Review – Indie Game: The Movie

Disclaimer: I saw this film at a live screening that had many, many problems. I missed the first 30 minutes due to an error on my theater’s behalf where they played the wrong movie (Hunger Games), and then couldn’t get connected to the stream. Having missed the first 30 minutes of what is already only about 90 minutes long may seem like a good enough reason to not review a movie, but I feel like I can safely say I grasped the impact of the film. 

TitleIndie Game: The Movie
Genre(s): Documentary
Director(s)Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky
Release Year2012
IMDB: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%

Indie Game: The Movie is much more than the chronicling of the development of a game. It’s not merely a film for nerds, but rather a look into what an individual will go through to fulfill a dream. Phil Fish, the creator of Fez, says “I will kill myself if I don’t finish this game [Fez]”, and with this, there’s a drive to see if this character will succeed in his ambitions. There lies the difficult task that a documentary must achieve:  providing a sense of attachment to the character’s plight, and ultimately to interest the viewer in the story at hand.

Fortunately, what the film does right is it places a giant emphasis on the social conflicts of each individual, as opposed to the issues in terms of the development of the game. Because of this, general audiences can definitely get behind each development teams struggles and hope for success. One of these teams, Edmund and Tommy, work by themselves on Super Meat Boy, and the directors Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky focus on the problems at home and in their lives that are in direct relation to the making of the game. Edmund deals with making a game while trying to balance married life and his job, dealing with the one issue none of the other developers in the movie have to. To see Edmund’s wife alone on the opposite side of the room, as Edmund pours his energy into fine-tuning Super Meat Boy was one of the most emotionally engaging parts of the film. Tommy however, cannot maintain a relationship due to the demand imposed upon him by the development of the game, leaving him with his family as the only social contact he receives.

Still of the world of Fez, by developer Phil Fish

And then there’s Phil Fish, who not only is working hard on the development of Fez all by himself, but is also dealing with legal issues from his former development partner. These legal matters are never explicitly shown and are just mentioned, but yet are extremely pivotal to whether Fez succeeds or not. It’s the ways that Phil tries to cope with the issues that makes his story worthwhile and even though the viewer never does get to see the release of Fez (It was released after the film was finished) the movie does not feel incomplete in the end.

Indie Game: The Movie also has Jonathon Blow who developed the critically successful game Braid, and because that game was already released it shows more of him when dealing with his public personality than with the actual development of Braid. The power of all these developers is that they are creating a game that represents themselves. Braid, Fez, and Super Meat Boy all have very unique elements to them that are by extension, parts of the individuals that implemented them. As Edmund puts it when describing the main character of Super Meat Boy, he is vulnerable (a piece of meat) and fragile, exposing himself completely. This is what Indie Game: The Movie does exceptionally well: It takes a look at the emotional state of these developers and how the games they are creating are more than just things that will make money. They are a form of artistic expression, attempting to communicate something deeper and more profound than what it may seem like on the surface.

Just to note as well, the soundtrack for the film is well-done by Jim Guthrie, and the cinematography is breath-taking at times, but never distracting. There isn’t much that I can say against this film other than that it definitely did feel like some of the Jonathon Blow segments weren’t as compelling as everyone else, and Phil Fish definitely was a person who blew things out of proportion pretty consistently, though that last point is more of a criticism of his character, not so much the movie. However, everything else felt so well-done, and to hear that the movie may be being adapted into a series on HBO is pretty exciting, especially since the directors/creators will be involved on the show.

Overall: Recommended


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