1980’s hackers take on the world – “WarGames”
Updated: Dec 23, 2022
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Matthew Broderick stars as computer hacker and high school senior David Lightman and Ally Sheedy as classmate Jennifer Mack. David first dials into the high school computer system to change his and Jennifer’s biology grade.
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“WARGAMES: 40th ANNIVERSARY EDITION”
4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray, 1983, PG for language
Best extra: A 45-minute retrospective making-of documentary with interviews from the cast and crew
IN THE SUMMER OF 1982, everyone associated with the Cold War thriller “WarGames” was paranoid about losing their job. Co-writers Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes, who had been college roommates, were already canned. Director Martin Brest (“Beverly Hills Cop”) was booted out next. Young actors Matthew Broderick (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Glory”) and Ally Sheedy (“The Breakfast Club,” “Short Circuit”) thought for sure they were headed for the chopping block, especially with only two weeks of shooting finished.
During the excellent carryover documentary produced for the 25th-anniversary edition, executive producer Leonard Goldberg recalls how he resurrected the movie. First, he recruited John Badham, mostly a TV director, with a few movies under his belt (“Saturday Night Fever” and “Blue Thunder”). Badham rehired Lasker and Parkes, and restored their Oscar-nominated script, having them add a popcorn flick spin to the doomsday drama. Then actor Barry Corbin was brought on board to take over the role of General Beringer. Corbin gave it a more comical twist, ad-libbing some of the movie's funniest lines.
“WarGames” was Broderick’s pre-“Bueller” breakout role, playing Seattle high school senior David Lightman who accidentally hacks into a military computer and possibly sets off World War III.
(1&2) Two U.S. Air Force Strategic Missile Wing controllers arrive at a silo site for their 24-hour shift. A surprise drill is conducted and a number of controllers are unwilling to turn the key required to launch a missile strike. (3) John McKittrick (Dabney Coleman) at the NORAD facility at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado suggests bypassing the Air Force controllers to launch the missiles by using the new NORAD supercomputer, WOPR (War Operation Plan Response). (4) General Beringer (Barry Corbin) is unsure of the new technology.
Broderick recalls those non-tech days when he and none of his friends had a computer. “I didn’t even know how to type,” he says. “There were no cell phones. It was pretty pathetic.” He did get one gift from the producers, an arcade version of Midway’s Galaga so he could get real-l-l-l-y good. Broderick admits it was addictive. “It didn’t seem so far-fetched that somebody could make a mistake and the whole world would suddenly blow up,” Broderick says.
The genesis of “WarGames” began when Lasker saw a documentary on English theoretical physicist, cosmologist/author Stephen Hawking and his work to finish what Einstein had started, “in terms of unifying all the knowledge of the cosmos.” He began the first draft in 1979 in which the Lightman character was a 13-year-old genius, the son of a Hawking’s like character, enrolled at UC Berkeley, with no subplots surrounding nuclear war or computers. Then Lasker and Parkes met futurist Peter Schwartz, who planted the seed of computer games, just as home computers (Apple II, Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80) were taking off, launching the underground hacker world. “This is how our kid gets into REAL trouble,” Lasker says. Plus, they explored the work of Yale professor Ron Rosenbaum, author of “The Underground World of the Bomb,” highlighting missile commanders and their synchronized keys, within simulated war games.
Goldberg pitched the project to the main studios and kept getting the cold shoulder: “They didn’t understand the technology.” Hollywood kept labeling “WarGames” a sci-fi movie, which he quickly disputed. “It’s probably science fact.” Ultimately, United Artists/MGM greenlit the film, assigning “flavor of the month director” Brest to the helm, Goldberg says. Assembling the cast had Sheedy auditioning over four months to play classmate Jennifer Mack. “She had that kind of a face, smile, and attitude,” Goldberg says. She was such a delight they expanded her role into the second half of the film, giving Lightman a love interest and someone to talk to. Brest wanted to screen-test Broderick, but he was in the middle of filming “Max Dugan Returns” and Matthew’s father suggested they just watch his dailies. Goldberg and Brest went to Fox Studios to watch his footage, and instantly signed him. A week after “Dugan,” Broderick was playing Lightman.
(1) Seattle, Washington the home of high school senior David Lightman. (2) The producers gave Broderick an arcade version of Midway’s Galaga so he could get real-l-l-l-y good. (3&4) David arrives late to his biology class and Jennifer can’t stop laughing. (5&6) Jennifer gives David a ride home on her moped and he has become a proficient computer hacker.
