Computer Chess: 10th Anniversary Special Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (16th November 2023).
The Film

"Computer Chess," directed by Andrew Bujalski and released in 2013, is a unique and unconventional film that explores the world of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction within the context of a chess tournament. The film's distinct style, shot entirely in black and white using vintage video equipment from the 1980's, adds a nostalgic and authentic touch to its portrayal of the early days of computer technology.

One of the notable strengths of "Computer Chess" lies in its ability to blend genres seamlessly. On the surface, it presents itself as a documentary, complete with interviews, talking heads, and a hand-held camera aesthetic. However, as the narrative unfolds, it becomes evident that the film is a fictional account with elements of absurdity and surrealism. This blending of documentary and fiction creates a thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating experience for the audience.

The film's narrative primarily revolves around a chess tournament where various computer programmers and their creations compete against each other. The quirky characters and their eccentric personalities add humor and depth to the story, making it more than just a technical exploration of artificial intelligence. The film delves into philosophical and existential themes, questioning the nature of consciousness and the boundaries between man and machine.

The film successfully captures the awkwardness and social dynamics of the early computer culture. The characters' interactions at the hotel where the tournament takes place are awkward, humorous, and at times uncomfortable, reflecting the challenges of integrating technology into human society. The film skillfully navigates through the clash between the tech-savvy programmers and the more socially adept human players, creating an engaging and often amusing commentary on the evolving relationship between humans and machines.

The performances in "Computer Chess" contribute significantly to the film's authenticity and charm. The cast, comprised largely of non-professional actors, delivers performances that feel genuine and unpolished, aligning well with the film's overall aesthetic. Patrick Riester, in the lead role of Peter Bishton, brings a quiet intensity to his portrayal of a socially awkward computer programmer. Myles Paige, as the mysterious and enigmatic figure known as Michael Papageorge, adds a layer of intrigue and eccentricity to the ensemble. The cast's collective ability to capture the idiosyncrasies of their characters lends an organic quality to the film, enhancing its documentary-style realism. The naturalistic performances contribute to the film's exploration of the human side of the computer culture, providing depth to the characters and allowing the audience to connect with the narrative on a personal level. While not polished in the traditional sense, the performances in "Computer Chess" are a testament to the film's commitment to an unconventional and immersive storytelling approach.

However, it's not without its limitations. The deliberately slow pacing of the narrative and the reliance on subtle humor and intellectual engagement might test the patience of viewers seeking a more conventional and brisk storytelling experience. The exploration of philosophical and existential themes, while intellectually stimulating for some, might be perceived as overly abstract or esoteric by others, potentially leaving audiences craving more concrete resolutions. Additionally, the intentionally outdated technology and lo-fi aesthetic, while contributing to the film's authenticity, may act as a barrier for those less familiar with the early days of computer programming, making it challenging to connect with the film on a visual or thematic level.

"Computer Chess" is a thought-provoking and original exploration of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction. Its unconventional style, blending documentary elements with fiction, adds a layer of complexity to the narrative. While the deliberate use of outdated technology and potential barriers to accessibility may not appeal to everyone, those who appreciate a unique and intellectually stimulating cinematic experience will find "Computer Chess" to be a captivating journey into the early days of computer programming and the philosophical questions surrounding artificial intelligence.


Presented in 1.33:1 full frame mastered in 1080i and compressed with AVC MPEG-4 compression. The film's lo-fi look is entirely deliberate and that's the result here, the black and white image is lacking in contrast, looking flat. It's mostly grey and white with muddy blacks. Sharpness is practically non-existent, but the image is clean without artifacts. There's also a scene in color which looks like it was possibly filmed in 16mm. As far as image quality goes this is not what most home video viewers will be used to in terms of a blu-ray presentations, but that's the point, It was shot on 80's cameras and this is the result.


A single English LPCM 2.0 stereo (48kHz/24bit) audio tracks is included and it matches the video quite well. While the dialogue and score are the most robust elements of the mix, and even in saying that it's not as robust as most stereo tracks. Lacking depth and with no surround activity; this is exactly what I expected and it's what was delivered, I also noticed the occasional audio sync issue which is probably due to the technology used to make this film more than a technical issue with the pressing. Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired.


For its 10th Anniversary Kino Lorber has released a splendid package with lots of extras, two audio commentaries, a series of interviews, a Q&A, a few promotional clips, and a collection of trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary with Deep Blue programmer Murray Campbell. Real life Canadian computer scientist offers up the first track here, Campbell created Deep Blue, the first computer to defeat the reigning world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a challenge match in 1997. The track provides a wonderfully insightful deep dive into the history of computer programming with specifically focusing on the game of chess, it's a great track for fans of the film, for computer enthusiasts, and provides a vast amount of information about the programming challenges.

A second audio commentary with an enthusiastic stoner, played by actor Kent Osborne, not sure what to think about this track. Osborne plays a stoner commenting on the film, filled with occasional gaps, awkward jokes, and just seems overly juvenile. This track runs out of steam quickly.

"How to Operate a Sony AVC-3260 with Matthias Grunsky" 1969 Sony AVC-3260 Video Camera Tutorial (4:41) the film's DP takes us on a brief look at the camera used to make this film.

2019 Austin Film Society Q&A (24:08) the full Q&A featuring cast and crew after a special screening in Austin, worth checking out considering none of these people feature in any of the two commentaries.

Reference Chess Games #1-8 promotional clips (45:17) these clips take a closer look at the history of computer chess and takes a look at some real games played.

"Andrew Bujalski Meets with a Hollywood Executive" Kickstarter video (3:09) this is a funny pitch video featuring the director trying to sell the movie to an executive.

Hot Old Personal Computers #1-6 promotional clips (5:20) are videos that take a look at the old computers from the film.

Three interviews from 2013 are included:

- Andrew Bujalski in Conversation with Craig Keller (28:28) in this clip the director talks about the genesis of the project and on the aesthetic look of the film among other things.

- Alex Lipschultz in Conversation with Jon Robertson (21:16), the film's producer talks about how the film came about, the challenges faced with shooting on older equipment among other things.

- Wiley Wiggins in Conversation with Craig Keller (21:32), the actor talks about how he became involved in the film and comments on his performance.

Sundance Promo (2:36) the director tries to describe the film in this promotional clip made for the Sundance Film Festival.

A theatrical trailer (1:56), "Alternate" trailer (2:17), "Alternate Alternate" trailer (1:45), and a trailer for an upcoming sequel written and directed by AI (2:03) round out the extras.


First pressing includes a cardboard slip-case.


Awkward, funny, interesting, there's nothing else out there like "Computer Chess" and the oddity of this film is just enough to illicit curiosity. Kino Lorber's release will please fans of the film with it's decent amount of extras.

The Film: B Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: A Overall: B+


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