I’ve never been a real hardcore video game addict…well, not for any extended period of time, anyway. I had my fair share of obsessions once in awhile – first the arcade, then my trusty Intellivision, followed by brief stints with Nintendo and Xbox – but none of those lasted more than a few months before they were set aside. Kids today, though, they’re downright obsessed with the gaming, so when I first heard about the Starz documentary, “Hollywood Goes Gaming,” I thought, “Oh, man, this is totally not gonna hold my interest.”
I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was way better than I ever expected, offering a nicely done retrospective of the history of video games becoming movies and vice versa. For instance, Stephen Linsberg, writer / director of “Tron,” bemoans the fact that his film didn’t even receive an Academy Award for Best Special Effects, then admits that, at the time, the industry felt that he’d “cheated” by using computers for his effects. It’s amusing that the doc launches from its discussion of “Tron” and how Mattel licensed the film for a video game, then fast-forwards to the present and observes how it’s a given that a film will have a video-game tie-in nowadays, using “Surf’s Up” as an example. Why’s that amusing? Both films start Jeff Bridges!
Would you believe there was once a licensing battle for a “Kramer vs. Kramer” video game? True. Everybody wanted a piece of the video game action, but the most enjoyable discussion here comes via archival interview footage with Spielberg about the legendarily bad “E.T.” video game for Atari, then cuts to current interview with a fellow who used to work for Atari, who says that Spielberg saw the test version of the game and said, “Gee, couldn’t you do something more like ‘Pac-Man’?” “And I thought, well, gee, couldn’t you do something more like ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’”? All snark aside, the game was such a colossal failure that Atari ended up with so many leftover copies that they buried a ton of them in a Mexican landfill. (I always thought that was an apocryphal story, but if so, Atari’s amused enough by it to claim it’s true.)
There’s also a nice bit about “Dragon’s Lair,” including an interview with creator Don Bluth (alas, the follow-up game, “Space Ace,” gets no love), along with an almost apologetic sequence about the “Super Mario Brothers.” From there, it’s onto the triple threat of the “Double Dragon,” “Street Fighter,” and “Mortal Kombat” flicks.
Inevitably, there’s conversation with Uwe Boll and Paul WS Anderson, with the latter proving the most entertaining. (I had no idea that, in answer to his critics, he offered to meet them in a boxing ring and fight them!) Clive Barker chimes in on his experiences in the industry, including his work on his own game, “Jericho,” and, of course, Shia LaBeouf gets interviewed because he’s the Michael Caine of his era, showing up in just about everything, though he looks like he was caught in the middle of a press tour, however, rather than having sat down for his interview like everyone else.
Kudos to Starz for these documentaries of theirs. They’re really doing a nice job of providing historical context rather than just having a bunch of talking heads blather on; in this case, we’re treated to interviews with the founders of Atari and Electronic Arts, the guys who were on the front lines of all these goings-on. Makes for a lot more interesting perspective than, say, a movie critic talking about how bad “Double Dragon” was.