Reel Quick: Atari: Game Over


Atari: Game Over (2014)



Starring: Zak Penn, Ernest Cline, E.T.

Directed by: Zak Penn (screenwriter of Elektra; X-Men: The Last Stand; Inspector Gadget)

Synopsis:  As the legend goes, the E.T. game for Atari destroyed the video game industry in 1983, so they took millions of unsold cartridges and buried them in a landfill in New Mexico. This documentary covers the excavation of the truth, both literally and figuratively, you see.

*spoilers below!*

What Works:

  • If you’re into video games, history, and/or video game history, the rise and fall of Atari is a fascinating story.
  • This is a very well-made documentary with a lot of cool graphics and transitions.
  • It was great that Penn got some of the key players from early-’80s Atari, like Nolan Bushnell, Howard Warshaw, and Manny Gerard, who all experienced the Atari saga firsthand. Although most of them are also involved in other video game docs.
  • Ernest Cline’s DeLorean.
    Ernest Cline DeLorean

What Doesn’t Work:  

  • So as compelling and complex as Atari’s rise and fall is, this doc barely gets into it. Instead it focuses on the excavation of the E.T. cartridges, which is fine, but it turns out it really isn’t all that interesting. The process leading up to it, involving interviews with town officials, shots of bulldozers, etc., really should be an aside, instead of the main focus.
  • Kind of short at 66 minutes, which makes it all the more puzzling why there’s so much (land)filler and not more about the E.T. game itself.
  • This short Wired clip basically covers the same ground of the excavation as the entire documentary:

Overall: An ok documentary that just lacks focus. I really don’t need to watch several minutes on the inner workings of a garbage dump and the city permits involved. When the doc spotlights the actual game, what it meant to the industry, the Atari story, etc., it’s very good, but ultimately there’s not quite enough of it. In the end, it turns out that the Atari didn’t bury millions of unsold E.T. cartridges to hide their shameful secret, they just threw a bunch of unsold cartridges of various games away, including E.T. So it’s fairly anticlimactic, but it at least ended that urban legend.

Score: 6 E.T.s (extra testicles) (out of 10)

10 thoughts on “Reel Quick: Atari: Game Over

  1. This sounds like one boring ass documentary. In fact I would rather watch a documentary on asses. There was another doc on Netflix about the video game industry, Video Games: The Movie that I kinda liked. It was still chock full of douches but it had way more history.


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