Just over a year ago I reviewed the mostly crowd funded internet video reviewer spin-off movie Ashens and the Quest for the Gamechild. I quite enjoyed that film though remarked that some familiarity with the Youtube sensation that is Stuart Ashen may be required. This is possibly even more of a requirement to get the best out of The Angry Video Game Nerd movie. I figure a large amount of my audience here err closer to the nerdier side of things but I may have to provide some backstory to this film to give you an idea who The Nerd is. So, click below and I’ll discuss The Nerd, his genuine impact on internet review culture and, maybe, I’ll mention this film too.
The Angry Video Game Nerd first appeared on the pre-youtube version of the internet (yes, it existed) in 2004. In his videos he’d play a retro video game, usually from the NES or Atari 2600 and comment on its quality in a, shall we say, colourful and creative manner. His videos exploded in popularity over the years and he can be genuinely cited as one of the pioneers of the modern video review or even video based critique. Hell, it’s only been in the last few years I’ve started to see people doing game or movie criticism online that aren’t, in some way, mimicking his style. Think about your Jontrons, you Nostalgia Critics and you Completionists… they all take at least a little of their presentation or humour from his videos. Even noise boxes like Pewdiepie rely on the over exaggerated nature of AVGN’s style to get younger viewers. The Nerd changed and developed though. He retained the anger, but it was more measured. The low brow humour was pushed to the fringes and instead came wacky scenarios. He developed and grew and without that I really wouldn’t have imagined a film based on the character could even be developed. It took many years but James Rolfe got there eventually.
For many years his fans had been asking him to cover one particular game. The near mythical E.T The Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600. James always said he wouldn’t cover it, most likely due to how easy a target it was and that it would likely require something special to be done considering discussion and investigation of the game’s fate would likely be required. For those that don’t know, E.T was a game that is often cited as the reason for the games industry crash of 1984. This coupled with the apparent myth that the carts had been buried in a landfill somewhere in Nevada. The myth was never actually a myth. It had been confirmed to be true many, many times over. Hell, it was actually excavated this year for a Microsoft produced documentary. That all said, when James Rolfe wrote and started production the myth still held some weight.
And so we come to the film, within which the Angry Video game Nerd decides to finally do what he never wanted to and review the E.T. Game and in the process prove that millions of copies of the game never actually were buried in Nevada. He claims that if they unearth the carts he’ll review the game and it’s cynically created new sequel. The Nerd sets off on his adventure with his friend Cooper (Jeremy Suarez) and apparent gamer girl but actually part of the evil Cockburn Industries company Mandi (Sarah Glendening) in order to uncover the truth of the game’s fate. Along the way they discover that there’s more to the game than they initially believed and events take a turn for the worse when a military group stationed at Area 51 believe the group are coming to look for their secrets. And then the film gets sillier and sillier until eventually there’s a giant demi-demon lord threatening to wipe out all existence and a little rubber alien pal. Seriously, the film goes that far off the rails.
I’m a little bit in two minds as to the nature of just how far the film does manage to go off the rails. On the one hand, as previously mentioned, the AVGN video reviews have often gone into the bizarre. One episode features the cube logo from the Atari Jaguar coming out of his TV screen firing laser beams for example. So, in keeping with the low rent weirdness of the series the film is entirely accurate. Just on a much larger scale. On the other hand, it leads to an incredibly incoherent film that has so many threads being juggled by the end that the climax just starts to feel like a lot of stuff piled up on top of more stuff. Let me put it in a manner more akin to The Nerds… “It’s like an ass load of shit took a shit on this mountain of ass and it just kept piling and piling up until eventually we had a giant ass shit mountain and people are all like “look at that mountain of shit”, but then, it turns out that mountain is a volcano and all the asses and shit are being blown all over the rest of the dicks… the dicks being the plot.”
Hope that cleared things up. There’s a point around 40 minutes into the film where Cooper explains an extremely convoluted, nonsensical theory of how the universe is structured too stupid to even attempt to make logic of here. That is the exact moment you’ll realise that this film isn’t going to be a slightly silly adventure set around Area 51 and the search for some old game carts. It’s easily some of the most heavy handed and groan inducing foreshadowing you’ll ever come across in a film. But again, this convolution could easily be seen as a homage to the often insane and oblique nature of 80s video game logic. Just think about the nonsensical clues and the game progression logic of Castlevania 2 and you’ll have an idea just how this kinda fits. Rolfe is, for all his scatological humour, quite a smart guy. He isn’t putting that nonsense in for now reason.
