I remember being terrified the first time I saw WarGames. Mind you, I’m pretty sure I was under the age of ten, but still, this light thriller gave me nightmares. Once I got a little older, I saw the film again and began to see it in a different light. I could finally appreciate the film, although I will say parts of it still make me feel uneasy.
Recently, I watched a special feature about the making of the film which turned everything I thought I knew on its head. I love hearing behind-the-scenes stories which make you feel awe that the film got finished, was successful, and was actually a good movie. WarGames is one such case of this.
But before we get to all that, here’s a little synopsis for those of you who are WarGames virgins. Made in 1983, the film follows David (Matthew Broderick), a teenager too smart for his own good. Obsessed with computers (which now look positively ANCIENT), he accidentally hacks into the military’s central computer and realizes the computer cannot tell the difference between game-playing and reality. There is, of course, a girl played by a young Ally Sheedy who goes on the roller coaster journey with David while also falling in love with him. Let’s just say…DRAMA ENSUES.
Here are just a few reasons you should check out WarGames:
This is the type of film that relies heavily upon the charm of its actors. If its leads were boring and/or annoying, I think we would have more trouble buying into its fantastical story.
Matthew Broderick had only done one film before this, a Neil Simon comedy, Max Dugan Returns. Unable to come in for a callback for WarGames, he suggested that then-director, Martin Brest, watch his dailies from the film. At only twenty years old, he had a charisma that was undeniable. He was likable and effortlessly funny. He carried the film with his convincing technological know-how and charm.
Ally Sheedy was about the same age as Matthew and was completely green, having only been in one film before WarGames. She was playing the “girl next door.” I’m sure her natural and appealing performance in this played a part in getting her the The Breakfast Club a few years later.
John Wood is also wonderful as Professor Falken. Apparently, the character was originally based on scientist Stephen Hawking. Barry Corbin and Dabney Coleman also have standout roles as McKittrick and General Berringer, respectively.
This is really one of the most interesting pieces. The story was conceived and written by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes. They were very involved in early development and did a lot of research. This script was their baby. When Martin Brest came on to direct, he decided to tonally go in a different direction and the writing team was essentially fired from the film.
A little while later, Martin Brest was fired from the film and John Badham was brought on to direct. The writers were then hired back and became apart of the process again. Their script, in addition to being fun and super entertaining, posed questions that were ahead of their time. Computers were not in wide use when the film was released and so, the idea of hacking, wasn’t as widespread and commonplace as it is today. When they were shopping the script around, apparently studio execs were confused by it.
The thing Lasker and Parkes understood so well was that the characters come first. So, even though there were these underlying science fiction themes and big questions that were being posed, the film was also accessible on a pure entertainment level.
I was surprised to learn that the film originally was going to be directed by Martin Brest. Brest, in his own right, made some great films including The Scent of a Woman and Meet Joe Black. The studio, however, felt that the film Brest was making was not the film they wanted. They sought out someone new to direct even though they were a few weeks already into filming.
They decided to approach John Badham (brother to Mary Badham, aka Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird) who had already directed Saturday Night Fever and Dracula. He brought out the lighter side of the script, helping to develop the chemistry between Ally Sheedy and Matthew Broderick. According to Sheedy, she thinks the film Brest was trying to make had validity as well, but that it wasn’t going to be a popcorn flick the same way it turned out to be in Badham’s hands.
The movie was really a crowd pleaser and that’s because Badham knew the film needed balance. It had adventure, romance, and fun. He even had a writer come in to add a scene between David and Jennifer and I daresay, it’s one of the best scenes in the film.
Music, for me, is a key reason to like any movie. WarGames is very much of the time period containing a lot of synthesizer and “techy” sounds. But, there’s one piece of music that this film is famous for. Arthur Rubinstein composed it and it’s called “Edge of the World.” Rubinstein, in the special feature included with the Blu-Ray, said that whenever he tells people he composed the film, they always bring up the harmonica. Although he gets kind of annoyed with it since he composed several other pieces of music for the film, this is what stuck and it’s for good reason. It is brilliant and gives you all the #feels.
The film cannot be categorized as a romance as really it only has a few scenes that are really about that. However, I remember totally having a crush on Matthew Broderick after this film. He was adorkable long before Zooey Deschanel made that a thing. There is something about Jennifer and David’s relationship that just seems so sincere. Possibly because they were both so green, they seemed to have a natural and easy chemistry.
Because it’s smart, thought-provoking, and SO MUCH FUN.
Hitchcock always said the audience comes first. Films should be life with all the boring parts cut out. This film was way ahead of its time. Technology was not a way of life the way it is now. The film actually inspired real changes in the world beyond my dad telling me he bought a computer because of it.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, I love films that make you think and I believe it is possible to produce a film that is both entertaining and about something. The film has a message that is important and still relevant today. Badham summed it up quite nicely, saying, “…The more powerful and the more authority we delegate to computers, the more things we are abdicating. And that’s where it gets to be dangerous. Suddenly the roles are reversed and then, in a true Harold Pinter situation, we don’t know who’s the servant and who’s the master”(Badham, TCM Article).
More than anything, I came out of watching the film’s special feature admiring both the writers of this film and the film’s producer, Leonard Goldberg. It was through his bits that I understood that the real job of a producer is to have enough passion for a project to handle all the bumps that come with getting it made and this film had its bumps for sure.
All in all, it’s a very entertaining film that makes you laugh, cry, and cheer. And really, what else can you ask for?
Vintage trailer below: