The War Game (TV Movie 1966) Poster

(1966 TV Movie)

User Reviews

Review this title
67 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
10/10
"We are so totally screwed!!"
MartinHafer20 February 2012
This is a completely amazing film--one that makes films about nuclear war like "On The Beach", "Failsafe" and "Ladybug Ladybug" seem VERY tame by comparison. It is harrowing yet VERY realistic. And, I can't imagine someone watching this and not being affected.

The film appears to be a documentary but the scenario is fictional. The actual impact of a nuclear attack, however, is very realistic and talks about things you don't normally think about--such as the aftereffects. A proliferation of rats, looting, martial law, blindness, the inability of the hospitals to care for the wounded (necessitating the police to shoot the dying), malnutrition, disease, malaise and HUGE numbers of dead. It's all very, very grim and flies in the face of insane notions that nuclear wars are survivable.

Because the recreations of events and style of camera-work are VERY realistic, it's almost like watching an attack and life after it as if it has already happened. I don't care if your political bent is far-left, far-right or anything in between, this is sobering and awful. I can't think of a better film to adequately approach the realities of nuclear war.

Read up on the trivia section for this film on IMDb--it's fascinating. Well worth seeing but super-grim.
0 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Great
Michael_Elliott29 February 2008
War Game, The (1965)

*** 1/2 (out of 4)

Peter Watkins documentary has a rather interesting history behind it. It was produced for BBC TV but the company deemed it too graphic and intense so the film was banned. Some sort of loophole allowed the film to be released into theaters (with an X rating) where it eventually won the Academy Award for Best Documentary. The film talks about what would happen if a Nuclear weapon hit Britian. Even with current events, this documentary remains quite powerful and unsettling. The violence and views of the attack and aftermath are fairly hard to watch and they are shown in such brutal force that it's no wonder this film was originally banned. It's also interesting that this would win the Best Documentary award since the film documents something that hadn't happened yet.
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
The Day After
Prismark1011 August 2018
If Peter Watkins The War Games had been broadcast as intended in 1965 it would had scared the hell out of people of Britain. The BBC delayed its broadcast until 1985. By that time the BBC scared the nation with the drama Threads.

The War Game was released in the cinemas and won the Best Documentary Oscar, however this is not a documentary.

This docu-drama imagines the effects of a nuclear strike in Britain. It is based on research of nuclear tests carried out in the USA, the impact of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombing campaigns and its aftermath in various German cities during World War 2.

This is a grim film, it gets darker the more it goes on. Coldly showing the deaths from the aftermath of a nuclear strike but also showing a society that is breaking down.

Even 50 years later this is a shockingly bleak film.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
The War Game
jboothmillard12 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I had heard about this film for ages, and I was glad to read it was featured in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I always assumed it was a documentary focusing on World War II, I had no idea it was a fictionalised feature about something completely different, so I looked forward to it. Basically, filmed in black and white, and lasting only fifty minutes, this is a realistic approach and insight into what would happen following the events of a Soviet Nuclear attack on Great Britain, i.e. the devastation and measures taken. In Soviet Vietnam the war stars after the Chinese invade, and the United States authorises tactical nuclear warfare against them, and West Berlin and Russia are forced into joining the battle as well, and this eventually leads to Britain being struck by missiles. The prelude to the attack sees residents of British cities forced into evacuation to the country, and the story centres on Rochester where a missile aimed at Gatwick Airport missed its target and struck, and the areas of Kent and Maidstone are seen to have been attacked as well. The missile explosions cause terrifying incidents and results, not just mass hysteria and chaos, but blinding light that effects many people's vision, a heat wave that melts the skin and in some cases eye balls, the spread of radiation poisoning that causes severe sickness, and of course the people are damaged psychologically which means the collapse of society. With the British Army and police are doing all they can to help those affected by the disasters, they are also forced into terrible acts in an effort to clear the ruin and stop any further incidents, such as burning corpses and shooting looters. Narrated by Michael Aspel and Dick Graham. At the time in 1965 it was meant to broadcast this film proved so controversial and shocking, it was called "too horrifying for broadcasting", that the film was shelved for a year, but when it was released in cinemas it gained reputation, but still didn't show in full on television until 1985. I can certainly see what all the fuss was about, it is very gritty and powerful film with the ability to shock with its realism and execution, and of course some gory effects, it probably caused many viewers to worry about being vaporised at any moment, but today it is remembered for its notoriety, and being a shocking but fascinating documentary drama. It won the Oscar for Best Documentary, Features, and it won the BAFTA for Best Short Film and the UN Award for director Peter Watkins. It was number 74 on The 100 Greatest Scary Moments, and it was number 33 on The 50 Greatest Documentaries. Very good!
0 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
apocalypse now, or could be
Quinoa198426 April 2010
While Stanley Kubrick was off making his own distinct wail against nuclear destruction with the form of black comedy in the UK, Peter Watkins made a much darker, much more realistic plea against insanity. His film, The War Game, is the anti-"Duck-and-Cover" propaganda film that pervaded movie-goers in the 50's. Some people believed it, but those with at least half a brain knew that actual nuclear devastation would be just that: devastating, and a desk wouldn't cover you, or anyone else. Watkins' point is to not only hammer the point that a nuclear bomb, any kind of bomb with significance, can kill, it can also main and hurt those who survive it. It's a definition of 'staggering' in art.

