After watching the marvellous documentary: From Bedrooms to Billions by Anthony and Nicola Caulfield, you can read my review here, I eagerly anticipated immersing myself in their new release: The Amiga Years. I had originally planned to wait for the special feature Blu-ray release, but I gave in and bought the stream.
‘From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years’ is a 150 minute feature documentary exploring the influence of the Commodore Amiga and how it took video game development, music and publishing to a whole new level and played a key, defining role in the rapidly evolving video games industry!
I have strived to be impartial, to see this documentary from different perspectives. For anybody indifferent about the history of computing, or video gaming, they might not appreciate this documentary, especially if they were only told it was about those two things. What I’d explain to a potential viewer is that the documentary does a great job of explaining the personal dramas, as well as financial stakes, without resorting to a collection of niche name drops. The following picture says it all, just why was Andy Warhol painting a digital image of Debbie Harry on stage?!
I acknowledge that another potential criticism would be the length, 150 minutes is more than a typical media sitting. Like the previous documentary, I personally found this length to be perfectly acceptable, after all there is so much information to cover. Given that there was a tighter focus for this film, I felt it had an even stronger narrative than the last great film. Granted somebody could nit-pick about what they perceive as deviations, such as when the demo scene is explained. I would counter that since I think the majority of the audience would already be invested by this stage, and the demo scene really was a big deal.
I have also considered that there will be some individuals who wonder why the documentary is not referred to as the 16-bit era, given the importance of the Atari ST, as well as the 16-bit consoles. There is a very good reason for this, and the documentary does a good job of explaining where the Atari ST fits into the history, which I won’t spoil by explaining it here.
Much like their previous documentary, this film is also providing a lot of depth on a huge part of the gaming industry. I’d go as far as to state that it is a story that’s almost never talked about, particularly amongst the typical summarised global narrative. I have no issue with people listing the typical great machines, such as: Atari 2600, Nintendo, PC, PS, nor the culturally impactful games, such as: Pong, Space Invaders, Mario, SF2, Doom, Halo, WoW, GTA, CoD; obviously I am heavily summarising. I actually feel it is strange that it’s taken so long for these two films to be made, but I can appreciate how many would not understand the significance of the Amiga years. I am extremely thankful to Anthony and Nicola Caulfield (Gracious Films) for taking this risk, as well as their artistic thoroughness to provide less well-known but great stories.
Like the previous documentary, this one utilises a lot of interviews, and crucially involves so many important people. Once again a strong coherent narrative is provided by multiple people. It’s great that there are so many Amiga employees involved, as well as a mix of game developers and demo-scene participants.
To expand on the significance of the Amiga, it was basically the first modern home computer. Whilst previous expensive business machines had a GUI and a mouse, the Amiga was so much better, graphically such a leap, the sound, multi-tasking, it could emulate other machines, and at a lower price. I spent many an hour programming, playing games, and using a variety of multimedia software; Deluxe Paint is probably the most famous, but there was so many others. Another noteworthy aspect of the Amiga story is Video Toaster, used for the editing and production of video, professional capability at a drastically lower price.
The documentary gives great explanations about how the artistic power of the Amiga truly opened up creative avenues for musicians and graphic artists. The demo scene was a huge part of the machines success, particular in Europe; I personally experienced school friends being just as impressed with a lone designer’s work as with the games.
I have read reviews saying they found the last 30 minutes to not be as narratively strong, whilst I can appreciate their point, I disagree. Whilst the last part was mostly about summaries and closing thoughts, there was new information still being revealed.
Overall, the wife and I took away a wealth of information, and a feeling of time well spent. I have recommended the film to a lot of my friends, and I enthusiastically do so here. I am not a fan of scores, but I appreciate their value (sorry), I’d give this documentary a 9/10. I eagerly look forward to watching it again as well as the extra footage on the forthcoming discs. Given these two great documentaries, I am also intrigued to find out what Anthony and Nicola Caulfield decide to do next.
An overview of the importance of the Amiga series to myself can be read on my blog here.