Joking about the current lack of sci-fi toys promised in old movies such as jet packs is something that comes up every time someone fakes the destination date from Back to the Future on Twitter, but there’s something quite miraculous about the fact that many of you are reading this on a handheld device that lets you communicate with anyone in the world, access most of the sum of human knowledge and will let you order a pizza and then, for reasons unknown, photograph it and share that for all the world to see.
This is brought into sharp focus when you watch a film like WarGames which in 1983 was looking at the cutting edge of technology and now looks like a byproduct from the Industrial Revolution. Back in the ’80s anything ‘tech’ was in and it was beguiling. Films like Tron fantasised about what it was like to be in a computer and things like Weird Science even imagined being able to create a Kelly LeBrock with something that would make a current wristwatch look like alien technology.
In WarGames a young Matthew Broderick is cast as David, a young hacker, who accidentally gets a computer to start a countdown to nuclear armageddon. This is all made possible when he guesses its password, Joshua, which is the name of its programmer’s son. Aside from that quaint little touch, the fact that hacking into NORAD would now get you locked away in Camp Waterboarding for the rest of your life whereas here it gets him affectionately rubbed on the head makes you pine for these simpler Cold War days.
WarGames is no ’80s B-movie. The NORAD set is impressive (and it should be given that it cost a cool million back when a million was an unfathomably large sum of money to spend on boxes with flashing lights on them), the story entertaining and the acting performances are spot on. Broderick is in less smug form than usual but still manages to make hacking seem cool. This is aided by him getting to hang out with Jennifer, ably played by the fantastic Ally Sheedy.
The film’s end sequence is undeniably stupid and makes leaps of faith that don’t help the tension that the film is trying to build up but overthinking WarGames is a mistake you don’t want to make. It’s a charming film that’s put together well enough that it was nominated for a handful of Oscars and was as enjoyable today as it was back in the ’80s.