Computer Movies: WarGames (1983) & WarGames: The Dead Code (2008)

After watching Sneakers and The Net last week I decided to add a few more movies to the top of my Netflix account including WarGames, which I had never seen before. I got it and watched it today and it’s a great little movie. Matthew Broderick stars as a kid who accidentally hacks into NORAD’s system and plays their war games simulator which somehow makes the system think it’s happening for real. The government goes after Broderick to find out what he’s up to, but he escapes and finds the system’s creator who eventually shows up to help convince the government guys to listen to the kid. Ally Sheedy plays his love interest pre-Breakfast Club, Dabney Coleman plays a guy working for the government who runs the system, Michael Madsen has a brief role in the beginning as a guy with his hand on the proverbial button and the guy who played Eugene in Grease (Eddie Deezen) plays a super-annoying hacker friend of Broderick’s.

Overall, the movie paces itself well and seems authentic enough. Unlike the 90s movies I watched, this stuff was all WAY before my time (it came out the year I was born) so I have no idea how accurate it was on the technology side of things, but the IMDb trivia said the screenwriters Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes (who also wrote Sneakers!) hung out with some hackers to get some of the tech specs right. Gotta love that level of commitment to the source material, but I’m guessing the hackers didn’t appreciate being portrayed by the super annoying kid from Grease. Man, I’m glad I never had to actually take my phone off the hook and put it on my modem to get it to work. Or if I almost accidentally created a global nuclear war just because I was really excited about playing a new video game.

As you might expect, watching the original lead me directly to checking out the WarGames sequel Death Code which I liked much more than I expected to. When it comes to straight to DVD sequels to 80s movies, I think I’ve only ever seen Road House 2 and Lost Boys: The Tribe, one of which was okay and the other I couldn’t even get through. I guess Death Code stands as the best of the bunch as it’s not just a rehash of the original (which would have been excruciating after JUST watching the original). In fact, Joshua, the computer program from the first film shows up as kind of a hero in this one, taking center stage for the last 10 or so minutes of the movie.

This time, the story revolves around a kid named Will who plays an online game which is really a government trap to hunt down terrorists. I’m still not exactly sure how that works, but whatever, I bought it enough. This time he’s on the run with his lady friend and actually gets helped out by the scientist who created the program in the first movie. The only really interesting casting note is that Nicolas Wright plays his friend and Wright plays a guy named Davis on Accidentally On Purpose which was just on. Overall the acting is alright, the lines are all delivered well, but sometimes the reactions seem a little wooden. I would say that it’s not a necesarry movie to watch, but it’s fun enough if you want a thematic follow-up to the original flick.

It’s kind of interesting that even after 25 years we have the same fears regarding computers. Both movies feature computers taking control of systems that have the potential to lead to mass destruction. In the first movie the computer system made the military think the Soviets were going to bomb. Had they trusted the system, they would have retaliated which would have made the Soviets actually fire missiles at the US. In the sequel, the computer system basically gains autonomy and decides to do the same thing, but it goes further in that it sees the people trying to stop is as being a threat and orders a spy plane to bomb them. As much as we want machines to do our work for us (especially the dirty variety), our fiction keeps laying out the problems that could result, even though some of those problems rely on some pretty far off problems like advanced artificial intelligence. Well, I hope it’s far off…

Halloween Scene: With (Robot) ‘Friends’ Like These…

3:16:36 pm

You know how sometimes your friend will tell you about a movie that sounds pretty awesome and then, in fact, turns out to BE pretty awesome? Well, I was hoping that would happen after Rickey gave me the following description of Wes Craven’s Deadly Friend (1986) (paraphrased, of course): “So, there’s this kid who built a robot and he likes this girl. A neighbor shoots the robot and the girl’s abusive dad accidentally kills her, so the kid combines them and the robo girl starts killing people.” He then sends me a clip of a girl throwing a basketball at an old woman and her head EXPLODES (it’s on YouTube, just search for Deadly Friend) and I was sold.

Unfortunately, Deadly Friend is a freaking boring movie. If the above premise sounds awesome and you love the YouTube clip, don’t bother with the movie. Just watch the clip over and over and you’ll get more enjoyment out of this flick because, even though the clip promises Machine Girl levels of gore, that one scene is about all you get. There’s also a really weird scene at the very end (I guess this is a SPOILER, but seriously, don’t bother seeing this movie) where the kid is standing over the dead girl and her skin starts tearing away to reveal a sleeker version of the robot underneath her skin. It’s actually a pretty cool looking scene, but it doesn’t make any sense seeing as how he merely put some kind of chip into her chest cavity to bring her back from the dead.

To be completely honest, I don’t remember a lot of the other details about the movie because it was boring, I watched it a few weeks ago and I was probably either dozing off or reading a trade towards the end, but I do remember that the robot looked like a weird combination of Wall-E and Johnny 5 from Short Circuit (a movie I freaking LOVED as a kid). Oh, also, Christy Swanson plays the girl/robot, but even that wasn’t interesting enough to keep me, well, interested.

Speaking of Johnny 5, his human companion, Steph-a-nie (a.k.a. Ally Sheedy) stars in the other robot movie I watched in the past few weeks, Man’s Best Friend (1993). I can’t say that Man’s Best Friend is a movie I’ve been wanting to see for years or anything, though I do remember seeing the box in my local video store. In fact, the only reason I watched it is because it was going to disappear from my Netflix Watch Instantly thing. Plus it boasted Lance Henriksen in a starring role, so I figured, what the heck?

It’s not a great movie, but I’d probably watch it again before I’d watch Deadly Friend. The basic idea is that Sheedy’s a news lady who’s trying to expose animal testing at some kind of facility only to accidentally free a dog named Max that turns out to be an experiment in genetics and robotics. You see, Henriksen and his scientist buddies combined the DNA of animals like monkeys, owls and squirrels (or something) into a dog, but he’s also part robot for some reason (again, I got bored and missed some presumably important plot points).

Anyway, the dog’s dangerous and has some pretty cool kills, especially if you keep telling yourself it’s not a real dog climbing a tree and devouring a clearly real cat (the dog is the obvious fake in this case). The kills are pretty cool, but the whole time I was kind of dumbfounded this this movie got made. I’m not really familiar with either Henriksen or Sheedy’s careers at this point, so this could either have been a movie with pretty big names or a desperate grab for cash from two not-so-hot-anymore stars, but man, what a weird movie.

So, if you’re feeling like watching a robot movie, watch Wall-E or Short Circuit. If you’re looking for a robot movie about killing and you’ve seen the Terminator movies a million times, I guess you could check out Man’s Best Friend. And, if you’re a Craven completist, I still recommend skipping Deadly Friend.