This movie based on a phenomenally popular web show is one of the most impressive independent films I have ever seen...
The Angry Video Game Nerd (AVGN), for those of you who are not familiar, is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, web shows in this new YouTube-inspired era where any ordinary person with a camera and Internet access can entertain the world with his or her talents. The show stars James Rolfe, who is also the show's creator, writer, producer, and director, as the titular Nerd reviewing badly made video games and covering other topics of interest for an audience of retro video game fans. He combines offensive, profane, scatological, and over-the-top humor with clever scripting and engaging visuals to make us laugh, whether or not we have played the game being reviewed. As of mid-2014, there have been about 119 AVGN episodes (according to Wikipedia) created at variable frequencies since 2004. The last of those episodes marks the show's 10th anniversary and hints that Rolfe will do bigger things as the Nerd. The latter is obviously alluding to Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie, which I shall discuss here.
Before I talk about the movie itself, let me provide some more background info (based on a timeline of this film's development at Cinemassacre.com, Rolfe's website). Rolfe and his friend, Kevin Finn, began brainstorming the movie back in 2006 and had a finalized script a few years later. From there, work on the film included storyboard development, location scouting, casting, the actual filming, post-production special effects, and whatever else goes into a movie this epic. Finally, in June 2014, Rolfe announced that AVGN: The Movie would have its premiere at Grauman’s Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, after which the movie would be screened at various independent theaters in the United States. I managed to buy a ticket online for a screening at the Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco, CA, on August 14, 2014. In fact, I originally wanted the August 7th screening at the same theater, but that sold out VERY quickly, so I'm grateful I got a seat for the following week. But even if only a couple of lucky AVGN fans could watch the movie in a theater, I understand that it will eventually be available for online viewing as video-on-demand. So, as one of those lucky theatergoers, I now present to you my review of Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie, a film written and directed by James Rolfe and Kevin Finn.
The film's opening is done marvelously well, with documentary-style narration about an urban legend that is well-known among classic gamers. In the early 1980s, Atari developed a video game based on the movie E.T.: The Extraterrestrial, which, due to a very tight schedule for programmer Howard Scott Warshaw to complete the game in just a matter of weeks, gained notoriety as a horribly developed game. It is said that numerous cartridges of the E.T. game were later buried somewhere in a New Mexico desert. But that hasn't made the world forget about it, because now a horde of AVGN fans worldwide want the Nerd to review that game once and for all. (Note: During the film's development, Rolfe asked fans to submit video of themselves demanding a E.T. game review, for a chance to be in this scene of the movie.)
The Nerd wakes up one day and goes to work at a video game store, whose name is a spoof of the real-life GameStop video game store chain. But he cannot escape the fans' craving for an AVGN review of E.T., because a game company has just released a sequel to that game. First, his friend Cooper demands an E.T. game review. Then AVGN fans coming into the store chant for the same. The Nerd has no choice but to put an end to this madness, not by agreeing to review the game but by going all the way to New Mexico to prove that the E.T. game's desert landfill is just a myth. (Another note: Due to copyright reasons, the name of the E.T. game is written as "Eee Tee" in this movie.)
That's all I'm going to say as far as a plot introduction is concerned. There are just so many wonderful gags, jokes, and moments of cleverness in this movie that I should not say too much. So, instead of describing the plot in further detail, I shall throw out a partial list of other things you can expect to see: a general with no legs, the Nintendo Power Pad, subtle references to AVGN episodes, government intrigue, more parodies of actual businesses, a scientist in hiding, a tough female soldier, hot gamer girls, unexpected cameos, more filthy masochistic quotes from the Nerd, a flying saucer, a hidden video game block, and something from out of this world that is so destructive and horrible that it must never be unleashed onto Earth at all costs. There. Hopefully, that'll whet your appetite without diminishing the element of surprise.
Let's talk a bit about the film's technical aspects. First off, don't assume that this movie looks crappy because it's an independent film. If anything, the production value rivals that of big mainstream studio-financed movies. The lighting and picture quality are fine, the shots are edited nicely to keep the audience engaged, and the audio is crystal clear. As for special effects, they are done very nicely. Even if you can tell that the effects could be achieved without the aid of industry professionals, they are still a marvelous sight. Yes, a few special effects look somewhat fake, particularly those involving miniature models and back projection, but the important thing is that they're believable enough to take the audience into another world. So who cares if Industrial Light and Magic or some other prominent movie special effects team didn't do work for this movie? At least the effects are not godawful, like the so-called special effects in Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Then you have the script by Rolfe and Finn, which is written well with great results: a story that always moves forward, plot twists and revelations maintaining that pace, dialogue that flows nicely, and hilarious jokes that fit nicely into the movie. Of course, the execution of a polished script is not possible without a great cast. Honestly, I was very impressed with everyone who appeared in this movie, including James Rolfe, Jeremy Suarez, Sarah Glendening, Helena Barrett, Time Winters, Stephen Mendel, and the many AVGN fans who appear in various scenes. Several of the cast members are professional actors, but even the non-professional performers played their roles like pros.
The moment I arrived at the Opera Plaza Cinema, the anticipation for a great AVGN movie was palpable. While waiting in line outside the door and in my seat before showtime, I observed AVGN fans discussing their favorite episodes, showing off AVGN and non-AVGN merchandise, and even briefly talking about the Nostalgia Critic (another popular web personality, played by Doug Walker, who does hilarious reviews of bad movies). During the movie itself, we cheered when the film's title came on, laughed out loud at every joke, and cheered even louder in response to the film's surprise cameos. Afterwards, there was a Q&A with Kevin Finn. Because James Rolfe couldn't make it (he was in Philadelphia at the time), one fan suggested Finn call Rolfe. Finn did try that, but, to everyone's dismay, Rolfe didn't pick up the phone. That's OK, because Finn took the time to answer some interesting questions. One fan even brought an Atari cartridge of the E.T. game to the screening and asked Finn to autograph it. Then I asked my own question to Finn, about whether he or Rolfe were aspiring to become professional filmmakers or just remain independent. Without even a moment to think, Finn answered, "Stay independent."
Basically, the energy and enthusiasm of the audience, the many more AVGN fans out there, and this incredible independent film are all a testament of the creative genius of James Rolfe and everyone who works with him. If you love the AVGN show, you will no doubt love the AVGN movie. Maybe Finn was right. By being an independent filmmaker, there is full creative control, and, in this case, that creative control led to outstanding results. The best way to sum it up is for me to refer to the movie's tagline on its poster. E.T. the Atari game is perhaps the worst game ever made, but Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is undeniably the greatest game story ever told.
Anthony's Rating: 10/10
(Review originally published at http://www.anthonysfilmreview.com/Film/A/Angry_Video_Game_Nerd_The_Movie.htm)