Look: it's not that I abhor politics because anyone who follows me on Twitter or deep inside SciFiHistory.Net's many, many, many pages and posts, it's true that I'm probably as political as the next person. Each of us has something -- a cause, a belief, a position -- that we like to sound off on every now and then. I think that's part-and-parcel of just being a human being: we like to discuss things, and sometimes those things can lead to controversies. My point is that in my time watching films I've seen far too many actors, actresses, directors, and screenwriters try to monopolize their screen time with unnecessary messaging. When that messaging either gets in the way of a good story or causes the flick to have lessened focus, then it's poorly done. If these folks are serious about their commitment to whatever that issue is, then I think they'd be better off sticking in the realm of the traditional documentary. Use that format to go off and expose whatever abuses need the light of day shone on them, but please please please keep social messaging to a minimum.
Still, there are times when I think a director and a screenwriter and the talent achieve a respectable balance. In these rare cases, they do -- in fact -- come together around a premise and present it in such a way that the central principle is both understandable and relatable. Again, don't get me wrong, but there are some things that happen in this wide, wide world that truly are so far away from you and I that it just can't fathom why anyone would think it requires my particular attention. If you're passionate about it, Mr. Actor, then quit your job and spend what remains of your days fighting for it. Isn't that what Mr. Actor would tell you and I to do were something important to us? But -- as I said -- I think blending sentiments with sentimentality can be done ... especially when it's as seamless as it was in John Badham's Cold War thriller WarGames (1983).
The election of Ronald Reagan had raised fears to all new heights in the early 1980's as our cultural betters were damn sure convinced the actor-turned-politician was going to end life as we know it by ushering in a full-blown nuclear war with the United States and Russia. You couldn't turn on the television -- you couldn't pick up a newspaper and/or a magazine -- without one or more of those pundits preaching about how Reagan's ascendacy to one of the highest offices in the world could only spell D-O-O-M to those who knew just how and when to read the tea leaves. Sitting here at my P.C. and writing this column decades later, it's very clear just how wrong they were, but back then nuclear annihilation -- predicated on global thermonuclear war -- was all the rage, and progressives couldn't stop warning us of it.
Because Hollywood "cares," mind you, these elites ushering in a plethora of projects that were intended to show the voting U.S. public just what curse they had unleashed on all of mankind. While most of these wares were dismissed because -- quite frankly -- they were crafted with too much alarmist circumstances and rhetoric, there are a small handful of motion pictures that were very good. And -- for the record -- I say that they were "very good" because they didn't let their message overwhelm the emotional crux of just telling a good story. That's what WarGames did uniquely well, and I've always thought much of this is owed to director John Badham's participation in the production. As a director, he'd always dealt -- in my mind -- with characters first; and this meant that there was a humanity always running beneath the main plotline of WarGames that other pictures just never had.
WarGames -- for all its posturing -- straddled that fine line quite nicely. I'd even argue that -- as Cold War thrillers go -- it's arguably one of the most relatable because we'd like to see a little bit of ourselves in its central heroes. We're all wide-eyed about saving the planet -- as Matthew Broderick's character David does in the last reel -- and maybe contemporary screenwriters would do well to revisit this classic to learn a few lessons about their craft ... and how to do it respectfully.
As always, thanks for reading ... and live long and prosper!