The film takes the point of view of being an educational documentary, like something that the BBC would do, with interviews, testimonials from experts, and some reenactments of events. But for Watkins, to ratchet up the proper intensity - the required effect on the audience - he makes these 'reenactment' scenes no joke. When you see the 'actors' playing out these scenes in a post-blast city, trying to get around and not die, suffering in the post-blast of dying or pretty much dead, or when people on screen talk to the camera (i.e. soldiers, doctors, professionals) they don't look at all like actors. They look like they've come out of a war zone. When the narrator says that this is what a child would be like, burnt and scarred, there's no doubt from the point of view of Watkins this is what it would be.

This isn't just speculation that Watkins is doing. If it were, it would have the same integrity as duck and cover. He backs up his rugged hand-held technique with a camera in those "reenactment" scenes of the what-if scenarios with facts about the bombing of Dresden and Hiroshima, and facts about what could happen with a blast even if it was forty miles away (you would feel it, oh yes). And ultimately, what Watkins' facts and "fiction" comes out to is a cry for reason. His objective 'news' narrator and the people on screen, all non-actors and some of whom may not even be acting (who knows, some of them, the ones in their forties and older, went through the bombs of WW2 in England), all give the impression of believability. More than that, we feel what these people go through, or could go through, and most frightening what could happen to us. It goes past a Cold War era scare-you movie and, in a similar way to Dr. Strangelove, crosses into a commonly felt fear. While Kubrick laughs, Watkins can't help but look on in dumbfounded shock.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Disturbing look at might have been.
michaelRokeefe3 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Absolutely riveting and somewhat revolting. This is not a movie for your viewing amusement or pleasure. This is a very stark documentary put together by the BBC dramatizing the fictional outcome of a nuclear attack on a typical English community. This worst-case-scenario is very graphic and disturbing; and after over forty years since its origin, this docu-drama still holds some pertinence and re-awakens the sensibilities coming with a nuclear attack. The shock value is still there. THE WAR GAME is directed and written by the acclaimed Peter Watkins with Michael Aspel and Peter Graham as commentators. Forty-eight minutes you will not soon forget.
8 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Theatrical
tedg15 February 2006
This is an odd film, worth studying. It is the strangest kind of documentary, a dramatization of what might happen instead of a report on what has. And although it was scary enough to be buried for two decades, it actually understates the disruption a war would have caused.

And still could. In fact, this little film could be called an awareness exercise to prompt readiness. Since most analysts consider an Islamic terrorist bomb against a western city a near certainty, perhaps we need a modern version of this.

It is a collection of extrapolations based on past wars and placed in Britain should the Russians choose to attack. Some scary facts about NATO's announced "first use" policy are given: If any invasion occurred, NATO would use tactical nukes to offset Russian numerical superiority. Knowing this (and the fact that their missiles are vulnerable liquid-fueled models) the Russians are likely to preempt over any scenario likely to lead to war.

