INSERT COIN – Film Review

Any gamer around my age (*cough cough*) will remember Midway Games. Growing up, Midway Games were a staple at the arcade with Smash TV, Terminator 2, NBA Jam and Mortal Kombat. Director Joshua Tsui’s INSERT COIN is a nostalgic breeze through the company’s history, and the rise and decline of arcade gaming.

Midway Games, who rose to fame in the 80s and 90s with coin-operated arcade machines, launched franchises that are still around today in some form with Mortal Kombat and Rampage (also having a feature length film). This deep dive into the origin story of the company is well led by director Joshua Tsui, who chooses to focus on the people that made the games, rather than an expanded scroll through the company’s Wikipedia page.

A big part of the documentary is showcasing how Midway captured video digitisation in their games. This process involves shooting footage in real life and then transposing it into the game. While NARC was the first game that featured this game-changing technology, it wasn’t until Terminator 2: Judgement Day did things really change. The company had unlimited access to the iconic movie’s director James Cameron, who was heavily involved with the game, as well as being extremely interested in the new technology and what Midway could do. There is some interesting trivia littered throughout the documentary as well about the creation of the games, all told through behind the scenes footage, discussions from the game designers and even via some guest appearances from Ernest Cline (Ready Player One author) and Paul W.S. Anderson who made the Mortal Kombat films.

The documentary’s narrative chooses to focus on the people who made the games rather than the products and company itself, making the film feel more interesting and somewhat personal to watch. Each game developer, artist and commentator has a different insight into the company and the games that they worked on. Despite the film being 90 minutes, due to the masterful insightful way it unfolds, I barely notice and didn’t want it to be over.

The film also contains a killer soundtrack and score from Savant, a Norwegian artist, giving the film some serious edge. The pacing of the score mirrors the flow of the visuals, combining to make this one of the most memorable documentaries I have seen in recent years. There is a cool stylistic 90s flair added post-production, with flicking TV lines and neon graphics that helped to transport me back in time.

Admittedly, I am not a huge documentary connoisseur. However, this is definitely the best documentary I have seen in terms of quality and pacing with Tsui’s personal touch, choosing to go down the non-documentary route of storytelling. If you are a fan of the Midway Games or just love arcades in general, then this film is for you. INSERT COIN is the perfect love letter to arcade culture and the incredible time in gaming history that defined a generation, inspiring artists and game designers to push the market forward.

INSERT COIN is screening digitally as part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival until August 2nd. For more information, visit: https://www.mdff.org.au
For more information on the film, visit: https://www.insertcoindoc.com

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