You read that right: I’m branching out into film reviews! Sure, it’s a review that’s about a computer known in no small part for its place in the history of gaming and media, so it’s not entirely new ground…but still, hooray for diversification! The computer in question is the Amiga, a much-beloved-particularly-in-Europe system sold by Commodore that took on Apple and IBM alike in an age when doing so was practically unthinkable, and the documentary we’re looking at is Viva Amiga: The Story of a Beautiful Machine.
This is a brighter, poppier, more eye-catching documentary than you’d expect from a film about a personal computer, and if you’re familiar with the Amiga and the particular flavor of multimedia that it spawned this won’t come as much of a surprise. There’s more to the computer than just the games, of course – that’s a point made very clear. This distinction proved to be a stumbling block for the computer at times, and indeed the gaming aspect of the computer doesn’t receive particular attention above myriad its other uses throughout the film.
Still, that’s the side that I’m familiar with on a personal level. Amiga games have a particular “feel” to them, a sort of hearkening to the glory days of slick arcade action that resonates even if you’ve never laid hands on the computer; looking back, as I got older it wasn’t surprising to discover which games I’d enjoyed on my consoles had originally been made for the Amiga. Viva Amiga is slick in much the same way, which isn’t to say it’s not informative but instead that it focuses on the neon zazz of the Amiga and of the people and the age that made it what it was. Historical photos, ad clips, press announcements and other artifacts combine with fancy CGI to keep the film engaging and entertaining.
We hear about the history of the Amiga and of its battle for market share and attention, particularly with Apple. We learn about the Amiga’s unique traits, such as its early emphasis on multitasking and graphics as well as NewTek’s mighty Video Toaster, from legends like computer historian Jason Scott and Don Reisinger, the first Director of Marketing at Amiga, Inc. Perhaps most importantly, we’re presented with the devotion of fans that range from famed artist Andy Warhol to the devotees of today (like chiptune musician Stagediver) that continue to create music using the same hardware. It’s pretty decent music, too.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how the multimedia focus of the computer may have led to the modern design paradigms that surround us today. The film might not be as educational as it could be given it’s only an hour long, with much of that time focusing on the bombastic impacts of personalities and events rather than hard data, but it’s a passion project so that’s forgivable if it’s something that needs to be forgiven.
Viva Amiga: The Story of a Beautiful Machine proves to be a film steeped in love; that’s unsurprising given its crowdfunded origins and the hardcore fanbase that typifies the computer. It’s the kind of thing that will resonate with gamers and the tech nerds out there alike. I feel like if you’re reading a film review of a crowdfunded documentary on a retro computer on a little-known website, you’ve probably spent some time awake late at night basked in the glow of a monitor, and some little part of you just might cherish those moments. You might even still remember your first PC and how it seemed to open up the world for you. If that’s the case, you’ll probably enjoy Viva Amiga. Others might not “get it” in quite the same way, but chances are they’ll still enjoy the ride.