When Computers Were Mysterious.
John Badham’s 1983 film War Games shows how an intelligent, reclusive student uses his skills to rebel in a fun kind of way. He gets his thrills from doing something which only a select few can do. It was made and is set in a time when the iron curtain was still present (and posed a real threat), when computers were still mysterious and not to mention it is set in a pre-Windows era (who reading this thinks Windows has been around forever?).
It tells the story of David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) who has the means and the knowledge to allow him to hack into remote computers using an analogue modem and some hot kit (for 1983). He innocently changes his grades as they aren’t as good as his parents wished. It is my view that his low grades were not because he was crap at the subjects, but because he was sidetracked away from his subjects because of his interests. He simply concentrated on the things that interested him.
As well as changing his grades, he uses a sequential phone dialler to dial into remote systems to locate a games publisher. By accident he happens to dial into NORAD. That’s where the adventure (and the War Games) really starts.
One of the things that stand out is the following quote which you can’t help sniggering at:
Mr. Liggett: Alright, Lightman. Maybe you can tell us who first suggested the idea of reproduction without sex.
David Lightman: Um, your wife?
This was a landmark performance for Matthew Broderick and fired him into fame as a top notch actor. With Ally Sheedy by his side, it was hard to fail. They play off each other well, each complimenting the other. Both of them interested in the neat computer he has.
But it’s John Wood who plays Dr. Stephen Falken who caught my eye. He is such a formidable actor, you can see the passion on his face, the wonder in his voice when he talks about the dinosaurs. Even when he’s simply playing Tic Tac Toe with Joshua, the passion is evident like a tidal wave on the screen.
Overall, it’s a feel good SF movie which enthralled the movie watching public at the time. It was a very nieve time in terms of computers, and this movie showed part fact and part fiction; but it is still as relevent today as it was then.
By the way, I’ve noticed in some places War Games is classed as a thriller. To me it is SF through and through, simply for the reason that when it was originally released, we never really knew if what was portrayed in the movie was quite fact or fiction…