A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.


November 14, 2010


I wish that we were reviewing this right after reviewing Hackers. It would be a more stark contrast. Hackers is a movie full of silly GUIs, impossible hacking and laughable technology. This movie is full of 1200 baud modems, 8 in. floppy disks (even bigger than the 5 1/4 inch disks I was used to on my Atari 800,) and all ascii displays. In short, although there is much that is implausible about the technology in this movie it feels a lot closer to my experience with computers of the day, which lends it an air of realism not often to be seen in movies. So it has some of the best and most realistic computer hacking in any Hollywood film. I see that Lawrence Lasker and Walter Parkes, the screen writers, went on to write Sneakers – which is another wonderfully plausible movie about hacking. Good job, guys!

This movie is so much a product of its time that it’s almost painful. Not just because of the “state of the art” computer technology on display. This is a movie that leverages the immanent threat of nuclear destruction during the cold war for most of its tension. It features a prominent picture of Ronald Regan at one point, implying that the never-on-screen President that people are constantly talking to is him. There is mention of the Soviets mobilizing their troops in East Germany.

A very young Matthew Broderick plays David, a video-game obsessed kid with more cool computer tech in his room than you could believe. In an attempt to hack into a game company to learn more about their new line-up of computer games he inadvertently stumbles upon a government mainframe. It is WOPR – the computer that has been assigned by the government with the task of planning a nuclear attack strategy against the possibility of World War III. In an attempt to impress a pretty girl (Ally Sheedy as Jennifer,) and with the shrill and annoying help of Eddie Deezen, David attempts to find a user name that the computer will recognise. (There’s a very cool research montage where David reads articles and visits the library to learn everything he can about the man who programmed the computer.) Unfortunately for him when he finally gets in the simulation the computer begins to run turns out a little too real.

WOPR can’t distinguish between a simulated war and a real one, and wreaks all kind of havoc at NORAD command as it seems to indicate that the Russians have launched a nuclear first strike. This gets David arrested and brought in for questioning, at which point he discovers that the computer is still playing the “game” and intends to start World War III for real in about fifty hours. So he has to escape from government custody and, with Jennifer’s help, track down the programmer who created WOPR. It’s a boy-hacker-adventure story – perfectly suited for an eleven-year-old me, so naturally I have quite fond memories of it.

And just look at all these familiar faces! Not just Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy (who I TOTALLY had a crush on from this movie, Breakfast Club and Short Circut) but also Dabney Coleman (from 9 to 5) Barry Corbin (from Twin Peaks) James Tolken (didn’t that guy ever have hair?) and Eddie Deezen (from 1941.) Maybe they’re not household names, but all of these great character actors in one place makes it feel like a whole bunch of familiar friends all together.

While we watched this Amanda asked me “Was this what you were like in the eighties?” to which I had to reply no. Then she asked “Was this what you WANTED to be like?” Well of course! What nerdish kid in the eighties didn’t want a room full of awesome computer tech, Ally Sheedy coming over to visit and an adventure into the heart of NORAD? Have I mentioned that I wrote “Global thermal nuclear war” in basic on my Atari? I just with it had had better graphics.

November 14, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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