Busy day today, so I thought I’d knock out a short one. Peter Watkins’ The War Game was a British faux-documentary about how Britain would withstand and react to a nuclear attack on its land. Technically, it’s not a real documentary; the events depicted are entirely fictional, but they evoke a sense of what could’ve and might’ve happened in the midst of Cold War relations between the Soviets and the U.S. Despite its fictionality, it went on to win the Academy Award for Best Documentary, which I see as somewhat amusing. There is no amusement, however, in the documentary itself; this paints an incredible picture of hell, and that hell is nuclear war.
The film is stylized like a news program, with a consistent voiceover dialoguing the events transpiring, along with some public reaction snippets and investigative reports. It is mostly in the beginning that the film is a benign report… and then the nukes start flying. And everything turns to chaos, juxtaposed with quotes from various sources and people that attempt to downplay or alleviate the concerns that arise when one is confronted with the possibility of a nuclear attack. It’s the film’s technique of treating the events as if they are actually happening right then and now that makes the film as horrifying and effective as it is. When you watch this film, it can be very easy to forget that you’re watching a fictional account, and if at all possible, one must choose to forget that fact to let the film’s effect really take hold of you. This film absolutely does not pull any punches, and it is the realism that it treats its material that makes this as great as it is.
This film was technically a television program produced for the BBC, and was seen as being so harrowing it was pulled from syndication until the 1980s for fear of upsetting and panicking the masses. It was thanks to some distribution to cinemas that it went on to win its Oscar, and now it is regarded as one of the best television programs ever produced in Britain. I can see why; this was a damn good product. I don’t know if I would say it is entertaining; after all, the subject is nuclear war as it really would happen, but it is definitely effective, and even hard to watch at times. I find additional amusement that this fictional documentary seems to be even better as dissuading war than documentaries like The Battle of San Pietro or In the Year of the Pig. Granted, this is nuclear war, which is a step above, but this is still yet another great example of why war is the worst of humanity rolled into one.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10