It isn’t often that I get to force Anna to watch something she has no interest in. Typically I have to find some way of piquing her interest or there simply is no way she will go. Take Midnight Meat Train, for example. While she isn’t averse to gore or horror films by any means, trying to talk her into driving 20 minutes to one of the worst areas of town to watch a film that might be terrible wasn’t an easy task. But after informing her on the treatment the film was receiving from Lionsgate, she became interested enough to see if the movie really deserved to be stashed away in the far reaches of the metro area. Of course after watching it we both realized why the film isn’t getting a wide release, but you have to give her credit for making the effort.
But with my most recent pick for Where the Long Tail Ends I decided I was going to force her to watch a film she should have watched decades ago, that film being WarGames. For we have a unique relationship, based on a fascinating conglomeration of compromise and annoyance. Now while I have already divulged some of her worst secrets, it seems that I also have something that I do to her that annoys her to know end, that being my continual reference to my “Hancocks”.
Several weeks ago I discovered a glaringly gauche piece of eye ware left in our Lost and Found. They were a pair of giant black sunglasses that successfully managed to hide a solid one third of my face. And while they were clearly womens sunglasses, the completely ridiculous nature of them on anyone who wore them was far too much for me to resist. Now while current fashion trends will claim such gargantuan glasses are “sexy”, all I see is when I look at them is Bono as “The Fly” from that gawd awful Zoo TV Tour.
So if I though these things were so damn ugly why would I claim them for myself and wear them in public? Because they annoy the hell out of Anna.
But why do I refer to them as “My Hancock’s”? That is because they also have a more then passing resemblance to the sunglasses worn by Will Smith on the poster to his latest turgid summer blockbuster, Hancock. So in an effort to make these glasses even more ridiculous then they initially appear, I have awarded them a rather dubious name. Which also annoys Anna. Double bonus.
Quick side note, our theater also recently was sent some swag for the upcoming film College, on which was a rather stupid looking visor that I quickly snatched up. I simply couldn’t resist the irony on being a bald man wearing a visor. It’s the type of subtle genius that turns what appears to be a blatant advertisement of my stupidity into meta level genius. Though Anna has a decidedly different take on my prank, “It’s not so stupid its funny. It’s so stupid you’re an idiot.” And once again in an effort to bond with my newest prop, I have named my visor my Galifianakis. Those of you too hip to be square will understand the reference.
But what does a worthless visor, fugly shades, and a subway train full of meat have to do with an out of date Eighties thriller? It is elementary my dear reader. You see WarGames is a film I knew Anna would have no interest in, yet I attempted to offer up a few interesting nuggets to see if she would bite, and when she didn’t it them became my own personal little game of seeing just how long she could stay interested in the movie before leaving me to my nostalgic paradise. For those who care the over under was 20 minutes.
Now I didn’t go into WarGames with much anticipation. It had been years since I had last watched the film, and while it is clearly one of the best video game movies ever made, I didn’t expect the passage of time to be very kind to the film, nor did I expect the rosy lenses of nostalgia to buffer any of the anticipated flaws.
But much to my surprise WarGames bursts out of the gate with a scene (several years later deliciously mocked in Spies Like Us) that centers around Michael Madsen and John Spencer as the two men in charge of a secret US missile silo, as they struggle with orders to launch a nuclear assault on Russia. It is surprisingly tense, and as a result is an outstanding lead in for the film.
From there WarGames shifts gears and introduces us to young David Lightman (Matthew Broderick), a smarmy, sarcastic hacker who spends far too much time playing video games and not enough time doing his homework. It is interesting that with the rather impressive number of nerdy roles (WarGames, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Project X and The Freshman to name a few) that Broderick isn’t thought of more highly in geek culture. My own personal theory is that while Broderick is good looking, smart, and very sarcastic in his films he has the kind of boyish adolescents that most nerds are trying to step away from. They don’t want to be viewed as children, but that their passions, however esoteric they may be, are important and deserve to be treated as such.
While WarGames has garnered a lot of respect for its realistic portrayal of how early hackers operated, there is one early particular scene that stands out. David is having some trouble figuring out the password for the computer company he found so he goes to the local college to talk to two friends/mentors who might be able to give him some tips. These friends being hard core computer nerds Malvin (Eddie Deezen) and Jim (Maury Chaykin). While Deezen was often employed to depict the stereotypical vision of what a “nerd” must be, Chaykin was a character actor who didn’t comfortably fit any stereotype. Yet Chaykin owns this scene, giving an entirely believable portrayal of someone who loves computers and devotes every second of their life to learning everything about them they possibly can. You want to find the template for The Comic Book Guy or The Lone Gunmen, look no further then Chaykin in WarGames.
Without a doubt the idea of what a nerd was is changing in WarGames. While the idea that these people were lonely, ugly losers would still propagate for much of the Eighties, WarGames was one of the first films that found a way to showcase the things that these people were so passionate about. And it is this passion that draws other people in and excites them. Jennifer (Ally Sheedy) might find David interesting, but when he ushers her into his nerd cave and opens up his soul to her it is that act that wins her over. Not musclebound manliness, but simple openness and honesty about something he truly loves.
Now sure, WarGames has its faults. It repeatedly falls into cliché, the film looks incredibly dated and the W.O.P.R. is wholly unrealistic but it still manages to be fun and interesting in spite of its flaws. It s able to do this because WarGames has managed to tap into a culture that was aching for respect, and WarGames certainly makes every effort to treat the subject with dignity and respect, turning a simple throw away genre picture into something potentially revolutionary. For all its flaws WarGames has aged far better then anyone could have possibly imagined or hoped for.
As for Anna’s take on the film, well, to be fair I did cook her a rather large meal before we screened it, so I wasn’t all that surprised that she crashed less then ten minutes into the film. But, sure enough, a half hour later she grudgingly fought off the dream world to offer up this valuable nugget, “I remember this movie. Oh….no I don’t” So there we have it, twenty five years and one viewing later, Anna still doesn’t even recognize the movie. Which might actually be an improvement.