Film (1983). Sherwood Productions/MGM/UA. Directed by John Badham. Written by Lawrence Lasker, Walter F Parkes. Cast includes Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, Barry Corbin, Ally Sheedy and John Wood. 113 minutes. Colour.
Senior defense officials in Colorado are seen deciding to transfer responsibility for responding to a Soviet attack from fallible humans to a Computer installation. Meanwhile in Seattle, teenager David (Broderick) attempts to use his own computer to hack into the programs of a Games manufacturer. Expanding on his search, he discovers a range of games on another site, a list which climaxes with "Theater-wide Biotoxic Warfare" and "Global Thermonuclear War". Gaining back-door access to what he thinks are games, he inadvertently connects with WOPR (War Operations Programmed Response), the giant Department of Defense computer that will be responsible for instigating a full-scale World War Three, when required to do so, following the scenarios David has hacked into.
At David's suggestion, he and WOPR begin to play Global Thermonuclear War, which David does not at first realize may model an actual war situation (WOPR has not been designed to distinguish properly between practice scenario and reality); when David does and attempts to call a halt, it is almost too late, as WOPR has identified him as its creator Falken (Wood), and insists on continuing the "game", through which it exercises complete control over the American defense network, almost setting off Armageddon. David, who has in the meantime been arrested as a teenage spy by the conspicuously thick security forces, is forced to escape custody in order to track down Falken, a tortured intellectual with personal problems who may be able to control WOPR, but who thinks we all deserve to die (like the Dinosaurs), appearing to change his mind only because David's girlfriend Jennifer (Sheedy) is humanly attractive, and merits survival. Falken and David together persuade WOPR, by engaging it in a solitaire game of tic-tac-toe, that Global Thermonuclear War is a no-win scenario, and the great computer stops just short of causing the End of the World.
Several decades later, the metaphor of World War Three as Videogame seems acute and prescient, though in the 1980s it soon became an sf Cliché (see Cyberspace). The film is briskly directed, with an ingenious first hour and so engaging a narrative sweep that some logical holes in its plot may become evident only at a second viewing. Plausibility is somewhat hampered through the crudely drawn Falken, whose initial misanthropy is cartoonish, and through a similarly over-the-top depiction of blow-hard American generals and defense bureaucrats out of their depth. Badham is a good action director whose films often collapse into ethical confusion on any examination of their superficially liberal credentials.
The novelization is WarGames (1983) by David F Bischoff. [PN/JC]
see also: Cinema; Virtual Reality.
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