By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Playing at select theatres & VOD
DVD/ Blu-Ray Release:
I never knew the retro Colecovision console could pump out 90’s RPG style games like the one featured in Max Reload and the Nether Blasters. This movie unloads a fair bit of nerd culture–especially in the history of video games–while Max Jenkins (Tom Plumley) attempts to save the world! The backstory is cool enough to hook me: every century or so, a pawn gets selected to play a very cosmic game with a mysterious figure only known as The Harbinger to determine the fate of the world. The first time this happened, destiny was determined at the top of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Just why the Sumerian culture was said later is beyond me; I know their ziggurats are shaped differently. I can dismiss this oops in a movie written and directed by Scott Conditt and Jeremy Tremp. The film they made together is a hilarious adventure, filled with easter eggs to keep me wanting to rewatch to find them all.
Their work can hold its own when compared to similar stories like Ready, Player, One and LEGO Ninjago, Prime Empire (season 12). The difference here is that the setting is in the present day and the narrative takes on similar tones like that from Jumanji.
Kevin Smith, Wil Wheaton and Lin Shaye have cameos and I can tell Smith was having fun ad libbing and getting his gamer geek on. Max is the consummate nerd, hardly ever leaving his room when there’s a new video game to enjoy. Thankfully, he pokes his head out but without the support of his friends, Liz (Hassie Harrison) and Reggie (Joey Morgan), he’d be digging himself into a pit that would be tough to crawl out of.
Conditt and Tremp have done their research (or are huge gamers themselves) and I love their stabs at video game culture. They also make this film easily digestible for those who don’t recognize the jokes being tossed at them. I suspect there’s a Steve Jobs vs Steve Wozniak reference too. The spat between Eugene Wylder and Barton Grabowski, the creators of the Nether World franchise just feels familiar. Instead of conflicting personalities, the dispute in the film was over whether their product was ready for prime time or not.
As a retro RPG video game nerd too, I can only dream of playing that lost game of Nether Blasters! This “holy grail” was invented in reference to giving us fans who played The Temple of Apshai, The Bard’s Tale, Phantasy Star and Secret of Mana that dream game that we all wish to conquer. It combines elements not only from those games, but also shows us what it could be like, taking on the form that goes beyond finishing Atari’s Adventure and Final Fantasy IV! You have to nibble through the layers to get at the heart. I suspect Street Fighter is tucked in there too, as its prominence in the silver age of video games is equally important.
I’m also fairly sure a reference to how Electronic Arts “stole” ownership of Lord British’s Ultima series was also made too–but few people would recognize the jabs. There’s a lot of detail us gamers will notice when watching this film, and I’m ready to hit ready, player, rewind to make note of them for a drinking game.
4½ Stars out of 5