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John Badham
Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin, Juanin Clay, Kent Williams, Dennis Lipscomb, Joe Dorsey
Writing Credits:
Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes

Is it a game, or is it real?

A young computer whizz kid accidentally connects into a top secret super-computer which has complete control over the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It challenges him to a game between America and Russia and he innocently starts the countdown to World War 3. Can he convince the computer he wanted to play a game and not the real thing?

Box Office:
$12 million.
Opening Weekend
$6.227 million on 843 screens.
Domestic Gross
$79.568 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Surround 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 4/22/1998

• Audio Commentary with Director John Badham and Screenwriters Leonard Lasker and Walter Parkes
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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War Games (1983)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 28, 2008)

Oh, nostalgia! How much fun is it to look back on the early 1980s and recall all our fears of nuclear holocaust? Not much, I suppose, which is what tempted me to check out 1983’s WarGames again. I can’t recall if I’d seen this Reagan-era effort since it ran theatrically, so I figured its 25th anniversary was as good a time as any to see if it still maintained any charms.

The film introduces us to the nuclear missile command at NORAD buried deep in the Cheyenne Mountains. Drills reveal that 22 percent of the men entrusted to launch the missiles in a time of crisis fail to do so, which leads program administrator John McKittrick (Dabney Coleman) to encourage a change. He wants to place the process under computer control to remove the human factor entirely. Thus the WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) gets responsibility to handle the American nuclear missile functions.

From there we head to Seattle to meet David Lightman (Matthew Broderick), a teenage computer expert. When he attempts to hack into a game company, he instead ends up connected to WOPR. David stumbles across a few games and decides to play “Global Thermonuclear War”. Unbeknownst to David, this sets the missile defense system into action, as the authorities believe a Soviet attack is imminent.

David quits the game before anything happens, but this unsettles the military. They take David into custody so they can deal with the issue. One problem remains, though: WOPR still wants to play the game.

As I went into WarGames, I expected something totally dated. The story’s placement during the US/Soviet Cold War meant it likely would come across as a Reagan-era relic, a piece stuck in its own period in a manner that renders it quaint to 21st century eyes.

Yes, parts of WarGames show their age, but not nearly as many as I expected. The technology provides the flick’s most dated elements. Its “supercomputer” looks woefully inadequate compared to modern systems, and other high-tech components can seem goofy to us these days.

Though I figured the dated technology would create a serious impediment here, in fact that side of things barely impacted on my enjoyment of the film. WarGames uses the computer elements as a story concept, but it doesn’t rely on them to dazzle us. Sure, the tech looks primitive to our eyes, but the basic premise remains valid, so the cheap graphics and whatnot don’t impair the story.

Indeed, I think the idea behind WarGames is still as believable – and scary – as ever. If anything, the premise seems more ominous now since the world contains more people with the access to cause havoc as well as more folks who want to set off nuclear Armageddon. While the setting and tech of the flick are dated, the premise still terrifies.

WarGames benefits from a good cast and generally solid performances. The film essentially launched Broderick’s career, and one can see why, since he provides a fine turn as our lead character. He feels like a real teen, not a mini-adult, and both he and Sheedy seem eminently believable as high school students. Coleman seems a little wrong as a computer expert; he just doesn’t convey the right feel for that kind of part. However, the role usually uses him as a gruff, smarmy presence, and he’s just fine in that way.

All that and Eddie Deezen, too! Most of the characters remain rather one-dimensional, and they don’t always behave in realistic ways, but the actors help compensate for script problems. This is a good cast, and the performers embellish their roles well.

In terms of flaws, I must admit I think the score falters at times, especially during the film’s first half. It boasts an oddly peppy and jovial tone during scenes that should’ve been tense. Perhaps the filmmakers decided to keep the early sequences light so later segment would become more dramatic, but it strikes me as a bad choice. The lighthearted music undercuts otherwise tense scenes.

The movie’s simplistic moralizing also makes it droop at the end, but even with these various concerns, I still like WarGames. The movie offers an interesting premise and creates a generally involving tale. As dated as it can be, it continues to work.

The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio B+/ Bonus C+

WarGames appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has NOT been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A relic of the laserdisc age, the transfer was consistently lackluster.

Actually, sharpness wasn’t bad, and that side of things acted as a relative strength. “Relative” was the key concept, though, as definition faltered on occasion. Parts of the movie showed good delineation, but others became somewhat fuzzy. Despite the lack of anamorphic enhancement, shimmering and jagged edges caused no distractions, and edge enhancement was minimal. However, source flaws were an issue. I noticed sporadic instances of specks, blotches, nicks and marks throughout this less than pristine print.

Colors tended to be lackluster. Skin tones were usually ruddy, and the other hues were somewhat flat and bland. Blacks also seemed inky, while shadows seemed a bit thick and murky. All in all, this was a generally unappealing transfer, though not a terrible one.

On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of WarGames was quite satisfying. The soundfield opened up in a surprisingly active manner, given the movie’s age. Though the flick didn’t boast a plethora of involving action scenes, it used the spectrum in a positive manner. Music boasted fine stereo delineation, and effects were accurately localized. The various elements meshed together well and created a good sense of place.

Surround usage wasn’t stellar, but that side of things added to the proceedings. The back speakers contributed a nice level of environmental support, particularly in settings like NORAD; the various machines and other activities swarmed around us in a convincing manner. The music also received light reinforcement from the surrounds.

Audio quality seemed pretty positive as well. Speech was the weakest link, as some lines were a bit rough. Nonetheless, the dialogue usually sounded acceptably natural, and the material always remained intelligible. Effects appeared acceptably life-like, and music showed nice range and clarity. Bass response was surprisingly good, as the movie boasted solid low-end. Overall, this was a very effective track for a 25-year-old flick.

In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, the DVD features an audio commentary. We hear from director John Badham, and screenwriters Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. Recorded back in 1998, they discuss sets and locations, cast, characters and performances, effects, the script and rewrites, research, facts and various liberties, stunts, and a few other production elements.

Across the board, the participants make this a good commentary. They cover all the appropriate bases and do so in a lively and entertaining manner. The track examines the film well.

One might expect a silly, quaint period piece from 1983’s WarGames, but I think it usually manages to transcend its age. With a clever premise and some nice performances, the movie holds up well. The DVD suffers from weak picture quality, but it boasts very good audio along with a useful audio commentary. I like the film, but the picture quality makes it a lackluster release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 12
3 3:
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