Tilt, The Battle to Save Pinball
A Documentary by Greg Maletic
Featuring George Gomez, Larry DeMar, Pat Lawlor, Roger Sharpe, Duncan Brown, Steve Kordek, Louis Koziarz, Jim Palta, Lyman Sheats, Cameron Silver, Tom Urban
Release Date: April 8th, 2008
60 minutes, Unrated
Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball is a fantastic new documentary by filmmaker Greg Maletic, which chronicles the rise and fall of the pinball industry as seen through the eyes of Williams Electronics (who held a staggering 70% of the pinball market in its prime) and their enormously talented staff of engineers and designers.
As one would expect, the film starts off with a brief history of pinball, its up’s and down’s throughout the years, etc., but the real focus of this documentary is on the creation and implementation of the supposed savior of the industry, Pinball 2000.
After historical successes in the early to mid ’90s with machines like Terminator 2, The Addams’ Family, and Twilight Zone, Williams’ pinball sales hit a major slump in the latter part of the decade and they were seriously looking to move into the more lucrative slot machine business. The guys on the Williams Pinball team (headed up by Larry DeMar, George Gomez and Pat Lawlor, each video game/pinball creative legends in their own right) are challenged to come up with something, anything that will “save” pinball. Their response was to create the awesome, Pinball 2000 machine, Revenge from Mars. The genius of the Pinball 2000 machines was that they ingeniously melded (through the use of “trick” 3-D/hologram technology reflected onto the playfield from the monitor above) the best of what video games and pinball machines had to offer in terms of entertainment value.
To make a long story a bit shorter, the machines are a success technologically, creatively and commercially, but Williams still decided to shut down all pinball operations shortly after this “victory,” thus pretty much sounding the death knell for pinball as we know it.
To quote the late, great Kurt Vonnegut, “So it goes.”
The two-disc set that I reviewed came with the film itself on the first disc along with two, informative commentary tracks. The second disc contains a literal TON (6 hours and 45 minutes) of extra material. While the majority of this bonus material is good stuff that is worth watching, there is a portion of it that is repeated or just extended versions of edited scenes seen in the film itself.
In terms of video and audio, the film is presented solely in 4:3 aspect ratio, which is kind of disappointing in today’s day and age, and the sound options are 5.1 Surround or Dolby Digital 2.0. Nothing that’s going to seriously test your tricked-out home theater set-up, but it gets the job done and that’s all a documentary needs to do, really.
In my mind, Tilt: The Battle to Save Pinball is about as good as documentary filmmaking gets. And I’m not usually big on documentaries as a whole, especially when the topic is as near and dear to my heart as Tilt‘s is. I grew up in the late ’70s, early ’80s as arcade rat that could never get enough electronic stimulation, whether it was through pinball machines or video games. I fondly remember my friends and I walking or riding our bikes for miles just to play the latest and greatest new games, like Black Knight, Gorgar, Dragon’s Lair or Defender. Tilt gleefully brings me back to that era, to those warm and fuzzy memories…and you cannot put a price on that, I think.