Director: John Badham
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, Dabney Coleman, John Wood
Have I Seen it Before: Many, many times. Long ago was the time that I dreamed of nothing more than a IMSAI computer rig the likes of which David Lightman (Broderick) wields in this film. One would think that I’d be happy with a far more powerful device that fits in my pocket, but I’m not.
Did I Like It: Without a doubt.
There’s always a hesitation with anything older than, say, five years. One wonders if it will not only age, but age poorly. One might have found Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) pretty funny (although, one would have been ten-years-old at the time), but now it is one of the more pointedly transphobic films ever committed to screen. All of Woody Allen’s movies are out, even the ones he hasn’t made yet. The less said about American Beauty (1999), the better off we all are.
And then there are films that—while not mired in the backward thinking of their day—can not overcome the aesthetic trapping of their age. A film like Forbidden Planet (1956) might be trying to tell us a story of the far-flung 23rd century, but you need to take a look at only a few seconds of the film to guess when it was made and be accurate within a few years. Few films even try for an ageless quality about them, and even fewer succeed.
I’m happy to report that WarGames happily transcends the earlier issue. The characters feel real, even if the situations around them occasionally veer into the farfetched. There’s not an attitude on display that feels mired in the myopia of the age. It even manages to fly in the face of the Reagan-era Star Wars mentality, distrusting the computers that would eventually run every facet of our lives.
Now, as far as aesthetically transcending the time in which it is made, WarGames gleefully clings to the time in which it was made. How could it not? The computers—although capable of doing things just beyond their reach at the time—are filled with the kind of pre-Macintosh clunkiness. One imagines that after the events of this film, Lightman found the first Macintoshes to come off the assembly line to be glossy, annoying toys. I also like to think that he just kept upgrading his IMSAI and still uses it to this day, but then again, I’m a dreamer. If you were unaware of when this film was made before playing it, you’d be able to guess as to it’s origins within a few years margin of error, but that is why it has miraculously stood the test of time. Just try to affect a robotic voice and say “The only way to win is not to play.”
Most people are right on board with that idea. If they’re not, they should be.