Saturday, November 27, 2021

8-Bit Christmas

It’s not often we watch new movies on a whim, but sometimes it’s good to take a risk like that. 8-Bit Christmas, based on the book of the same name by Kevin Jakubowski, is such a film, one that we didn’t know about until shortly before it premiered on the HBO Max streaming service, with the hook being that it was a Christmas movie centered around the atypical subject of a video game console, in this case the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). I will admit I went into this with low expectations, even with Neil Patrick Harris getting top billing, however, while imperfect, it turned out to be a lot better than I expected.

Jake Doyle’s (Neil Patrick Harris) daughter wants a cell phone for Christmas, finding it embarrassing that she has to use her dad’s phone to communicate with her friends, but he refuses. At home, Jake introduces her to the NES he had since he was a kid, but she doesn’t understand what makes it so special. Jake then elaborates further and begins to tell her the story of his quest to get one for Christmas.

The way the story is structured easily draws comparisons to A Christmas Story, with a framing device reminiscent of The Princess Bride, however this combination somehow manages to work. In a way, the story this film presents is more relevant, as there’s a good chance that newer adults grew up with the system, plus the struggle of getting an NES is comparable to the current (as of this writing) struggle of getting a PS5 or an Xbox Series X/S, though the movie and especially the ending take a decidedly more wholesome approach to A Christmas Story’s general plot. In a nice touch, the movie also consistently has its characters refer to the NES by its older nickname “The Nintendo” and also directly acknowledges the subpar quality of the Power Glove peripheral. Interestingly, the anti-video game stance that started back then is also important to the story, painting a good picture of the time period. Though the story is of generally good quality with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, there are a few grosser moments that could probably have been either cut or kept offscreen entirely.

The movie itself is pretty well-cast, with the child actors having very believable performances and chemistry that make their childhood struggles more relatable, even to an adult viewer. Neil Patrick Harris’ narration also works well for the story in a way that helps tie the plot together. Backing the movie is a soundtrack by Joseph Trapanese, with a fitting electronic score that works for the subject matter and sounds reminiscent of his work on Tron: Uprising (go watch it on Disney+, it’s great).

8-Bit Christmas is a surprisingly decent Christmas flick with one of the more accurate on-screen depictions of video games and video game culture. It’s not a perfect movie, but if you’re looking for some new Christmas content to watch this holiday season, 8-Bit Christmas is a decent pick.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

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