Atari: Game Over (2014) Urban Myth Deconstructed

ET found in Atari: Game Over
Zak Penn, who has written a slew of superhero films and directed two films of his own before this one, was the motivator and creative impetus behind and in front of Atari: Game Over. Penn decides to follow and deconstruct the facts that made up the urban myth of the ET video game killing off not just a major game company but an industry.

For those of a certain age, the name Atari has special meaning. The first company to really break the boundaries of home entertainment and to bring video games into the front rooms of the world. What Penn’s documentary does is go back to the story of Atari, the company’s meteoric climb and then its sudden end. The film may follow the Alamogordo trail where, in the world of gaming myth, a million ET Atari games are said to be under tons of dirt at the town landfill. The rumor has been that these unsold “unplayable” video game cartridges were buried there way back in 1983 just as the game company was going under.

The journey that Penn takes the viewer on is one of discovery, if the audience is young enough, or a trip down memory lane if the audience are over a certain age. The idea that one single game was so bad that it crushed a company and “destroyed” the video game industry is laughable yet still believable when considering the gaming community and its increased tendency to rip apart games, old ones and new ones appearing on the market.

Atari: Game Over follows the pioneers who developed “coin op” games to be played on the old Zenith or Motorola or (fill in brand name here) televisions in millions of home across the world. It also recounts the birth of game engineer as “rock star.” Speaking to the guy who made the ET game in just five weeks Howard Scott Warshaw; who was and is a legend in the industry, the film lets the gamer into the early world of games development and the free wheeling atmosphere that ruled behind those closed creative doors.

Despite the “backstory” where the filmmaker talks to the people who were part of the action “back in the day,” like a gaming version of Halt and Catch Fire but without Lee Pace and all the smugness that show suffers from, the film is really about all those millions of Atari ET game cartridges shoved into the ground in the town closest to where the nuclear bomb was first tested.

The filmmakers talk to Joe Lewandowski, who maintained for years that the games were indeed buried there and even worked out their exact location. Cameras were present for the actual “dig” and although the work was disrupted by a sand storm blowing in from White Sands Park the cartridges were found. Ernest Cline, the guy who wrote Ready Player One and Fanboys, participates in the film as well.

*sidenote* Cline stops by Santa Fe and borrows the DeLorean from Back to the Future from Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin…How cool is that? (Sorry, fanboy geeky moment over.)

Not everyone will enjoy this documentary or even understand the necessity of Zak Penn’s decision to make it. As one who lived in Alamogordo, from 1980 to 1982 and played on an Atari 2600 for the first time at Holloman, AFB (the USAF base outside the town) during that two years, this film was a delightful surprise.

In the film, the enormous amount of gamers who arrived at the small town to see if there really were millions of ET game cartridges under that landfill looked eerily familiar to the scores of press and public (and vendors) who lined the roads back when the Space Shuttle was diverted to Alamogordo back in 1982. It is amazing that all this occurred back in 2014 and was missed by at least one older gamer who only discovered the documentary recently.

This film is a brilliant look at a part of history that became a part of urban myth. What really destroyed Atari? Perhaps Warshaw’s pronouncement of hubris or a glutted market or the winds of change combined to not only bring the company down, but also put the dampers on ET. Regardless of just why the Steven Spielberg endorsed video game became a part of myth and whether or not it had anything to do with the demise of a company and industry, the documentary is entertaining and informative.

Keep an eye out for the Raiders of the Lost Ark reference that Penn sets up toward the end of the film. Atari: Game Over is a 5 star film; a fun eye opening look at the early video games industry and the unmasking of an games urban myth. This Showtime documentary is available on Hulu as part of its new add-on, gamers head on over if you have not already.

Falling Skies Final Season: An Impressive Run (review)

Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) in Falling Skies
Watching the final season of Falling Skies, number five to be exact, it is plain to see; the show has had an impressive run and watching the first two episodes of the series at its end, the reason for its success is clear. On top of the Steven Spielberg beginnings the verse populated by Noah Wyle, Will Patton and more lately Mira Sorvino and professional chameleon Doug Jones along with talented guest stars like Terry O’Quinn, has a feel of reality. The dirt looks earthy, clinging and muddy. The guns run out of ammo just as they would in real life and do not have magazines with never-ending rounds in each one.