The damage from the actual attack is muted, instead focusing on the confusion afterwards for the unhappy survivors. I suppose the torture of the living is scarier business, at least in film. So we have lots of begrimed but healthy looking actors talking about their various miseries.

Funny, I thought this valuable propaganda, where its sibling "Threads" was simple religious posturing. I'm sure some will disagree, but look at the intent. This one clearly intends to scare the bejeesus out of Brits so that at least they might prepare a bit. "Threads" simply exploits the possibility to present a drama.

Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
8 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
Suffers From Its Political Viewpoint
Theo Robertson10 February 2002
THE WAR GAME comes with a heavy reputation and was shown for the very first time on British television in 1985 , twenty years after it was first filmed - and banned - by the BBC. As a docu-drama it carries a punch perhaps not a strong a punch as THREADS but still a killer knockout punch with deeply disturbing images

The problem though is the polemical view that Watkins takes. People are asked about retaliation in the event of a nuclear strike , retaliation being the whole point of deterance - something Watkins fails to point out , and about strontuim 90 , a question that seems offensive in its smugness when people give the wrong answer. Oh and Watkins bashes the Church too ,very radical I must say . Christian CND - never heard of it

So all in all deeply disturbing stuff spoiled slightly by Watkins patronizing attitude that never allows the viewers to think for themselves.Very much better than THE DAY AFTER , not as good as THREADS
14 out of 36 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
This is nuclear war.
lastliberal15 July 2009
If you like horror films, you will absolutely love this film.

It was made for BBC television, but deemed too horrendous to show. It was later shown in theaters and won an Oscar for best documentary film in 1966.

You cannot tell that you are not watching real live news instead of a film. It shows not only the horror of nuclear war, but the fact that the government is not prepared in the least to cope with the evacuation and damage.

It has some really horrible scenes of death, but the most terrifying aspect of the film is the naivety and total lack of realistic expectations. The aftermath is a testament to the stupidity of nuclear weapons.

The film draws on the aftermath of Dresden and Hiroshima and Nagasaki for realism.

One has to realize that this was 1965 before we reached the level of weapons we have today.

This is a film that should be seen by everyone.
6 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
Interesting to watch but it's really mostly playing on the people's fears of its time.
Boba_Fett113830 April 2011
No way this fake documentary would had ever got made had the cold war never gone on around its time. It's a fake documentary, shot as a real one, in which a scenario is presented what might happen when England is struck by nuclear missiles.

None of this ever happened during the cold war, so it's hard to say how accurate this movie was being. It could all have happened like presented in this fake documentary but then again it also could all had happened in a totally different way. It really mostly plays on the peoples fears and paranoia of the time this movie got shot. It shows some of the worst case scenario's, without providing any answers how to survive a nuclear attack. Basically the documentary says; you're going to die fast or you are going to die slow but you are going to die anyhow. I don't think I would had liked watching this back in 1965, had I been around, around that time. It's like it's prepare it's viewers for the inevitable, while today we of course all know none of this, thank goodness, ever happened.

So in a way this fake documentary really is some propaganda but in todays light that also still makes this an interesting watch. It's interesting to see how much fear for an event like presented in this movie there was and what people's views on a nuclear war were and how they were preparing themselves for it. Both normal civilians but also some scientist and other experts (all played by actors by the way) give their views and opinions on things.

It aren't really any of the actors (they are all awful) or the dialog and presented 'facts' that impress and make this an effective watch. It simply are all of its images. It really all got shot like this was a normal and real documentary, which makes some of the images work out as shocking and confronting. This is really the movie its biggest power and is also what still makes it something effective to watch this present day.

Not as good or effective as the other, later, BBC nuclear holocaust production "Threads" but it's still a good and interesting watch, in todays light.

7/10

http://bobafett1138.blogspot.com/
1 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
Makes It's Point Effectively, but in Terms of Film It's a Mixed Bag
cherold24 August 2011
Most of the reviews I've seen on this site seem to base their rating of the film on their rating of the film's message. People are horrified by the portrayal of a nuclear war unfolding in England and want to heed the message, in which case they give it 9 or 10 stars, or people dismiss it as propaganda that ignores political complexities and they give it a low score. I believe the message, but I still have mixed feelings about the movie.

