It’s been quite a while since we’ve had an interesting video game-centered documentary, but thanks to Xbox and Xbox Video, we’ve got a cool new movie that gives light on one of the most iconic game companies ever. Atari: Game Over follows the pursuit of an urban legend, a mass graveyard filled with Atari ET game cartridges, buried in a New Mexico landfill after the game’s horrific 1982 debut. This movie was produced as part of Microsoft’s short-lived venture into original programming, which is a shame, seeing as how intriguing I found the movie to be.
The documentary focuses on efforts this year to dig up what were believed to be millions of copies of ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, a 1982 video game that fell far short of the beloved movie on which it was based. The game was widely regarded as the worst game of all time, but the documentary tries to argue otherwise. The outcome of the dig was obviously successful, but the film goes much deeper than the excavation — telling the story of the game’s creator, Howard Scott Warshaw, a once popular game designer for Atari who at the time agreed to make the game in only 5 weeks.
Warshaw himself is a major character in the film — revisiting the old Atari headquarters, telling the story of the game’s development, and letting us see Atari’s rise and fall through his eyes. A major focus of the film is setting the record straight on ET and its role in Atari’s collapse. Yes, it was a bad game, but ET was just one example of the many follies that led to the company’s demise.
Warshaw “should be applauded for being able to have done anything in the time that was allotted,” says Atari founder Nolan Bushnell in the film. “The scorn should be heaped upon those who thought it was even rational to try to build a cartridge in a month-and-a half.”
Bushnell says, “A simple answer that is clear and precise will always have more power in the world than a complex one that is true.” The documentary could have spent more time focusing on the downfall of the company, but they decided to put more focus on the one game. That would be my only gripe with the movie, it’s still a great story, and definitely worth watching.
As part of Microsoft’s interactive features, viewers will be able to leave comments on the documentary’s timeline for their friends to see. They will also be able to read comments from the director, Penn, at key moments in the film, and watch outtakes from the film.
The film is available now on Xbox 360, Xbox One and xboxvideo.com, available for free to Xbox Live Gold and Silver members.