By: Matt Cartelli
I had the incredible opportunity to attend a screening of Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie in New York City. The movie is of course based on the popular web-series of the same name, where a disgruntled gamer plays terrible video games and rants as much as he can while doing so. James Rolfe, the creator of the Nerd, has been a film maker his entire life and runs his own independent production company entitled Cinemassacre. His projects stem from comedy, horror, science-fiction, documentaries, and experimental films. The Angry Video Nerd (originally entitled Angry Nintendo Nerd) was just one of his many projects, nor did he have any intentions of making more than the initial two episodes. Once his Nerd videos went viral in 2006, the demand was there for Rolfe to continue AVGN as an ongoing series. As brought up on the movie’s timeline via Cinemassacre.com, one of the first ideas after the series went viral was to think about how to turn this idea into a feature length movie. Rolfe then got together with longtime friend and collaborator, Kevin Finn, and the two began pre-production of the movie as early as 2006. The most incredible feat concerning this movie is the fact that it was completely fan funded via crowd funding site Indiegogo. This is clearly a passionate project for the fans and by the fans.
The movie centers on the legends of the mass burial of what many claim to be the worst game of all time, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 (rechristened as Eeee Teee due to copyright issues). As said in the movie and stated on the movie poster itself, “it’s the worst game, but it’s the greatest game story ever told.” The film begins with a retrospective of Eeee Teee. and how it reportedly played a role in the Video Game Crash of 1983. Mandi (Sarah Glendening), while holding a meeting at Cockburn Inc., enlightens her co-workers that thanks to a certain popular web video maker, bad games are “the new good.” To capitalize off of this bad game sensation, Cockburn decides to produce Eeee Teee 2, with plans of having the Angry Video Game Nerd (James Rolfe) review it as endorsement. With news of Eeee Tee 2 getting out, the Nerd is pressured more than ever to review the original. Unfortunately for his fans, the Nerd is still as reluctant as ever to review that game, thanks to the game scarring his childhood long ago. Cooper (Jeremy Suarez), a devoted Nerd fan and the Nerd’s current production assistant, gets in contact with Mandi. Mandi makes a deal with the Nerd to review Cockburn’s sequel, and in exchange she will help fund an excavation of the Atari Landfill. The Nerd in turn agrees, in hopes that they won’t find anything. The Nerd even makes a deal with Cooper that if they do find any games, he’ll review it. Little do the Nerd and his crew know, the landfill is only hours away from Roswell, NM, the crash landing site of a different “E.T.” Not only that, but General Dark Onward (Stephen Mendel) of Area 51 views the crew as a potential threat to their homeland security. Will the Nerd discover the truth behind the worst game of all time? You’ll have to catch Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie currently playing in a limited theatrical run with a digital release slated for September 2nd. A DVD and Blu-Ray release will follow sometime by the end of the year.
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is not only James Rolfe’s magnum opus, but a love-letter to the fans. If you’re an AVGN fan, you will certainly find enough reasons to enjoy the movie. For starters, James Rolfe is as hilarious as ever as everybody’s favorite Angry Nerd. There are plenty of references to previous episodes, many of which take place during the film’s opening credits. The main appeal of the movie is getting to see the Nerd venture into the world outside of his basement. As Rolfe himself has stated, the movie is similar to the Wayne’s World films, in the sense that it expands on the world of the series. Would you know that the Nerd works at GameCop, a Gamestop knockoff, as his day job? Would you know that the Nerd still uses dial-up internet on his Commodore 64? Thanks to the movie, now you do. Another fascinating aspect is to see the Nerd interact with so many people in one movie, since during the game reviews he’s either by himself or some random unwanted visitor starts a fight with him. Unless you count that Guitar Guy (Kyle Justin), who literally lives behind the Nerd’s couch.
As for the remaining cast, each actor does what they can for their respective roles. Jeremy Suarez is fine as Cooper, the Nerd’s sidekick. Particular highlights for Cooper are his hilarious phone calls with his overbearing mother. Sarah Glendening isn’t bad as the snarky and yet upbeat corporate employee disguised as a nerdy girl named Mandi. I would say that the real show stealers are Stephen Mendel as General Dark Onward and Time Winters as Doctor Zandor. Onward makes for a fun and hilarious antagonist as a crazed xenophobic tyrant, who can’t tell the difference between a tourist and a terrorist. I would say Onward is a cross between Doctor Evil from Austin Powers, and the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. You’ll get the latter connection pretty quickly during the course of the movie. Time Winters on the other hand, plays an eccentric ex-Area 51 scientist who foiled his former cohorts’ plans in more ways than one. Zandor is very reminiscent of Back to the Future’s Doc Brown, which very well might have been intentional as this film takes inspiration from several of James Rolfe’s favorite films. Speaking of Back to the Future, look out for another reference during the bar scene. Also be on the lookout for Robbie Rist (voice of Michelangelo in the original live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies) as the voice of a particular character, which I won’t spoil for you. If you’re a fan of other internet celebrities, several make cameos during the movie.
