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MOVIE INFO

Director:
John Badham
Cast:
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

Tagline:
Is it a game, or is it real?

Synopsis:
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:
Budget
$12 million.
Opening Weekend
$6.227 million on 843 screens.
Domestic Gross
$79.568 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Monaural
Spanish Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 7/29/2008

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director John Badham and Screenwriters Leonard Lasker and Walter Parkes
• “Loading WarGames” Documentary
• “Attack of the Hackers” Featurette
• “Inside NORAD: Cold War Fortress” Featurette
• “Tic Tac Toe: A True Story” Featurette
• Interactive Superpower Weapons Briefing Gallery
• Sneak Peek at WarGames: The Dead Code
• Trailer


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EQUIPMENT
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.

RELATED REVIEWS


War Games: 25th Anniversary Edition (1983)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 8, 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 WarGame 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 B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

WarGames appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the flick occasionally showed its age, I thought it looked pretty good.

Sharpness was positive. Only a sliver of softness ever affected the film, as the majority of the movie was concise and accurate. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed no edge enhancement. As for source flaws, a handful of small specks appeared, but that was it. The vast majority of the movie seemed clean and fresh.

Many Eighties movies suffer from drab colors, and that tendency occurred here. Tones could be a bit flat at times, though they usually showed reasonably good clarity. This wasn’t a dynamic set of hues, but they seemed acceptable. Blacks were fairly dark, and shadows showed good clarity. Given the limitations of early Eighties film stocks, I thought the transfer replicated the movie well.

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.

How did the picture and audio of this “25th Anniversary Edition” compare to those of the original 1998 release? Both offered what appeared to be virtually identical soundtracks, but the new transfer offered a definite step up in quality. The old non-anamorphic presentation looked dirty and bland. The 16X9 presentation came across as substantially improved.

The 2008 disc provides the extras from the 1998 release along with some new ones. The repeated components come from the film’s theatrical trailer and 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.

From there we head to new supplements. A documentary called Loading WarGames runs 45 minutes as it mixes movie clips, archival elements, and interviews. We hear from Parkes, Lasker, Badham, executive producer Leonard Goldberg, screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz, cinematographer William A. Fraker, visual effects supervisor Michael Fink, Aintitcool.com’s Harry Knowles, visual consultant Geoffrey Kirkland, editor Tom Rolf, composer Arthur B. Rubinstein, critic/film scholar FX Feeney, Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman, and actors Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, and Barry Corbin.

“Loading” looks at the story’s origins and the development of its story and script, finding a studio and a director, cast, characters and performances, rewrites, a change in director, and reshoots, visual design, sets and effects, editing and music, and the movie’s release and legacy.

After such a good commentary, I wasn’t sure how much remained left to say in the documentary. Happily, “Loading” adds plenty of good notes. We get a nice array of subjects and participants here, and they provide many interesting details and stories. There’s a lot to like about this enjoyable and informative program.

Next we locate three featurettes. Attack of the Hackers lasts 13 minutes, 42 seconds as it provides notes from former National Coordinator for Security and Counter-Terrorism Richard A. Clarke, Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak, Popular Mechanics technology editor Glenn Derene, technology author Dan Verton, and hackers John T. Draper and Loyd Blankenship. The show talks about the origins of hacking and aspects of that culture, its status in the early Eighties, and current concerns. While “Attack” provides a basic overview of hacking, it nonetheless includes some interesting material, so it’s worth a look.

Inside NORAD: Cold War Fortress goes for 10 minutes, 50 seconds and features Clarke, Fink, Feeney, Mankiewicz, Parkes, Broderick, Goldberg, Derene, and NORAD’s Lt. Col. Tony Crews, Gen. Gene Renuart, Col. Tom Muir, Col. Andre Dupuis and Col. David Freaney. “Fortress” provides info about the Cold War and the atmosphere in the early Eighties, the NORAD facility and its operation. As with the last featurette, this one runs through its subjects too briskly to be terribly thorough. Still, it includes some good facts and provides another good summary.

For the final featurette, we find the four-minute and 28-second Tic Tac Toe: A True Story. It gives us some facts about the game. I don’t care for the campy feel to the piece, as it makes us question the veracity of the material. If the info’s accurate, though, it throws out a few interesting details about Tic Tac Toe.

After this we get an Interactive Superpower Weapons Briefing Gallery. Here we can examine facts about 14 pieces of US weaponry and 15 Soviet components. The information remains basic, but we learn a decent amount about the warfare abilities of the two superpowers circa 1983.

Finally, the disc includes a Sneak Peek at WarGames: The Dead Code. The clip runs two minutes, four seconds, and is nothing more than an ad for the film’s new sequel.

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 offers very good picture and audio along with a smattering of useful extras.

I like WarGames well enough to recommend it to new fans, and I think those who already own the old DVD should upgrade to this new one. It provides significantly improved picture quality along with some nice new supplements highlighted by a fine documentary. With a list price of less than $15, this is a no-brainer.

To rate this film visit the original review of WAR GAMES

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