Set in the 1980s, Computer Chess is an eccentric mockumentary following a group of software developers as they gather their monolithic computers for a chess tournament to see if their machine can beat the grand-master.
Writer and director Andrew Bujalski is laudably meticulous in his attention to period detail not only in the set and costume design of Computer Chess, but also the film’s very production – it can boast being the only feature ever to be shot on the aged Sony 1968 AVC-3260 B&W camera. This lends the film a solid authenticity that really does leave the impression of being filmed in the 80s rather than just earlier this year.
The film is toweringly original and beyond niche, so it should come as no surprise to learn that its characters are real oddities too. If Stefan Zweig’s little-known novella Chess describes players as semi-lunatics bent on “the ridiculous task of forcing a wooden king into the corner of a wooden board,” then just how mad are the nerdy software developers trying to mechanically best the finest players of the king’s game?
But unfortunately all characters merge into one homogenous and heavily-stereotyped mass. There’s no differentiation: a geek is a geek is a geek. This is perhaps to be expected when the film casts amateur actors and is shot from an 8-page working treatment. It does fit in perfectly with Bujalski’s mumblecore credentials, but whereas similar films such as Napoleon Dynamite manage to distinguish their quaint broods of oddballs, Computer Chess really only has one stand-out character – the superbly-named “logarithmic lothario” Michael Papageorge (Myles Paige).
However, even Papageorge lacks sufficient charisma to sustain this film. Apart from the progressing rounds of the chess tournament, nothing hangs together, creating a lumbering sense that this occasionally funny but ultimately self-indulgent film simply isn’t going anywhere. Random asides are all the plot has to offer, meaning that the story – if it can be called so – is no more than a meandering collage of unrelated splurge. This includes late night nonsense conversations with technophobic conspiracy-mongerers, run-ins with the hotel’s bread-fisting self-help group and Papageorge’s never-ending search to find a room for the night.
Enamoured critics will no doubt crowbar a deep and meaningful reading into Computer Chess. This confuses sophistry with artistry in a film where, unfortunately, the intellectual and entertainment potential of a story about computers and chess goes untapped and is grossly wasted.
Computer Chess is released nationwide on 22nd November. For further information visit here.
Watch the trailer for Computer Chess here: