War Games

Monday was the Science on Screen at the Filmhouse again (run by the British Science Association) and I was excited to see that the film was War Games from 1983.

It’s another of those films that I was sure I’d seen and enjoyed but had very little recollection of it.  Of course, I was 6 when it came out so unless I saw it on TV the only time I saw it was in school when one of the teacher was doing a lazy lesson.  I usually made a point of paying absolutely no attention to the TV if they put a film on in class.  I would rather do an actual class than sit in the dark watching 45 minutes of a crap film on a bad video recorder.  Illegally.  (Yes, teacher, we can read the copyright notices.  Also, showing a 15 film to your class of 12-year-olds doesn’t make you cool.)

I did remember the premise of War Games, and that I had enjoyed it when I saw it The main plot point is that a teenage hacker (LOVED the phone and equipment in his bedroom!) accidentally dials in to a military computer and sets off nuclear war.  I had remembered this bit quite wrongly – I’d thought that he was playing games at length and then found out that what he was doing was real.  Actually he pretty much dials in once and sets off a process that’s embedded in the system.  I just loved that he sees all these game names and goes “OK!  Global Thermonuclear War” just like that – is that really the most enticing game name?

The science screening is topped and tailed with scientific discussion about the film, and in this case it was about hackers. There was some faffing about with projectors not working before the film, and we had to be moved to another screen.  The initial talk was fairly interesting but didn’t tell me a lot I didn’t know before – it talked about hacking in general, hacker motivations, some famous hackers and some straightforward security holes.

Then on to the film.  It was gloriously dated but still rather watchable. I loved the big mainframes that looked like my dad’s work from when I was little.  The main computer in the story has your classic movie looks with hundreds of LEDs, which was fun.  There were some quality moustaches and lots of smokers!

Other points that struck me
– the way the main characters, even when wanted by the FBI, can just jump on a plane.
– there was a laugh from the audience when the female lead sees the genius scientist on film and says something admiring – were teenage girl standards of attractiveness completely different in 1983 or was this just as funny then?
– speaking of which, the teenage girl, while slim and lovely, is not size 0. She also wears far more modest clothes than her equivalent would these days. Of course, this was pre-lycra.
– the male lead has wonky teeth which would also not happen these days!
– the extent to which the computer behaves like a human is STILL futuristic.
– Leo from the West Wing was in the opening scene!

I thoroughly enjoyed the film, whether it was for the genuine suspense, the hilarious 1980s technology or the occasionally wooden acting.

The discussion after the film was also fantastic, expanding on the hacker theme to really interesting questions of governments hacking and current security threats and the dangers to critical infrastructure. I even decided to condemn myself to an extra hour waiting at Haymarket to hear the rest of the discussion, but luckily at that point we got kicked out and I just made it!

No word as to what the next science screening will be – there isn’t one in January so the next one should be the first Monday in February. I will put the date in my diary.

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