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March 21, 2016

VGFlicks: War Games: The Dead Code (Part 2)

Ready to jump into the review of this movie again? If not, go read Part 1! Considering the crazy amount of explanation there is to do in this film, I prefer not to waste your time with a long intro. Let’s go!

A long time ago, two astronauts tried the same trick
to escape the listening ears of a machine. It failed there
as well.
Two agents (played by Trevor Hayes and Claudia Ferri) monitoring RIPLEY at Homeland Security meet in a car outside to discuss the affair. Agent Aaron Scott explains that RIPLEY has really been going overboard. Due to the tenuous links between Will and the terrorist group the money used in the Dead Code game came from, the machine will keep on looking for connections, up to the six degrees of separations; in layman’s terms, you might know it better as the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It’s the theory saying that, if you took into account every person you met (or shook hands with) in your life, and then all the people each of these people met (or shook hands with), and continued this way, it will rarely take more than 6 such “connections” to be linked to anyone else in the world. RIPLEY is currently doing this to find an explanation for the Will Farmer case, which may lead it to incriminate most of the entire global population if it continues. Oh, by the way, RIPLEY watches them and reads their lips again… and is willing to manipulate road signals to get them out of its way… because yes, it can fucking do that, as it proves in a later scene, which leads to one agent getting hit by a car when the traffic lights suddenly change at an intersection…

Ah yes, those cold Canadian winters...
Professor Stephen Falken drives Will Farmer and Annie D’Mateo to a factory in a recluse sector, and on the way they reflect on the situation. Falken explains that he was part of RIPLEY’s design team, he was considered too threatening; hence why he hides. However, he was also diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, adding weight to why he’d kill himself (or fake such, in this case), and suffers from the disease. Will says that he lost his father at a young age, that he died after catching some local illness in a foreign country. Falken lays down the real facts: Will’s father worked for the American military and had been sent to Bosnia to help develop bioweapons… after which they got rid of him, using those same diseases they were preparing to throw en masse during the next armed conflict; and his death was disguised under a cover story for his family. These family relations also explain why RIPLEY ended up having such a freak-out…

Gosh, this thing belongs in a museum.
Soon the three of them reach a mostly abandoned station, where they are greeted by an old Russian guy. In there, they find the old War Operator Plan Response computer (WOPR, or JOSHUA, whichever you prefer). Falken inserts a card in the machine and types the backdoor password (Joshua), which causes the old machine to suddenly become a lot more efficient than it was. It even replies to Falken’s written lines with its own unique lines and its very own voice. Like an ancestor to Chatbots everywhere.

At Homeland Security, Hassert states that bioweapon prototypes have been found in the terrorist cell in Damascus (the one Will and *sigh* Dennis took money from) corresponding with the chemical samples found in the Farmers’ household, and that there might well be a dormant terrorist cell in Philadelphia. RIPLEY, listening in, decides to raise the threat alerts to a maximum and cuts off all the power in Philadelphia, with a countdown towards “decontamination” starting at 12 hours. Holy shit, RIPLEY is planning to nuke the goddamn city!

It's a gaming overload!!!
Since JOSHUA was in part made to work in tandem with RIPLEY, this means it can infiltrate its systems. Falken commands JOSHUA to “play games” with RIPLEY, which makes JOSHUA overload RIPLEY with Tic-Tac-Toe, checkers, go and chess matches, enough to slow it down, which brings back some power to Philadelphia…. But RIPLEY reboots itself to get rid of the games, and then launches a warhead towards the station where WOPR is located. The old machine barely has time to warn Falken, Will, Annie and the Russian guy. Falken stays behind and does a few things on WOPR as Will, Annie and the Russian guy get out in a hurry, merely seconds before the warhead falls and destroys the station. That’s also when the Special Forces arrive to arrest Will and Annie, and bring them to Homeland Security. At a little under an hour from “decontamination”.

Well, we didn't get a Philadelphia-shattering kaboom, but we did get a
Falken-shattering kaboom. ...Oh WOW, that was NASTY from me.

Brought to a room near the main control center of RIPLEY, Will and Annie (who’ve been given a laptop) devise a plan and contact Dennis to help them. They’ll be launching a DDoS attack on the machine’s servers, to slow RIPLEY down considerably. You know, this might be one of the first times in fiction that they portray such a technique. And at least, this time around, it’s used against a real threat. (Plus, for once, Dennis does something useful, it was about time…) And it works, as RIPLEY drops some of her control over Philadelphia as more and more people connect themselves to RIPLEY’s game. But she reboots again to negate most of the effects of the DDoS attack. However, Will accesses JOSHUA, which has been sent by Falken through e-mail. JOSHUA’s methods are still insufficient, though, so they convince the agents of Homeland Security to boost the prize rewards for RIPLEY’s game from 25,000$ to 100 million and advertise it everywhere to cause maximum traffic. After all, if there’s one thing we can count on in this world, it’s greedy people attempting to win it big with minimal effort, right?

In the background: All the player accounts opening in the hopes of winning
the promised 100 million $. In the foreground: An old Colm Feore who's
playing his role far too seriously for such a silly script.

