Welcome to today’s show, WarGames (1983), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast formally known as iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. So please subscribe when you are finished listening. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts.
Today’s movie is WarGames (1983). I wanted to get to this movie early on in 2018, because it figures prominently in “Ready Player One” 2011 and the movie Ready Player One (2018) is coming out shortly. When I first saw WarGames, I was still in the Army. I went the next day and signed up for Computer Programming 101. I had never even seen a PC. I found out two things. 1) I’m a terrible coder and 2) it must be in the second class where they teach you to launch missiles
James Tolkan was FBI agent Wigan. Tolkan was first covered in Episode 88 – Back to the Future (1985).
Matthew Broderick plays the main gamer, David. Broderick was born in 1962 in New York City. Since his father was an actor, Broderick went on stage at 17. His film debut was in the very funny Max Dugan Returns (1983). This was followed the same year with his excellent performance in WarGames (1983). He had a major role in the fantasy Ladyhawke (1985) and became a generational icon with Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986). Other Broderick movies include Project X (1987) where he proved he could work with animals, Biloxi Blues (1988) where he was totally convincing as a new Army recruit, Family Business (1989), the Civil War drama Glory (1989), the mafia animal rights spoof The Freshman (1990), he voiced Simba in The Lion King (1994), won MTV’s best fight with Jim Carrey in The Cable Guy (1996), unfortunately was in Godzilla (1997), played a teacher in Election (1999), played the title role in Inspector Gadget (1999), killed the role of Leo Bloom in the remake of The Producers (2005), fought Danny DeVito in Deck the Halls (2006), lent his voice to Bee Movie (2007), lead the crew in Tower Heist (2011), and was recently in Manchester by the Sea (2016). In a television movie that I have not seen, “A Christmas Story Live!” 2017, he played a grown-up Ralphie. Broderick is still very active.
Dabney Coleman played Mr. McKittrick who was a real jackass. Coleman was born in 1932 in Texas. Coleman began attending the Virginia Military Institute in 1949. You know, the kids that held the center of the line at the Battle of New Market during the Civil War and was presented in The Horse Soldiers (1959). Coleman left VMI after two years to study law at the University of Texas and eventually he began studying theater. During this period, he also spent two years in the Army.
Coleman started working on television and has always been very successful with that medium. He eased into movies with small parts in films like The Scalphunters (1968), Downhill Racer (1969), and The Trouble with Girls (1969) which was an Elvis film. The 1970s saw him still playing small parts in better films such as Cinderella Liberty (1973), The Towering Inferno (1974), Midway (1976) along with the rest of the free world, Viva Knievel! (1977), Go Tell the Spartans (1978), and North Dallas Forty (1979). Coleman was at his peak in the 1980s and he perfected his grouch boss type. Movies include 9 to 5 (1980), On Golden Pond (1981) with Katherine Hepburn, Jane and Henry Fonda, Tootsie (1982), WarGames (1983), The Muppets Take Manhattan (1984), The Man with One Red Shoe (1985), and Dragnet (1987). In the 1990s and beyond Coleman is continuing to work and some of his better films are The Beverly Hillbillies (1993), You’ve Got Mail (1998), Inspector Gadget (1999), and Stuart Little (1999).
John Wood played professor Falken. Wood was born in England in 1930. Wood began acting while at university. Wood was a stage actor primarily but his first movie was Salome (1953) where he played a sword dancer. Other early films include It Takes a Thief (1960), The Avengers (1961), The Mouse on the Moon (1963), Which Way to the Front? (1970), and the Vonnegut tale Slaughterhouse-Five (1972). He had a big run in movies in the 1980s and 90s. These films include his pivotal role in WarGames (1983), his great role in Ladyhawke (1985), The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986), The Madness of King George (1994) which is better that it sounds, the remake Sabrina (1995), Richard III (1995), The Avengers (1998) being one of two that were in both Avengers films, Chocolat (2000), The Little Vampire (2000), and The White Countess (2005). Wood died in 2011.
Ally Sheedy played the role of Jennifer Short. Sheedy was born in 1962 in New York City. At the age of 12, she wrote a bestselling children’s book. She started dancing and was on the way to being a ballerina until physical changes ended that dream. By the age of 15, she was working off-Broadway and doing small television roles. At 18 she moved to LA and enrolled at USC. It was not long before she was getting more roles.
Her performance led to film work beginning with Bad Boys (1983) playing Sean Penn’s girlfriend. Every time I see this movie on I stop to watch it, only to find it’s Bad Boys (1995) with Martin Lawrence. She was great as a sparky high school student in WarGames (1983) with Matthew Broderick. She played the romantic interest of Rob Lowe in Oxford Blues (1984) as they challenged the English school system. She played an emo girl in The Breakfast Club (1985) before she bloomed into a beauty. She played a college graduate in St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) with the rest of the brat pack.
