Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Even though I saw it many times during my youth, including twice in its initial theatrical run, I never really realized how much I loved John Badham’s Wargames until about a year ago when I re-watched it by chance on TV. About halfway through that surprise viewing, it suddenly dawned on me how much I absolutely admired the film, and specifically the relationship that develops between Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy.
I’ll be the first person to admit that I am not that nostalgic about the eighties. Even though all of my teenage years were spent in the decade, the eighties always seemed, at best, off to me and, at worst, embarrassing. I find though looking back that many of my favorite films did indeed occur in the period from 1980 to 1983, a few years where you could still feel the seventies and the sense of invention they had contained fighting against the increasing plastic world the eighties promised. WarGames, released in the summer of 1983 just after my tenth birthday, manages to take the light hallmarks of some of the eighties most entertaining productions and combine them with a bit of the paranoia and activism and that had possessed so many productions from the seventies.
The terrific new documentary that accompanies the new edition of Badham’s film does a great job at showing just how much it changed from the initial Lasker and Parkes script from the late seventies to the blockbuster release of 1983 it became. The film, originally to be directed by Martin Brest, started out life as a much darker and serious production but Badham brought a lighter touch to it as well as having the good sense to boost the relationship between Broderick and Sheedy, two of the most appealing and talented young actors to come out of American cinema in the eighties.
WarGames remains an exciting, if loveably illogical, production filled with more insight, warmth and charm than most Award winning films of the eighties can even begin to approach. Fueled by the often underrated Badham’s energetic direction and helped immensely by an extraordinary supporting cast including Dabney Coleman, Michael Madsen, John Wood and an incredible Barry Corbin ("I'd piss on a spark-plug if I'd thought it would do any good!"), WarGames remains a terrifically exciting film that was deserving of all the accolades it received in 1983. I would go so far as to say the film has actually aged better than the three films that managed to make more money than it did that summer and fall of 83, namely Trading Places, Terms of Endearment and even Return of the Jedi.
One thing that makes WarGames such an endearing film is its willingness to be obvious in its message of anti-nuclear feelings. Trading in any notion of subversion to flatly state the rather obvious, if no less meaningful, sentiment of the futility at fighting a war that cannot be won, WarGames is one of the most clear-headed productions of the cold war era and one of the most resonate. It is the very obviousness that makes WarGames so incredibly poignant and brave, and the 25 years that have passed since its release have only heightened the meaning of its message.
A lot of critics and viewers have taken note of the film’s many plot contrivances and sometimes holes but the film’s simplicity is part of its charm to me. I would argue that the film makes more sense in our electronic virus infected world than it did in 1983, but ultimately I don’t care about how easy the films script makes Point A get to Point B…WarGames works as a grand entertainment with a positive message and it does so with a refreshing ease.
Beyond anything else, the main thing that sells WarGames is the performances by Broderick and Sheedy, and the overwhelmingly sweet chemistry the two have between each other. Broderick was at the dawn of what has become a fascinating career, and he’s terrific as the young computer geek David Lightman. Like the best of his later roles, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the part. Just as good is the incredibly charming and inventive Sheedy, seen here at her loveliest with charisma and talent to burn. Together the two are just unforgettable and it’s a credit to Badham that he had the intelligence to expand Sheedy’s role as she disappeared early on in the original script.
Despite being a massive success in 1983, WarGames is still something of a cult film. I’ll take it over any of the John Hughes and related films (even though I admire several of them) that followed that made Broderick and Sheedy such eighties icons. WarGames is one of the best American films of possibly the worst cinematic decade in history and the recent Special Edition DVD is a fitting reminder of it.