Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I'm watching War Games currently, a movie I haven't seen in many years. I may have seen this film in the theaters when it was originally released in 1983, when I would have been nine years old. I had forgotten what a good little movie it is - how good Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy are (and how cute Ally Sheedy is!) as the naive teens at the center of the plot; how suspenseful that last sequence really is; how good Dabney Coleman is doing his Dabney Coleman thing.

I usually don't do this, but I didn't really want to watch this twice on rental, so I've been watching with the commentary on (I usually only listen to commentaries after seeing the movie fresh), and have been entertained by how candid the commentators (director John Badham and writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes) are about the film. It gets almost comical as they point out fudge after fudge after fudge. No, they probably wouldn't have bothered to remove the chairs from the missile command rooms after the computers took over. No, computers in high schools in 1983 would not have been linked to modems. No, the speech replicator that lets Joshua talk didn't exist, nor would it certainly have worked on non-speakered computers! No, NORAD isn't that big. No, NORAD wouldn't have had tour groups randomly passing through.

The excuse for almost all of these cheats is that they are needed for tension and that the movie is better for them. Especially that computer voice thing. Which sounds on the surface like a cop out. But isn't. After all, the movie does work, even if a small part of you is wondering where the speaker is. And that's what, in the end, matters.

This is a great commentary, both for this fun frankness and for the structural details they note and talk about. Like the idea that sometimes in a script you want the audience behind, not totally clear on what's happening (like during most of that opening sequence in the missile command bunker), while at others you want the audience ahead of your characters (like when we know, but Broderick and Sheedy don't, that the game they are playing is having real-world effects). And they have obvious affection for the film and the kids (if less so for Dabney Coleman, who they hint at being difficult to work with, even as they admit that his ideas helped the film).

Commentaries can be very hit-or-miss. This is a palpable hit.

Until Whenever

No comments: