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Set over the course of a weekend tournament for chess software programmers thirty-some years ago, Computer Chess transports viewers to a nostalgic moment when the contest between technology and the human spirit seemed a little more up for grabs. We get to know the eccentric geniuses possessed of the vision to teach a metal box to defeat man, literally, at his own game, laying the groundwork for artificial intelligence as we know it and will come to know it in the future. Written by
I've never seen a film quite like Computer Chess. As one might expect from director Andrew Bujalski, the spoken dialogue and performances from the actors all feel incredibly real. Actor Myles Paige in particular delivers Mike Papageorge's cocky, self-aggrandizing dialogue with a naturalistic vocal cadence you don't often find in the standard summer fare of film. The cinematography, too, is appropriately raw. Shot on video with a 4:3 aspect ratio, it's hard not to watch a scene and feel like you're looking at someone's home movie. While it will no doubt be jarring for some, I found the aesthetic endearing and immersive, as if I really was in the 80s with the characters.
When not focusing on the computer chess competition, the film pries into the lives of its attendees. Here the characters are the film's primary focus. Even though "Chess" has no proper protagonist, it's hard not getting attached to these people. Peter Bishop, a younger computer programmer, comes the closest we get to a main character, and exhibits a reserved, shy personality that I personality think exists in us all. Bishop finds himself floundering from one uncomfortable situation to the next, unable to express his discomfort or anxieties. Other attendees often wax philosophical about the nature of programming, dropping gems like "Is real artificial intelligence different from artificial real intelligence?"
Interestingly enough, Bujalski has no qualms about belying the real-world aesthetic he's effortlessly created. Throughout the film he peppers in several surreal flourishes. Often times scenes will have jump cuts, audio will go out of sync with the video, the film features an almost out of place color scene, and there's even a trippy dream sequence where the programmers take on the role of chess pieces.
Ultimately, Computer Chess features something for everyone. From likable characters to a refreshing visual style, it's hard not to leave the film feeling wholly satisfied.
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