Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 13 June 18, 1968
The War Game: mini-horror for T.V
The War Game: mini-horror for T.V.
The War Game finally reaches Wellington after very successful seasons throughout the rest of the country. It began with mid-week screenings in two suburban theatres in Auckland during the March festival. The public's reaction far exceeded the expectations of the distributors so it was given saturated treatment throughout the country. A rare thing for a film classed as "festival-type only", and it was made in 1965.
Peter Watkins, the producer-writer-director, has established himself as a unique and important fiim stylist, combining reality a la cinema-verite with drama. His first film for TV was Culloden, a gruesome reconstruction of the battle presented to us by narrative, on-the-spot interviews with the participants, and a dramatic treatment of the actual events. The film cuts back and forth between these varying pastures, making the whole affair more immediate
Privilege, made after The War Game, upset many people who expected something totally different, and after seeing it proceeded to misunderstand its purpose and style. Enough said. The War Game uses facts and figures on nuclear stockpiles, the effects of radiation, and what would happen during civil evacuation under threat of nuclear attack. This has then been treated within a dramatic framework. All evacuation is simulated, and the consequences of a nuclear explosion, At intervals the drama is broken to give interviews with people on what they know, what they will do, Despite the realism, I Found it disappointing.
One is constantly made aware that everything is play-acting, Non-professional actors say the same thing to the camera as if the script instructed them to do so (as it probably did). Nobody was aware of what would happen if a nuclear strike occurred (which says a lot for the activities of the now defunct CND); small children answered "I don't want to be nuthin" when asked what they would do in a future of devastation. This may well be true, but somehow it didn't sound convincing. The events were to staged, straining to make an impact yet not quite hitting the mark. The filming during the action sequences lacked restraint: it looked more like the crazed work of a cameraman run amok. At times one had no idea what was going on. In this respect It Happened Here was far more effective
But this is not to derogate some excellent work. The point is: Was it as terrifying as it was intended. After a spate of violent films like Bonnie and Clyde, Point Blank and The Incident it seems tame stuff; certainly it would do no harm to a TV audience. (Incidentally the NZBC can't show it on TV because the BBC refuse to grant TV rights anywhere in the word.) It appears that the "objectionable" seems were those depicting the collapse of law and order, looting, murdering of police etc. But today this sort of thing is commonplace (it always has been). We even see it on TV within hours of the event Moreover, it can hardly be claimed that unclear armaments and the threat of nuclear war are the most pressing problems of our time.
But if the subject is not a burning issue, it is not the fault of Watkins and his collaborators. They have presented a convincing if not wholly satisfactory case. They were limited by the length of a TV documentary (50 minutes) leaving too much unsaid. The War Game is worth seeing, but it doesn't live up to the extravagant claims made for it.