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Details At A Glance

Category Adventure Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.85:1 (Non-16x9), Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:18)
Rating pg.gif (1010 bytes) Other Trailer(s) None
Year Released 1983 Commentary Tracks Yes, 1 - John Badham (Director), Lawrence Lasker (Writer), Walter F. Parkes (Writer)
Running Time 108:10 Minutes  Other Extras Booklet
RSDL/Flipper RSDL (59:48)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Selection then Menu
Region 4 Director John Badham
UnitedArtists.gif (10720 bytes)
Fox Home Video
Starring Matthew Broderick
Dabney Coleman
John Wood
Ally Sheedy
Case Transparent Amaray
RPI $34.95 Music Arthur B. Rubinstein
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16x9 Enhancement 16x9No.jpg (4709 bytes) Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 448 Kb/s)
French (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
German (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Italian (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Spanish (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0, 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

Plot Synopsis

    During the early 1980s, when the personal computer was slowly creeping its way into the home of many a bright-eyed youngster who found such a device to be more engaging than school or society, Hollywood began to sense a new subject matter which they could put their slant on. After twenty years, not a single film about anything vaguely related to computers has come close to the original masterpiece, a vastly underrated work by the name of Tron. To see the exact reasons why this is the case, all one needs to do is to take a look at WarGames, a film where Hollywood makes some critical mistakes in its portrayal of the computer. The first, and the most obvious one, is a gross overestimation of the capabilities and power of the everyday computer to be found in the home of the young user. In the world of WarGames, the refresh rate of your remote connection to a military supercomputer through an acoustic coupler is virtually instantaneous, and being a teenage computer nerd means you will get into the military system faster than I can get into my own bank account. It is a real credit to the writers that this plot hole doesn't swallow the entire film. David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) is the reality-defying computer nerd who begins the film by hacking into the school computer and changing grades for the benefit of his classmate, Jennifer Mack (Ally Sheedy). Jennifer is not exactly impressed with David's hacking skills, and is averse to the idea of having her grades electronically altered. However, she quickly changes her mind and indulges the fantasy of every schoolboy with a Commodore 64 by playing an excited audience to David's electronic chicanery.

    Meanwhile, after a routine test of the procedures used to launch nuclear missiles reveals an alarming failure rate in the human element of twenty-two percent, a plan is conceived to remove the human element from the American military's strategic defense. McKittrick (Dabney Coleman) has worked everything out, from the hardware that will be used to the manner in which it will be programmed and run by a supercomputer called the War Operation Plan Response machine, or WOPR for short (inventing new anagrams was a favourite pastime in that era). The only thing he didn't count on was that a young hacker with too much time on his hands would investigate the history of the man who programmed the machine and work out the "back door password". While this plot device was unique and esoteric in 1982, it has since become one of the most dire and woefully inaccurate clichés that Hollywood has ever produced in the last eighteen years. However, one aspect of the film that hasn't become trite or clichéd with the passage of time is the remarkably personal characterization of the computer and its creator, Doctor Falken (John Wood). Without ruining the few real surprises that this film has, suffice it to say that the powerful supercomputer used in this scenario assumes the personality of Falken's son, Joshua. So, for all intents and purposes, David's innocent mistake leaves the military fighting with the digital equivalent of an overly intelligent school child. I shudder to think what sort of condition the world would be in now if I had the capability to launch nuclear missiles at Russia just as a game, because I can't think of a single thing that I knew when I was younger that would have made me stop myself from obliterating the world.

    Obviously, stories about the world of computing do not stand up all that well to the test of time, and this is especially true of WarGames. In the year 1982, the computers responsible for such mundane tasks as printing documents took up an entire room, with what was then termed the microcomputer only just beginning to find a home market. Now, the processing capabilities of the military supercomputers depicted in this film are less than a tenth of those belonging to computers that can be bought at your local Dick Smith's. So, to make a long story short, as a computer film, WarGames is decidedly dated, as are all computer-based films from this era with the sole exception of Tron. However, as a story about a computer enthusiast and his attempt to make up for a serious blunder, with a nicely presented anti-war message to boot, this film is definitely worth checking out.

Transfer Quality

    It seems that Fox Home Video have caught the nasty packaging error bug from Warner Home Video, which in itself wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that they have also caught a touch of the inadequate transfer bug.


    The video transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced, contrary to the claim on the packaging, which I believe to be quite a misleading one, given that the words "Letterbox Version" can be clearly seen above "16:9" on the back over the cover.

    The sharpness of the transfer is definitely better than VHS or television broadcast, but not by so much that it will make you leap out of your seat, or decide to show the film to friends who have yet to be convinced about the virtues of the format. The shadow detail was acceptable, but clearly lacking in the few scenes shot at night or in low lighting conditions. Thankfully, no low-level noise appeared to make these parts of the film look any worse.

    The colour saturation is surprisingly warm, but the early 1980s fashion and architecture combine with early 1980s film stock to present a rather aged look which increases the generally dated feel of the film. Skin tones and clothing come up looking nice and bright, although the characteristic overbalance towards red that exists in most shots, which is common to early 1980s films, is present and accounted for.

    MPEG artefacts were not present during the main feature, partly because there simply isn't enough opportunity in the film itself for them to manifest, but also because the film has plenty of space to breathe. The bitrate of the transfer is almost always at the maximum ten megabits per second, and doesn't fall very far when it does fall below this level. Film-to-video artefacts consisted of some minor aliasing, but the total amount is exceptionally mild compared to what one would normally expect from a film with this much machinery in it. As a matter of fact, the most noticeable instance of aliasing is at 34:34, and occurs in the slats on the sides of the door to the Lightman residence. Given how many opportunities for aliasing there are in this film, this is quite remarkable. Film artefacts were generally minor, with only the occasional large spot on the picture being noted. Overall, this is a very clean transfer with little to complain about aside from the lack of 16x9 enhancement.

