This documentary (a joint venture between Fuel Entertainment and Xbox Presents) explores one of the great urban myths in video gaming, the dumping of around 700,000 copies of the Atari game ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,’ for the classic Atari 2600 console at a dumping site in Alamogordo, New Mexico. This game has often been referred to as one of the worst games in history and blamed for the ultimate financial failure of Atari. This propels the stereotype we still have today that video games based on films are invariably terrible.
Typically at the time Atari would spend many months developing a game but after making a multi-million dollar deal with Steven Spielberg (who approved the game himself) for the E.T. game gave the company just 12 weeks to get the game to market in time for Christmas. Following the games release the companies finances took a turn for the worst and it went on to lose $536 million.
In this documentary we see a brief but fascinating history of Atari and the culture at the time from people and programmers who were there as well as hearing from game creator Howard Scott Warshaw about his early success at Atari and the subsequent end of his career in gaming following the release and his life since. We also hear from ardent Atari fans such as Ernest Cline (Fanboys, Ready Player One).
In 2014 a team of fans, archaeologists and historians got permission to dig at the famed site in Alamogordo to discover the truth of this urban legend and the entire journey is documented here. Large crowds attended what many in fan circles considered a historic event.
Director Zak Penn (story writer on such films as The Avengers & X-men: Last Stand) as a well known ‘gamer/geek’ himself gives us a look ‘outside from the inside’ style documentary. This film avoids the trick used by some similar films of using game soundtracks and the score here is subtle; and graphics and game footage are used sparingly so it’s not too ‘in-your-face’.
Although coming from a non-gamer perspective and with no knowledge of the subject matter I found this perfectly watch-able and interesting for a wider audience throughout with a good balance of intense gamer and outsider perspective with genuine interest.
4/5 – An insightful uncovering of the greatest urban myth in gaming whilst also exploring the companies history.
Now available to stream in the UK on Netflix.