David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is a computer whizz-kid.
He has few friends and despite his intelligence, he isn't doing too well in school.
To keep his kooky parents off his back, he steals the password to the school computer system so that he can access it from home and change his grades. At dinner, David sees an alluring advert in a computer magazine and tries to hack into a games company called Protovision to check out the amazing new games under development in their system.
Later, whilst demonstrating his prowess to his new friend, the beautiful Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy) and using all manner of cool early 80's hacking and phreaking (cheating telephone companies) techniques, he comes across a strange LOGON prompt and asks it to 'list games.'
He is shocked when he sees that the entries in the list range from 'Chess' and 'Poker' to 'Theaterwide Biotoxic and Chemical Warfare' and 'Global Thermonuclear War.'
David quickly becomes obsessed with finding a 'backdoor' into the system to play these games. He spends days at home and at the library researching a legendary computer developer named Stephen Falken (John Wood) whose program 'Falken's Maze' was on the list.
Aided by Jennifer, he eventually finds the password: the name of Falken's deceased son - Joshua.
Little do they know that they have tapped into the NORAD Defense Department War Computer (W.O.P.R) in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex which has complete control over the U.S. nuclear response!
David asks 'Joshua' to play 'Global Thermonuclear War' and back in the War Room at NORAD, the countdown to World War 3 begins. We are at DEFCON 1! Soon arrested on charges of espionage by the FBI, David is caught up in a race against time.
John McKittrick (Dabney Coleman) was a colleague of Stephen Falken, but he won't help, he thinks David has been recruited by the Russians. Stephen Falken is his only hope to stop Joshua from starting a war, a nuclear holocaust in which there can be no winner.
The computer is still playing the game. But is it game... or is it real?
WARGAMES is one of those rare gems that children of the 80's have a seminal bond with. Despite the obvious age of the technology in the movie, from its paranoid Cold War opening tensions to the staggering moral climax, Director John Badham's cyber-espionage thriller still far surpasses any subsequent stabs at the genre such as 'The Net', 'Sneakers' or 'Hackers.'
80's fans have many of their golden memories rooted in the dawn of the modern home computing age and the nostalgia of Imsai 8" Floppy Discs, Commodore PET's, TRS-80's, Sinclair ZX-81's, Apple II's, Atari's, Odyssey2's, Vic20s, Commodore 64s and ZX Spectrums is brought flooding back by sight of David's bedroom. The world he inhabits is a graveyard of classic voice synthesisers, 300 baud acoustic couplers, mass prefix dialers, Galaga arcade machines, 7-11's, and Dr Pepper. A world many of us prefer to the callous and unattainable computer design of movies like 'Swordfish'.
This was a film far ahead of its time. It anticipated the Internet and the many security problems we have come to recognise since. Matthew Broderick's geeky yet talented hacker is a joy and he is put to magical use by the excellent screenplay as we see him escape from various situations (using a coke can pull-ring to get a dial tone on a payphone; or using a miniature tape recorder to escape from a room at NORAD). This being his first role, Wargames illuminated a rising star in Broderick, who went on to do other venerable 80's work like John Hughes' classic comedy 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.'
"I worry about that kid, sometimes I think we're all going to get electrocuted" (David's Mom)
Yes, this is also a funny movie. David's family are a source of much amusement. The way David's dad butters his corn is priceless, as is his exchange with his wife on discovering she has not cooked it:
"This corn is raw!"
"Yes, you can just taste the vitamin A and C, it's great!"
Could we have pills? And cook the corn?!"
Or how about David's witty retort to the annoying Biology teacher:
Teacher: "Who first suggested the idea of reproduction without sex?"
David: "Your wife?"
Kudos must go to writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes for a gripping yet sensitive screenplay with a strong moral backbone and depth of character study. Of course, as in movies like 'Jumpin' Jack Flash', everyone feels the need to speak whatever they type and the voice synthesiser is invented here for the purpose of easier aural communication but all of this is pretty seamless in the film. David and Jennifer really connect, but with only a minimum of sexual tension. Most touching is David's revelation that he cannot swim, and always thought there would be plenty of time. There are no real villains in the movie, this story is about humanity coming to grips with the futility of nuclear war. The youthful exuberance of the two teenagers in contrast to the resigned Falken manifesto on extinction makes for resonant and thoughtful cinema. As the computer discovers, 'the only winning move is not to play,' - a lesson that many parts of the world have still not learnt today.
Wargames certainly lives on and is being discovered by a whole new generation of fans, here's one woman's recollection of seeing the movie in the cinema back in 1983:
"My boys rented this recently and it brought back memories of when I went to its opening night in Dayton, Ohio. Being a computer professional, I was very interested in what this movie was going to be like. I noticed that most of the seats were filled with fellow computer-geeks. The movie was intense and great, but the thing I will always remember most is what happened in the theater itself. When W.O.P.R. was going crazy looking for the launch code, someone in the theater yelled at the top of their lungs, "Control-C! Control-C!" ...many of us lost it at that point."Notice any mistakes? Review
Great script, great performances.
Seminal 80's culture.
Exciting, well-directed thriller.
None, really.Our rating:
9.6 out of 10Review Written by Simon Barber: Contact | More Reviews by Simon Barber