The impact of the Nintendo Entertainment System on popular culture is such that 8-year-olds circa 1988 or 1989 are losing their minds about it in their 40s, if YouTube channels are anything to go by.
As a result, I guess I don’t find it super-surprising that there is now a film attempting to tie this moment in time to the grander cultural trend of holiday nostalgia. Last week, the trailer for 8-Bit Christmas emerged out of the ether to bring a seasonal bit of retro cheer to the home.
The film, appearing on HBO Max, doesn’t even look like it’s getting a theatrical run, which is honestly perfect, because the returns are unlikely to appear on it until 15 years from now, when it becomes a legit holiday classic, or it doesn’t.
Watching the trailer, I found it a bit strange, because it felt like … well, as close to a documentary as a highly exaggerated holiday film starring Neil Patrick Harris gets.
As a child who was there during that period, hopeful that a Nintendo console would show up under my tree, I remember the vague desperation I had to try this thing that I did not have access to, but some of my friends did. (I, alas, had to wait until 1990.) It probably was a big surprise for a lot of parents after video games nearly died out earlier in the decade. But here they were again, with a slightly younger generation even crazier about them than their older siblings.
It looks like 8-Bit Christmas appears to capture that time. Unlike A Christmas Story or Miracle on 34th Street, this film appears to capture a nostalgia for a moment I was actually around to remember, and maybe I view it differently as a result.
Not everyone feels the same way, of course. Over at The Verge, writer Jon Porter appeared to be a total wet blanket about the possibility of this film entering the pantheon of holiday movies, calling it a “bad trailer for a worse movie about Nintendo,” and destroying his bonafides on the topic by writing this:
The trailer sees Neil Patrick Harris narrating a story from one of his childhood winters, in which he and a group of friends compete to win an original NES for Christmas. After all, what could be more festive than a brand-new video game console? And no global chip shortages in sight! Bliss.
(Can you spot the problem with that passage? No? Here, let me lay it out for you: As any die-hard NES fan knows, there was a global chip shortage in 1988, which particularly affected SRAM chips—a.k.a. the chips used to save games on old NES titles. Part of the reason why the NES was hard to come by, a major plot line in this new film, had something to do with the shortages.)
Anyway, who cares what Jon Porter at The Verge thinks about this movie? As we all know, holiday films don’t earn their audiences from contemporary reviews, but from repeated mental drillings into our eye sockets by cable channels and streaming services until we’re bludgeoned over the head with nostalgia.
That’s why there is an audience for Ernest Saves Christmas, Christmas With the Kranks, and even all those horrible Hallmark movies starring Dean Cain. Ultimately, critics do not get to decide what people love when it comes to holiday movies—we just hop on the holiday train and hope for the best.
For that reason, I’m optimistic that 8-Bit Christmas might capture even 10 percent of what I felt about being a kid and wanting a Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988. If your hair is starting to gray like mine but you still rock the ironic tees, may you feel the same way.
It may look like a family film, but this one’s for you, just like The Wizard was.
Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes
Time left on clock ⏲: 1 minute, 56 seconds