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REVIEW: _WarGames_

Jon Spencer and Charlie Wiener — July 1983

A John Badham film, starring Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, Ally Sheedy and John Wood. United Artists 1983.

David is a product of the computer age. For him, technology is a series of challenges, none of them insurmountable. His home computer allows him to plug into the international information/ telecommunications network, a place more real to him than his home town. David routinely changes his grades by interfacing with the school computer, and he can function as his own bank teller or travel agent without leaving his bedroom.

In his search for greater challengers, David tries to break into a Silicon Valley software plant iii order to access an unreleased video game. Instead, he finds his electronic way into the NORAD defense computer’s war simulation program — code-named JOSHUA.

The JOSHUA program presents David with a master menu of games of strategy, from chest to global thermonuclear war. Needless to say. he chooses the latter, and, as he later learns, his choice starts the clock ticking toward World War III.

Computer assisted

Throughout the movie, David’s main assistance comes from computers — they even help him win a girl, Jennifer, when he ups her biology grade from a ‘D’ to an ‘A.’ But in the end. David must put his case before another human being, JOSHUA’s programmer, a middle-aged genius whose personal despair has desensitized him to the hopes of others, especially tire young.

David and his friend Jennifer are wonderfully familiar characters, and the first half of the film is filled with believable humour. What does a chief military adviser do with his gum when presidential aides arrive? (He gives it to his secretary, of course, who considers it for a moment. and pops it in her mouth.) Once the realism and rapport are established, they carry the film.

Unfortunately, parts of the movie really need to be carried. Several of the adult characters — the jaded computer scientist, the general and the senior defense adviser — are not much more than cardboard cut-outs, stereotypes without dimension or depth. Never mind that many people see most generals as one-dimensional; it would have more reassuring to see a complex. rational person portrayed in the role.

The producers of WarGames have repeatedly stated that the events in the movie are all plausible. This is probably true. Gaining access to the defense computers, picking electronic locks, avoiding Ma Bell’s long distance charges — much of this is likely. What isn’t so likely are the James Bond/Walt Disney-style coincidences that guide David in his attempt to save the world.

Because WarGames starts off on the right foot, however, if is easy to become engrossed in the story. Hollywood, for all its faults, has been making this type of movie for years, and is very good at it.

The real importance of this film, however, is its audience. WarGames is not pitched at the peace crowd, but rather at people who will identify with its characters — teenagers and parents, bureaucrats and technophiles, video addicts and computer “hackers.”

The movie ignores the finer points of the theory of deterrence. and it doesn’t delve too deeply into any question. But it does give its audience a fundamental understanding of the problem: No, there are no winners in a nuclear war.

Because the intended audience of WarGames differs from that of “If You Love This Planet,” for example, many people will understand — for the first time — the reason for disarmament, Perhaps the real measure of the success of a film such as WarGames is its ability to motivate its audience. Leaving the movie theatre, several of the most unlikely people were heard to say makes ya think, doesn’t it? WarGames can plant the seed of concern in people’s minds, and many of them will now read those newspaper articles that never interested them before.

Like The China Syndrome, WarGames is an issue film, one which succeeds because of its captivating excitement and popular appeal.