Release: Thursday, August 25, 2022
Directed by: Drew Roller
Starring: David Doak; Grant Kirkhope; Brett Jones; Karl Hilton; Graeme Norgate
For people of a certain age, few gaming titles sound the gong of nostalgia in the way GoldenEye 007 does. GoldenEra is a documentary that is clearly born out of that sentimental froth but it also reminds us why it’s more than just happy memories that make the companion game to the 1995 James Bond movie so significant.
As might be inferred from the title, GoldenEra embraces an impressive scope with a timeline spanning years and which goes well beyond the August 25, 1997 release of the landmark Nintendo 64 game. Director Drew Roller delivers what feels like a pretty comprehensive point of view, and secures interviews from a wide range of sources, including key members of the GoldenEye 007 design team, to reflect on the astounding influence the early FPS ended up having from a technological and cultural standpoint.
A lively mix of archive footage, talking heads and playful graphics, the early parts of the documentary are some of the most fascinating, the most endearing, whether taking us into the clandestine lairs of British game developer Rare — a literal barn in rural England in which stables had been converted into low-overhead offices — or introducing the renegade batch of first-time coders (and in one case, recent college graduate) who had no roadmap for what they were doing. They had, in fact, never developed a game before and learning how the perfect confluence of factors enabled them to do their thing unencumbered is some kind of revelation.
Their brief time in the spotlight may be excused in view of everything Roller is endeavoring to take on here, looking as much to the past as he does the “future” with nods toward the early 3D games it followed (Doom; Wolfenstein), as well as modern titans such as Call of Duty and Halo that owe much to GoldenEye 007‘s endearingly low-res concepts. On the other hand, the time he chooses to spend on other aspects seems like unnecessary filler, particularly a section on speed-running the levels and the various fan-made media that have been spun out of a love for the original.
There’s a lot of talking, and the fervent expulsion of enthusiasm can be hard to match if you don’t call yourself an avid gamer. That doesn’t mean a lot of the information isn’t interesting. Highlights include horrendously missed deadlines and the tension associated with selling family-friendly Nintendo on hosting this more violent, realistic game on their shiny new console. The fool’s errand of trying to replicate the success of the original leads to some interesting speculation, and a reminder of what made Perfect Dark a cool if still imperfect spiritual successor.
Released upon the 25th anniversary of the game’s release, GoldenEra is a documentary that goes to a lot of different places but always pivots around the basic tenet of having fun. Roller’s unabashed enthusiasm makes this nostalgia-driven trip back in time surprisingly dynamic. Despite a tendency to occasionally veer off mission GoldenEra offers up a slice of pixelated heaven for fans of the game and the movie.
Moral of the Story: With so many perspectives and angles considered, it’s hard not to look at GoldenEra as the definitive take on one of the most influential video games ever created. I personally enjoyed the more behind-the-scenes stuff up front but there’s a lot to take away from this love letter to video games, no matter what your experience level is.
Running Time: 100 mins.
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Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; Drew Roller