The Flower bowed out of this one and we’re probably all be taking a pass on next week’s showing of Tron, but while I liked WarGames at the time, I’ve never had any inclination to see it again. I told the kids, “Well, it’s a fine movie from 1983.” And, yes, that’s what it is. It’s fine. I cannot make the same claim of Tron, which was boring at the time despite the effects, and I think practically unbearable today, where WarGames has a certain quaint charm going for it.
“Fine” was good enough for The Boy, though, so we rolled out to see it and I had the same thoughts now as I did 35 years ago: “Gosh, Ally Sheedy is cute in this.” Yeah, I never got all the Ringwald love, frankly, but Sheedy was in far fewer Brat Pack movies (and outside of the Hughes films, I didn’t see that many of those) and after Breakfast Club and Short Circuit I didn’t see much of her until she appeared on the ’80s-obsessed TV show “Psych” as a serial killer. (And I still liked her better than Molly Ringwald, who was also on that show in a much smaller role.)
But my peccadilloes and Sheedy’s pulchritude aside, this movie is just a competent John Badham action flick powered at the time by a kind riding the contemporary trends (unlike the recently reviewed Krull, e.g.) and now struggles along on nostalgia power.
The plot is that computer hacker David Lightman hacks into the Defense Department computer containing the WOPR super-computer (about equivalent to an iPhone 2) which has recently been put in charge of the nuclear arsenal. David starts a game of “Global Thermonuclear War” with it, but WOPR is playing for real. (For you kids out there, 35 years ago, the narcissistic showbiz cowboy who was going to destroy the world with nuclear war was Ronald Reagan. After that, of course, it was George H.W. Bush, then George W. Bush, and finally Trump. )
Anyway, David is captured by the Federales whom he easily evades with his super-hacker skills, then flees to find the creator of the program running the WOPR, a professor Falken. (Falken was designed with John Lennon in mind, apparently, and actor John Wood is sort of doing a John Lennon impression in this role. Not laying it on thick, but with a similar cadence and expression.)
Girlfriend Jennifer joins David on his road trip because Ally Sheedy is really cute and it allows the budding romance between David and Jennifer (how classic Americana are those names, btw?) to flower in the midst of an impending apocalypse.
Now, this is the first mistaken impression I had. I would’ve sworn David Warner played Falken. The second mistaken impression I had is that when Falken gives his, “We’re better off dead” speech, Jennifer responds with “I’m only seventeen. I don’t want to die yet. I haven’t even made love.” I remember that line so clearly (even more than the Warner thing) because it was so cringe-worthy, but I can find no evidence to back it up. (It may have come from yet-another-teen-apocalypse movie, but I don’t know which.)
Anyway, they fly back to the defense base to try to save the day by teaching the computer the lesson that humans Just Don’t Seem To Learn: The only way to win a global nuclear conflict is Not To Play.
I guess that couldn’t possibly have been the point of Mutually Assured Destruction: Convince everyone that it wasn’t a game worth playing.
The Old Man enjoyed the film all right, though he considered it preposterous, and he was not wrong. The Boy found the absurdity pronounced, and you do have to go back to a popular ’80s understanding of how things worked to suspend your disbelief here. You also have to believe that ’80s school systems were plugged into computers that were just sitting around with modems waiting for calls, which is just slightly less probable than being able to call into a secure Defense computer.
There are some good nostalgia points:
- Phone booths
- Pop caps as litter!
- Leg Warmers
- 8″ floppies
- Hi-resolution graphics (black-and-white, 320×200)
- David riding behind Jennifer on her moped, no helmets
- Gratuitous Eddie Deezen and Maury Chakin
- A flight for two to Paris? $1,250, not adjusted for inflation
- 300 baud modems
But overall, the movie is just…fine. Good supporting actors with Barry Corbin, Michal Ensign, Dabney Coleman, and William Bogert and Susan Davis as the clueless parents.
The late Arthur Rubinstein, a frequent Badham collaborator, gives us a score that is very hit-and-miss—more hits than misses, fortunately, though the opening is interesting. The movie begins with a very intense scene: Two soldiers are starting their day’s work in their missile silo when the command to launch comes in. The older one (played by John Spencer) can’t do it, and hesitates enough to where the younger one (Michael Madsen, I think, but he’s so young I barely recognize him!) threatens to shoot him if he doesn’t.
And! Cut to credits!
And a jaunty military theme that would be perfectly at home in Stripes! It was so bizarre. Almost like they felt they were getting to serious, so the backed out into kind of a Young Adult theme. (This really is a Young Adult movie. It’s very earnest but never very serious.)
Later, the score goes into a pure ’80s electronic mode…and that holds up surprisingly well. So I’m sort of inclined to think the musical misfires were more Badham or a nervous producer.
I think I mentioned the movie is: fine. The Boy said he was a little disappointed. That it was fine but he was expecting something more noteworthy. I had, however, warned him. This is probably while we’ll skip Tron.