[Review] – Indie Game: The Movie

6 Jun

Title: Indie Game: The Movie
Year: 2012
Directors: Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky
Writer: –
Starring: Edmund McMillen, Tommy Refenes, Phil Fish, Jonathan Blow
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 96 min
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Metacritic: 73

I remember when I saw the trailer for Indie Game: The Movie, I was immediately hooked. To be honest, I haven’t been that much of a gamer in the past few years, mostly because movies and television take up most of my spare time, but there was a time when I spent hours and hours seriously immersed in a gaming experience, and even if I haven’t gotten into the Call of Duty games or the Wii stuff, Zelda and Mario and Pokémon make up for some my best childhood memories. So of course I was going to be down for Indie Game: The Movie, a documentary that looks into independent game developers, hugely creative people that put it all in the line so that they can create their own video game in order to make it in the industry, as well as to express themselves through the most modern of outlets.

Now, even if I do acknowledge that this film probably did it even more for me because I do have a connection to video games from my childhood, even if you’re not a gamer or if you don’t have that connection (though if you grew up some time during the last thirty years you probably do), trust me when I say you’ll still love the hell out of this film. That’s because, at its core, this is the type of movie that’s been around for ages and that people have been loving for just as long: a true underdog story. And it’s also one of the smartest looks we’ve gotten in the past few years at the sheer artistic process, and to witness the passion and tears that these guys put into their art form is pretty damn inspiring.

Directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky conducted over 300 hours of interviews with indie game developers, eventually choosing to trim it down to four individuals to show us life as a 21st century struggling artist. These are people that don’t have a big corporation behind them, the kind of people who truly leave it all on the line do try and make their dream happen, and you see the sweat and tears that can come because it all, with a truly taxing investment, both financial and physical.

You really can’t help to get seriously drawn into all of these stories, to get deeply involved and moved by the testimonials these guys give on camera, and the directors really do get interviews that are absolutely incredible, full of humor and candor and an emotional depth that you can’t ignore; when Phil Fish tells us that he’d kill himself if he didn’t finish the game he’d spent so long making, you get the sense that he’s exaggerating for effect, but you also get that sense that maybe he’s not. Not to worry though, his years-in-the-making game, called Fez, is available for download now on the Xbox marketplace.

These guys work in a highly corporatized industry that only recently has been granting more space to these independent developers, and to watch these stories unfold is to get a super smart glimpse into what it’s like to be these guys, and it’s smart because it’s just really neatly structured and superbly informative about the stuff it’s showcasing, while still always retaining that human connection that can make this as moving as it ultimately is. Because even as this starts getting all into the games the people it focusses on make, you start realizing the personal connection these guys have to their creations, how they made them it order to express their feelings, and it’s just brilliant and heart-tugging because of that message.

Other than Mr. Fish, who’s game is like a cubist painting through which his character experiences a kind of existential journey, realizing that he was a 2D guy but that his world actually consisted of three dimensions, you have Team Meat, which consists of Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes. These two guys are developing a side-scrolling game that’s more action-y, called Super Meat Boy, about a boy without skin (thus he’s the ‘meat’ boy) who must rescue his girlfriend, who’s in turn made out of bandages. You see these guys doubting themselves as their game starts nearing the finish line, as they try to ensure that it gets the promotion it deserves. I’ve actually played Super Meat Boy, and it’s one of the best games I’ve played in a long, long time, and it also was a big commercial success. To see the story of how it was made only adds to my appreciation for it.

As we get to know these three guys, we start witnessing the huge range of emotions they feel, from how it affects their livelihood, their interpersonal connections, their emotional health, all of these sacrifices are explored. And then you have the fourth person the film focusses on, Jonathan Blow, and if with the three other subjects the film focussed on the present of independent video game developing, Mr. Blow is here to show us the future, since his game Braid is one of the most successful indie games ever, and through him we get the post-independent-sucess perspective on the process and the industry.

Indie Game: The Movie is a pretty fantastic documentary. One that it’s smart in how it offers a look at a creative process, while also being enlightening about the stuff they’re making, and showing us just how much these games mean to their creators, many times being extensions of something they’re feeling. And you can gauge how great this film is by thinking just how much it got you to root for these developers, just how much you wanted them to succeed.

You may already know that Super Meat Boy is a great game and was a commercial hit, and that Fez, after quite a bit of delay, finally became available for consumption this April, and was met with great critical praise. Knowing that, however, takes nothing away from watching these guys struggle and doubt their chances of success, this one’s all about the creative spirit, and how these guys made something for themselves outside any kind of conventional system or safety provided by a studio. Just a brilliant film all-around.

Grade: A-

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One Response to “[Review] – Indie Game: The Movie”

  1. AndyWatchesMovies June 6, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    I would love to see this. King of Kong is one of my favorite documentaries ever and I have a feeling this one will rank up at the top of my list as well.

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