It's the best documentary ever made about looking for old NES games. By default, really.
Nintendo Quest was the launching pad for this installment of 150 Movies in 90 Days. It's kind of appropriate, really: the subject of the documentary, Jay Bartlett, embarks upon an ultimately rather pointless quest to buy all 678 officially licensed Nintendo Entertainment System games in one month, which mirrors my own equally silly quest to watch 150 movies in 90 days.
The difference, of course, is that instead of making a movie about my quest, I tucked the details away in a crappy blog where they're unlikely to actually gain the attention of anyone who could be doing something much better with their time.
The problem here is that Jay's quest simply isn't that interesting. Sure, it's hard to buy all 678 games, especially without use of the internet, but it's basically a road trip where we see Jay visit the homes of gamers he knows or used video game shops and sorts through hundreds of games to find what he needs. It honestly feels like an idea that a couple of guys came up with simply to entertain themselves, rather than something that could have ever been expected to entertain an actual audience.
Jay seems like he may be a shut-in of sorts. He clearly has anxiety issues, although those aren't really talked about until halfway through the film. At times, the film makes a half-assed effort to indicate that the quest is really a way for Jay to push his personal boundaries and use his love of games as a way to leave his comfort zone, but it simply isn't explored enough to make a difference.
|Not pictured: actual entertainment.|
Instead, much of the documentary is like a failed TLC pawn shop show where Jay haggles with different shop owners and private collectors in order to stay under his budget while getting all the rare games he can. The problem is that there's no transparency and we never actually know what he's paying for most of the games or what his budget is. Without that information, the film fails to provide any drama when it comes to the actual quest itself.
Another issue here is that director Rob McCallum often makes the mistake of telling us things instead of showing us them. That's a huge mistake in a documentary and it really hurts Nintendo Quest. At one point, we're told that all of the buzz around Jay's quest has centered around the rarest NES game, Stadium Events. "Everybody's talking about Stadium Events," we're told. WHO?!?! Jay is so insulated from the outside world during his road trip that we're left to assume that the only people who give a shit about his efforts are him and the other people in the car, who are rarely ever on camera. It just feels like a couple of friends screwing around.
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Despite this, McCallum really seems like he has potential. The film is peppered with historical tidbits about Nintendo that are really well done, and the production values are high throughout. The sound and video quality are much better than you'd expect and little things like travel montages and on-screen graphics depicting the rare games Jay's collected are skillfully done. The problem is, the film doesn't know if it wants to be an exploration of Jay's growth, a buddy road trip film, a NES documentary or a feature-length version of reality shows like Pawn Stars. As a result, it doesn't succeed at being any of them.
At one point, Jay talks about his dad's death and it's clear that he and his mother have very different views on the event. His mother says it was very hard on him to lose his dad, while Jay flat-out says he's glad that his dad is gone. The film threatens to get interesting and help you care about Jay, and then what do you know? We're back in a used game shop watching Jay haggle over a copy of Bubble Bobble.
Although it's somewhat entertaining, the questions Nintendo Quest fails to explore are more interesting than the ones it actually answers.