Badham originally got a call from his agent about the troubled “WarGames” production. His agent sent over the script but suggested he not take over. “The whole film was just brilliantly prepared, and the detail of the research that Brest had done was just exquisite,” Badham says. Once on board, he restored Lasker and Parkes’ lighter second draft, and reshot the scene when Jennifer goes to David’s messy bedroom and hacks into the school computer. Badham desperately wanted to add fun to the storyline, “I think if I could show a girl how I could break into the computer and change her grade, I would be so excited, I would nearly pee in my pants,” he says. In the middle of filming on Anderson Island, Washington, subbing for Oregon, Badham needed a short scene between David and Jennifer, so he hired screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz on 24-hour notice for 30 seconds of dialogue. They paid him with a new washer and dryer.
The disc includes an informative commentary with Badham and the writers, a featurette on the origins of hackers, and another on “Crystal Palace,” the NORAD facility at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado.
MGM/UA continues to be the top 4K Ultra HD release studio of catalog titles this year, via boutique houses Shout! Factory and Kino Lorber. Here’s their top-notch 2022 title list – including three Best Picture Oscar winners*: “Rollerball” (1975), “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” (1974), “Carrie” (1976), “Dressed to Kill” (1980), “Return of the Living Dead” (1985), “The Usual Suspects” (1995), “Platoon” (1986)*, “Species” (1995), “The Killing” (1956), “Killer’s Kiss” (1955), “The Apartment” (1960)*, “Red Dawn” (1984), “Paths of Glory” (1957), “In the Heat of the Night” (1967)*, “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964), “A Few Dollars More” (1965) and “The Great Escape” (1963).
The original camera negative was scanned in 4K (1.85:1 aspect ratio). HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading was applied for the best presentation possible. The HDR10 maximum light level peaks at 1056 nits and averages at 813 nits.
The 4K disc gets the greatest benefit from the added resolution – especially the wide shots from the studio-created NORAD facility to the rich and saturated daylight scenes. A few medium shots inside David’s bedroom and Crystal Palace are slightly less sharp, but overall, a good dose of natural film grain dances across the screen. The new Blu-ray is also sourced from the new 4K master, a nice upgrade from the decade-old 2K mastered 1080p disc.
(1) The U.S. Force Officer officer gets a warning signal from the new NORAD supercomputer that nearly two dozen Soviet missiles are heading toward Las Vegas and Seattle. (2) Gen. Beringer takes the U.S. military to DEFCON 3 with the approaching missiles. (3) David is congratulated by his parents (Susan Davis & William Bogart) for the latest report card. (4) The F.B.I. has taken David from Seattle to the NORAD headquarters for questioning after the WOPR called his computer back giving his location away. (5) A calm day at the NORAD war room after the previous false alarm when David hacked into a secret backdoor of a Sunnyvale gaming company that was attached to the WORP. (6&7) David escapes from the NORAD facility - walking out with a tour group and then calling Jennifer for a plane ticket from Colorado to Oregon. He’s trying to find Stephen Falken an early artificial intelligence researcher, who’s worked helped develop the WORP.
The 4K disc and Blu-ray both include the original stereo 2.0 DTS HD soundtrack, and the more active six-channel DTS-HD Master, carrying composer Arthur B. Rubinstein’s music cues from the front to surround speakers. Dialogue is front and center, featuring a deep bass response during the Crystal Palace nuclear countdown sequence.
“Wargames” received high praise from the likes of Chicago Sun-Times and “Sneak Previews” critic Roger Ebert, who gave it four stars. “It convinces us that it knows computers, and it makes its knowledge into an amazingly entertaining thriller,” he said. It became a summer blockbuster finishing the year at No. 5 in returns, sandwiched between Eddie Murphy’s “Trading Places” and topping James Bond in “Octopussy.” And, it received three Oscar nominations for its Original Screenplay, Cinematography, and Sound.
This makes for a desirable 40th-anniversary gift, and an excellent addition to the growing MGM/UA library of 4K discs. Keep them coming!
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer
(1-3) David and Jennifer end up on Goose Island the home of Stephan Falken (John Wood). (4) The WORP continues toward Global Thermonuclear War that David accidentally started days earlier. (5) Gen. Beringer assumes the worst and places the U.S. military on DEFCON 3 and then DEFCON 2. (6) The WORP plays out Global Thermonuclear War as David, Jennifer and Falken watch from the NORAD war room. (7-9) John McKittrick and his assistant Pat Healy (Juanin Clay) think the game is over, but the WORP continues playing toward Global Thermonuclear War.