Friday, May 8, 2020

Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie (2014)

The title is terrible, and the source material is about as niche as it gets. I won’t deny that I am a fan of the source material, nor will I deny that I volunteered on the film’s massive VFX team. I found that environment overly formal and pretentious, like we were supposed to be making a real movie. I won’t assign blame to the VFX supervisor, who was only doing what he felt was best for his own career and the visual professionalism of the film.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? AVGN was never Hollywood. It was a postmodernist gross-out series that made juvenile jabs at old video games, and that’s what everybody loved. Try to dress that up in a fresh coat of paint and you get something false.


Entertainment is a product that can be sold for money, but it’s worthless if it fails to entertain. James Rolfe understood that from his film school days to his early YouTube days when he called himself the Angry Nintendo Nerd. He also understood the value of anger, which can draw entertainment from a product that is otherwise not entertaining.

The anger remained, but Nintendo was dropped from the title in favor of “Video Game” when James opted to be beholden to ad revenues instead. The Nerd became a staple of the curated ScrewAttack steaming website, its bread and butter. After a few years, the Angry Video Game Nerd outgrew ScrewAttack and went back to YouTube, premiering the first widescreen AVGN episode, which teased a movie. A Kickstarter campaign was launched, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, an order of magnitude over the amount James expected.

Now in low-budget Hollywood territory, the microbudget script James was going to shoot with his friends became an extravaganza. What do you do when your talky $10,000 video game farce turns into a full-scale production? I don’t know, and neither did James. You can’t just give the money back, you have to do something with it. People were hired and the thing was shot according to plan, but everyone knew they were in strange territory.

I won’t go into details on the weird online dashboard system, the politics involved, or how to make a plastic flamingo’s head explode. These issues were dealt with as if the damn thing was Star Wars. On screen, it looks like Star Wars shot in somebody’s back yard. The actors were too professional, the script was too conservative, and the whole thing reeked of pandering.

I would have loved a scene where the Nerd swears vehemently at a shit-covered Nintendo cartridge, but this movie felt like the end of that era. Some recent AVGN episodes are a return to form, which would imply that James now has more of a perspective on what the character is and is not. I would call the movie a learning experience.