In Episode 5:1 three teams head out to kill the invaders and in at least one firefight, the one with Tom Mason (Wyle) and his crew, as they shoot their weapons, the rounds run out all too soon, just as they do in reality. Later on, in the high school Skitter-shoot in the gymnasium, the weapons, a combination of man-made and alien, the magazines do not run out quite so quickly, but that is a well known device used by film and television to bolster the effect of the shootout and is forgivable.

Episode 5:2 offered up a scenario where constant Skitter attacks lay Mason, Weaver and the rest of the survivors under siege. Titled Hunger Pains the segment focusses on the lack of food and just how desperate people are to eat. One camp defender tries the Skitter leg that is being roasted in the hopes that the alien flesh is edible.

Cue some excellent FX where it looks like the diner who tries a piece of the limb has his lower jaw and mouth disintegrate in a mass of bloody tissue. After finding some cans of pineapple in the wreckage of a building, that turns out to be local produce, a small team go out to retrieve more in the hopes of saving the starving camp members.

In the same episode there is the splendid irony of the search team finding junk food that may just save the camp from starving. The loading of the food is interrupted by someone who has prior claim on the Ding Dongs, beef jerky and chips that the group have found and the team are locked in and forced to lay down their weapons.

A large door behind the women begins trembling as something big starts banging on it. “That’s my brother” says the girl who got the drop on them, “He doesn’t like it closed too long.” A great moment where the team have to talk their captor into releasing them.

Two episodes and thus far Tom Mason seems to be the “vision master.” Where he gets some sort of warning about upcoming events although he does not always understand their meaning in time to be of real help. He has several visions in season five and he is learning to heed their warnings.

The aliens that the 2nd Mass face in season five are called Skitters, there are other aliens that seem to be working in an alliance with the humans, and they are pretty creepy. Arachnid in nature, with several legs and able to skitter like a spider but with a tall body and no thorax, these things are a brilliant touch. Again, not having watched the show from season one, it is not known if these have been there from the beginning but they make an excellent “big bad.”

On top of that, there are “Skitter-ized” humans which sound a little like a Hulked out Tasmanian-Devil. This was the “brother” behind door number one at the depot. At the end of the show, a “wasp” that stung Mason earlier is put under a makeshift microscope and they discover it is a hybrid with Skitter feet and human eyes. The creature turns out to be alive and it escapes.

Mason and Anne (Moon Bloodgood) follow the “wasp” and find that there are a lot more of them along with some other, bigger winged-creatures; not far from the 2nd Mass camp.

The cast list for Falling Skies has some quality names on it, Will Patton as the hardened and grizzled Captain Weaver and Noah Wyle as Mason head up a sterling group of actors. Mira Sorvino may look different from her Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and The Replacement Killers days but she still has those impressive acting chops.

While it is annoying to stumble onto what looks to be a very entertaining science fiction show during its last season, there are enough avenues to binge back to the beginning and catch up. In the meantime, season five continues to air Sundays on TNT. Fans of Noah Wyle will love it and won’t have to wait for the next season of The Librarians to get their fix.

The Hundred-Foot Journey: Helen Mirren and Om Puri Spar in Cute Culinary Tale

The Hundred-Foot Journey: Helen Mirren and Om Puri Spar in Cute Culinary Tale

Based on the book, The Hundred-Foot Journey is a cute culinary tale starring Helen Mirren and Om Puri as the two restaurateurs who spar in a small French town. Directed by Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) the film is a delightful blend of humor and a clashing of cultures. Both Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey loved the book, from which the movie was adapted, so much so that they became producers on the film, along with Juliet Blake. It is easy to see why the two loved the theme so much, it deals with a hopeful protagonist, his offspring and a miserable older widow who owns the only eating establishment in a small town.

Earth to Echo Millennial Version of ET (Review/Video)

Earth to Echo Millennial Version of ET (Review/Video)

Watching the screening of Earth to Echo, it became apparent that this was the millennial version of Steven Spielberg’s ET. While this may have seemed like a good idea at one time, the decision to make the film in the same “guerilla” style as Cloverfield detracted quite a lot from the enjoyment factor of the movie.
Read more at http://guardianlv.com/2014/06/earth-to-echo-millennial-version-of-et-reviewvideo/#sYiO3jWGuta6Ezs1.99