Sheedy really shined in Short Circuit (1986) playing a leading role. In Only the Lonely (1991) she played the love interest of cop John Candy while his mother, played by Maureen O’Hara tried to stop the relationship. This movie is better than it sounds. In High Art (1998) she drew on her own experience with pill addition to play a person lured into that life. Sheedy is still working but she is no longer at the level of before. Recently, she played the role of Scott’s Teacher in X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).
Barry Corbin played Air Force General Beringer. Corbin was born in 1940 in Texas. He has the accent to go with it. Corbin began studying at Texas Tech where he was in a number of plays. He later attended the University of Texas but left for a stint in the Marine Corps. His first movie was Urban Cowboy (1980). He was in another bull riding movie that same year, Stir Crazy (1980). Other movies include WarGames (1983), Nothing in Common (1986), and No Country for Old Men (2007). Corbin has been extremely successful on television. With all his movie roles he is probably best known as Maurice J. Minnifield from televisions “Northern Exposure” 1990-1995. Corbin is still very active.
Three minor characters rounded out the cast. First was Eddie Deezen as computer geek Malvin. Deezen was born in 1957. He is known for WarGames (1983), The Polar Express (2004), Grease (1978) and The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015).
Juanin Clay played Pat Healy. Her main job was building drama by repeating what the computer was doing. She was born in 1949 and only had two movie credits, WarGames (1983) and The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981). Unfortunately, she died at an early age in 1995.
Maury Chaykin played Jim Sting, the head computer geek. He was born in 1949 in New York City. Chaykin is known for WarGames (1983), Dances with Wolves (1990), My Cousin Vinny (1992), and Mousehunt (1997). Chaykin died in 2010.
The movie begins with two Air Force officers (Michael Madsen and John Spencer) driving through a sandstorm to a 1950s style house. They show their passes to the mirror and are admitted to a missile silo. Their shift is routine and normal until they get the code to launch the missiles. The scene ends with one officer refusing to turn his key while the other threatens to shot him if he does not.
The scene switches to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) Cheyenne Mountain Complex and possibly the oldest private in the Air Force (Stack Pierce). Some presidential suits are getting briefed by Mr. McKittrick (Dabney Coleman), his assistant Pat Healy (Juanin Clay), and Air Force General Beringer (Barry Corbin) as to why the men in the missile silos failed to launch when ordered to do so. The big board shows all of the military activity worldwide. Very much against the wishes of General Beringer, the civilians want to replace the men in the silos with a computer. Specifically, the War Operation Plan Response (WOPR). The WOPR plays out scenarios of World War III and makes recommendations for responses based on the attack. As it is explained, it plays war games. The suits will recommend to the President that the men be removed from the silos and replaced with electronic relays.
The scene switches to the 20 Grand Palace arcade in Seattle. David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is crushing the Galaga machine before school. He is late for his biology class. The teacher is a real jackass. He taunts David and cute girl Jennifer Short (Ally Sheedy). David offers a joke at the teacher’s expense and is sent to the principal’s office, where apparently, he is a regular. But it is a trick because he wants to steal the new password to the school mainframe.
After school, Jennifer gives David a ride to his house on her moped. David has a pretty nice computer with an optical coupler for his phone and a 10-inch floppy drive. He dials the school mainframe and changes his and Jennifer’s biology grade. She freaks a little and demands he change her grade back before she leaves.
The silos are being dismantled and electronic launchers are being put in. The launchers have a 10-digit code.
David is trying to hack a company in Sunnyvale, California so he can play their games early. He sets an auto dial program to search for dial-up access. This is before everything was connected online. The next day Jennifer meets him at the arcade and has changed her mind about the grade. They go back to his house and she sees the dialing program. One of the numbers is an airline and David makes reservations for two. David finds a computer that does not identify its’ self. When he lists games, the first is Falken’s Maze and the last one is “Global ThermoNuclear War.”
Still, without the password, David and Jennifer go to visit computer programmers Malvin (Eddie Deezen) and Jim Sting (Maury Chaykin). The pair fight incessantly but eventually points David to the first game on the list and the author of the code, Falken. David does basic library research and finds out about the creator, professor Falken (John Wood) he also finds out that the professors family was killed and that he has also passed away. Still, he is unable to break into the system.
