'Computer Chess' puts the byte on old-school nerd territory
By Barbara Vandenburgh
Published: Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, 7:51 p.m.
For taking up so little physical and sociological space, narrow subcultures prove to be rich territory for mockumentary-style musings. And “Computer Chess,” a clever and supremely self-satisfied “found-footage” film set in (and filmed in the style of) the early 1980s, lampoons and celebrates the narrowest of possible subcultures: chess-software programmers.
The action unfolds in the conference room of a drab hotel during an annual tournament for men (and this year, one woman) hell-bent on creating a chess-playing program that finally can defeat a human chess master.
There's an endearing innocence to the era, nobody quite understanding the magnitude of the looming Information Age, though they know they're on the cusp of something profound (except for the one guy who sagely predicts, “You want to know the real future of computers? Dating.”).
The insular, obsessive programmers are Cold War-weary, resigned to the inevitability of World War III, wary of the militaristic applications of chess-playing computers. But, unable to stop the march of terrible progress, they plow ahead, inching closer and closer to developing a computer brain that mimics a human one. Let others worry about the practical applications.
It's also an era of clunky technology: large computers as weighty as wheelbarrows, whirring overhead projectors, plastic-framed eyeglasses it's hard to believe anyone ever thought looked good. It's complementarily filmed in the shaky monochrome of an old Sony camera.
It's clever. It's also occasionally a chore to watch, true to the boredom you'd expect to feel listening to computer programmers hash out chess logistics. It approaches its subjects not with the gleeful, madcap hilarity of a Christopher Guest mockumentary (“Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind”), but with the calculated precision of lines of code. It's the driest of wits — the psychic equivalent of chewing a mouthful of saltine crackers and not having a glass of milk with which to wash it down. You can admire a clever code, but you sure as heck can't love it.
Barbara Vandenburgh is a staff writer for the Arizona Republic.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pittsburgh hotels cater to movie stars and crews
- Crowe seen in Fox Chapel for filming of ‘Fathers and Daughters’
- Jude Law struts his dark side in ‘Dom’