Computer Chess (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

October 16, 2013 by  


“Computer Chess” is a film that may not be for everyone.  But if you are a fan of chess, let alone computer chess or a fan of Andrew Bujalski’s work, “Computer Chess” is an intelligent, humorous, silly and awkward independent film worth watching!

Images courtesy of © 2013 Computer Chess LLC, 2013 Kino Lorber, Inc. All rights reserved.

DVD TITLE: Computer Chess


DURATION: 92 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: B&W/Color, 1:33:1, 2.0 Stereo,

COMPANY: Kino Lorber Inc.


RELEASE DATE: November 5, 2013

Written and Directed by Andrew Bujalski

Produced by Houston King, Alex Lipschultz

Co-Produced by Scott Colquitt, Morgan Coy, Andrew Finnigan, Brooke Finnigan, Gary Stewart

Associate Producer: David McClafferty, Drew Xanthopoulos

Cinematography by Matthias Grunsky

Edited by Andrew Bujalski

Production Design by Michael Bricker

Art Direction by Madison Fisk, Caroline Karlen

Costume Design by Colin Wilkes


Kriss Schludermann as ADVANTAGE Member

Tom Fletcher as DEEP SPEED Member

Wiley Wiggins as Beuscher

Patrick Riester as Biston

Kevin Bewersdorf as Cameraman

Jim Lewis as John

Freddy Martinez as Freddy

Cole Noopenberg as CAPA X Member

Myles Paige as Papageorge

Gerald Peary as Henderson

Jams Curry as Carbray

Bob Sabiston as McVey

S. Kirk Walsh as Hotel Clerk

Daniel Metz as Reini Urban

Mark Blumberg as NOOG Member

Eric Newton as Klaas

Robin Schwartz as Shelly

Set over the course of a weekend tournament for chess software programmers thirty-some years ago, COMPUTER CHESS transports viewers to a nostalgic moment when the contest between technology and the human spirit seemed a little more up for grabs. We get to know the eccentric geniuses possessed of the vision to teach a metal box to defeat man, literally, at his own game, laying the groundwork for artificial intelligence as we know it and will come to know it in the future.

From Andrew Bujalski, the director of the first mumblecore film “Funny Ha Ha” and “Mutual Appreciation” is back with his latest film titled “Computer Chess”, a 2013 independent film which premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and the winner of the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize.

A film which received positive reviews from film critics nationwide, “Computer Chess” will now be released on DVD in Nov. 2013 courtesy of Kino Lorber.

“Computer Chess” is set in 1980 as chess programmers take part in a weekend tournament of who has the best chess programming software as they face off with each other.

The film is an intelligent, geeky look at chess enthusiasm but also a perspective of geniuses taking trying to engage in competition with other developers and the interesting discussions they have in regards to their approach to life, programming and creating the unique artificial intelligence to create the ultimate chess machine and setting the groundwork for the future.

The film is a mockumentary of the beginnings of the creation of chess software development.  The tournament tries to document the competition but the behind-the-scenes of the competitors.  But also as another convention on spiritual awakening is taking place in the hotel.


“Computer Chess” is presented in B&W, 1:33:1 aspect ratio and 2.0 stereo.  The film appears to have been shot with a 1969 Sony AVC-3260 video camera in order to give the film its look as if it was recorded long ago.  The audio is dialogue-driven and is clear and understandable through the front channels.


“Computer Chess” comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by Deep Blue programmer Murray Campbell who discusses his experiences of computer chess events and comparing them to what is seen in the film.
  • Bonus Commentary – Featuring audio commentary by an enthusiastic stoner.
  • Crowdfunding Plea Video – (2:47) Andrew Bujalski meeting with an entertainment executive.
  • Sundance Film Festival Promo – (2:36) Andrew Bujalski talking about his film.
  • 4 Computer Chess Reference Games – Featuring four mini-featurettes on humans vs. computers.  “Machines Play” (3:57) – Kotok-McCarthy vs. The Moscow Institute of Theoretical Physics (ITEP) 1966-1967, “Building Speed” (7:09) Belle vs. Chess 4.6 – World Computer Chess Championship in New York (1977), “The Bet” (3:42) – David Levy vs. Chess 4.7 at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto 1978, “Big Super Computer vs. Small Super Computer”(4:59) Cray Blitz vs. Belle – World Computer Chess Championship, New  York (1983).
  • “Hot Old Personal Computers” – Four  short featurettes (under a minute) on old computers used in the film.
  • 1969 Sony AVC-3260 Video Camera Tutorial by DP Matthias Grunsky – (4:40) A featurette about the 1969 Sony AVC-3260 video camera.
  • Trailers

“Computer Chess” is an intelligent and hilarious mockumentary about software developers who take part in a computer chess competition.

