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WarGames (1983)

Having been released only four years after the Oscar-nominated drama, The China Syndrome (1979), WarGames (1983) resounded the clarion call about the danger of nuclear Armageddon. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Screenplay (written directly for the screen by Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parker), Best Cinematography (William A. Faker), and Best Sound (Michael J. Kohut). And WarGames was not the only "no nukes" movie contending for an Academy Award that year. That same year Jane Alexander was nominated for Best Actress for her heartbreaking performance in Testament, a drama about a family living with the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. In the documentary short subject category, one of the nominees pondered the future with their entry, In the Nuclear Shadow: What Can the Children Tell Us? (1983).

The story line of WarGames follows a high school-age computer hacker (Matthew Broderick) as he accidentally taps into the giant computer brain for the U.S. Defense Department and mistakes it for a highly publicized new game that all the techno geeks are playing called "Global Thermonuclear Warfare." The film was Matthew Broderick's second screen role and was instrumental in launching his film career. Previously he had scored a personal success on the Broadway stage in Neil Simon's Brighton Beach Memoirs, for which he won a Tony Award.

Released in the era of the video arcade game (Pac-Man fever was at its height) and the beginning of the end to the Cold War, WarGames was a huge hit with critics and audiences alike, ranking at number four in the top ten box-office hits of the year. Younger viewers responded to the film's entertaining mix of suspense and technology while adults appreciated its sobering message. Michael Sragow of Rolling Stone wrote, "WarGames is an apocalyptic thriller with an anti-nuclear point and a story line so cleverly worked out that it should have audiences laughing and palpitating at the same time....More than any American feature since the early sixties, WarGames dramatizes the hazardous distance that exists between political and military leaders."

John Badham was brought in to replace director Martin Brest after twelve days of shooting of WarGames. Badham also directed and released Blue Thunder the same year; it was yet another film that questioned man's reliance on machines for protection. Badham reinforced this idea in an interview for American Film by Naomi Glauberman, saying WarGames "is about the ability of technology to take over our lives, so the tail is wagging the dog, us being the dog. And the tail is going to wag us right out the window. The China Syndrome is about that. 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."

Producer: Leonard Goldberg, Harold Schneider
Director: John Badham
Screenplay: William A. Fraker, Walon Green, Lawrence Lasker, Walter Parkes
Production Design: Angelo P. Graham, Richard Hashimoto
Cinematography: William A. Fraker
Costume Design: Barry Delaney, Linda Matthews
Film Editing: Michael Ripps, Tom Rolf
Original Music: Arthur B. Rubinstein
Principal Cast: Matthew Broderick (David Lightman), Dabney Coleman (John McKittrick), John Wood (Stephen Falken), Ally Sheedy (Jennifer Mack), Barry Corbin (General Beringer), Juanin Clay (Pat Healy), Kent Williams (Arthur Cabot), Dennis Lipscomb (Lyle Watson).
C-113m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.

by Scott McGee

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