Up front I'll just say two things - I am a huge AVGN fan and I did not care for his movie.
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie goes out of the basement and follows the Nerd as he sets out to review the Atari 2600 E.T. (called EeeTee in the movie for obvious reasons). The journey is wrapped up in a promotion by game company Cockburn Industries (really?) to help sell their purposefully shitty game EeeTee 2, since, thanks to the Nerd, bad is good. On the trip, the Nerd becomes the taget of a government conspiracy, ends up in Area 51 and so on until a climactic battle ensues and the Nerd finally reviews E.T.
For an independent film and Rolfe's first effort at a feature length movie, the team did a great job, especially considering a lot of the work was done through a network of fans working simultaneously on different parts of the film via the Internet. But aside from just having to photograph a movie, Rolfe and his crew wrote a script that feels cohesive, every scene has a point, and the plot actually builds to something big and meaningful within its own world.
My first thought though is - I really don't want to see the Nerd in some epic plot inside the real-ish world. The Nerd always worked great inside a temporary artificial universe where the Joker, Jason, and Freddy Krueger are real, and the NES Robotic Operating Buddy attempts to take over the world. These are fun because they take something that's maybe a 100x100px sprite and turn it into to something real, and something from the Nerd's imagination, something that he can punch and take out his aggression on.
And that's the key - the imagination necessary for early games is part of the experience and part of the creative opportunity of AVGN generally. We play the game, but we're also playing in our own conception of the game. AVGN is about sharing in Rolfe's frustrated perspective, which theoretically is partially our own.
So when it comes to the movie, we lose that opportunity. Some of the heart and play are lost in making the Nerd a fully fleshed out character who has a job, car, friends and can be manipulated by corporate assholes. But the truth is, if you are going to make a movie, you have to expand the world beyond the basement. And so, I get it.
But with the play and exasperation gone, the identifying characteristics of the Nerd have to go bigger to fill in the gap. This is namely the Nerd's foul mouth. Look - I love cursing, I love hearing people think of beautifully expressively obscenities, such as - "This is worse than buffalo shizz. It's a combination of shit and jizz" - but all of that can't just be obscenities and outrageous analogies done because screen time needs things that sound funny. That's what a lot of the Nerd-ish language is in the film, and the observant fan may have noticed that some of the rants are from previous episodes.
Consider Super Pitfall, one of my favorite of the Nerd's reviews. The line that always cracks me up is simply "Fucking Assholes!" The Nerd is ranting about a simple beginner's trap and after going on about how the developers should have just started the game this way, this simple insult perfectly embodies how he and I feel about this type of bullshit. That's all you need for obscenity to work. However, in the movie, the rants are referencing something that we're not seeing like the memory of a game or are too many words forced for the current situation. Either way, it's not fun and is distracting at worst.
Still, compared to a lot of movies, at least the dialog is not meaningless or random or wandering even if it doesn't match up the Nerd's reviews. The same could be said of the action scenes, which are mostly done with small miniatures and simple pyrotechnic effects. They fit in the movie, however, they just don't work or feel that impactful. Sure, throw a crazy military dude in there and you're gonna get explosions, and that's about as motivated as the action scenes feel.
I'll hand it to Rolfe and everyone who participated - if you want to make an epic movie, don't feel constrained that you need a Peter Jackson-sized budget to do it - just go for it. It's no surprise that Rolfe has said that Make Your Own Damn Movie by Lloyd Kaufman (who also appears in the film) is his favorite film book. I also happen to be a fan of this book. In it Kaufman, who runs Troma Entertainment, advises that filmmakers to make the movies that they can, in any way possible. Only have some Hot Wheels and your script calls for a high speed chase? Well, you're good.
While this approach may lack polish, if it still tells a story you care about, then that's what matters. Otherwise, the story would never get told at all. Heartwarming as that sentiment is, I'm not sure Surf Nazis Must Die needed to be told, but to each his own. Going back to AVGN: The Movie, this ideal holds throughout, and there's a certain charm to low-budget films that are built by creative people, and that's where all this excess of dialogue and action gets in the way.
Rolfe, while known for his rants, also has a lot of heart and love of gaming, and even within his rants, there's a voice and appreciation for the young gamer. It exudes a writer who really knows his topic and has found meaning in it. That above all is what was missing in the film.
As pathetic as it sounds, I've enjoyed the Nerd videos because I've never really had anyone to talk with games about, particularly ones from my youth. Sure there were kids who I played games with, but to me they were never just things to be won, but worlds to inhabit and an experience in themselves. I don't doubt that other kids around me felt this way, it's just that it's a hard subject to articulate when you're young.
However, I had a lot of anger at games as well, because I did and still do mostly suck at them, and I took this as a personal failing. Watching the AVGN, and in particular the Castlevania and Ghost N' Goblins episodes, it's apparent I wasn't the only one who felt this way, but also still loved the thing that was torturing me.
It's an awkward situation to handle - you're playing shitty games because you love gaming, you want to enjoy them. Rolfe never states this directly in his Nerd character, and this underlying current is part of what makes the character so endearing and sympathetic.
Outside of the Nerd character, Rolfe has had several other videos, where he mostly takes on film, that really pull on a thread that's unique to adults his age - the process of going through things you love that are difficult to share with anyone who didn't experience it but are also very corny and cheap. Rolfe's video store re-creation in his home is fantastic example.
While I can appreciate that Troma films and other shlock are part of Rolfe's youth and fit well within the appreciation of what makes his other content so great, the Nerd fits in a different genre than what makes good shlock. The Nerd video's cheap effects are not because of shlock, but YouTube and After Effects done with zero budget made for the internet.
My point with all of this talk of heart and fit is that while Cinemassacre made decent film, they lost a lot of what makes the Nerd great in the process and the film took priority to the character it's about and what people love about him.
I'd like to see more of what Cinemassacre can do making feature length films. I think they are talented and invested enough to make things happen, and even get others excited about filmmaking on a low budget. But my personal recommendation, whatever that is worth, is to go for something that hooks into the threads of heart and childhood joy that made their other videos so fun to watch.
Friday, October 3, 2014