The film is essentially a docu-drama that lays out how a nuclear war could effect England. It starts quite slowly, with shots of what would happen if the government decided to do mass evacuations in anticipation of a war. The flat narration and fondness for facts gives it a bit of the feel of one of those informational documentaries they showed in school when I was a kid.

The movie picks up speed when the bombs drop. We see the initial blast, with people's eyes melted (not being a big special effects movie, we are told the eyes are melted but just see people screaming while covering their eyes). We see what happens to a house 40 miles from the blast. We see a fire storm kill off civilians and firemen. It's pretty grim, and the movie will often point out that what happens in their scenario echoes what has happened in places like Dresden and Hiroshima.

This movie was clearly made with the goal of convincing the world that we should get rid of all nuclear weapons. It suggests that the government's preparations for nuclear war and woefully inadequate and that most people have no idea what would happen during such a war. There are also a mix of quotes from those in favor of nuclear weapons, who are made to look foolish, and those against.

This is quite effective. But it was probably more effective in the 1960s when this information was less well known. Unless you keep your head in the sand, you should know about the blinding flash, the terrible winds, the deadly radiation, the death on a massive scale.

While I appreciate the filmmaker's attempt to warn an oblivious England about the potential for a war that would end life as they knew it, they dry, documentary approach and the blunt polemics make this more effective as a piece of propaganda than as a piece of film making. I don't use propaganda in a pejorative sense, since I approve of the thrust of the film, but the movie is designed as a piece of propaganda, and as effective as the horrific scenes are, the film is still rather stiff and dry.
2 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Mandatory viewing
MOscarbradley17 September 2007
Made in 1965 for BBC television and subsequently banned as being too horrific to screen, (it was released to cinemas and won an Oscar in the Best Documentary category, although, of course, it isn't a documentary), Peter Watkins' masterpiece is just as effective today as it was forty years ago. What Watkins chose to do was to make a fictionalized film, (though using all the facts at hand), in the style of a documentary about Britain just before, during and after a nuclear attack and it all looks remarkably real.

There are no central characters, no-one to identify with, nothing, in fact, to make us think that this is anything other than what it appears to be, namely a Public Information film on the aftermath of 'the Bomb'. The Cold War may have ended and warfare, in general, may have taken a different turn but this extraordinarily powerful, terrifying and ultimately moving film should, nevertheless, serve as a reminder of what could still lie ahead of us. Mandatory viewing.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
It is what it is, and for what it is, it is flawless, necessary, and deeply affecting.
secondtake21 February 2011
The War Game (1965)

The ongoing horrific black and white "footage" of nuclear war preparations and aftermath in Britain is gripping and terrifying. I was a kid in this era, the 1960s, and remember only the official side of it--the government warnings, the bomb shelter information--but I've retained enough of the scariness to really get this inside.

You don't need to be fifty to feel the genuine pain of these people. Yet you have to remind yourself, over and over, that this is all fiction, that it's a movie, that it's just a projection of likely effects. The more amazing aspect is that the movie concentrates on areas on the far fringes of the bomb's explosion (6 to 20 miles away), and leaves the closer damages, the total annihilation, to your imagination.

