WarGames (1983) Directed by John Badham. With Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, Dabney Coleman, John Wood and Barry Corbin.
In the 1980’s, I had an Acorn Electron and a Sinclair Spectrum home computer. I was a lucky kid. Little did I know – I could’ve brought the entire world to the brink of disaster in-between levels on ‘Donkey Kong’. It’s a sobering thought. It is also the basic plot of John Badham’s 1983 Cold War thriller, WarGames.
Starring a pre-Ferris Bueller Matthew Broderick, the story focuses on David (and Goliath?), a teenage boy with a gift for computing. His outward thinking brings him in direct conflict with national security when he inadvertently hacks into the US missile defence system and triggers a command to begin World War III. All this from the sanctuary of his middle American home.
Badham does a great job of dividing the action between the typical teenage lifestyle of David and the top secret, military facilities guarding all of humanity from extinction. It’s a striking contrast; juxtaposing the blissful ignorance of suburban life with the instruments of doom that could bring it all to an abrupt and violent end. Even now, in 2015, despite the advances in computer technology, the idea holds up as a frightening example of how easily chaos can spread. The 2014 Sony hack is recent evidence of a huge organisation suffering huge damage and embarrassment from a relatively small source with the right amount of know-how.
In many ways, WarGames is a premonition. Home computing seemed like an innocent pursuit in the 1980’s, yet Badham’s film is like a warning shot of the danger and potential of power falling into the wrong hands. In the central role, Matthew Broderick is the know-it-all teenager, but his performance steers clear of the annoyances that often come associated with that tag. This is also offset by the nature of the plot, which moves quickly and avoids overindulgence of the clichés of being a teen.
The final third doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of the first two, but WarGames is still more than worthwhile and remains an intriguing watch, fuelled by a direct sense of urgency that means the plot seldom sags. It is also an absolute must for computer geeks and retro freaks. 3.5/5