Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Cyberpunk Week, Day 6: WarGames [1983] (sci-fi, thriller, adventure, comedy)

Studio: MGM,
Director: John Badham,
Screenplay: Lawrence Lasker, Walter F. Parkes, Walon Green,
Genre: Sci-Fi, Thriller, Adventure, Comedy,
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin

For the Cyberpunk Week, one important thing I would've liked to do is to bring some veriety to the reviews. We have covered an action-packed movie, a film noir, an anime film noir, an independent arthouse thriller, and finally, an action-packed anime. This time I'll try to bring you something different again.

Take your pick.

Unlike both Blade Runner (which has become a cult classic long after its release) and Nemesis (which sadly doesn't seem to be considered a cult classic at all), the 1983's John Badham classic was a big commercial blockbuster that not only didn't bomb at the box office, but also has 97% 'Fresh' at Rotten Tomatoes and 7.0 on IMDB, was nominated for three Oscars and got four stars from Roger Ebert, but what's most important to us, it did an incredible job of capturing and reflecting the 80-s pop culture and injecting one notable character to the modern urban mythology: The Hacker.

The most hideous one ever. ^_^.

This is David Lightman, played by then-unknown Matthew 'That's a lot of fish' Broderick. To tell you the truth, he's really good in this role, being a stereotypical geek who is so perfectly represented, that nowadays this movie feels even like a documentary at times. David is a socially awkward schoolboy who likes comic books, pizza, and kicking everybody's ass at videogames. He fails to establish any connection with his parents who are genuinely afraid of his obsession with computers. Turns out, David happens to have this weird 'modem' thingy that allows him to use phone lines to connect to some sort of a global network and, uhh... That's right, folks - this movie also happened to introduce the internet to the masses.

While you are bothered by your 'likes' on Facebook, this guy is hacking into the friggin' Pentagon.

One day, awkwardly trying to pick up on his pretty schoolmate, Jennifer, David manages to break into a secret network hosted by NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and activate Joshua - an artificial intelligence operating the latest Pentagon invention, WOPR (War Operation Plan Response), which is a sort of a digital advisor for the measures to be undertaken in case of prospected World War III (remember, the movie was made and took place in 1983). Thinking that it's only a videogame, David triggers the wrong gears within Joshua's mind, unknowingly making him schedule the launch of real nuclear missiles as a means of response to the virtual Soviet attack.

Creepy. I guess, that's what the PlayStation Network's central server looks like...

Once this happens, movie starts following the classic formula - the kid is suspected to be a Russian spy, gets captured by the authorities, makes a daring escape to finally settle down the score - all using his wits and skills accumulated by sitting at his computer and gaining some smoking experience points in electronics. Halfway through the movie, Joshua's creator shows up, Dr Stephen Falken. He reveals the full backstory behind the creation of Joshua and plays a key role in one of the most thrilling non-violent finales ever put on film.

The NORAD interior.

A bit of trivia for you: I actually saw this movie rather recently, but before that, I've read David Bishof's novelization, and it was so fascinating that I've managed to chew the whole book in one single day! I was really gripped by all this 'good old days' atmosphere - Hell, I did have a ZX Spectrum - not to mention the expanded plot and dialogue. Compared to the book, the only thing I didn't quite like in the movie is Falken's portrayal. I don't mean the acting itself, as John Wood is fantastic in this role, but rather the writing. He had a lot of very interesting monologues in the novel, however in the movie it's more substituted by him just grinning in fascination with his own work.

Now that's some HDTV for ya.

From the technical standpoint, WarGames still holds up today, in my opinion. The sinister black coffin-shaped WOPR mainframe, the old arcades, David's computer, this old atmosphere of dial-up connections and jerking the floppy drive to improve reading of the diskettes, while looking at the text console; the NORAD interiors were decorated so thoroughly that there was no necessity for post-production at all, and the movie has even received a special Academy Award for that. The action scenes are okay, too, though it's not an action movie in the usual sense - it'd rather be ranked along with the likes of Back To The Future, The Fugitive or maybe even some of the Hitchcock's mistaken identity thrillers. And do I have to mention that Ally Sheedy is hot as shit in her role of David's love interest?

Dat hair! *_*

There was a direct-to-video sequel which I'm hesitant to see, and an okay videogame for the PC and PlayStation. It didn't follow the movie at all though, implying that WOPR's plan was successful, and mankind has united in a war against Joshua's robotic minions. Despite the facepalm-inducing plot, it's a pretty decent RTS-shooter, though.

Ugh... okay.

I won't lie: WarGames may seem real outdated and hilarious to some people nowadays, but if you are not one of them, then this movie is real fun and interesting to watch - like I said, it has a documental quality, serving as great tribute to the iron age of internet and a very important film in the history of IT, because it spoke to the mainstream audience, bringing the computers and hackers into pop culture and coining several well-known terms, such as 'firewall' and 'wardialing'. Even the word 'DefCon' (Defense Condition, a governmental version of the infamous Doomsday Clock prominently featured in the plot) became a meme of sorts, as one of the first hacker conventions was named after it. All in all, I highly recommend WarGames - if not for the cinematography, then at least for its historical value. You gotta respect the genre's Grandfather, cyberpunks!