It's a short movie, and an amazing one. There's nothing like this, for sure, and I think it's should be required viewing for anyone wondering about the current threats of atomic warfare in a dozen different places. It's too real, and it's avoidable, I believe, if everyone does the right thing. Amazing.
10 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Graphically real newsreel feel makes this movie work.
Captain_Couth14 October 2003
The War Game (1965) was a TV movie funded by the BBC. Peter Watkins gave them a movie that probably caused the hair on the necks of the BBC's standards and practices department to stand on end. Mr. Watkins paints a grim and bleak outlook for humanity if there ever was a nuclear conflict. Based on data from the hellish bombings of Dresden, Berlin, Tokyo, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima & Nagasaki and nuclear testing information from the U.S .Government (among his painstaking research and sources) shows the utter devastation that even a small exchange of missiles would bring upon his homeland. The acting is top notch (using a cast of unknowns) and the F/X were quite up to par (making the best out of the small budget). Even though the subject matter is dark and bitter, The War Game is a compelling watch and I highly recommended it for everyone.
37 out of 39 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Close to forty years after it was made, it's still one of the most powerful and disturbing documentaries you'll ever see.
Infofreak3 August 2003
'The War Game' is a fascinating and deeply disturbing documentary which dramatizes what might happen in the event of a nuclear strike. Of course in many ways it is dated but I still think its central message is as powerful and as frightening as ever. It was banned (either officially or non-officially, there is some debate) by the BBC for many years, and it's no wonder. The film is political dynamite. This is not a film you would choose to watch for entertainment, but I highly recommend it to anyone who is willing to look at something confrontational and REAL. The Cold War is long over but the threat of nuclear annihilation remains, and therefore 'The War Game' still deserves to be seen by a mass audience before it's too late.
23 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
A Harrowing Experience
freemantle_uk30 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The War Game is a very important what-if documentary. It was banned in Britain until 1985. It is the best what-if documentary I have ever seen and it is a very scary experience. The film shows what would have happened if Britain suffered a nuclear attack and how local authorities and the emergency services would have dealt with it. It doesn't show how the central government would have been handled it and it focuses on the ground level. Firefighters struggling to deal with fires caused, to a child going blind because of the flash, to a the aftermath showing food riots and longterm illnesses. As well as showing these experiences and playing it like it was really happening, the documentary also gives people facts and statistics about government planning for a nuclear attack. This documentary is very well done doesn't overplay things like some other films would have done. It shows how horrible a nuclear attack would have been and you can't watch it without a scenes of shook and sorrow. It is a very good thing and I think it still has a great impact, but I can imagine that it must have been very shocking in the 60s and 70s. You need a strong stomach to watch this film but it is worth it, especially if you like what-if scenarios.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Searing trans-genre cautionary tale about the dangers of nuclear conflict
jamesrupert201422 December 2020
Peter Watkin's devastating quasi-documentary graphically depicts the immediate consequences of a strategic nuclear attack on England by the Soviet Union. The film flips alternates fictional footage of the attack and its aftermath with brief interviews with Britons about their understanding of nuclear conflict, their degree of preparation, their knowledge of radiation and the effects of exposure, and their feelings about retaliation against an attacking power's civilian population. There is little 'spectacle' in the film (i.e. no dramatic mushroom clouds) - the impact of the attacks is seen in images of burned children, crying nurses, police using their revolvers to euthanize the dying in the absence of medical resources, fire-fighters overwhelmed by heat and gasses generated by firestorms, and radiation-poisoned survivors who may soon envy the dead. The film draws heavily from American and British government materials as well as on descriptions of the effects of atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and on the effects of fire-bombing on Tokyo and Dresden. Definitely not a 'cozy catastrophe' film, 'The War Game' is a bleak, realist depiction of the almost unimaginable misery that would result if nuclear weapons were deployed against civilian targets. Fifty years have passed since Watkin's nightmare docudrama and despite the proliferation of the weapons (and the powers that wield them) and the numerous wars that have been fought since 1965, nuclear weapons have never been used. I'd like to think that films like this contributed in part to this surprising restraint. The history of the film, especially the BBC's reluctance to broadcast it (despite having commissioned it), makes interesting reading. 'The War Game' is the only fictional film to take home the Oscar for Best Documentary (and is likely to remain so, as the Academy changed the rules immediately after the win). Extremely well-made, historically fascinating, and timeless at many levels.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
An Uncomfortable Close-Up of the Horrible Face of War
drqshadow-reviews17 February 2012
A chilling pseudo-documentary dedicated to the measures England had in place to deal with nuclear attacks during the cold war era. Framed as a newscast interspersed with short, stern-faced lectures and quotes from the experts, it's a brutally honest glimpse into the horrors that were looming around every corner. Since it is, at heart, a public service film, it falls into a few of the associated traps - a low budget, obviously staged setups, a flood of monotone speakers glaring directly into the camera - but the unflinching approach it takes to such a powerful, intense subject excuses most of those shortcomings. By no means a party picture, it's still a fascinating look into how poorly prepared humanity was (and still is) for the mutual destruction its nations were flirting with, almost playfully, at the time. Chillingly effective, alarmingly grounded and hauntingly vivid - our trigger-happy national leaders could stand a modern viewing, lest the concept of nuclear war become too abstract.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
"The future's uncertain the end is always near."
st-shot16 February 2008
It's the end of the world as we know it in this pseudo-documentary about nuclear nightmare coming to fruition in the sixties in a once typically quaint town in Great Britain. Peter Watkins, The War Game is a depressingly grim look at the aftermath of a nuclear attack that clearly favors the dead as the survivors rummage across a bleak lawless landscape starving and suffering. Watkins camera excellently mimics a cinema verite kind of documentary flare that effectively conveys a realistic scenario of chaos and destruction giving the film much of it's immediacy and power. With the exception of Pontecervo's The Battle of Algiers, it is probably the best staged and convincing documentary of the past fifty years.

