Directors/Screenplay – Kevin Finn & James Rolfe, Producers – Sean Keegan, Photography – Jason Brewer, Music – Bear McCreary, Visual Effects Supervisor – Grover Richardson III, Model Effects – Jon Giancola, Chris Hillman & Scotty Scheifer, Special Effects – RBW Productions, Production Design – Robin Brockway. Production Company – Cinemassacre/Skinny Ugly Pilgrim
James Rolfe (Angry Video Game Nerd), Jeremy Suarez (Cooper), Sarah Glendening (Mandi), Stephen Mendel (General Dark Onward), Helena Barrett (McButter), Time Winters (Dr Louis Zandor), Bobby Reed (Bernie Cockburn), Eddie Pepitone (Mr Swann), Robbie Rist (Voice of The Alien), Howard Scott Warshaw (Himself)
Mandi, an associate with Cockburn Industries, comes up with the idea for ‘EeeTee 2’, a sequel to Atari’s ‘EeeTee’, which was released in 1982 and is purportedly the worst videogame ever made. She goes to try and persuade Angry Video Game Nerd, an internet superstar for his angry and vitriolic reviews of videogames, to review the original. However, Nerd refuses to do so because playing ‘EeeTee’ as a child was such a bad experience that it nearly put him off gaming for life. Nerd and his associate Cooper agree to join Mandi to make a film about finding the location of the surplus copies of game that were reputedly buried in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. However, their search stirs the attention of the military who are based nearby and General Dark Onward marshals all forces in an effort to stop them. The trail leads them to former Area 51 scientist Louis Zandor who explains that he helped create the game and embedded a secret map to Area 51 inside it. As Onward intensifies his effort, Nerd realises that his only choice is to break in to Area 51 and rescue the alien imprisoned there. However, the general has launched a missile on Mount Fuji that has awoken the deity Death Mwauthzyx whose presence threatens to collapse the entire multiverse.
Angry Video Game Nerd is web series that reviews retro videogames. This was created by James Rolfe, a burgeoning filmmaker who also plays the titular Nerd. Rolfe made the initial films in 2004 as an amusement for friends in which he would be filmed playing the game in question and launching into an angry profanity-filled tirade against its idiocies and shortcomings. (The show was originally titled Angry Nintendo Nerd but later changed to avoid copyright issues). These were placed on Rolfe’s website www.cinemassacre.com in 2006. Rolfe then began placing the videos on YouTube and these gained great popularity, boasting a 1.8 million following at current count. The popularity then spilled over into this movie, which was made with $300,000 of crowdfunding money. The film played some minor theatrical screenings but was then released for free online.
The E.T. videogame has a fascinating mythology in gaming legend. Produced as a marketing spinoff for the release of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), designer Howard Scott Warshaw was given a mere five weeks by Atari to complete the game. The game did prove popular, selling some 1.5 million copies. However, Atari anticipated it would sell three times that, which meant massive over-production on their part, causing them to take big financial losses and in turn contributing to the company’s collapse in 1984. The game received a slate of negative reviews, mostly focused around the inanity of the gameplay and premise. Over the years, the game has become legend, being called the worst videogame ever, while an urban legend has sprouted up over the dumping of surplus copies of the game in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. In 2014, after the film here had been completed, a documentary crew uncovered the actual location of the landfill site where some 700,000 copies of the game had been buried.
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is a perfect example of something that finds its natural habitat – a YouTube channel of videogame reviews – and gains a popularity but then completely overbalances by trying to spin a slim idea off into something more than that. Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is surely Angry Video Game Nerd‘s ‘jump the shark’ moment. It is a film made with a swollen and self-congratulatory sense of its own cuteness. The web series worked well as a mock armchair rant at videogames; as a work of fiction, the film is amateurish in its constant nerdish winking and nudging. The scenes with Stephen Mendel as a comic evil military nemesis go on and on in a way that the people making the film must have thought was funny but agonisingly fail to communicate themselves on screen. Rolfe demanded complete creative control over the film but this actually becomes a failing of the auteur theory – proof that a single talent is not always right in its instincts and where the concept might have actually worked had it been made by professionals or with some studio oversight.
The main problem with the film is that the idea of a bespectacled nerd who reviews videogames is not much of a dramatic hook for a movie. Nor for that matter is James Rolfe much of an actor. He just seems to have a single angry posture – most of which involves him sitting with his lips in an exaggeratedly cartoonish upside down U-shape. You can see him robotically straining to parrot the other expressions the film requires of him. In a dramatic setting, the dialogue he writes seems forced in constantly trying to be cute and acerbic.
Rolfe and co-director Kevin Finn have also made the choice to deliver all the effects in a low-budget, deliberately cheesy way that resembles the effects of 1980s videogames. This reaches a point of ridiculousness at the climax where the film throws in everything from a silly rubbery alien, cardboard robots and a cheesy giant monster (that naturally comes to life in Japan) threatening a model Las Vegas. I am not a gamer – hey, it takes too much time away from watching movies – so I am not familiar with the in-jokes or what the film is parodying in these scenes. To me, all it feels like is a deliberately bad movie that seems to be offering silliness solely for its own sake.
The best scenes in the film are actually the ones that James Rolfe delivers right at the end where he gets to finally review the E.T. game. These show Rolfe in his natural element being the Angry Video Game Nerd rather than trying to be an actor. As such, he delivers fair and balanced commentary – admitting the game’s flaws, ridiculing the absurdities of its design, but also putting it in historical perspective and praising what it does, seeing it as not too different from the much more simpler games that were also being made around the era. Actually when it comes down to it, it is exactly the same type of approach that we aim for here at Moria.