Thursday, March 26, 2015
Review: Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
History: James Rolfe started work on this as early as 2006. He grew up with the lifelong goal of making a feature film one day so he took the character that was blowing up at the time and put him into a feature length story. He wouldn't complete an early draft of the script until 2008, but the idea was living and brewing since then. After years of delays and script revisions he finally got the ball rolling in fall 2011.
At that time he went to the fans requesting donations via IndieGoGo with a set goal of $75,000, with any remaining needs coming from potential investors. The response was a smashing success. He wound up with a budget of $325,000, all from crowd funding, giving him full creative control in the process.
The project was well documented, with those behind the scenes videos released online by James himself during production, which started in spring 2012. While he did a lot of non-stop shooting for a few weeks in L.A. many remaining scenes and effects shots were filmed in his spare time while he still produced videos for his website. Because of the continued delays and his insistence of using practical effects he would simply say "It's done when it's done" or as the poster said "Coming this lifetime."
Once finished it premiered at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre on July 21, 2014 in Hollywood, nearly three years after his crowd funding success. This would follow with one night only screenings at select theatres across the country. It was released on video on demand on September 2, 2014 and blu-ray, packed with as many extras as possible, on December 14, 2014 through Amazon. A DVD version still in the works.
Personal History: I've been watching the AVGN videos for the last five to six years. Safe to say I really enjoy them and support James. When this movie started getting funded on IndieGoGo I donated a few bucks (but not enough to get mentioned in the credits per the donation prizes.) So I've been anticipating this movie for a good three years. I watched the update videos during development and editing. So while this is my first viewing, I went in knowing a lot about it ahead of time.
Version I Watched: My own personal copy on Blu-ray.
Review: It should go without saying this review will be biased. It's based on a web series I really like and it's obvious this was made for the fans. So I'm definitely (intentionally or not) overlooking a few things simply because I'm forgiving. With that said I'll still try to be as objective as possible.
Even if you don't watch game reviews on Youtube there's a chance you've heard of a few personalities on it. Most likely PewDiePie because he has over 33 MILLION subscribers. But a popular runner up is The Angry Video Game Nerd.
James Rolfe, the Angry Video Game Nerd himself, has been making game reviews with this character for roughly the last ten years. However he didn't intend to make them public at first. The first two episodes, made in 2004, were very basic and just a joke, making fun of people who make a huge deal out of old, bad video games, not intending to make a series out of it. These two shorts were a big hit among his friends and beyond, which inspired him to make more. To make a long story short he picked it up again in 2006 and has been making them ever since, with each "season" bigger and better than the last in ideas and production value.
He now has one of the biggest hits on Youtube, which helped him make the movie I'm talking about in this review.
Going from series to feature doesn't always work out. Usually it's a bad idea because the nature of the medium conveys a different tone, making it too different and not in the same vein as what made the series great in the first place. There are exceptions to this, like South Park: Bigger Longer & Uncut. But here, for what it is and everything it's up against AVGN: The Movie is a fun experience that was well worth the wait.
James Rolfe is definitely a creative guy. Even though it may seen his videos are shallow on a surface level, swearing a lot at old video games, he knows what he's doing while thinking through his bits instead of making cheap jokes off the top of his head while doing a 'let's play' like other personalities. His whole persona is to make a satire out of overly critical gamers who react to old video games like they beat their mother within an inch of her life.
James has a much better sense of humor than other gamers, I feel, constant poop jokes aside. Let me say I hate the gamer sense of humor. Most of it seems to boiled down to references with a goofy tone but no real humorous structure to it. The 'lol random' mindset of joke telling. In other words gamer humor, generally speaking, may as well be written by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (look it up.)
Not James. He took what is one of the easiest and most popular stories from gaming history to make fun of and spins it on it's head while making a great commentary of modern gaming fans, especially in the Youtube community.
The movie is based around the rumor that Atari took all the unsold E.T. Atari 2600 cartridges (that supposedly kick started the the video game crash of 1983) and buried them in a landfill in the desert. The movie depicts The Nerd's life outside his Youtube videos. He works at a GameStop-esque store and is constantly being told by fans to review E.T., calling it, "The worst game ever made!"
