Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie Review

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A s***tty film that sucks ass – in a good way.

The Angry Video Game Nerd was thrust into Internet fame just as video content was becoming common due both to the increased availability of high-speed Internet services and in no small part to the success of YouTube. Those that have been following from or close to the beginning will remember he was once known as the Angry Nintendo Nerd, a title changed both for legal and creative reasons.

The initial premise of the web series was of a young adult reminiscing about old video games that he hated. The early videos were shorter focusing on features or areas of the game that he found particularly infuriating while colourfully sharing his opinion. The videos usually concluded with a vulgar monologue and often the destruction of the game cartridge. The appeal of the show was that many in the audience could relate to that time they bought, rented or were given an awful game as a present. When the Internet was in its infancy and finding detailed reviews much more difficult, choosing games often came down to liking the boxart.

The continued success and ever increasing popularity of the series, along with the film-making ambition of the creator and star James Rolfe, made a movie almost inevitable and in late 2011 the project was put on indiegogo – raising well over the amount asked for. Principal photography took place in April through to early May, 2012 and then fans had to wait for two years while additional shooting and editing before the film was complete. The film premiered on July 21st at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles. It was then screened in a number of venues across the United States including at PAX before being released worldwide digitally through vimeo on September 2nd.

To get my own biases out of the way, I have been a fan of the AVGN since mid-2006. Although I’ve continued to follow the web series, I’ve been less enthused by the longer skit-heavy videos Rolfe has put out for the last few years. I didn’t contribute to the indiegogo fund because of the direction the series has taken and I had been skeptical about the movie despite closely following the project. Nonetheless, well before the release date I had planned a get together with friends to watch the film.

Going from web-series to feature-length film can perhaps best be compared to going from Saturday Night Live skit to feature-length film. The Blues Brothers was a success but then there was The Lady’s Man and Superstar. The AVGN movie takes the logical step of using the never-reviewed but ever-requested E.T. game and using the infamous video game crash of 1983 as the background. And most of the film centers on a journey to the legendary New Mexico landfill that followed the crash and which was only recently dug up.

Perhaps more cleverly though, the story plays on the popularity of the nerd and how his warnings about bad video games actually result in people buying them. A gaming publisher noticing this trend decides to make a sequel to E.T. and markets it to be even worse – which actually generates popular buzz for the game. This actually fits well with the reality that many of AVGN’s videos have sent people to thrift shops and eBay looking for them. And with the successful Kickstarter of Cheetahmen II: The Lost Levels a bad and originally broken game, the notoriety the AVGN has certainly helped bad games though for innocent enough reasons.

The film is a mix of many things. It is a fan film in the sense that it is funded by fans and littered with references to games, episodes in the web-series and cameos. It is also has a B-movie vibe with plenty of cheesy dialogue and dated special effects. Part of this is due to budget constraints but it is also often quite deliberately so. And without spoiling anything, the third-act also brings in classic science-fiction, horror and kaiju/monster films – genres much loved by Rolfe.

The film can fairly be described as self-indulgent paying almost constant homage to Rolfe’s fans and to his own interests throughout. It is certainly unlikely to appeal to anyone that isn’t a fan of the AVGN and especially to those not interested in video games. Rolfe’s own advice was to get together with friends and watch it and that is what I did and I’d say it is definitely the right way to watch it. Taken on its own, the film is not very good but as an independent project for an enthusiastic fanbase, it is a fun and enjoyable film. With limited resources and experience the overall project is impressive and I hope this opens doors for all those involved.

September, 2014

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