Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Geekumentary: TILT

In 1998 pinball was dying, thanks to a saturated market and shrinking player base. Williams, the world's largest pinball manufacturer, prepared to abandon the game that had made it a legend in favor of the more lucrative video slot machine business.

From its nostalgic opening jaunt though pinball history to its heartbreaking ending, employing remarkable animation throughout, TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball is a fascinating case study for anyone interested not just in pinball, but in the march of technology and the intersection of art and commerce.

I've never played a lot of pinball. I like the concept, like the lights and sounds and flipping those flippers, but it's not as if I'm good at it or a frequent player, certainly not a pinball enthusiast. But I'm on this geekumentary kick, and the only way I was going to see TILT was to buy it, so I did.

I'm glad I did, this was a really good one. Not only is the history of pinball an interesting one (it was years before the pair of flippers we're all familiar with were added to the bottom), the story of Pinball 2000 is one of those classic underdog tales. The subjects interviewed, mostly pinball designers and industry people, are not as colorful as the guys from The King of Kong, but I liked them, and I was pulling for them. George Gomez, one of the primary team members for Pinball 2000, made me want to be a pinball designer.

The Pinball 2000 project that the film documents was an attempt to update pinball by integrating video onto the pinball field. It was an exciting concept, and it looked great, and I was genuinely sad that I'd never gotten to see or play one. Only two models were completed, Revenge from Mars and Star Wars Episode 1, and as it turned out, Episode 1 played a large part in killing the project. And I thought I hated Jar-Jar before...

Not only is the feature presentation good, it comes with a bonus DVD packed with almost seven hours of really excellent extras, including a pivotal key note speech from a pinball convention, and a walkthrough on the process of creating a pinball machine. Even the Pinball 2000 launch video shown by Williams to its buyers. They really gathered together everything you could hope for on the topic of pinball.

This film caused me to do two things:

  1. I looked for Revenge from Mars on ebay. And it was THERE. Tempting, very tempting. I always said if I ever got a pinball machine, it would have to be Theater of Magic, but now I'd be sorely tempted to grab a Revenge from Mars if I had the chance.

  2. I headed up to Funspot to play pinball till my wrists hurt! Which didn't take very long at all (Pinball Wizard has such a carpal wriiiiist). Favorites from the trip were Pinbot and the Nightmare on Elm Street machine. Star Trek: Next Gen is also one of my favorites, but it was turned off that day, and they don't have Theater of Magic, my VERY favorite. They do have KISS and Adam's Family machines, featured in TILT.

To conclude, if you're at all interested in pinball or documentaries in general, buy this one! You'll enjoy it, and it stands up to multiple viewings.

Read about other geekumentaries in my Top 10 Geekumentaries article.

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