Out now on Xbox Video and on general release February 2nd 2015 – running time 66mins
If you’re in to video games, then you’ve probably heard of the legend of E.T. for the Atari 2600. Following the movie’s massive success, E.T. was rushed into production for Atari’s phenomenally successful 2600 home console, one of the first games consoles on the home market. The only problem was, there was a five week period from conception to completion. The result, according to lore, was an unplayable mess that was released just in time for Christmas and sold by the bucket load. Soon after that the sales stopped. Unfortunately for Atari, they had produced 4 million copies of the game, and retailers weren’t shifting them and were trying to return them. The unsold copies of E.T., of which there were millions, were buried in a landfill in New Mexico and Atari folded. Or so the legend would have you believe. Atari: Game Over, is a documentary that aims to uncover the legend, find the mythical landfill and find out if E.T. was really what brought Atari to its knees and caused the video games crash of the mid-eighties.
Although the main draw of the film is the landfill excavation to see if E.T. was really down there in its millions, it also goes in to great detail as to how Atari was run in the early 80’s, with great interviews from the developer of the infamous E.T., Howard Scott Warshaw. Warshaw comes across as extremely sincere and goes in to great detail of his experiences working for Atari and developing the first million selling video games (Yar’s Revenge, Raiders of the Lost Ark) as well as what happened when things eventually went south. The film is directed and narrated by Zak Penn, the writer of several blockbuster movies including X-Men 2, and proceeds with child like enthusiasm as to why he wants to unearth the myth, and to see if E.T. really is as bad as legend has it. From the outset, Penn goes in to why he loves games and specifically Atari, accompanied by several talking heads including Ernest Cline (Ready Player One), and employees of Atari at the time. It’s fascinating to see the myth become reality, with some thoroughly excellent coverage of the golden age of gaming.
Gamers of all generations should enjoy this exciting documentary, as it’s not just about exposing a legend and digging up refuse, it’s a love letter to a titanic industry, that back then was still in its infancy and almost every game was fresh and new. Its modest running time means that it’s not filled with anything unnecessary to stretch things out (although Ernest Cline’s road trip starring George RR Martin does push it a little!), and the nostalgia (for those who are old enough to remember those days!) comes thick and fast, so if you’re not hankering to play any of the Atari games mentioned by the end of the film, then perhaps gaming isn’t for you.