To fully appreciate WarGames, the Matthew Broderick film now celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special edition DVD, you have to cast your mind back to a time before computers dominated everyone’s work space. It’s a Cold War thriller about a teenager who unknowingly kicks off the countdown to World War III by playing a computer game. Made at a time when computers were still perceived as strange, high tech gizmos it played on people’s distrust of technology and perceived Russian threat.
These days the movie plays like The Brat Pack Meets Dr. Strangelove. It remains an engaging thriller, well constructed and acted, but the technology involved now looks so out of date, so hopelessly archaic it harkens back to a time when calculators were considered high tech.
It all looks terribly dated but director John Badham sticks to a traditional and timeless thriller set up, concentrating on character rather than the technology. It’s a smart approach that keeps the intrigue front-and-center, making the ancient looking computers secondary to the overall story. This focus on plot and procedure keeps the story fresh despite being a quarter of a century old. The technology angle is all rather silly and seems really alarmist to today’s eyes, but in an age of identity theft the idea that computers can cause harm is still relevant.
Matthew Broderick shines as 17-year-old David Lightman, a social outcast who uses his technological skills to hack into his high school’s computer to change his grades. Opposite him is Ally Sheedy as the perky Jennifer Mack, David’s teenage crush who gets caught up in the action. Also look for Dabney Coleman as a cantankerous computer-reliant defense specialist.
It’s been a quarter of a century since “Shall we play a game” briefly became a popular catchphrase, and while WarGames doesn’t strike the technophobe-Cold War-chord it did back in 1983 it does stand up as an entertaining teen thriller.