The Nerd is so fed up with this and the rumors of the landfill that he decides to try and debunk the myth by going to the alleged sight of the landfill. While investigating the site he discovers the game has connections to Area 51 and a real alien crash landing. This was a route that seems obvious in retrospect, but has never been brought up before and is a very fresh take on one of the oldest stories in gaming history.
Then to add to the hilarity he is joined by two travel companions. Cooper, his right hand man, and Mandi, a new addition to the 'team' who is really an undercover video game executive who wants to make an intentionally bad sequel to E.T. and thinks The Nerd would be a great way to publicize it.
What a fantastic and unpredictable plot. I imagine if anyone else made it the story would be about some downtrodden gamer whose life was ruined by the game and travels back in time to stop Atari from making the game in the first place or whatever. Anything that clearly revolves around how 'bad' the game is and never really departing from that. Instead James makes you forget from time to time you're watching a movie about a video game. All because of his ambitious scope.
A scope really noticed once the plot gets rolling and the government start tracking him down. Seriously, there are car chases, gun fights with robots, an alien that crash landed in the 50's, and even a giant monster sequence that pays homage to Godzilla and the like. Most of the video game talk is right at the start and then it comes up infrequently. Then in the latter half when there's a Woodstock-esque crowd of game fans at the supposed cartridge burial site they're played like a bunch of obsessive idiots... and I loved it.
And what an achievement on such a small budget. Thanks to James' huge imagination and sense of humor he was able to make something that's big in scale and humor despite the restrictions he had to overcome. Yes a lot of it was intentionally B-movie so not having a huge budget to make it look pretty was a good thing. You can really tell James had a lot of experience putting together movies because what he does here on essentially no budget for this kind of movie is nothing short of incredible.
Despite that there are plenty of complaints.
For one I feel the movie is too long. I realize James had a big vision of what this story would be but at nearly two hours I felt it dragged on longer than it needed. Taking a scissors to it, cutting out some of the fluff would have greatly improved the overall flow. Especially late in the movie when I started to feel it was starting to overstay it's welcome and lose me with the comedy it's been doing over and over for three-quarters of the movie.
After all, taking something that is normally concise and swallowed in small doses has an almost inevitable effect of feeling dragged out when put into feature form. While I love Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theatres I felt it also had some dragging moments because it was based on an eleven minute TV show. And unless you're binging you don't see the otherwise short form humor for long time periods, which is where this movie suffered.
At it's core it is definitely a comedy. It does become action and sci-fi at many moments but overall it's a comedy. When the humor starts to dry out, especially because of the length, then you're in trouble. Not only that but James may have tried a little too hard with some jokes this time around. Like I already said there were plenty of parts that could have been cut because of length and because some bits just didn't work.
Maybe James was just a little too ambitious. Trying to cram all he can into it because this may very well have been his only chance to do it. Maybe it would have been a lot better if scaled back just a tad. Not a lot... just a tad.
I can forgive the low budget feel... I can forgive some of the corny acting... but the writing? A little harder to forgive at times.
I did like the bit when the Nerd and Mandi sound like they're having loud sex when in fact they're playing an intense game of track and field on the power pad. One of the better video game related jokes here for sure.
Despite all that I still consider this a very positive experience... but mostly if you're a fan of the Nerd already or if you're into corny B-ticket style movies seeing as it was intended to be made that way. In short this movie will mostly appeal to those into retro games or are fans of the Nerd already.
But I can not overstate how exciting it is that James actually got to do this. He's such a talented and creative guy. While not everything worked this was a very worthy effort that I felt a little weird criticizing because of everything that was against him along the way. It's a fantastic adventure overall with a lot of laughs, capped with a proper, short review of E.T. at the end of the movie. Something a lot of his fans have been waiting a long time for.
Also the fact that he got Howard Scott Warshaw, the actual developer of E.T., was exciting in and of itself.
I hope your next venture into feature filmmaking can be a bit more well put together in a tighter, more well rounded experience. Regardless, James, you've done well and I adore what you did. Thank you. My donation to this project was not wasted.