Sunday, March 2, 2008

A trip down memory lane ...

Yesterday, Carolyn and I had three friends from high school over for a game of Trivial Pursuit, some ordered-in Swiss Chalet barbecue chicken, and watching some stuff on our big-screen TV.

The friends were Carolyn's brother David (one of my best friends quite separate from being my brother-in-law), Ted Bleaney (known to fans of my Quintaglio novels as the source name for saurian priests Det-Yenalb and Det-Bleen), and Gillian Clinton; we were all members of the high-school science-fiction club NASFA (after whom Afsan is named in the Quintaglio books) back in the day ...

Carolyn and I have an extensive DVD collection, but, to my surprise, we all converged in a matter of seconds on the film we wanted to watch: the 1983 movie WarGames. This is one of my all-time favorite movies. I think John Wood is amazing as Prof. Stephen Falken in that film -- a fascinating portrayal of a genius who had trouble dealing with reality. I just saw online that the producers had considered casting John Lennon in the role, and he would have been a very interesting choice, too. But Wood really inhabits the role.

For more nostalgia, I'm reading Barney Rosenzweig's excellent memoir Cagney & Lacey ... and Me, and he makes a comment about how to tell a good script from a bad one that rings true with WarGames. In a bad script, the writer puts everything into dialog; in a good script, the writer leaves room for the actors to act. And Wood acts in this film. There's a great moment when he's been told off by Ally Sheedy's character ("When was the last time you cared about anything?"), in which we simply see Wood's face. And when he arrives at the Cheyenne Mountain NORAD complex, he stops on a staircase and you see his eyes scanning the tactical displays, and you get that he comprehends it all. A truly wonderful performance.

Also wonderful: Dabney Coleman, as John Wood's erstwhile research partner John McKittrick; I'd watch him read the phonebook.

Rarely mentioned online is Juanin Clay, who plays Coleman's assistant in the film (the woman who yells, "They're clear, they're clear, hold the door -- hold the goddamn door!" as the NORAD complex is being locked down), but she was fabulous in the film (and she shared equal co-starring billing with Barry Corbin, who plays a blowhard general). Sadly, WarGames was her last film role; she died just three years later at 45.

Alley Sheedy is terrific, and so is Matthew Broderick. But it's John Wood who steals the show for me -- the character of Falken, and his performance of it, are both terrific.

And, after all, how can I not love a film that has this bit of dialog:
Stephen Falken: Are either of you paleontologists? I'm in desperate need of a paleontologist.

Jennifer (Ally Sheedy): No, we're high school students.

Stephen Falken: Pity.
The day was rounded out with watching an episode of The Rat Patrol (which I enjoy only for Eric Braeden's / Hans Gudegast's performance, but Carolyn, Gillian, and David were all very fond of when it first aired in the 1960s), and a couple of classic Warner Bros. cartoons: "One Froggy Evening" and "Duck Dodgers in the 24-1/2 Century."

The Robert J. Sawyer Web Site


At March 02, 2008 7:58 PM , Blogger Scott said...

I was a kid when WAR GAMES came out, and I vividly remember hammering away on a VIC 20 or COMMODORE 64, hoping beyond hope that I would somehow be able to accidently infiltrate the Canadian government's super-secret defense systems...

Didn't happen.

At March 02, 2008 8:59 PM , Blogger Gruntled said...

I was very enamored with the nurse that was supposed to be watching Broderick when he hacked the lock on the door in the infirmary. She has been burned in my mind for what, 25 years.

You're right great flick!


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