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Watching E.T. Excavation Documentary Atari: Game Over's Rough Cut

As part of its Comic Con festivities, Microsoft offered a screening of the upcoming documentary Atari: Game Over. What was shown was described as a rough cut, and director Zak Penn was on hand to clarify as much before starting the film.

Atari: Game Over is part of Microsoft’s Xbox Entertainment Studios efforts, which was recently announced to be closing in the coming months. While much of the information about the film has focused on its journey to uncover the fabled E.T. Atari cartridge cache in the desert landfill of Alamogordo, New Mexico, that aspect of the film – while present throughout – is not its most prominent plot.

Instead, the film serves more as a riches to rags documentary about the impressive rise and fall of Atari. The film predominantly follows the career of Howard Scott Warshaw, the designer who crafted some of Atari’s biggest hits like Yars’ Revenge. Warshaw is best known, however, as the man behind E.T. for the Atari – a game he completed in less than two months.

Warshaw is the protagonist, but the film also features its director Zak Penn, "The garbage guru of Alamogordo" Joe Lewandowski (who found the location of the cache), and interviews with Atari executives, co-founder Nolan Bushnell, and others, including one surprise brief cameo I won’t detail here.

Before the film started, a woman sitting next to me asked if I knew what the film was about. She had decided to come see Atari: Game Over after the free screening of the comedy Let’s Be Cops on a neighboring screen in the theatre had filled up. I gave her a brief overview and pointed out Nolan Bushnell who happened to be sitting a few rows in front of us. I explained who he was and how it was likely he would appear in the film we were about to watch.

After the movie was over, it received a standing ovation, in part because the audience enjoyed the film, but also because Zak Penn asked Howard Scott Warshaw, who was in attendance, to stand up and take a bow. The woman next to me, who went into the film completely blind, told her husband she really enjoyed it as the two got up to leave to the theatre.

There is still no exact release date for the documentary, outside of Fall 2014, but when it releases it will be available to Xbox Live Gold subscribers.

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