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article imageReview: 'Video Games: The Movie' is a doc that needed more time in beta Special

By Sylvannia Soulet     Jul 20, 2014 in Entertainment
'Video Games: the Movie' is a very informative documentary, but is severely lacking in the substance, education, and fun department.
In a month’s time, I have a ticket to see the sold-out screening of Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie in Toronto. For those unfamiliar with the character, AVGN is about a beer-guzzling, profane man in glasses and a white collared shirt who makes it his lifelong duty to play the worst video games ever made. The content of the series is not supposed to be taken seriously, and yet despite all the F-bombs and excrement jokes, it makes for a fun distraction and guilty-pleasure entertainment. Needless to say, I’m pretty stoked.
In the interim, I decided to see Video Games: The Movie to get in the mood. Video Games: the Movie is a Kickstarter project launched last year by filmmaker Jeremy Snead. Snead’s ambition was to set out to make the “first ever in depth feature length documentary about the video game industry and the culture it's created.” The project more than surpassed its goal, raking in over $100,000 and permitting the project to have a nice facelift in the way of licensed video game music and securing celebrity Sean Astin as the narrator. I did not back the project, yet after sitting through the film, I can honestly say I feel like a schmuck for paying money for a ticket and not waiting for someone to upload it onto Youtube.
Where do I begin? With such a fascinating subject matter as video games, this ironically turned out to be one of the most boring documentaries I had ever watched. There’s a lot of information to be taken in, sure, but hardly any of it is substantial. Rather than enlisting actual pundits in the field of gaming, the majority of “experts” are a slew of actors and faux gamer girls reiterating how much they love the medium (John Landis’ son Max is particularly obnoxious, going as far as to flippantly challenge the audience to consider Facebook a type of video game). To be fair, the movie does manage to snag a couple of big names (Nolan Bushnell and Hideo Kojima come to mind) but their input is mostly verbage, especially Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime, who basically uses his two minutes on camera to espouse the gospel of Nintendo (obviously a business strategy to bolster sales of the floundering Wii U console.) The quality of each interview also varies; while some are conducted as a traditional sit-down, there are several where it looks like they cornered the speaker in the middle of E3 or some other convention just to get a five-minute sound byte to further pad out the movie’s runtime.
Speaking of the runtime: for a film lasting almost two hours, a whole lot of nothing was being said about the history and industry. I had just came from watching Snowpiercer the same day, but where that movie didn’t feel its two-hour length, Video Games: The Movie seemed to drag on and on and on). There’s a lot of talking, but no one is really saying anything worthwhile or worth remembering. I felt like I was watching an extended episode of VH1's Remember the…80s/90s: Video Game Edition. Unfortunately, it seemed equally as in-depth but no where near as engaging.
The movie is all over the place. At first it follows a linear timeline, establishing the true grandfather of video games from the 1950s, but then quickly abandons the format, opting instead to bounce back and forth between the 80s, 90s, and 21th century. It never stays on one topic for long and becomes extremely frustrating when it talks in length about the birth of Nintendo but then offers one throw-away line about the Sega Genesis before catapulting straight to the Playstation 1 and then taking a giant leap backwards to rush through the Video Game Crash of 1983. It’s like watching a four-year-old child bouncing off the walls after consuming one too many bowls of Nintendo Cereal System.
I believe the extra funds served as a curse to the inception of this movie. Rather than give us a solid, concise and organized rundown on video games, what we get instead are dry statistics presented with the use of slick graphics, clips of commercials and news about games with little to no context, and several montages set to popular music (though to be fair, I’d probably do the same thing if I had the legal rights to use Queen’s "Don’t Stop Me Now”). With less money, perhaps Snead would have been forced to spend more conservatively and give the viewer more bang for his/her buck.
I can’t, in good faith, recommend this movie to anyone. I consider myself middle of the spectrum when it comes to gaming knowledge. I don’t play a lot of the newer, next-generation stuff, but I know my way around an SNES and enjoy reading about the formative years of video gaming history (I was the girl in the multicolored dress practically reeling in my seat because the female contestant they chose for the trivia preceding the film didn’t know her Simon Belmont from her elbow.)
That said, Video Games: The Movie would satisfy neither the hardcore gamer nor the casual who wants a quick 101 lesson. My personal opinion? If you want to learn more about the industry and history of video games as a whole, then check out Retroware’s The Gaming Years. It’s ten times more informative and created on a fraction of the budget of this bloated, flashy superficial mess coined a documentary.
That, or you can always develop a taste for the Nerd.
Video Games: The Movie is playing this weekend at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema in Toronto.
More about video games the movie, jeremy snead, Kickstarter, Sean Astin, Documentary
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