Jennifer comes to visit and as David shows her his research, they hit upon the password, Joshua, the name of Falken’s dead son. David logins using the password Joshua. He has actually reached the WOPR, the NORAD computer created by Falken. The computer offers to play a game and David asks to play Global ThermoNuclear War but the computer wants to play chess. After another request, they begin Global ThermoNuclear War with David and Jennifer being the USSR. As they begin their simulated attack, the war room at NORAD begins getting missile launch warnings. David and Jennifer launch their submarine attacks. General Beringer changes the DEFCON rating and alerts the SAC aircraft. He alerts the missiles in the silos and calls the president. About this time, David’s dad calls him to clean up the trash. He turns off his computer and the NORAD screens go clear. One of the computer techs comes in yelling that it is not a real attack and is a computer simulation created by an outside hacker.
The next day David and Jennifer hear of the alert based on the simulation. They both suspect they may have been involved. Joshua calls David so he gets rid of the dial-up number but Joshua calls back and wants to keep playing the game. Joshua says the primary game goal is to win the game. David hangs up but the computer keeps calling.
The next day, David is grabbed by the FBI outside of a Seattle 7/11. They take him to NORAD in Colorado for interrogation. Odd. FBI agent Wigan (James Tolkan) is heading the investigations. Mr. McKittrick and General Beringer argue over whether this was prank or a master security breach. McKittrick takes David to his office to interrogate him. David tells him that Joshua called him back. McKittrick gets distracted when they find out that the launch codes have been stolen from the WOPR. David logs on to the system and Joshua tells him that he is still playing the game and 28 hours remain. Joshua says that it doesn’t matter if it is a game or real. David does manage to get Dr. Falken’s address and apparently, he is still alive. David is caught in the act and looks very guilty. They lock him back inside of the infirmary.
The Air Force guard is busy sexually harassing the nurse. David uses some equipment to escape and joins a tour group to get out of the complex. David begins hitching towards Oregon and Dr. Falken. David uses a pull tab to short a pay phone and get a free call. After hundreds of experiments, I can confirm that this does not work. Eventually, he calls Jennifer and asks her to send him a plane ticket.
The WOPR is sending Soviet sub-movements to the war room.
Jennifer drives in to finish the trip with David although all she knows is that the FBI has been asking questions. They catch the ferry to the island where Falken lives. On the island, a Pterodactyl is flying around. Wait? What? It is a glider that Falken is flying. He is obsessed with dinosaurs and extension. Falken is rude and sends them away. He talks in code.
The WOPR sends fake Soviet bomber signals to the war room and DEFCON is changed to 2. If it goes to 1, WOPR can launch the missiles.
David tells Falken the story of Joshua. Falken has given up on wants to world to end. Falken says he could never get Joshua to learn when to give up. Jennifer and David get discussed with Falken and leave his house. As the two look around the island trying to find a way off, they discuss all of the things that they haven’t done. They kiss and then a helicopter hits them with a spotlight and begins chasing them. Finally, the helicopter stops and Falken tells them to get in.
The war room is still getting Soviet movements notifications from the WOPR. They get a launch detection of over 300 inbound missiles with 2400 warheads. Berringer moves to DEFCON 1. The WOPR recommends a full-scale retaliatory strike. They get a sub launch detection and go into launch mode. David, Jennifer, and Falken race to the war room. Pat gets them in just before the big door shuts. Changes to the launch codes are locked out as part of the launch procedure.
Falken looks at the board and realizes it’s a bluff. He tells Berringer that such a Soviet attack does not make sense because of the retaliation. Berringer listens to Falken and decides to call the 1st three places that are to be impacted. As the screen shows explosions, the voices on the other end of the line confirm that there has not been an attack.
Failing to trick NORAD into launching, the WOPR now begins searching for the launch codes itself. Changes are locked out. All logins are locked out including what David used to get in. They can’t shut down the power because that will cause an automatic launch. Berringer tells the President that they may have to go forward with the attack.
Games! They have it list games. David tries a couple of games with no results. Then they realize that Tic-Tac-Toe is not on the list. They ask Joshua to play Tic-Tac-Toe but when they send an abort command they are thrown out. They pull up Tic-Tac-Toe again and David plays the computer to a draw. Then they make the computer start playing itself.
As the WOPR gets closer to launch, it begins playing Tic-Tac-Toe faster and faster drawing more power from the system. Pat calls out the launch number until the WOPR has all ten numbers. WOPR starts displaying attack scenarios on the board, at least 134 times declaring the winner to be none. Finally, after drawing all of the power to the boards, the computer learns and states – Strange game, the only winning move is not to play.
Then how about a nice game of chess? Everyone is safe and the evil empire collapse. At least until Putty gets in charge.
World-Famous Short Summary – Add a special character to your password.
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Beware the moors