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Who knew that either a failed video game or digging through a massive pile of trash would be interesting enough to make a movie about? Let alone a movie that looks like something you might want to watch. Well, if this new trailer for Atari: Game Over is any indication, director Zak Penn’s (Incident at Loch Ness) has done exactly that.
Back in 1982, Atari was the word as far as video games were concerned. They were the pioneers, the frontrunners, the innovators, the big dogs. But in one fell swoop that all changed, almost taking the entire gaming industry down with it. When Steven Spielberg’s beloved E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial opened it connected with audiences of all ages in a way that not many films do. Atari, the giant of the business, put out a rushed, half-assed adaptation—it took five weeks, which is insane—that is widely regarded as the worst video game every made, and is largely credited for being the reason behind the temporary collapse of the video game manufacturing business in 1983.
Released to coincide with Christmas, the game initially sold well, that is until people started playing it, realized it sucked, told all of their friends, and people stopped shelling out their dollars. But what happened has become a piece of videogame lore, a kind of mythic story that made the rounds in certain circles stating that all the cartridges were rounded up and buried in a mass grave.
Game Over chronicles the search for this site and the following excavation of what is symbolically the final resting place of a once massive corporation. It’s abundantly appropriate that the resting site is a garbage dump in Alamogordo, New Mexico, right next to the test site for the first atomic bomb. The site was also reportedly selected for its isolated location and the fact that the trash was compacted daily. Atari didn’t want this ugly sucker getting into any more hands than they could help, and the burial became something akin to Jimmy Hoffa’s body.
Like any documentary worth its salt, the meaning and importance of Atari: Game Over goes far beyond the surface level subject. The film is not just about the game, but about the perfect storm of circumstances leading to its creation and why it was so terrible. Penn and company also explore the impact this single event had on the larger industry, and, ultimately, one man, Howard Warshaw, the game designer. At it’s core, this is also very much a story of 1980s excess, pride, and the feeling of invincibility that ran through the decade like an unchecked plague.
Backed by Microsoft, Penn and Fuel Entertainment team enlisted the help of local contractors to track down the discarded games and excavate the site. Which they did back in April, striking pay dirt as you can clearly see in this trailer. They also found one copy of Centipede amongst the discarded cartridges.
This is an interesting part of video game history. E.T. was one of the first attempts to cross over between film and the booming home console business, something that has now become so commonplace it’s expected. Initially, I thought this was going to be something most appreciated by hardcore gamers, but from the look of this trailer, they’ve made an intriguing movie that I’m actually excited to see. There’s no specific release date for Atari: Game Over, but it is scheduled for release this fall.