Living in a world of nuclear threat and mutually assured destruction is something we must live with every day. We can either choose to ignore it or take action through petition and protest to prevent it. Dr. Strangelove did a dance of death with it and Fail Safe more soberly destroyed NY City and Moscow. Both avoided detailing the aftermath of the slow death in favor of instant demise. We are not spared that in The War Game which details the after effects and the consequence of such action taken by the world powers that be. Its grim pacifistic message will make any hawk pause. No wonder the BBC didn't air it for twenty years.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Short but alarming documentary drama
robertemerald14 March 2019
Because of its brief length, this highly effective expose on the dangers of nuclear warfare could easily be recommended for anyone unfamiliar or interested in the subject. I also found it nostalgic to see how British people looked and sounded back in the 1960s.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
see this film at least once! you won't ever forget it...
framptonhollis18 July 2017
Docudrama, science fiction, and educational broadcasting collide in Peter Watkins' cry against the horrors of nuclear war. The unsteady camera films the disturbing action, the haunting stares of burned survivors of the massive weapons some countries seem to throw at one another in a disgustingly nonchalant manner creep up onto your television. Children bloodied and burned, moans of pain surrounding the empty atmosphere. This is essentially a post apocalyptic world, and it is very much possible.

"The War Game" will remain relevant as long as war itself remains relevant; it is an important reminder of the great harm that violence upon another civilization will almost always leave to damaging civilian causalities. This is a sad, shocking fact of life that people often gloss over, but they will be reminded of its significance after viewing this masterpiece. The booming, monotone narration contrasts powerfully with the unspeakably horrific imagery that flickers before us. There is no need to go into detail, for this a film that must be seen by everyone. It is among the most realistic, brutal, and brilliant portrayals of a world at war that you will ever see.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
"This is nuclear war."... A real horror film
ametaphysicalshark29 September 2008
For some reason nuclear war has come to be viewed as a dated threat, a relic of the cold war paranoia. Let's take a look at some of the countries currently possessing nuclear weapons: Russia, the United States, Israel, Pakistan, India... Not exactly some of the most historically peaceful states. I still view nuclear war as a possibility; it is not likely, but it is still possible and still worth being afraid of. The thought of a few states having leverage over the rest of the world as a result of possessing nuclear weaponry is a frightening reality.

Legendary British TV and film director Peter Watkins' hypothetical 'documentary' on the results of a nuclear attack on Britain in the 1960's won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, even though the Academy knew very well that it was fictional. Still, I would argue that it deserved the award, not only for its unquestionable quality, but as it is frighteningly, terrifyingly educational on the known, scientifically accurate facts it presents on a nuclear attack's effects on the human body and on any given city- even if the attack took place at a distance.

Watkins' film is brilliant. It is all the more effective now as the world slowly forgets Hiroshima and Nagasaki, slowly forgets the scale of the horror and destruction which can result from the use of such weapons. The film is an expertly constructed, brutally effective drama, filmed as a documentary and, aside from the events 'documented' being hypothetical, is completely accurate on all of its details, with information taken directly from experts and from nuclear test sites. As much as it is not a real 'documentary', it is one of the most frighteningly realistic ones ever made. The film is so horrifying, so disgusting, so disturbing, that it was not shown by the BBC, who originally commissioned it, until the 1980's, following the success of the similar but fully dramatized "Threads", a film that is possibly even more effective in its portrayal of the horror of nuclear war.