    Another area where the packaging error bug has struck Fox Home Video is in the subtitles list, which fails to mention that there are actually two sets of subtitles for English and German, not just the Hearing Impaired versions. This is a minor quibble compared to some of the other packaging errors I found, but it is still quite annoying.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change taking place at 59:48, which is a few seconds after WOPR/Joshua responds to David's question as to whether the data being shown on a terminal happens to be "for real", so to speak. This is an excellent layer change in spite of its placement, as I had to run through it twice with the audio commentary turned on to notice it. The layer change pause is barely perceptible under these circumstances, even on two players where layer changes are often very noticeable.


    The packaging errors continue with regards to the audio transfer, too, although they're not quite as misleading as to the DVD's quality in this case. The audio transfer is presented in a choice of five languages, with an audio commentary in English for good measure. In order, the soundtracks are the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 5.1, with dubs in French, German, Italian, and Spanish, as well as the English audio commentary. All of the soundtracks except for the original English dialogue are in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. I listened to the English dialogue and the English audio commentary, while sampling parts of the film in Spanish for good measure. I will make more comments about the difference between the original dialogue and the dubs later, but suffice it to say for now that the packaging erroneously refers to all of the soundtracks as being in Dolby Digital 5.1, which is quite contrary to what both my DVD player and amplifier have to say on the subject. As I stated before, only the original English dialogue has been remixed into 5.1 channels.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, partly because the dialogue seems to have originally been mixed about ten decibels above the rest of the soundtrack. Being that this film is more driven by dialogue than excessive sound effects, this is a very important aspect of the soundtrack, so the heightened presence of the dialogue is perfectly acceptable. Audio sync was not a problem during the main feature.

    The score music in this film is credited to Arthur B. Rubinstein, and it is an especially quirky and dramatic effort which occasionally lends a certain comedic and manic feel to the on-screen action. Moments in this film that could have fallen flat are enhanced by the score, and in some cases are even rescued by its comic vitality. This is no small feat given that this film looked implausible when it was initially released, and looks exceptionally dated in this age where more households have computers than not. The score music transforms this film from a comedy to a thriller and back again, and sometimes makes it both at once, with an eerie string arrangement often accompanying a quirky rhythm section that wouldn't sound out of place in one of the Ghostbusters films. This is one of the better film scores you will hear from an early 1980s film.

    The surround presence on the English soundtrack is very limited, to the point where there seems to be little difference between the English 5.1 remix and the Spanish 2.0 Stereo dubbing. The 5.1 remix has the bare minimum of surround activity necessary to constitute a surround soundtrack, but there is nothing discrete or subtle about it, nor is it particularly enveloping. Having said that much, one thing this soundtrack does have in its favour is the absence of any clicks, pops, or dropouts, which is certainly very good for a film that has been languishing in the vaults for the better part of two decades. The subwoofer was occasionally called into use in order to support the humming of machinery and the music, but there are no explosive action sounds to be found in this soundtrack. In any case, the subwoofer was called upon every now and again, and when it was heard, it was mostly inconspicuous.



    The menu is very plain, with no enhancements of any kind, but it is simple to navigate. There are only sixteen chapter stops in the programme and in the menu, contrary to the listing on the booklet.

Theatrical Trailer

    Clocking in at two minutes and eighteen seconds, this trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is not 16x9 enhanced. The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack sounds a lot like it is a remixed mono source, but this is the only real clue to the age of the trailer. The video and audio quality of this trailer is truly amazing considering that it is at least eighteen years old, because the lack of serious artefacts makes it look half that age.

Audio Commentary - John Badham (Director), Lawrence Lasker (Writer), Walter F. Parkes (Writer)

    John, Lawrence, and Walter discuss everything about the making of this movie, including the intricacies of making a film that was believable, enjoyable, and not too objectionable in the eyes of the government departments being depicted. A lot of the time, however, they descend into treading the same old ground about how the state of filmmaking technology has changed so radically in the past eighteen years. This is something I really wish commentaries on such films as these would try to avoid for the most part, as the topic really has been beaten to death several times over. In spite of this, the commentary is quite informative and interesting when it needs to be, and it is certainly one of the better ones I have heard since I enjoyed both the commentary and the film.


    The booklet included with this DVD contains a lot of amusing tidbits about the production of the film, and attempts by the government to deny its plausibility that backfired when a similar event took place weeks after the film opened. However, the booklet lists thirty-two chapter stops when in fact there are only sixteen, which is a worrying trend for MGM discs, and one that I hope will be rectified immediately.

R4 vs R1

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;     Since both versions lack 16x9 enhancement, I will have to recommend that you buy neither version and wait for this vital feature to be added, although the video quality is surprisingly good.


    WarGames is one of the few films of the early 1980s that portrayed computing with any resemblance to how it actually was at the time, presented on a good, but not particularly great DVD.

    The video quality is very good, but spoiled by a lack of 16x9 enhancement, with a few too many film artefacts.

    The audio quality is good, but a waste of half the channels encoded into the soundtrack.

    The extras are passable in quantity, but surprisingly good in quality

Ratings (out of 5)

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© Dean McIntosh (my bio sucks... read it anyway)
August 13, 2000 
Review Equipment
DVD Grundig GDV 100 D, using composite output; Toshiba SD-2109, using S-video output
Display Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm), 4:3 mode, using composite input; Samsung CS-823AMF (80 cm), 16:9 mode/4:3 mode, using composite and S-video inputs
Audio Decoder Built In (Amplifier)
Amplification Sony STR-DE835
Speakers Panasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer