Those who know me know that I am hopelessly mired in the past. I have a working Atari 7800 and an Atari Jaguar (and regret parting with my Atari Lynx and Falcon). I still like 80s music, tv shows and movies. And I make regular pilgrimages to Funspot in New Hampshire, a great classic arcade to scratch that itch periodically.
So, I am really the target audience for a movie like “Bedrooms to Billions,” a documentary about the computer programming renaissance that occurred in the U.K. during the 80s with the introduction of 8 and 16-bit home computers. While I didn’t have any exposure to more European-centric machines like the famous ZX Spectrum, I did get some keyboard time on Atari 8-bits and STs as well as Commodore 64s and Amigas. I was a big fan of the underdog machines and was disappointed to see them disappear when the computer market became boring commoditized PC clones. And, I happen to be a web developer these days so I am still passionate about computers.
Yet, and it pains me to say, I found “Bedrooms to Billions” to be fairly boring. Many of the stories are very matter-of-fact and there wasn’t much depth given to the people behind the software and the machines. I wanted more of a sense of the work environments in those days and some of the inspiration behind the games. Much of the information seemed to be of the variety of how much shipments grew year-over-year. The end of the documentary ends on a discussion of computer science education in the UK today.
Another disappointment for me was that there was very little Atari talk. Obviously, I am biased but I was hoping for more discussion of the Atari ST which was very big in Britain and really led the charge in the 16-bit era before being overtaken by Commodore’s Amiga. The movie seemed to be heavily weighted toward the ZX Spectrum to me and really breezed by later machines.
There certainly is some good things to say about “Bedrooms to Billions.” From the beginning credits, it is obvious that this a well put-together production. Some really cool graphics and chip tunes really got me excited for the movie to begin. And, the few personal stories were interesting. I just couldn’t help but think that Jeff Minter would have a fascinating story or two. It was cool to see folks I really admire like Jeff Minter and Peter Molyneux. I also learned a bit about the ZX Spectrum which, as a kid growing up in the United States, I knew very little about.
In the end, I don’t think I can really recommend “Bedrooms to Billions.” I was hoping for more fun stories like those in Steven Levy’s “Hackers” or Howard Scott Warshaw’s “Once Upon Atari.” I am sure that many people will like this more straightforward run through computer history but, for me, it just didn’t hold my interest.