While my first foray into computer chess was back in the late ’80s with Interplay’s “Battle Chess” and I have always been entertained by the notion of man vs. computer in competitions and the 1997 competition between IBM’s Deep Blue vs. Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov was an exciting moment for chess fans.

But the whole notion of a film about programmers and developers building the first chess program in hopes to compete and beat a human was rather intriguing, very geeky but considering it is an intelligent comedy directed by mumblecore’s Andrew Bujalski, it was a film I had to see for myself, as I enjoy intelligent comedy.

A film about various development team and programmers who are intelligent but their perspective towards computer chess development are much different and often these individuals engaged in intelligent discussions or arguments.

The characters are believable and interesting (for the majority of the movie).

Pat Henderson is the host and moderator of the tournament and is obviously a man that is quite passionate about the notion of when computers can beat man and the man responsible for kicking off the North American Computer Chess Tournament.  Pat is a former chess master who made a bet that no computer can beat him until the year 1984 and he wants to know if a computer will ever beat a chess master.

The film would feature Les Carbray of Allied Laboratories, a man who is so intelligent that when people ask him a simple question, he in turn, gives an intelligent answer that goes over the heads of those asking him the question.

From Caltech’s development of Tsar 3.0 (Tsar 2.0 won last year’s tournament) featuring Martin Beauscher, a psychiatrist who has studied computer vs. man competitions, the team of MIT led by Roland McVey, the programmers responsible for Stazia and Mike Papageorge, an independent programmer.  The Noog Team who created an algorithm to find out the various places where Mike Papageorge will stay in the hotel.

“Computer Chess” also features a group of junkies who are attending the event for the sake of seeing the early beginnings of World War 3 due to the advancement of computers and are worried about the future, Mike Papageorge, an independent programmer who can’t find a room and tries to get other programming teams to let him in.

Meanwhile, one of the Caltech programmers, Peter, is an awkward person who is trying to fix the bugs in Tsar 3.0 but doesn’t seem to be thrilled as a programmer working on buggy software but his interesting interaction with free-spirited swingers at the hotel.

The film tries to interject some glitchiness with film damage or rough cuts as a person shoots Papageorge and one of the World War III believers in color.  While shot in color with multiple intended glitchiness to show people stuck on a loop.  Even some scenes with the black and white features a bit of the glitchiness to make the film feel it was made in 1980.

As for the DVD, video quality is as good as one can expect from a film shot with an old camera.  The film has that aged look that it was trying to achieve and for the most part, achieves the look.  While not sure if the color portion of the film was really needed but for the most part, the film does give off a look as if it was created in the early ’80s and the audio dialogue is clean and understandable.  The film also comes with two audio commentaries including one with Deep Blue’s programmer Murray Campbell and another with an enthusiastic stoner and a few special features included.

It’s important to note for those wondering if they can watch it with kids, its an important to note that the film has full-frontal nudity, profanity and also drug use.

While I enjoyed most of the “Computer Chess”, there are some situations that took you out of the movie.  There is a scene with glitchy color footage that really didn’t add to the film and could have easily been cut out.  And while a lot of the film could have kept to the realism of the film, by the final 30-minutes, it seemed if Bujalski wanted to stray from those scenes and interject more awkward and unusual situations, which I felt weren’t all that necessary.  But I suppose if you want to do something non-banal, you do opposite of what the audience expects and in this case, in Godard-esque but in geeky fashion, Bujalski accomplishes just that.

Overall, “Computer Chess” is a film that may not be for everyone.  But if you are a fan of chess, let alone an interest in computer chess or a fan of Andrew Bujalski’s work, “Computer Chess” is an intelligent, humorous, silly and awkward independent film worth watching!


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