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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 2/10/00

1983 (1998) - MGM

review by Brad Pilcher of The Digital Bits

Wargames Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B+/B+

Specs and Features

114 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, audio commentary (with director John Badham and writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes), film-themed menu screens, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

"What you see on these screens up here is a fantasy... a computer enhanced hallucination!"

Wargames was a film destined to be popular with kids, depicting adults as bumbling idiots and serving up witty and irreverent teen characters. That may be why this movie remains such a nostalgic classic. But the film shouldn't be discredited - it's got clever dialogue and a plot that is fun to follow, even if it does come off as contrived beyond belief.

Basically, the United States puts its nuclear warheads under the control of a central computer at NORAD. A computer geek, Matthew Broderick, accidentally breaks into that central computer while trying to find games to play. Broderick somehow starts up a thermonuclear war simulation, sending NORAD into a panic, thinking it's all real. From there, the computer goes on an ego trip and tries to launch a real nuclear war... and Broderick has to work fast to stop the end of the world.

Never mind that, despite its willingness to pay a million dollars for a toilet seat, the Department of Defense would never hook such a computer up to the public phone networks. Who cares if computers were nowhere near this advanced in the early 1980's? The story is just scary enough to get the audience to suspend its disbelief and come along for the ride, and what a ride it is. We see Broderick originate his grade-changing ways, which he would later use to great effect in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. This movie is also slightly more realistic than modern films in its hacking. Things like wardialers show up, as well as backdoor passwords and other techniques that were used extensively before the Internet got so huge.

The characters are, at times, stereotypes lacking much depth. Luckily, they don't need too much depth for the story to putter along, and the high school romance of Broderick and Ally Sheedy is just that - a high school romance. It's shallow and it's overblown, but what young love isn't? The message behind the movie is simple: we can't always trust our machines. And it's mixed nicely with a debunking of futility.

Technically speaking, I'm very impressed by this disc. It never blows you away, but considering the film was 15 years old when this disc was released, you have to be happy. Unfortunately, it lacks an anamorphic transfer, but much of the print defects have been removed. The theatrical trailer even looks nice, despite somewhat more noticeable print defects, which are to be expected. The audio is also nothing stellar, but is well done considering the source materials. This movie was released in 1983 folks! All of the advances in movie sound weren't here yet. Lucas was finishing up his original Star Wars trilogy at this point, so you shouldn't be expecting sound on the level of more modern films. But what you get is a solid sound experience in a strong 5.1 remix.

The extras are also nice, if nothing too spectacular. A theatrical trailer, circa 1983, is included and is a nice touch. It's also in the right aspect ratio, which is something I worried about considering the era. I remember opening up Tron and seeing a cropped trailer with abysmal video quality. This trailer left me smiling. There's also a very nice commentary track. Director John Badham joins writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes to comment on much of the movie. It's striking how much these guys remember the technical aspects of the subject matter, and it's interesting to hear them talk about an era of computing so many of us completely missed.

Before hackers were a panic on early-90's newscasts, and before the Internet was even called the Internet, Wargames depicted computers as cool and hacking as intrigue. In so many ways, this film was years ahead of its time, but it still remained true to the time it was made in. That's a nice balance to strike, and a pre-Ferris Broderick is never something to miss. If you want to wax nostalgic, be it about computers or just the 80's, then pick up Wargames very quickly.

Brad Pilcher
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