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"Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade"

Directed by Lincoln Ruchti.
Release Year:  ?
Review Date:  1/30/07

Folks--

I knew the second I got the 2007 Sundance Film Festival catalog that I just HAD to see the documentary "Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade", because in case you just met me, one of the few things I know back to front is video games.  Chronicling the early 1980s, when video games became the new hot fuzz and "Pac-Man" and "Defender" and "Joust" and "Stargate" and "Frogger" made a ton of noise, "Chasing Ghosts" goes into great detail to discuss the times, the games, the "video game capital of the world", Ottumwa, Iowa (where the country's most legendary arcade, Twin Galaxies, stood), and the players that made headlines (at least, in the gaming world) as the superstars of their era.  And, what are those players up to today?

As cool as it was for me, a professed gaming freak, to see a documentary that highlighted a world I already knew so well, "Chasing Ghosts" does an excellent job of getting to the personal side of each gamer, why they liked their respective game so much, and why crazy Twin Galaxies owner/operator Walter Day decided to volunteer himself as the official high-score keeper of the time, a title he still holds today.  (Day himself was at our screening, even wearing the referee shirt that he wore back in the day as a quarter jockey at Twin Galaxies...this uniform was also made popular at the Time Out arcades, back in the day.  Damn, I am getting teary-eyed already!!)  Some of these gamers were absolute cutthroats, like Billy Mitchell, who--no, I'm not kidding--is still considered the Greatest Video Game Player of All-Time, because of his mastery of so many coin-op classics and his still-untouched record of 3,333,360 points in "Pac-Man", which apparently is a perfect score in that game.  Other guys were humble pie; some guys really did just like to know that they were the best at something, spending literally hours on one quarter trying to get the high score in games like "Berserk", "Q*Bert", "Krystal Kastles" and "Missile Command."  But, almost all of them were nerds then and come off as nerds now...but, you know, the lovable nerd variety, the kind you want around when your computer goes dead and you need saving.  Sure, they've got creepy smiles, toothy grins and somewhat-questionable taste in artwork (you have to see the film to know what I mean here), but these guys are nerdy-cool, you know?

What is the movie missing?  Commentary from the game's original designers, producers and distributors, or even guys that worked at Time Out or Tilt back in the day; thoughts on why the game's upper echelons--then and now, really--don't feature any women or nearly any minorities.  I also kind of wished that at least one of these gaming legends was dead, so we could have at least one of those "Johnny was the GREATEST 'Joust' player ever--until that accident..." moments.  Everyone knows that the dead legend moment in these documentaries is always fucking great!  Otherwise, "Chasing Ghosts" is right in my wheelhouse, maybe the first documentary I have ever seen where I was 95% an expert coming in but still happy as a kid to have seen the film.  This one will make a splash with the gaming community whenever it hits theaters. 

Rating:  Opening Weekend

 

Comments?  Drop me a line at justin@bellviewmovies.com.

 

Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/bellviewmovies.com except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09