Movie Review: Indie Game: The Movie
Throughout the history of man, mediums for artistic expression have come to life beneath the collective fingers of humanity. Some have survived and grown throughout the ages, becoming wider in impact and increasingly complex in technique. The art of writing, the skill of painting, and as of late the medium of film are all known art forms. There is a relative newcomer, however: video games. Whether you play them or not, you’re going to want to see Indie Game: The Movie (IGTM). Why? Because beyond describing the struggles, trials and triumphs of independently creating video games, the film successfully shares with its viewers a strong, moving and sometimes humorous glimpse into a massive medium- one with great potential that, at current, is being tapped by an ever increasing number of people.
So how was IGTM, you ask? In my opinion, it was absolutely fascinating, but kind of… Soft. You see, the primarily movie follows three independent game developers: Phil Fish (of Fez fame), Edmund McMillen, and Tommy Refenes (the men behind Super Meat Boy), along with the occasional commentary by Jonathan Blow (creator of Braid). Much of the film centered on the struggles of the three to produce video games- the movie harped on deadlines (and the whoosh noise they make as they pass by, and the whole thing was an extremely intimate look inside what indie devs often go through in order to create the masterpieces they’re responsible for. At it’s heart, this wasn’t a movie about men making video games- it was about starving artists trying to help their art make it into this world. Oh, and they were trying to avoid dying of starvation as well. As said before, the film is an extremely intimate, close-up look at the developers- it feels very raw, although the movie is extremely polished. While it was guilty of coming across sometimes as a somewhat clichéd, dramatized documentary (intentionally fuzzy footage, anyone?), the movie more than makes up for it by making you feel for the developers. It’s just that sometimes, I felt as if were being drawn away, being reminded that I’m at home, watching a documentary, and this broke the illusion that I was in the same room as the tortured, hardworking artists. I’m just grateful that these bits of tacked-on melodrama only lasted a few seconds at a time.
This is definitely a very heavy documentary. At the same time, however, it does feel kind of blunt at times. Dull? Never. But the movie, while a beautiful blend of warm intimacy combined with cerebral ideas and concepts, seemed to forget to pull you aside far enough to look at things from a bird’s-eye view. I really think this movie could’ve benefited by drawing you completely away from the developers sometimes, just for the sake of stepping back and seeing everything. Have you ever stood very, very close to a window screen? Whilst doing so, have you tried focusing on the screen itself? It’s almost impossible to do that without squinting. Similarly, I think this is a movie that could’ve benefited by stepping back for a moment sometimes. I think that if the movie did that, it would’ve come across a bit more pointedly.
Nonetheless, it was one of the most engaging documentaries I’ve ever seen. It avoided the pitfall of coming across as preachy, and at the same time, I felt as if I took something away with me after watching it, as if I’d taken with me all the hopes and dreams and drive of the developers featured in the movie. Something I really appreciated was seeing how Jonathan Blow’s Braid came into being- it was, initially, just- well I wouldn’t want to spoil the movie for anybody, so I’ll just say that the view the film provides into the way the minds of the developers work is absolutely stunning. What’s interesting is that this movie shares the different motivations and ambitions of each developer- what they’re after in creating games, and what drove them to become developers is, for each, unique, and yet behind their eyes you can see the same burning passion to create.
I applaud the fact that the filmmakers chose to create a clean version of their film that brings the language down to about a PG-13 level. While it wasn’t perfect (there was one bit of a game that wasn’t quite PG-13… Along with a few f-bombs typed-out on computer screens), I think the fact that there’s a clean version really is a good thing. The filmmakers clearly recognized that some people don’t appreciate swearing, and out of respect for these members of the audience, they created a cleaner version. Hopefully, more filmmakers will do the same in the future.
Overall, this movie will draw you in and cling to your attentions, your affections, and your heartstrings to tell you the tales of indie developers, and you’ll feel as if you’re sitting right there beside them, through all their troubles, trials, and triumphs. While the movie could benefit from occasionally giving you, the audience, a little bit of space (and, perhaps, focusing a bit more on the art rather than the artists?), it’s still a moving piece, and a very intimate look inside one of the world’s fastest growing arts.
This is definitely a documentary worth seeing.
Jonathan Blow, are you reading this?