A series of mysterious computer disruptions occur in a number of completely unrelated systems — including a bank, a power company, and a nuclear reactor. This baffles the authorities and the technical experts, as it seems that someone has hacked the unhackable control program that is at the center of the software they all use, but what is worse is that these incursions now affect vast parts of the country — and could be used to cause tremendous damage.
Meanwhile, a young High School student, Gregory, discovers that P1, a hacking program he wrote a long time ago, still exists, and that it has used its abilities to gather information, infiltrate other systems, and keep itself hidden to write itself into countless other systems and gradually increase its own abilities. It needs his help to find its original code so it can keep itself safe from attempts to erase it.
Unfortunately, not only has Gregory lost the original code but he generated it with the help of a random program and can’t remember enough of it to recreate it.
And things only get worse once other people start learning that P1 exists…
When I find a TV movie from the Seventies and Eighties that is only an hour long — or slightly less — I’ll admit that my first thought is that it ran on commercial TV in an hour and a half long format and the commercials and some of the intros have been removed — as was the case with the movie Alien Lover (1975).
However, while you don’t find too many hour-long movies on the Network’s evening schedules, in the Seventies and Eighties you would find a lot of them running during the afternoon on the Anthology shows aimed at children and teens. Hide and Seek came from the Canadian Broadcasting System’s For the Record teen anthology series, although it later was shown on PBS here in the U.S. (where it didn’t do as well as it was on WonderWorks, which was squarely aimed at children).
The similarities to War Games are striking and it’s fairly obvious that it inspired the CBC to produce this film. However, it is an adaptation of a 1977 novel, The Adolescence of P-1, by Thomas Joseph Ryan, which came out before the MGM/UA film’s production began.
However, the main character was changed somewhat dramatically, from a young college student falling in love with the campus’ IBM mainframe computer when he first discovers it, and spending all his time programming it.
Instead, in the movie version, he’s become a High School student and the computers are now pre-PC home computers like the Commodore or Radio Shack’s Trash 80 (that’s “TRS 80” for those of you who never worked with them).
This is actually a reasonable change, as the computer market had changed dramatically in those seven years between the two versions, and the Home Computer was almost as capable as that Mainframe would have been a decade before.
Mind you, many of you have far more computing power in your watches these days than the Trash 80 ever dreamed of…
While we do end up with a similar finale to War Games, with the fear that P1 will cause a major catastrophe, the basic plot in many ways reminds me more of Johnny Depp’s Transcendence.
Without the downloading your mind bit, of course.
P1 was also one of the first portrayals of a computer virus as well, although the notion that it has essentially extended and rewritten itself is a fascinating notion.
Perhaps the biggest plus here is that the story takes quite seriously, without descending into comedy along the way, something which might have been tempting in a children’s film, where he might have used the computer to get even with people who gave him trouble. This seriousness also fits well with the limited budget, as it was shot on location, mostly in a rather unglamorous school. While we do get to see quite a few simulated computer screens (mostly with a bit of typing on them and no animation whatsoever) there aren’t any special effects, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that the few shots of a helicopter were stock footage.
One of the buildings used here, for the computer company’s Headquarters, is quite impressive, and they even get a few arty shots of its layers of walkways.
But that’s about as high as the production values get.
Instead, the story has to carry the film, and it does so reasonably well, building up a bit of suspense before the end and making Gregory’s concern for his creation believable.
And if nothing else, it is an intriguing lost chapter in the history of the computer thriller, one which is readily available on Youtube for anyone who wants to check it out…