Atari Movie: Crap Movie or Awesome Movie?
Last week a bunch of on-line media outlets reported on a story from Variety that a movie based on the life of Nolan Bushnell had been green lit by Paramount and that Leonardo DiCaprio was set to play Atari’s founder. While this movie is currently in “development hell” (i.e. where 99% of all movie ideas go to die), it had not been destroyed yet and there is still good chance that it will become a reality. So, if this movie is going to be made, it will be necessary to craft a good story and then to choose a cast that will fill some of the most important roles. If they do that, it could be awesome. Or it could be terrible. If the writers focus too much on technology over people, too much on the 70’s culture (i.e. all parties and drugs) over creativity and ingenuity, or go for comedic effect (i.e. how bad the old games look in the 21st century), the thing will probably will tank. There is a great story to be told about Nolan Bushnell and Atari, but without care, it could very easily become a crap movie.
If I were the writers, I’d be sure to show that Bushnell was a great fan of Walt Disney, and that his goal was to use technology to entertain. I’d play-up his family life and how his daughters had to move their bedroom so he could make Computer Space. At the same time, I’d make sure to focus on Ted Dabney, Bushnell’s partner in starting Atari, and also the guy who got cold feet and left early. Of course, there would be the drugs and parties and stuff, but I think it would be a mistake to focus on those things too much. Mind you, it *was* the 70’s. Instead, I’d make sure that Bushnell was front and center as a driving entrepreneurial force who knew how to tend to creative people so they could do their best work. At the same time, I’d make sure to show how the odds were stacked against Atari at the beginning. I’d show the big pinball companies who tried to wipe them off the map, how Magnavox tried to sue them out of existence (and won, but then lost), how the jackals copied the Pong Arcade machine chip for chip and later the Home Pong units. I’d make sure to show that Bushnell combated all this by innovating and not resting on old successes. I’d play the sale to Warner Communications as deal with the devil and a tragedy. Bushnell sold his dream so it could live, but once he realized his mistake it was too late to save it. I’d also make sure to show how the Warner brass undid all of Bushnell’s ideas, replaced R&D with marketing, pushed out all the talent, helped create their own competition, completely ignored where the company had come from, then rode VCS to an early success and a spectacular failure. I’d end it by fast forwarding through 1982, showing all the mistakes coming home to roost, and finish with Ray Kassar’s insider trading scandal.
The story of Atari is a story of a story of corporate bloat, greed, and mis-management. however, the of story Nolan Bushnell is a true story of American ingenuity and survival against all odds. I’d show both sides, and make sure to highlight the tragic consequences that can befall someone when they sell-out their dream in an attempt to make it immortal. Now that would be an Awesome movie.