computers or in our basic military defense.  Computers can do nearly anything; they can entertain us, they can enlighten us and they can also be used arms nukes that can wipe the entire population off the face of the Earth. 

That, in essence, is the cautionary message of this movie.  With the superpowers shaking sticks at one another, it would be foolish to take our eye off the ball, but to leave such defense in the hands of a computer is foolish and ultimately suicidal.  That’s the set-up here as we meet a kid who puts the world in jeopardy because our military has put our nuclear response in the hands of a computer.

The kid is David (Matthew Broderick), a bright high school student who spends a lot of time up in the vast caverns of his bedroom using his phone line to connect his computer with other computers, even the one at his high school which he uses to change his grades.

David reads about a software company that is designing some interesting new video games and he uses his phone connection to hack into their computer in order to play them.  The problem is that the lines get crossed and suddenly David has unknowingly hacked into the Department of Defense’s new computer that is solely in control of our nuclear defense system.  The function of the DoD’s computer is to act as an early warning system and deterrent in case our enemies decide to start World War III.  Of course, David thinks that he is playing with a computer at the software company and begins playing a game cheerfully titled Global Thermonuclear Warfare.

What is special here is that the movie doesn’t overload itself with computer lingo and techno-speak.  It stays very much at a basic level between the computer stuff and the human element.  That I didn’t expect.  This is a movie that knows very well that nuclear war is a very real threat and that such flawed elements as computer malfunctions could start a war that it would be impossible to stop.

That human level is seen through the characters.  David, of course, represents the future of the world that will be bound by dependence on computers.  Dabney Coleman gives a good performance as a computer expert who believes in the technology.  Barry Corbin is an old school general who believes that men, not machines should be in control of the country’s defense.  And John Wood plays an old professor who comes late into the film to bring the human element back into question.  They are all good in what could have been stock roles.

This is a very tight film about very real issues though it never forgets to be entertaining.  It was directed by John Badham, best known for Saturday Night Fever, Dracula 1979 and Blue Thunder.  He knows how to take otherwise stale material and make it into something exciting and palatable with characters that seem real, and that’s the crucial element to WarGames, a warning that we if we don’t remember the human element that we could be headed for big trouble.  This is one of the best films of the year.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1983) View IMDB Filed in: Drama