So RIPLEY absolutely had to wish to self-destruct?
Sigh, those damned machines sometimes...
So illogical!
Feeling threatened, RIPLEY redirects the mission towards the Homeland Security headquarters, in Washington D.C. Annie explains that there’s a branch of chess masters playing “suicide chess”, where the point is to lose by having the opponent take all your pieces before you take theirs. Will explains this concept to JOSHUA and makes the program play this with RIPLEY, in a “Russian roulette” kind of way. With only 13 minutes at the countdown, JOSHUA begins playing with RIPLEY, each time causing a “loss” by showing that the launch of a single nuclear warhead would inevitably result in a Third World War, which is exactly what RIPLEY was programmed to prevent. Every scenario ends with the ominous message “Total annihilation”. The problem with this plan is that these simulations are meant to lead to actual attacks, with 1/6th of the nuclear warheads in America being currently ready for launch, and were they to find an active warhead RIPLEY could launch it.

You know you've fallen low if you're desperate for a
machine to get a clue...
And as luck would have it, a simulation weapon turns out available, heading for Washington D.C. Goddammit, I should have never watched this film! Is my inherent bad luck, my jinx, traveling across media now and tipping the odds against protagonists by the mere fact that I’m watching them? When will this bad luck ever leave me??? Thankfully, by this point RIPLEY has learned that there is no point in a game where victory means defeat, and stops responding, canceling the attack. When JOSHUA asks it if they’re still playing, RIPLEY responds that “the only winning move is not to play”. Huh, I feel the same about Uno, Monopoly, Mario Party 2 and Mario Kart DS. Hurray, catastrophe avoided!

Well... in this ending's defense, they're two computer
nerds. They know they're compatible.
After the celebrations, Will asks JOSHUA if he really would have launched the warhead, since it got so close to doing so. JOSHUA replies that he would have as the humans are finished… before adding that it was a joke. You know, I’m not sure if I want my AI with a sense of humor after this. I mean, it’s already bad enough when they take everything seriously, what will it be like when we snark at them and they snark back? Whatever. All’s well that ends well, Will is now dating Annie (Oh great, does that mean he “earned” her? Urgh.), roll credits.

Bleh. Can’t say I outright hated it, but it’s still a rather mediocre film. Then again, what else was I to expect from a direct-to-DVD film?

I mean, I could say I’m happy that the film is set, for half of its duration, in Quebec, and that it features mostly Canadian actors. There’s also that, for all the flak I could give it, the movie at least treats hacking with more serious than most films, in that it uses real techniques that take time, and the machines (especially RIPLEY) show exactly what kind of dangers await those who put too much faith in a learning AI… not that we needed another reminder anyway. There is not a danger of a third World War (not until the final “duel” between JOSHUA and RIPLEY, anyway), but this whole mess ends up causing different kinds of problems to the American infrastructure.

However, despite whatever little praise I could give, the film gets taken down by a number of issues. The passable acting, the terrible CGI special effects and the nonsensical story. I made jokes about it in Part 1, there are so many coincidences in this plot that it’s pretty much impossible to believe. What’s worse, for this plot to work, it needs those coincidences. This story is just a mess, and it’s so blatantly obvious which way it’s going to go that you’ll see it coming from miles away. Stephen Falken returning? Seen it. JOSHUA appearing? Seen it. RIPLEY turning on its masters? Totally unexpected! Oh, who am I kidding… SEEN IT! Annie bringing up a variant of chess to help defeat RIPLEY? I mean, that scene at the chess club had to have a purpose, right? Need I go on?

For a movie that tries to depict neither side as a villain, the agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security sure do a lot of dangerous things, like relying on RIPLEY (programming her with defects that make her a threat to anyone, including themselves), or chasing after Will and Annie and almost running them over. Their plan, as a whole, is idiotic. Using an online video game to detect potential instances of domestic terrorism? Gee, what can go wrong with that plan? The only way to play that stupid Dead Code game is to bet money, so for one, those potential “terrorists” who don’t have money to waste on online games won’t go detected. And what about totally innocent gamers who somehow reach that game, beat it (after multiple attempts) and get falsely accused of terrorism? No video game can be used to properly judge if someone is dangerous, nor can video games cause violence in real life. One’s attitude in a game can and will differ greatly from what they are in real life, especially when the potential for cruelty in-game is at a maximum.

Never forget this.
And I’m forgetting many other instances. Oh, and of course, should I mention that Will’s friend Dennis now ranks on my personal Top 15 of the most annoying characters I have ever had the (dis)honor to see on-screen? Sure, by the end he helps in taking down RIPLEY, but it’s too little too late. He’s not all bad, he does have a few good moments here and there, but his awful moments are far more frequent.

In the end, War Games: The Dead Code is a poor movie, a sequel no one asked to a movie that was never meant to be a franchise. Don’t bother with it. It’s not entirely terrible, but it’s definitely not worth actively seeking it out. Hell, I only paid my copy of it 3 dollars, and that’s enough. I don’t think I’m going to watch it again. The worst part is that MGM thought, for a moment, that there could be more direct-to-DVD films based around War Games, but thankfully this plan doesn’t seem to have carried through. Guess they didn’t make enough money.

You know what? Go play chess instead. Though, I’ve also seen my fair share of crazy chess players…

Next week? Oh, time to continue looking at the Kirby games in the Dream Collection, with Kirby’s Dream Land 2!