Again, as with a few films I have covered, your enjoyment of the comedy here may come down entirely to personal taste. Some of the humour is quite broad but generally it relies on having your brain wired a certain way. This certainly isn’t as smartly crafted, jokes wise, as the Ashens movie was. Rolfe plays up his love of Monty Python a couple of times, pays homage to Top Gun (both the film and the game) and often recalls the visual juxtaposition of a Zucker-Abrahams production of the 80s. There’s a purposeful B-Movie aesthetic to the effects work very much in keeping with the sort of limitations you’d expect from a Troma film. Kinda fitting that Lloyd Kaufman makes a cameo in the film then. I can’t help but feel that if the scale of the finale had been pulled back, as quite clearly a lot of the film’s budget went into pulling that off, the budget could have been better spent ensuring the rest of the film’s production was up to snuff.
Mostly the film is shot fine enough. There’s a nice use of colourful lighting schemes in a number of scenes that helps give the film a look reminiscent of 90s sci-fi at times. Corners have clearly been cut though. Sound wise there’s a couple of scenes that really highlight situations where maybe some extra reshoots or ADR should have been utilised. For example, a scene as the main group are about to head off has some horribly unequalised audio on the dialogue with a lot of background noise caught in the mics. In another scene, shot in the desert on a clearly windy day… so windy I thought a new plot point was coming… Cooper’s voices has clearly had to be recovered as best as possible from the audio captured on the day. As a result it’s tinny and near drowned out by the sound of the wind. It’s quite a shame those few rough audio moments even occur because, for the rest of the film, it’s mostly fine in terms of sound mixing. Music provided by the legitimately great Bear McCreary is an a highpoint too fitting perfectly in tone with the AVGN series and the videogame style themes. Bear McCreary, by the way, is responsible for The Walking Dead theme tune, which you now have stuck in your head because I mentioned it.
There’s a number of logic errors with the film’s plot too. For one, the Nerd doesn’t want to review E.T, in the film referred to as Eee Tee for copyright avoidance reasons, but his eventual decision to possibly review the film is presented in a muddled fashion. He has a nightmare which makes him feel like he has to exorcise the demon, as it were, but he is then presented with the chance to dig up the carts, which he then turns into a condition of actually reviewing the game. As in he’ll review if it turns out the landfill is real, like he’s placing a bet. If the dream was such a motivation to actually review the game, why not just review it without the bet. Mandi is first presented as being comically evil in the first scene, representing all gamers despise about the Triple A games industry, but is then presented as being a potential ally with no connective scene presenting this as part of her plan. We know she’s from the corporation, The Nerd knows that she’s part of the cynical machine he’s against, but instead of having any villainous traits she just becomes part of the team and instead Sergeant McButter (Helena Barrett) becomes the proxy villain, despite showing a level of disdain for her superior. This is further confused by The Nerd and Cooper believing Mandi to be a spy set out to sabotage them, despite them knowing she works for the company making the game The Nerd is so against. Motivations are all over the place. Again, if the film had been scaled back somewhat we’d have a more coherent film.
This all being said, the ridiculous nature of the film along with the purposefully B-Movie quality effects work lead to a film that has quite a decent level of charm many comedies flat out lack today. The scope of the finale may get way too big, leading to so many cut corners, but it provides this amateurish, near home-made feel. Mostly because it pretty much is. The miniatures could have done with being done with slightly larger scale props, as they are literally toy cars, but it all adds to the film’s internet-comedy-gone-big charm. The giant monster attack on Vegas is, for it’s budget, really quite well done with a number of really cool looking building destruction effects. I could have done without it and maybe a little more money put into an alien character, and ADR, but this is The Nerd’s film and it going too far is exactly what he does.
Overall Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is a call back to the bizarre nature of an Abbott and Costello adventure coupled with the irreverent humour of the modern Youtube age comedian. A lot of effort, love and passion has clearly been pumped into this project and it is certainly the largest scale film of this type so far. Well, unless you count those awful Fred movies which are made with multiple times the budget of this and, for some reason, actual studio backing. I’m not counting them cos, man, why do those films exist? I suppose the same could be said of AVGN and Ashens, but dammit, they worked insanely hard to get their films made and a messy as the former may be it’s still a decent amount of fun. There’s far worse ways you can spend 2 hours of your evening. I mean, Jesus, what if there was a Pewdiepie movie? Could you imagine watching that? Ugggghhh. I’d rather have a buffalo take a diarrhoea dump in my beer.