July 28, 2008

DVD Review: WarGames - The Dead Code

It was 25 years ago that a film called WarGames launched itself onto the big screen. One of the biggest hits of 1983, the film garnered a trio of Oscar nominations, including one for Best Screenplay. When viewed today, the film appears to be awfully dated with the technology it possesses. However, will it is dated it has aged gracefully. It was one of the first films to attempt to portray computer technology in a realistic manner. It was a task it was successful at accomplishing, while also bring a new level of fame to then virtual unknown Matthew Broderick. Now, in the present, we are given a new film that seeks to update the original by delivering a similar story with more current elements. Was it successful? Well, let's just say that you shouldn't expect any Oscar nominations for this direct to DVD affair.

Will Farmer (Matt Lanter) is a computer whiz kid who has gotten into trouble for his computer hacking ways. One day, he plays an online game that, unbeknownst to him, was designed by the government to weed out potential terrorist threats. Now, if that made you go "huh?" just go with it, otherwise the rest of the film will just give you a headache.

Now, having played the game, Will is now targeted as a terrorist threat. Who exactly labeled him, and by extension his family, as such? A supercomputer called Ripley, successor to WOPR from the first film. Unfortunately for Will, he is unaware of his pursuers as he heads off on a class trip to Montreal with his would-be girlfriend (Amanda Walsh). However, it does not take long for Will to find out that his gaming excursion has made him a target. What follows is chase, the government to stamp out this terrorist threat, and Will to find out why he has been targeted and find a way to stop it.

If you are familiar with the original film, you are familiar with this one. Rather than being any type of actual sequel, this is more of a makeover. Take the original frame, plug in new character names, take out nuclear/Cold War overtones and insert a terrorist threat, and there you go, a new movie.

Being a retelling rather than a sequel, or even a straight up remake is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is no excuse for bad writing. That is the biggest failing of WarGames: The Dead Code s the writing. Nothing feels fresh, authentic, or terribly real.

As I watched the film, a couple of times actually, I had trouble buying any of it. The coincidences used to move the plot along, the thin thread used to tie back to the first film were just too much. My ability to suspend disbelief in a film that wanted to be realistic was strained past the breaking point. Despite the brisk pace that director Stuart Gillard injects, it still feels draggy.

Where the original can pride itself on its portrayal of technology, this redux did not feel nearly as real and tangible as that first film. On top of that, Matt Lanter and Amanda Walsh are no replacements for Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy. The chemistry between the two is quite poor, but that could be due to just bad performances, but I never bought them in their roles.

The best I can say is that once it is over, you can forget it in rather short order. It is cinematic fast food. You may be fooled into enjoying the ride while it happens, but once you finish, the momentary high is replaced with regret, but before long you are on to something else having forgotten what you were regretting.

Audio/Video. Everything looks and sounds fine, I cannot offer up any real complaints or praise. It is a solid transfer, just what you would expect from a current release from a major studio, even from a lesser movie.

  • Commentary. This track featuring star Matt Lanter and director Stuart Gillard is a little dull with plenty of fluff filling in the time.
  • The Making of WarGames: The Dead Code. Rather fluffy making of piece is more of a promotional clip than anything in depth or revealing. (15 minutes)
  • Production Stills Gallery. Just a bunch of pictures.
  • Trailers. Includes trailers for The Onion Movie and In the Name of the King.

Bottomline. Despite the presence of WOPR and Falken, this is not terribly worthy of the WarGames moniker. This film will never attain the kind of cred the original possesses, and will be relegated to the back shelves in relatively short order. Still, if you are desperate for something to watch, go ahead and give it a rent.

Not Recommended.


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