30th Mar2017

‘Viva Amiga’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Viva-Amiga-Logo

In 1985 an upstart team of Silicon Valley mavericks created a miracle: the Amiga computer. A machine made for creativity. For games, for art, for expression. Breaking from the mold set by IBM and Apple, this was something new. Something to change what people believed computers could do. In a world of green on black, they dared to dream in color….

From the creation of the world’s first multimedia digital art powerhouse, to a bankrupt shell sold and resold into obscurity, to a post-punk spark revitalized by determined fans. Viva Amiga is a look at a digital dream and the freaks, geeks and geniuses who brought it to life… And the Amiga is still alive!

A couple of years ago we reviewed From Bedrooms to Billions, a documentary about the start of the British video game industry. That was a film that captured my youth in a bottle, the era of the Commodore 64 – a computer that was so, so influential as I grew up: from finally getting to play games that were only available previously in arcades, to actually programming my own titles. But what about after the Commodore 64? For me it was a move towards console gaming and specifically Nintendo’s NES. For others it was the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga. Which brings us to Viva Amiga

That’s not to say I never played games on the Amiga, it was just we were so dirt-poor I couldn’t afford to own one! In fact until this current generation of games consoles I was ALWAYS a generation behind. When my friends had Atari STs and Amigas, I had an Acorn Electron and later a Commodore 64. But thankfully, as kids wont, my friends didn’t mind showing off their computers and letting me have a little play around – one friend in particular I remember playing snippets of classic Amiga games It Came From the Desert and Chase HQ, two titles that I still consider my all-time favourites.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying the Amiga never touched my life in the same way as the 8-bit era computers did. And as such Viva Amiga had much more work to do in terms of storytelling – I remember the C64 era and the days of going into Boots and buying games on cassette. I don’t have ANY recollection of the Commodore Amiga beyond playing it on the odd occasion (as mentioned above) at one friends house. [Sidenote: Most of my friends who could afford that Amiga generation computers actually had Atari STs - and god, did they play a LOT of Sensible Soccer on them!]

Of course whilst I didn’t have an Amiga myself, Commodore’s machine was responsible for one thing in my youth that I did love: Babylon 5. Yes, that staple of Channel 4 6.00pm US programming (I used to love 6pm on BBC2 and Channel 4 back in the day) had all of it’s computer effects generated on the Amiga – something which today would seem unfathomable. But that is at least the main point that Viva Amiga tries to get across: that the Amiga was much, much more than just a games machine. It was – thanks to the likes of the Video Toaster – an incredibly powerful multimedia computer; in the days BEFORE multimedia was such a buzzword!

Sadly, unlike Bedrooms to Billions – of which this film was touted as a “spiritual successor” – Viva Amiga feels very much like an extended advertisement for the NEW generation of Amiga, rather than a true history of the machine. Yes, the documentary does cover the early days of the machine, the buy out by Commodore and the collapse of the company in 1993, but it dwells just that too much on the future of the Amiga – which is the Amiga X1000, A-EON Technology’s latest take on the computer and its OS.

A drier, yet almost puff-piece, take on the computer documentary, Viva Amiga is available now on iTunes.

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