DVD Movie Review: CODumentary (Lights, Camera, Action!)

By Thom Compton 19.09.2017

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CODumentary (UK Rating: 12)

CODumentary is obviously a passion project. The film spends it's opening moments pointing out it has no affiliation with Activision, Infinity Ward, or any of the other studios who have been involved in the Call of Duty franchise. This is one man's concept to showcase a game series he clearly adores greatly.

That optimism rubs off, and by the film's conclusion, it manages to convince someone who's not a Call of Duty fan to give the series a shot. Perhaps that's not the film, though. Perhaps that's seeing the game in action for a solid hour, not counting it not being on-screen, that whets your appetite for some intense FPS action.

Unfortunately, as a film, CODumentary is a lacklustre collection of ideas that are strung together to create an hour and a half of film. This isn't to say that CODumentary isn't watchable, or doesn't have its merits, it just teases the viewer with great ideas, before abandoning them without regard.

Theme and style are important in any documentary. When thinking of famous game documentaries, Indie Game: The Movie immediately comes to mind. Its theme is clear, juxtaposing the ups and downs of the design world with whimsical set pieces that remind viewers that there is something magical about videogames. CODumentary occasionally accomplishes finding its style and themes, but then ditches them quickly to try again.

The beginning of the film seems to be that of a historical documentary, and it's the best fit. By showcasing Normandy, and then jumping to Tulsa, it accomplishes melding the two worlds together as one. Then the film properly begins and it becomes an endless stream of developer and fan interviews, akin to watching YouTube videos. Eventually, it becomes a soulful piece, before breaking into an E-Sports jam fest, and then returning to every other component quickly over its last fleeting minutes.

The problem is how quickly and without regard it moves between these styles, as though it wanted to try everything out without making a solid commitment. There's nothing wrong with creating different tones, but these blend together like oil and water. The final result is a wildly inconsistent film that never feels like it knows where to go next.

The interviews are a mixed bag, as well. While there are some entertaining ones, like Gearbox's Randy Pitchford, and some enticing ones, such a young disabled fan, the vast majority feel off. They come across as heavily scripted, and one interview sounds like it's been rehearsed for E3. This heavily scripted feeling makes a lot of the interviews feel more like showroom floor interviews, and as the film attempts to garner an emotional tone from time to time, these pieces feel incredibly flat.

The most jarring disconnect is the presentation of the impact Call of Duty and similar titles have had on E-Sports. There's absolutely nothing wrong with E-Sports, and it does showcase that the film isn't just about Call of Duty, but the future of this medium and, more importantly, the way it brings everyone together as people. The reason it feels so jarring and out of place is largely the tonal shift. It has hints of promise, perhaps of a more interesting film that centres on E-Sports, but it glosses over things too quickly.

What's maddening is how it focuses so heavily on its less interesting points, and more heavily on its interesting points. Instead of the E-Sports string of thought, it would be interesting to focus on women in E-Sports, or even the teams of E-Sports. Instead of just hearing one man's testimonial about how he enjoys the game as a man with disabilities, what about a whole documentary about disabled gamers?

At one point, the film tackles the infamous firing and lawsuits between Activision and two of Infinity Wards' co-founders, Jason West and Vince Zampella. This would have been a fantastic film by itself. Really, CODumentary teases you with exciting ideas, and then tosses them aside after a few minutes in favour of interviews about how the maps are made or another person talking about how fluid the gameplay is. If you're a fan, you know all of these things, and they seem like wasted potential.

All of this would be mildly disappointing at most if the film weren't so hard to watch. The film's narrator, who pops up only so often, doesn't convey any real interest other than getting the lines out. The film's overuse of on-screen text/title cards also borders on ridiculous, and gives portions of the film the look of an old Windows Movie Maker film. Some of the on-screen graphics look extremely tacky, including one segment that seems to be channelling Deal or No Deal.

This film ends up teasing gamers with Call of Duty, though, in a way where people like this writer who do not play the games are actually interested. The whole experience, however, just leaves you wanting more information where the director, Jonathan Beales, is clearly unwilling to look. This costs the film a lot, and while it's a somewhat recommendable piece of cinema, don't expect it to change your life.

Rated 4 out of 10


CODumentary may be enjoyable for fans of the games, and might get you excited to play them if you never have. Unfortunately, though, it offers nothing else but teases of interesting ideas dropped in the middle of fanfare and interviews that feel more at home on YouTube than they do here.

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