"WarGames" has lost only a little of its edge since it was first released to theaters in 1983. Today, the Cold War is over; computer usage, computer hacking, and computer glitches are more commonplace; and computer hardware has become more sophisticated. Be that as it may, this new DVD transfer still generates more tension and sustains more interest than most newer action films.
The night before I watched "WarGames" I happened to see "The Peacemaker" with George Clooney, and for me it generated precious few thrills whatsoever. Yet in "WarGames" director John Badham creates edge-of-your-seat excitement without ever resorting to open violence, killings, car chases, crashes, or things blowing up. In fact, it is only the threat of things blowing up that is present in "WarGames," and that is enough.
The plot is fairly simple. A teenager, played by Matthew Broderick, uses his personal computer to break into what he thinks are the files of a game company but are in reality the files of a top-secret government computer that controls America's nuclear arsenal. This may seem far-fetched in print, but in the film it is made plausible. He and his girlfriend, Ally Sheedy, engage the computer in a supposedly congenial simulation called "Global Thermonuclear War," not knowing that the computer is playing in deadly earnest. The suspense derives from Broderick's efforts to convince the government that he is not a spy and to prevent World War III.
The DVD's widescreen picture quality is generally excellent, displaying little or no grain, jittery lines, or other screen defects. It may not be state-of-the-art, but it's good enough.
The stereo surround gets better and better as the story goes on. I am not sure why this is so, but it is certainly welcome and appropriate that the music and sound effects become more dramatic and widespread as the conflict develops.
MGM offer this film in widescreen only, a wise choice if they had to do only one screen format, but it is interesting to note that they have offered on almost all of their previous DVDs both widescreen and pan-and-scan on the same disc. However, they do provide bonus materials, including some really nice animated graphics in the menu selections and an alternative soundtrack with the commentaries of the director and two of the film's writers.
The movie is relatively short, but I suppose that even using a dual-layered disc MGM felt they just didn't have the space for more than one screen presentation. Or they were trying to save money. In any event, I'm sure the majority of DVD buyers will not mourn the loss of pan-and-scan too loudly. "WarGames" has always been fun to watch, and on DVD it is more "watchable" than ever.