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Originally published July 25, 2013 at 3:05 PM | Page modified July 25, 2013 at 3:30 PM

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‘Computer Chess’ needs more entertaining moves

A movie review of “Computer Chess,” set during a weekend tournament for chess-software programmers. Not much happens, but some of the 1982 details are a kick.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 2.5 stars

‘Computer Chess,’ with Patrick Riester, Wiley Wiggins, Myles Paige, Robin Schwartz, Gerald Peary, Gordon Kindlmann. Written and directed by Andrew Bujalski. 92 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. Varsity.

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Watching Andrew Bujalski’s “Computer Chess” is like wandering back in time, complete with the accompanying disorientation. It’s set during a weekend tournament for chess-software programmers in 1982, at an anonymous-looking convention hotel, and is filmed with appropriately vintage black-and-white video; the effect is that the actors seem to be floating through a grayish fog. The audience is stuck there as well, at least for a while: “Computer Chess” is filmed as if a camera just happened to show up at the tournament, idly following random story lines.

Not much happens during the film’s brief running time: We watch large computers and their scruffy, vintage-spectacled programmers challenge each other; follow a man trying to scam someone else’s room for the night; peer in on a leftover-from-the-’70s encounter group that’s also booked the hotel for the weekend; listen as the tournament’s announcer tries to gracefully acknowledge the rare presence of a woman programmer. (“This is the team that’s got a lady on it.”)

The 1982 details are a kick, particularly the assortment of beards (some seemingly influenced by Middle-earth) and glasses, as are the attitudes toward the very idea of a computer being smart. At one point, someone discusses how computers might be used for dating, causing someone else to wonder how that might work — “The computers will start dating each other?” But Bujalski doesn’t give us enough in the way of story or characters, and “Computer Chess” eventually seems to just fade away; one of those movies, perhaps, that was more fun to make than it is to watch.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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