"The War Game" is an undisputed classic and completely deserving of its reputation. It's 46 minutes of pure, undiluted horror, and is one of the best 'horror' films ever made. While the dumb, self-satisfied gorehounds are looking for obscure Chinese films which focus on faked or real torture, while they are praising the stupid, braindead "Cannibal Holocaust", this terrifying pseudo-documentary on a very real and very scary subject is left relatively neglected. One of very, very few films which are actually 'scary'.

9/10
2 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Good
Cosmoeticadotcom26 August 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The film is interspersed with staged events and archival footage from the Second World War, and seamlessly edited. Rather crude special effects, such as shaking the camera to simulate the winds of a firestorm, are surprisingly effective. Traditional documentary techniques like maps, scrawled epigraphs of information and quotes from civic leaders, recitations of naïve quotes from public figures, man on the street interviews that show the ignorance of average Brits to nuclear war and civil defense (not knowing the effects of Carbon 14- would you or I?), as well as some yahoo and gung ho American military sorts, are very effective, as well, even if a bit over the top re: American enthusiasm for war (but, recall, this was only a few years after Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb was a hit, and showed reckless American militarism at its worst). The narration by Michael Aspel and Peter Graham is also very effective at conveying the faux realism of this horror film's fictive world, in impassive tones, as well as showing how utterly deluded civil defense measures were, then and retrospectively. Given the spate of nuclear Armageddon films made in the 1960s, and up through the early 1980s miniseries The Day After, it's remarkable how such a low budget effort like The War Game retains its effectiveness when almost all other films on the topic seem corny. It's likely that the reason the film retains its punch is the very reason it was banned for nearly two decades. Scenes of British police shooting civilians (rioters, two men who kill a police officer for food, and also shooting civilians to put them out of immediate post-blast misery) were too much for the still pre-Vietnam War era public. Also, the film's 'realism' and unflinching look at the utter inability of the U.K. government to protect its citizens from an attack, much less handle the response of survivors after an attack, was sure to cause waves.

When the film was delayed for broadcast, Watkins resigned from the BBC, which was pressured into private screenings for public officials. Many officials denounced the film as anti-British agitprop, until one of the few instances where a critic played a positive role arose. Noted film and drama critic Kenneth Tynan championed the film as possibly the most important film ever made, which spearheaded a letter writing campaign by anti-nuke forces, which forced the film into limited theatrical release on college campuses across Europe and America in 1966.

Much of the information about a nuclear strike was cannily accurate for its day, if limited. This was pre-the idea of nuclear winter, so most of the information was taken from reported effects of the two atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as the fire bombings of Tokyo, Dresden, and other Japanese and German cities. The effectiveness of the 'extras' in makeup (some with severe deformity and scarring) is jolting, but made ever more 'realistic' by the film being in black and white. Interestingly, some of the vox populi interviews pull back from the diegetic tale of nuclear horror, to ask real life Britons whether or not the U.K. should retaliate against the USSR in such a scenario, and most unstintingly agree their nation should. This is a nice contrast to some of the intertitle sequences that show often hilariously naïve comments by British officials written out in full. A voice-over intones, near film's end, that by 1980, the chances of such a scenario playing out at least once in the world is very high. That it never did is something to seriously pause over, for, despite the film's accuracy in depicting social and governmental inadequacies in responding to such an attack, as well as its accuracy in claiming over a third of all Britons would die from the attacks or their aftermath, it has to be acknowledged that the film also grossly understates the human will to survive, and whatever role that played at keeping the Cold War nuclear powers at bay for nearly half a century. Still, even though the film is technically a mockumentary, it can be argued as a documentary, also, since it so perfectly captures its era's zeitgeist without severely dating itself. It's really a rare film, in all respects.

And, aside from its exposure of Cold War Civil Defense failures, the film also slyly comments on the media of the day, and its failings, especially in its depiction of the classism of that era. One wonders if any documentary done today could as readily capture the true and false beliefs we now have of global warming, Islamic terror, the international financial crisis, etc. Regardless, The War Game is a terrific film, and a great documentary- innovative and deep. I recommend its rediscovery to all who want to know what art and journalism can do, if far too rarely.
1 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Almost a rating of 10
dncorp16 May 2019
A must see for anybody that believes that having Anti Ballistic Missile (A.B.M.) Defenses is a waste of money.

