Vikram Jayanti’s crackling “Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine” plays on the psychology and paranoia of grandmaster chess in chronicling the 1997 match between Russian world champ Garry Kasparov and IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer. Though it never disguises its sympathies for Kasparov and contempt for a powerful corporation’s machinations, docu is finally a speculation on the limits of the human mind and how truth can never be fully known. High drama will lead to strong international fest and B.O. interest, with many ancillary games to follow.
Non-chess fans receive a compact backgrounder on Kasparov (first seen painfully revisiting the Gotham site of the match) and his triumphant career, including his dark-horse 1984 win over Anatoly Karpov, which seemed to presage changes to come in the USSR. The IBM camp is repped by Deep Blue developers Murray Campbell and Feng Hsuing-Tsu, as well as grandmaster Joel Benjamin, hired by the company to create gaming scenarios for Deep Blue to play against Kasparov.
The first contest in 1996 was by all accounts a convivial affair designed as a creative science experiment, which Kasparov won easily. In retrospect, it’s easy to sense overconfidence contributed to his undoing in the ’97 rematch, but few could have foreseen the extent to which the machine was to advance in a year, or how the game would turn ugly and paranoid.
Jayanti’s film cleverly — if controversially — lays out a scenario that has less to do with the advance of computer science and more to do with a nasty mix of bruised egos and corporate arrogance run amok.Pacing of each game builds to an intense pulse as Kasparov first wins, and then is so soundly defeated in game two that it seems to weaken him psychologically. As Kasparov views it, Deep Blue’s winning moves transcended a machine’s limits, raising the specter of human intervention. The pic runs with the accusation, spicing it with visuals of other famous chess-playing “machines” that turned out to be fronts for human players, including clips from Raymond Bernard’s silent film “The Chess Player,” which climaxes with Oz-like human manipulations of such a contraption.
Though no proof of the charges is uncovered (and Benjamin, Campbell and Feng are mum on the subject), others, such as reporter Jeff Kisselhof, suggest IBM wanted to defeat Kasparov at all costs as means to prove company’s computer supremacy. Pic notes more than once that IBM stock shot up 15% immediately after Kasparov retired from the match.
Coda plays an unsettling note, as IBM is seen dismantling Deep Blue after its victory, as if it existed solely to demoralize the champ, and Kasparov stumbles through a horrific defeat at the hands of his old nemesis, Karpov.
Production package, highlighted by David Hill’s hands-around-the-throat editing pace and Rob Lane’s tense synth score, pushes pic into the docu field’s commercial penthouse.