War Games came along during a time (1983) when concerns over nuclear annihilation were very real and filled our newspapers daily. If you are not old enough to remember that era, though - don't worry. Like "The China Syndrome" (1979), War Games is not just a topical thriller, but an educational and entertaining drama as well. Is it dated now? Of course it is! What movie featuring computer technology is NOT dated within five years? 1983 was 25 years ago, which means its now older than your average film-goer. Plus, the cold war ended almost 20 years ago. But despite all this, War Games is still fun, and Mathew Broderick will forever be 18 in my mind thanks to this film and "Ferris Bueler's Day Off".
OK, Mathew Broderick is David Lightman, a talented but alienated high school student from Seattle. His parents are middle class nobodies. His biology teacher delights in tormenting slackers like him and friend Jennifer Mack (Aly Sheedy). Luckily for David, though, the personal computer industry is just in its infancy, and so he is more than happy to barricade himself in his bedroom for long hours to tinker with his hi tech toys. Its the perfect escape, and also the perfect place to hatch a little mischief. David is really just a classic hacker, destined perhaps to become a scientist or researcher someday. But his activities, which begin in all innocence, soon raise the ire of the button down types in the War Planning Room at NORAD. Just what exactly does David do? How about inadvertently place the world on the brink of World War III, all from the comfort of his cozy bedroom? Its a little dizzying to contemplate, but such is the nature of David's precocious talent that suddenly puts him at the center of an international incident and manhunt.
Soon, the action shifts to NORAD headquarters in Colorado. From the onset, NORAD appears to be run by a tin horn dictator and his feuding malcontents, but thats just Hollywood. Anyway, it amuses me that the least technical employee at NORAD is the General that runs it. Anyway, tensions surface immediately, then mount as David's mischief hatched in far away Seattle becomes apparent. And then once David himself becomes aware of what he has done, the movie really shifts into high gear.
David is in trouble now, and friend Jennifer, who is about as cute as a high schooler can be, can only dish out the wisdom of a 16 year old ("just act natural and everything will be OK"). But how much trouble is David REALLY in? Did I mention that the Global Thermonuclear War game he started at NORAD, which NORAD cannot determine is real or imagined, can't be stopped until it reaches its monstrous conclusion? Such is the predicament that everyone now faces, and which fuels the tension that will grip the movie until its climax.
Anyway, all of this is good storytelling up until this point. The logic and reasoning used by David and his cohorts to hack the WOPR computer at NORAD is inventive. Meanwhile, we also get a decent look inside a shadowy defense agency, and are introduced to Professer Falken and his nemesis, Dr. John McKittrick (Dabney Coleman). I enjoyed the contrasts between these two characters and the way that they embodied the hawk vs dove debate that one is asked to ponder throughout the film. How futile is Global Thermonuclear War? How sad is it that so many devoted their entire lives to contemplating or planning for this catastrophe? Professer Falken, who's JOSHUA program caused all the misery at NORAD to begin with, shares his thoughts on the matter before deciding whether or not to help David end the trouble that he began. And as for the ending - well, its quite good and a well conceived climax to the film.
Through it all, War Games entertains, and treats us to some memorable characters. Broderick here is great as the precocious slacker we all have come to know and love. At times he crosses over into being arrogant and insulting though, like when he fails to show the proper deference towards the brilliant Falken. Dabney Coleman, John Wood and Alley Sheedy are also very good. High schooler Alley is wonderfully naive in a stubborn and demanding sort of way. Her innocence was well conceived and a nice contrast to the ultra seriousness of the defense establishment higher ups she and David do battle with throughout the film.
There were a few curious plot inconsistencies, though- one in particular that occurred early on. For example, when it first surfaced at NORAD that WOPR had been compromised, the error was attributed to a phone company slip up. Yet soon after, David is accused of working with spies on the outside to purposely hack the WOPR. This is clearly inconsistent, as a phone company slip up should absolves David of any premeditated wrong doing.
Halfway thru the film, the action shifts to an idyllic island retreat off of the coast of Oregon and introduces us to some unexpectedly relaxing and peaceful music. I loved this scene, and it brought a wonderful breath of fresh air (literally) to a movie that up until that point had all been technical or military related. The contrast here was no accident I am sure, and the peace and harmony represented by that island resurfaced again when the same tune was used to close the film. It was as if to say "all's well that ends well; peace was preserved in the end" I think that this brought a lot of depth to the film and was genuinely touching. The harmonica to me was meant to symbolize the peacefulness of the old west, or of "Marlboro Country". And it also served to highlight the contrast between the peaceful Falken and those that ran NORAD.
Review by Aldri7 from the Internet Movie Database.