The film makes a large usage of low budgeted B-Movie special effects. These effects range from models, animatronics, dummies, make-up, etc. While these effects obviously appear fake, they have a certain charm to them due to being practical effects rather than CGI (Computer Generated Imagery). There’s really something to appreciate when the special effects are done in a physical fashion that is really on film rather than just rendering something on a computer screen. There’s clearly a labor of love to consider. As James Rolfe puts it in his Inside Look video, he loves it when people can tell how an effect is done, because it invites them into the movie making process.
The music is composed by acclaimed composer Bear McCreary, best known for scoring The Walking Dead TV series. As a fan of AVGN himself, McCreary personally contacted Rolfe about doing some sort of collaboration. Their first collaboration was the How the Nerd Stole Christmas special in 2010. After the success of the special, McCreary of course agreed to score the movie. As for the score itself, it does the job perfectly fine. The score certainly makes use of referring to classic 8-bit video game soundtracks, while also incorporating Kyle Justin’s iconic AVGN theme song as the Nerd’s leitmotif. It should be noted, however, that McCreary will be re-orchestrating the score for once the film is released on digital and DVD/Blu-Ray.
Of course the film is not without its faults. Certain scenes feel rushed, likely as a result of the tight shooting schedule. A few additional takes for these scenes could have potentially been an improvement. Unfortunately, the movie could not use real game footage due to copyright issues. This is problematic considering the film itself focuses around E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for the Atari 2600. The episodes themselves were able to get away with using the real games because of their technicality as critical reviews. A feature film narrative, however, makes the use of game footage much more complicated. Thus, E.T. has been rechristenised as Eeee Teee, and animators have produced a replication of the game footage different enough to bypass any legal issues. I do have to give credit for the filmmaker’s creativity when it did come to creating the fake game footage, as they clearly had fun with what they could accomplish. For example, the title screen for Eeee Teee features the character’s face with a drawn in mustache.
An additional issue is that the movie was released after the infamous Atari landfill was excavated. The argument that can be made against this counterpoint is that the movie does take place in an alternate reality. Still, the landfill already being dug up does make the movie itself feel somewhat off. To be fair, this was something out of the filmmakers’ control, and unfortunately little can be done when it comes to the nature of a slow paced independent film production. The script itself was completed back in 2008, but filming didn’t even commence until 2012. Then it took two more years for the film to even get completed thanks to all of the additional scenes that still needed to be filmed and the hundreds of visual effects shots. Not to mention, when the landfill was dug up, only a small portion of the found games were E.T. cartridges, nor were they the reported 2 million copies. So in a sense, the legend does still live on, though the real life excavation does make the film off putting in a way. If you can ignore the real life excavation and buy into the movie taking place in an alternate reality, then this probably won’t be an issue for you.
One minor disappointment I found was the lack of Mike Matei, Rolfe’s long time right hand man involved with AVGN and various other Cinemassacre projects. Matei’s involvement is limited to a few small behind the scenes stuff and a cameo. Part of me feels like the role of Cooper could have easily been Mike Matei playing a fictionalized version of himself as the Nerd’s best friend. Especially when Cooper is seen helping the Nerd film one of his reviews in the beginning of the film, much like Matei does in real life. Not to belittle Jeremy Suarez’ character, as he does work to represent another person in real life: the typical fan who is inspired to do his own game reviews. Understandably, Matei opted not to do much for the movie so he could produce additional content for Cinemassacre while Rolfe was busy filming the movie. Plus, Matei doesn’t consider himself much of an actor, and really only guest starred as various characters in the AVGN series to help Rolfe out. Still, the idea of Matei playing the film’s best friend character is an intriguing concept.
One other thing to note is that the movie really is meant to be seen in a theater with a whole group of AVGN fans. The experience of being in the same room as not just other fans, but James Rolfe himself, makes for a once in a lifetime opportunity that can’t be re-created in your living room. If any screenings are still available in your area, I highly recommend getting a ticket. Keep in mind, only select screenings have live appearances with James Rolfe, Kevin Finn, or anyone else involved with the movie. On the flipside, though, there were moments where I wish I could hear what the characters were saying on screen, but couldn’t because they were drowned out by the crowd’s laughter and cheering. Not to diminish what I said about the live theatrical experience, but both viewing choices have their benefits.
Overall, Angry Video Game: The Movie is a satisfying experience for any fan of the web-series. Fans will get to see the Angry Nerd they all know and love, but on a much grander scale. The most important thing this film has to offer is the possibility of expanding the world of crowd-funded independent films. This film gives inspiring filmmakers more hopes to follow their dreams, and not worry about having to go through the major studio route. I’d say the wait was definitely worth it, and I look forward to any future films James Rolfe has in the works.