Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Video Games: The Movie


Not Rated (Probable PG for Some Animated Violent and Sexual Images)

Roger Ebert once said that he thought the spoof genre was the hardest to review.  Which makes sense, since acting, storytelling and so on are beside the point.  I disagree.  My review of "Scary Movie" was fairly easy to write, if memory serves.  True, it's a futile endeavor to discuss the performances of Anna Faris or Jon Abrahams in a pure parody, but there is fertile ground for a film critic to discuss.

No, I find that documentaries are the hardest to review because none of the traditional talking points apply.  They don't have actors, dialogue or directorial style.  Reviewing a documentary is like reviewing a college lecture or a newspaper article.  The only thing worth noting is what the film contains.  And unless they're unbelievable good or horrifically bad, there isn't a lot to say more than that.

Which brings us to "Video Games: The Movie."  A terribly uncreative title, to be sure.  But this isn't a movie designed to win Oscars or to make a lot of money.  This is a movie that was made by and for people with a huge passion for video games (an audience that I consider myself a member of).  It is also far and away the blandest, most self-congratulatory documentary I've ever seen.  On a technical level, it looks great (if a little self-indulgent).  But when it comes to educating the audience about its subject, it's less reporting than a 90 minute advertisement for the video game industry.  Which begs the question who this movie was made for, since almost no one who watches this movie will learn anything they don't already know.

"Video Games: The Movie" is unusually structured.  Rather than narrate the history of the industry, it's divided by topic: history, innovation, what video games actually are (something no one seems to be able to define with certainty), inspiration, and so forth.  None of it is attacked with any specificity whatsoever.  In fact, while innovation is trumpeted almost incessantly, none of the trailblazers are mentioned by name, or at least in any detail.  For example, "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," widely considered to be the best video game ever made (an opinion I do not share, by the way), had a laundry list of new mechanics that forever altered the industry.  "Resident Evil 4" completely revamped a franchise and set the standard for horror in video games.  And so on.  To ignore such important parts of the video game industry and history is totally unacceptable.

Director Jeremy Snead refuses to deal with anything controversial or that casts the industry in a poor light (this might explain why so many video game executives are willing to appear on camera).  Judging by this documentary, the entire industry is filled with cool guys and girls who wear their nerdiness with a badge of honor and where every day is filled with passion and creativity.  Anyone who knows anything about the industry is well aware that such a statement is so disingenuous that it's practically offensive.  Not once are the miserable working conditions, microtransactions, the competition from mobile gaming or the disconnect between R&D and marketing mentioned.  On the rare occasions when something negative is mentioned, such as the "E.T." fiasco which almost collapsed the entire industry, it's soft-pedaled.  Or it's unfair.  When Joe Liberman is decrying the violence in video games, he's presented as an out-of-touch fuddy duddy.  Anyone who has seen a "Mortal Kombat" game is well aware of the validity of such criticisms.

I give the film points for being about something I'm interested in and celebrating video games as something other than a time waster, but this goes way too far.  Even a gamer like me will go into sugar shock while watching this movie.  If they haven't fallen asleep.

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