'Video Games: The Movie': Film Review

Strictly for gamers

Jeremy Snead's documentary chronicles the history of the video game industry.

In an era when a single edition of Call of Duty can outgross the biggest Hollywood blockbuster in a single weekend, it’s not surprising to encounter a documentary detailing the history of the video game industry. Unfortunately, Jeremy Snead’s hagiographic Video Games: The Movie provides only a superficial examination of what has arguably become the dominant entertainment medium, with its promotional tone summed up by its banal message that “video games are here to stay.”

Beginning with a dizzying array of statistics that may prove surprising to non-gamers—the average age of the most frequent game purchaser is 35, 49% of all U.S. households own a dedicated game console, etc.—the film traces the development of the video game from its creation at MIT in the early 1960s to today’s heady era of the Xbox One and the like. Eschewing a chronological structure, the film jumps from one topic to another, sketchily addressing such topics as the importance of identifiable characters (Super Mario is considered the pioneer); the close-knit community of gamers; the development of immersive technology and virtual reality;  the controversy over violence in video games and the detailing of production methods, among others.

Viewers of a certain age will certainly share the nostalgia expressed by many of the interview subjects over such things as the glories of the Nintendo Entertainment System and vintage games like Pong, with comments like “Doom was like a bomb dropped on my twenties” typical of the effusiveness on display. The film also delves into such darker episodes as the glut of bad games that nearly killed the industry in the 1980s, the most prominent example being the E.T. video game that was a massive disaster. We learn that it’s indeed true that hundreds of thousands of unsold cartridges were buried in a New Mexico landfill.

The film includes interviews with many prominent video game company heads, engineers and designers including Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, described more than once as “the godfather” of the industry. Less interesting are the gushing comments by various celebrities, including Zach Braff (one of the film’s executive producers), who makes the claim that video games are “the ultimate example of art and science working together); his Scrubs co-star Donald Faison; Sean Astin, who also narrates; and actress Chloe Dykstra.

Along the way we’re treated to samples of such seminal games as Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers and Tomb Raider, among many others, as well as vintage television commercials extolling the products of such companies as Sega and Nintendo.

Ultimately, however, the film’s scattershot approach proves more enervating than enlightening, with the barrage of information presented in such a haphazard manner that continuity and coherence become lost. Far duller than it should have been, Video Games: The Movie is most likely to send its target audience returning to the far more entertaining product available on their consoles and iPhones.

Production: Mediajuice Studios

Director/screenwriter/producer/director of photography: Jeremy Snead

Narrator: Sean Astin

Executive producers: Zach Braff, Cliff Bleszinski, David Perry

Editor: Kenny Price

Composer: Craig Richey

No rating, 100 min.