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These days, audiences tend to like their documentaries either extremely uplifting or extremely dark and crime-filled, which makes Atari: Game Over one of the stranger entries in the genre in the last few years. This unique look at one of the video game industry’s biggest disaster-turned-urban-legends will be making its TV premiere next month on Showtime, which released the bit-filled trailer seen below.
Coming from Xbox Entertainment Studios and Lightbox’s Simon and Jonathan Chinn, Atari: Game Over is a brief history of the life, death and quasi-resurrection of the Atari game E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, an unabashedly cheap tie-in to the classic Steven Spielberg film. As much as that movie was beloved, the video game received an equal amount of hatred and disinterest, and it’s hardly a hyperbole to say that it almost destroyed the then-young video game industry, partly inciting the gaming crash of 1983.
As it’s said in the trailer, the game designer Howard Scott Warshaw only had five weeks to get the game from concept to completion, which was unheard of even then, in the days of simpler game design. (Of course, the tech being used was also a lot simpler, so it’s a weird sliding scale.) The result was a terrible mess that barely resembled the movie at all. This is a screenshot, with something that looks less like E.T. than a nauseous bi-pedal giraffe.
Which brings us to the impetus behind the doc. Sparked by a newspaper report, rumors started piling up that, in eating their enormous losses, Atari had decided to take the millions of unsold cartridges and bury them in the middle of a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. And for 30 years, video game fanatics weren’t quite sure whether the claims were legit, with many putting no faith in the stories. Then, in 2013, the Alamogordo City Commission decided to allow an outside company to come in and excavate, figuring out once and for all if the games were there or not.
And that’s why tons of people ended up making it out to the dump for Atari: Game Over, which was directed and put together by filmmaker Zak Penn, who’s pretty familiar with video games and actually penned the script for the game-fueled adaptation of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One. The doc was originally released through Xbox Live, and then made its way elsewhere online, finally finding a home on TV.
Watch Atari: Game Over when it hits Showtime on Thursday, April 16, at 8:30 p.m. ET. No need to phone home about it, though.