Wednesday, May 29, 2013

War Games: A relic from the 1980s

The 1980s weren’t that long ago, but the movies from that decade look more old-fashioned than many of those from earlier decades. Women’s hair is all pouffed up, and men frequently sport those hideous mullets, a grotesque style in which the hair in back is grown long and bushy even as the rest is fairly short. Some films are dated because of the technology. War Games from summer 1983 is one of them.

Made at a time when home computers were still an exotic item, it was about a whiz-kid played by that smug twerp, Matthew Broderick, who almost sets off a global thermonuclear war by accidentally hacking into a Pentagon computer. Those were the days when the Internet, if accessible to commoners at all, looked nothing like the colorful displays you see today, and a computer screen was nothing but a cursor blinking against a coat of blackness.

War Games was a big hit, one of the ten biggest in distributor’s rentals that year, and along with the James Bond flick, Octopussy, helped bail out the financially strapped MGM which had acquired United Artists a year or two before. It was also favorably reviewed, even getting a thumbs up from President Reagan who liked the scrappy kid that Broderick played. But it’s not a good movie. John Badham who, like Steven Spielberg, was a graduate of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery, directs as if he’s confused about where to aim his camera. When Broderick’s family eats dinner, we get a closeup of the father buttering a slice of bread which he then uses to butter his corn on the cob. What’s the point of that? Is Badham offering the audience some helpful hints on dining? Is this the way that Hollywood hotshots butter their corn on the cob?

Nothing dates War Games like its cast. Broderick’s film career wouldn’t survive the ‘80s, and co-star Ally Sheedy, who plays his girlfriend, had another four years of prominence before disappearing from the screen. She peaked in 1985’s The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire, “Brat Pack” flicks with such other ‘80’s relics as Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, and Andrew McCarthy. Then there’s Dabney Coleman who kicked off a great career as a character actor with 1980’s Nine to Five then moved on to 1982’s Tootsie and other hits, only to fritter it away with several ill-advised attempts at sitcom stardom.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© 2012 Brian W. Fairbanks


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