Get Lamp (Jason Scott Sadofsky, 2010)
This is a very easy one: if you can look at that title and you know, or are pretty sure, what it refers to without having to have it explained to you, then you need this movie right now. If you don’t, you’re liable to be bored out of your gourd by it—but on the off chance you won’t be, well, here’s a review aimed at converting you to the World of Geek. Get Lamp is a history of the text adventure, a genre that was wildly popular during the earliest days of the personal computer; for those of us who grew up when the monochrome monitor was still king (or you connected your VIC-20 to a black and white seven-inch TV your parents no longer had a use for), text adventures were pretty much the cutting edge in computer games. They faded into obscurity as graphics got better…until the recent interest in what is now known as “interactive fiction”. You dial some of that up, and what do you have? Text adventures! It’s like I’m fourteen years old and loading a Steve Jackson Games cartridge into the back of my VIC again.
Get Lamp traces that history—from the earliest days of the first known text adventure, Colossal Cave (one of the DVD extras is an exploration of the actual cave that inspired the game, which is pretty close to being the geek version of Turkish Delight from the Chronicles of Narnia), through the salad days, to the marginalization of the genre, and now into the world of IF. If you’re used to documentaries, you know how this goes—there are interviews with as many of the principals as the filmmaker could round up, lots of people talking about controversies within the IF world that no one else even knew existed, endless debate on the best and worst parts of adventure games, etc. You had all these discussions with your friends in the eighties. Well, okay, maybe you didn’t, and it was just me and my circle of friends, but I can guarantee you that if you did, or if you ever pulled an all-nighter trying to figure out how to get past that room in Voodoo Castle Adventure, you will be as transported by this movie as I was.
The downside is that Sadofsky doesn’t so anything with the usual documentary format that might lure in folks who aren’t already enamored of the material. Given the (as I write this) high price tag attached to this DVD, that does seem to be a market limiter; the only way those outside the fold are going to get hip to this flick (and to the beauty of text adventures, assuming this isn’t one of those “you hadda be there” gigs; I have a sinking feeling it is, though that will not stop me evangelizing) is through enthusiastic word of mouth from, well, people like me. Here’s the enthusiastic word of mouth. Go get yourself a copy of this 2-disc set and keep Jason Scott Sadofsky making movies about things that matter. Well, to nerds, anyway. *** ½