Earlier today, the Tribeca Film Festival hosted a screening of the 1983 Matthew Broderick classic (and a personal favorite), "WarGames." In front of a, sadly, less than packed house (or, happily, a more than empty house) the film was screened in its entirety, followed by a slightly disappointing panel discussion (I'll get to that) that included director John Badham and co-star Ally Sheedy. While in attendance, I learned a few things about "WarGames." Here are those 9 things that I learned.
1. The first scene is still frightening
I haven't seen "WarGames" from start to finish in quite some time. So long, in fact, that I forgot about the somewhat frightening opening scene featuring John Spencer as an Air Force officer who can't turn the key that will result in the launch of a nuclear warhead. The scene was a test (he didn't know that), but his failure to launch inspires the government to put the launch decision in the hands of a computer. (His failure to launch did not result in the inspiration for a Matthew McConaughey movie.) I like to think that Spencer's compassion here is what caught the eye of the Governor of
Vermont New Hampshire, eventually landing him the job as President Bartlet's "West Wing" Chief of Staff.
2. David Lightman (Broderick) and Jennifer Mack's (Sheedy) biology teacher, Mr. Leggett, is a prick
Sure we remember Lightman's joke that Leggett's wife is the first person to suggest the concept of reproduction without sex -- which still gets a laugh -- but we forget that Mr. Leggett makes a big to-do of handing both Lightman and Mack's biology test back to them with a big ol' F written and circled on the front of the test. Leggett got what he deserved with Lightman's quip.
3. Floppy disks are funny!
The first time Lightman inserts a gigantic floppy disk into his computer, the audience breaks out in laughter. Stupid people from 1983! What were they thinking with their early technology and all? OK, sure, it's a little jarring to see a giant floppy disk in 2012, but it's no more antiquated of a scene than when Lightman uses a phone book to look up a telephone number.
4. "WarGames" was really ahead of its time
I know, this isn't really a shocking statement. But I had forgotten that there's a scene in which Lightman and Mack make an airline reservation online. In 1983.
5. Being called "Mr. Potato Head" still makes me laugh
Even 29 years later, I laughed just has hard at the "Mr. Potato Head! Mr. Potato Head! Backdoors are not secrets!," line that is directed at Eddie Deezen's Malvin.
6. "WarGames" was originally titled "The Genius"
Director John Badham -- who was grossly underused during the post-film panel -- recalls that the original title for the film was "The Genius" and the original director was Martin Brest, who would eventually direct "Beverly Hills Cop." Badham states there was so much turnover with the cast, Broderick and Sheedy were certain that they would be fired, too. So certain that their fear was, at first, affecting their performance. Badham compared their early takes to that of the "Short Circuit" robot, Johnny 5.
7. Dabney Coleman is an ornery cuss
During the panel, Badham stated that, "Dabney is a war game of his own." This makes me like Coleman even more, for what it's worth.
8. Ally Sheedy has never seen "Animal House"
Answering a question about the influence of "Animal House" on early '80s movies, Sheedy admitted that she has never seen the John Landis comedy, stating that she was too much of a "book nerd" to have seen it.
9. The panel moderator was strangely obsessed with Sputnik
This was a shame. For whatever reason, the moderator asked about Sputnik seven times. Seven! Sputnik is not in "WarGames." When Badham and Sheedy were speaking, the panel was fascinating. Unfortunately, the moderator wanted the discussion to be some sort of an overly intelligent discussion about society as a whole -- in a "why are there wars?" type of way -- instead of learning more about the film itself. Sadly Badham and Sheedy took a backseat in the panel to a representative from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Which, whatever, that's all fine, I guess, but it felt like a discussion best saved for another time. The audience was there to hear about "WarGames" -- and we heard very little about "WarGames." (More than a few audience members left once it was apparent that Badham and Sheedy wouldn't be the primary focus of the panel.) But, hey, at least we got to see the film again on the big screen.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.
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