Saturday, April 18, 2015

Atari: Game Over

Directed by Zak Penn.
2014. Not Rated, 69 minutes
Howard Warshaw
Joe Lewandowsky
Seamus Blackley
George R.R. Martin
Ernest Cline
Manny Gerard
Nolan Bushnell

If you peruse any number of lists of the worse video games of all time, you're bound to come across the title "E.T." for the Atari 2600. Lots of games have been deemed terrible enough for such lists. What makes "E.T." different is the mythology surrounding it. Legend has it that after widespread returns of the game, Atari buried a million of the cartridges at a dump in New Mexico. Yes youngsters, games used to come in rectangular hunks of plastic called cartridges. Anyhoo, Joe Lewandowsky is determined to see if the legend is true. We meet him as he is trying to get permission to have a dig performed at the dump where the cartridges are allegedly buried. We also catch up with Howard Warshaw, the game's designer. He not only recap's that development, but also relives some of the good ol' days at Atari.

Thanks to the pending dig, there is an air of mystery that serves this documentary well. The suspense lies not so much with whether or not he'll be allowed to dig, but will there be anything there if/when he does. An exact location has never been given and it takes a good deal of detective work to figure out where the ground should be broken. I'm dating myself here, but every time Lewanowski was explaining how he narrowed things down to the spot in which he did, I kept having flashbacks to Geraldo Rivera standing in Al Capone's empty vault.

There is also a sense of fun used to break up the suspense. Through Warshaw and other talking heads we get a history of Atari complete with wild tales that would have been at home in The Wolf of Wall Street." There is also lots of talk about the classic games of the company's glorious past. While I found these parts of the movie to be very fun, I have to admit that it helps to be of a certain age and/or have an interest in the genealogy of video games. For those of us that fit the bill, this is a joyous stroll down memory lane. Though, clocking in at barely more than an hour, it's a far too brief stroll. There is lots more to the rise and fall of Atari than we're given. On a personal note, I did indeed grow up during the era discussed and owned a 2600. I did not own a copy of "E.T." My best friend did. He seemed to think it was okay, if memory serves correctly. I played it a few times and didn't really care for it. All these years later I couldn't tell you why. For folks who don't share the experience that was the 2600, this might be entirely too nerdtastic.


  1. I was only 2 years old when that game came out. I do remember Atari being a big deal but I have no recollection about that game. Man, that nearly killed the video gaming industry. I need to see this.

    1. Atari was the biggest deal. It damn near had a monopoly on what was the fastest growing industry in the world.- something like 80% market share of home video gaming. It was insane. Everyone I knew had a 2600. The doc does address the idea that E.T. helped kill it. Check it out.

  2. I'm glad you reminded me about this. I threw it in my Instant queue. Nice write up!

    1. Thanks. Couldn't put this one in the queue. Soon as I saw it was available I pressed play.

  3. "I kept having flashbacks to Geraldo Rivera standing in Al Capone's empty vault." Hah! I love it. The premise of this movie is hilarious. I'm pretty sure I need to see it.

    1. Thanks. It's a fun little doc that runs barely an hour.