From executive producer Zach Braff comes an epic feature-length documentary chronicling the meteoric rise of video games from nerd niche to multi-billion dollar industry. Featuring in-depth interviews with the godfathers who started it all, the icons of game design, and the geek gurus who are leading us into the future, VIDEO GAMES: THE MOVIE is a celebration of gaming from Atari to Xbox, and an eye-opening look at what lies ahead.
Jeremy Snead’s documentary on the billion dollar industry wants to cover far too much ground. This is a movie that wants to explore the history of video games, the innovations, the controversies, the communities, the creation, the storytelling and the overall experience and philosophies behind the medium. At 100 minutes, there is no possible way Snead can explore this vast landscape of gaming that has transformed popular culture in such a limited timeframe. The result is a documentary that becomes so briskly indulgent in the subject and the interviews that it ultimately has nothing new or interesting to say.
The history it does cover is all interesting subject matter in which each touchstone could be its own film. There is mention of the godfathers of the industry experimenting with circuits and lights to create electronic games. The great video game crash of the 1980’s is briefly addressed. The controversy of the 90’s around violent content is touched on in little news snippets. All of these are great topics to explore, but it’s delivered in a scatter-shot format amid a plethora of interviews with video game developers, writers and advocates. After they’ve been drained for all their praise, the movie pushes a machine-gun style animated presentation of video game statistics.
But why rush so quickly through all this material? Why not delve into the revolution in engineering that brought about a new age of entertainment? If the movie could only slow down and actually deliver something more than blips on the radar of video game history, this could have been a very informative and unique exploration on this industry. There are plenty of viral videos and special featurettes exploring the other topics relating to technological achievement, storytelling and conventions. Why not give us something that’s hardly focused on that much? The defunct video game network G4 used to run a documentary program on the history of game developers and publishers. That program was able to cover much more in 30 minutes than this film did in 100 minutes.
You’ll notice that the title of this film is Video Games: The Movie and not Video Games: The Documentary. It’s an apt choice of words seeing as from a documentary perspective this project is a failure by design. All of the interviews in the movie are entirely from one side that video games are the greatest thing ever invented since sliced bread. There are no opposing viewpoints as this project is apparently a celebration of the medium with no room for dissent. Come to think of it, there isn’t room for much anything else besides some infographics and a montage of video games set to Queen. There is so much game footage featured in this film that it’s just a few minutes shorts of being an elongated commercial for the developers and publishers.
A quick stop by Wikipedia can give you a far better perspective on the history of games than Video Games: The Movie ever hoped to accomplish. And when I’m recommending Wikipedia over a movie, that should tell you how flimsy and unfocused the foundation was for this film. This is a movie that was created from a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $100,000 in fan support. Under the reasons for making this movie, the campaign pages states that it wants to tell the full story about gamers by revealing the truth about the history and culture. Maybe their focus shifted mid-production, but I didn’t see much of that in this movie aside from the collection of sound bites. Perhaps there is a cheat code I have to enter on my computer to unlock the real documentary about video games.
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Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Classification is to be confirmed by the British Board of Film Classification
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