David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) and Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy)
Booking two airline tickets to Paris
Shall we play a game?
David & Jennifer with Falken
Watching the screens of a nuclear war simulation
The war room – missile warning
US map of possible attacks
War game scenarios
The only winning move is not to play
No thermonuclear war!
And what if a computer could push the button? (1983)
by John Lankford
In an effort to be a good American, I have been reading lots about the nuclear arms question. Do we need MX? Should we develop President Reagan’s Space Wars ideas? How far can we trust the Soviets? Is there any sense to MAD (mutual assured destruction)?
I guess you could call me a doomsday junkie. I have read all the popular fiction about global war. Among my favorites are “On The Beach” and “Alas, Babylon,” both of which scared me silly. Same goes for “Dr. Strangelove,”’ which had been the definitive anti-war movie.
Now I have to put ‘‘WarGames” at the top of the list — at least in a tie with “Strangelove.” It is scary; it is realistic as all get-out; it could be true; and — best of all — it’s a darn fine movie.
My reading has led me to believe that because Russia and America are armed to the teeth, it is unlikely that any sane person would push the button that starts World War III. Each side knows mankind would cease to exist after an all-out global conflict. But what if a computer decides to play war?
Computers can start up your Mr. Coffee in the morning, and tell you to fasten your seatbelt. Why couldn’t a computer on its own decide to launch a nation’s nuclear missiles? Anyone with half a brain would have to admit to the possibility of a computer-generated world war — a mistake, if you will.
That’s what happens in ‘‘WarGames.”
A 17-year-old high school kid in Seattle (Matthew Broderick) accidentally taps into the central computer at air defense head-quarters and, thinking he and the machine are playing a game, sets in motion “global thermonuclear war.” Unknown to he kid, the military computer is programmed to carry the WWIII scenario through to the end.
The youngster finally discovers that it’s not a game and, after being arrested by the FBI and held, he escapes, and teams up with a girlfriend (Ally Sheedy) to track down the computer’s inventor. All the while, the computer is ticking off the hours to the game’s resolution — which in this case would involve launching America’s missiles at their intended targets in the USSR.
In one chilling scene, the kid asks the computer, “Is this a game, or is this real?”
And the computer, in its eerie metallic voice, responds, ‘‘What’s the difference?”’
This film is so finely tuned that I spent most of the two hours rending my garments with clammy hands. A couple of times my wife, Dariene, said, ‘‘I can’t stand any more of this. I’m going out to the car.”’ The movie is fast, sincere and very tense in a non-violent way.
Directed by John Badham (‘‘Saturday Night Fever,” “Blue Thunder’’) ‘‘War-Games” whips along at warp speed, with only a few little lapses in logic. Nothing serious.
The level of realism and the sophistication of the film is evidenced by the fact that the studio, MGM/United Artists, is having a squabble with the Air Force over whether such an event could take place. The Air Force says absolutely not; the studio says maybe. I say why not?
You may remember Matthew Broderick from another movie playing around town, ‘‘Max Dugan Returns.” Matt was good in the Neil Simon comedy and he is just superb as the wide-eyed youngster in ‘“WarGames.” He is the perfect blend of innocence and teenage flip. He can violate his high school’s computer system to change a grade with a laugh, and he can slip in the “back door” of the military computer and scare himself and most of the Air Force half to death.
Sheedy, the star’s high school sweetheart, is totally disarming. She dominates her scenes without stealing anything from Broderick or the rest of this fine cast, which includes Dabney Coleman as a cantankerous computer expert, John Wood as the flaky professor who developed the big machine and Barry Corbin as the Air Force general who chews tobacco and holds the future of mankind in his meaty hand.
Helping Badham a great deal is director of photography William Fraker, whose credits read like a what’s what of Hollywood hits (“Heaven Can Wait,” “Looking for Mr. Goodbar,”’ “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “One Flew Over the Cockoo’s Nest” and on and on… .).
If movies received grades, ‘“WarGames” would get a very solid A-plus. This is one of the best movies of the summer.