Documentary Review: Atari: Game Over (2014)

Release Date: November 20th, 2014
Directed by: Zak Penn
Music by: Stephen Endelman

Fuel Entertainment USA, GRAiNEY Pictures, Lightbox, 66 Minutes

Review:

Atari: Game Over is an engaging enough documentary for those who loved playing the various Atari systems before Nintendo came along in the mid-80s.

This documentary follows two narrative paths that weave together.

Initially, it talks about the history of Atari and how it rose to power and then pretty much disappeared. Secondly, it discusses the E.T. game, which many consider to be the worst game ever made. It isn’t the worst game ever made but it seemed to become the scapegoat for Atari’s misfortune. Also, a massive stock of E.T. game cartridges were dumped in a desert landfill and have since become some sort of legendary pop culture treasure, waiting to be unearthed.

Zak Penn takes us on a journey through the history of Atari, while being present for the massive excavation of the landfill, in an effort to see if the game cartridges are actually there. I don’t want to spoil the ending.

Unfortunately, this is a rather short documentary and to be honest, I’d be more interested in a film that tells the Atari story in much more detail than being constantly sidetracked back over to the landfill. While the discovery of the buried E.T. cartridges is sort of the point of this film, it just isn’t as interesting as the Atari story, overall.

Also, the film paints a picture that the video game industry completely crashed and that Atari disappeared and it leaves it like there was some big massive void in the universe. The reality is that Nintendo came along, as did Sega and many other companies. Market share shifted and Atari was no longer a monopoly. Their systems couldn’t compete with Nintendo and Sega and they dwindled away. Consumers ate up Nintendo and were much happier with it. That’s the reality. Also, Atari didn’t just go away, they still made games and had to alter their business model. Atari still exists today.

Atari: Game Over was sloppy and left you grasping for straws. It was enjoyable for its good bits but I felt that it was sort of dishonest and more focused on legends than truth.

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