Cinematography 8 Would have been more horrific in Technicolor, instead of black and white.

Accuracy 9 The Effects of a 1 Mega Ton Thermo Nuclear Warhead are more devastating, an "Airburst" over London would leave a big smoking crater where London was.

Things that actually happen, for more devastation "Airburst". A flash of light that penetrates even walls, concrete, reflected by anything light colored, with this light is also lethal doses of gamma radiation,X-Rays, and microwaves the light is also "Photonic" Energy like a Star Trek Photon Torpedo catching everything on fire, burns the paint of buildings and vehicles, 3rd to 4th degree fatal burns.

A massive Electro Magnetic Pulse, and lingering Electro Magnetic Radiation destroy everything electrical for weeks.

A Supersonic blast wave, overpressures crush everything worse than a submarine that went too deep, wind speeds break the sound barrier 1,000s of miles per hour. Buildings, vehicles, people become near hypersonic shrapnel.

The fireball descends, everything near or underneath feed a nuclear furnace, with the objects incinerated becoming highly radioactive particle ash.and smoke particles, the mushroom cloud forms, spreading the radioactive ash and smoke particles as "Alpha and Beta" radiation.

An intense vacuum was caused from the blast going away from Ground Zero. A second "Rolling Blast" comes from the opposite direct of Ground Zero, going at supersonic speeds, U.S. Military used to train to not get up or from bunkers until long after the second return "Rolling Blast" occurred. This second "Rolling Blast" then sucks things into the Nuclear Furnace caused by the Nuclear Fireball descending.

Medical, Iodine tablets, and Prussian Blue.

As a U.S. Military Nuclear (Weapons) Physics and Physiology Officer, when I was Branch Chief at the School, every so often I used to teach this, they had some really graphic Training Films.

History repeats again, like the British Civilian at Dunkirk said "They (Germans) chose Guns, We (British) chose butter......Now look where we are", as typical British underspending on their own Defense, relying on the U.S. Defense.
0 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
There is no defence...
garethcrook11 September 2020
This is an odd piece of cinema. A BBC docudrama that was pulled from air for being too frightening, depicting an imagined nuclear war. It's a what if scenario. A state of national security declared in the face of nuclear threat from Germany. It looks and sounds old now, black and white, prim BBC queens English narration. Shot in 1966 though, it's a contemporary piece. It's not exactly entertaining, but it is fascinating. Nuclear war is still a concern, but in the sixties it was a new concern and I imagine that added to the fear. It feels much more than a public information film though. It's carefully crafted drama, actors, full set piece sequences, there's a helluva lot of effort been put in. Tons of imagined vox pops with 'average folk', battlefield reinactments and dramatised newsreel. It's bloody effective in delivering its message. Nuclear war is serious, if things escalate between Germany and America, things are going to get very nasty and we need to at least try and prepare. The opening act lays this groundwork well. There's bombs, there's threat and there's political balance that's teetering. Then the time stamps begin. "9:16am. A single megaton nuclear missile overshoots Manston Airfield in Kent and airbursts". It's visceral stuff, kids screaming, holding their eyes as it's explained their retinas are burning. Cameras shake, screens go white, the film switches to negative. The sound design is staggering. It's terrifying really. A combination of the visual destruction and the calm descriptive narration. Viciously intercut with proclamations from priests declaring it will be okay and 'good British people' calling for retaliation. "Technically we're living in an atomic age, emotionally we're in a Stone Age". People, the masses, are stupid and that perhaps is the real threat. Make no mistake, although it's fascinating and quite brilliant, it's very upsetting. Which makes it all the more brilliant. Nuclear weapons are kept by governments as 'a deterrent', they're for defence. There is no defence against a nuclear bomb. Just more death. Followed by chaos and riots, societal breakdown. It's an incredible docudrama, but decades later it's grown into an effective horror.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews


Recently Viewed